This past week Bethel College held its Deeper Life Conference. This series of chapel sessions was built upon the goal of deepening students', faculty members' and staff’s roots in their Christian faith. The Deeper Life Conference has become an annual tradition at Bethel College and is typically held during the spring semester of the academic year. This year’s conference took place in the Everest-Rohrer chapel building from March 28-30. The conference was segmented into five different sessions. Traditional students were required to attend each daily, morning session, but were also invited to attend the optional evening services held on Monday and Tuesday nights. This year’s conference was led by Bethel College alumnus Jason Miller. Miller is a staff member of Granger Community Church, where he has been a teaching pastor for the last 13 years. Miller is no stranger to the Everest-Rohrer’s stage; he has been a speaker at several Bethel events including being the keynote presenter of Bethel College’s Spiritual Emphasis Week in 2013. Session one (Monday morning) In the first segment, Miller brought forth the overarching theme for this year’s Deeper Life Conference. “What are the things that get in the way of God trying to make us live for him?” said Miller to a Monday morning crowd full of tired college students.
Miller used his personal testimony of doubt as a way to help convey human struggles to the audience. He spoke of how in his youth he often wondered what his purpose was in being a Christian. “God, I don’t want to be a Christian,” said Miller, recounting his struggling youthful thoughts, “I just want to be alive.” Miller made a point to speak on how many people struggle with barriers in daily life as well as faith. Session one of the Deeper Life Conference addressed the complexity of these issues in our lives. Miller went on to discuss a profound realization that he discovered. “We can keep beating ourselves up all we want, but it won't get to the deeper issue at hand,” said Miller, “The things that keep us from God can not keep God from us.” Miller passionately walked back and forth across the Everest-Rohrer’s stage with a steadfast fire in his voice, delivering the message of session number one. Miller had the crowd in the palm of his hand and eager to listen. Session two (Monday night) The energy and passion of Miller’s first session carried over quite well for the conference’s second session, which took place Monday night. Nearly every seat on the auditorium’s main level was filled with an occupant eager to take in Miller’s words. The second session of the conference focused on the idea of personal doubts. “Christian or not, we all seem to face the human condition of doubt from time to time,” stated Miller. However, Miller would go on to explain how doubt may be more than just a trial we face. “Maybe doubt isn’t a barrier, but a gateway to something greater in store through God’s wisdom,” said Miller. Miller cited Biblical examples such as Thomas and Abraham when attempting to prove that even exemplars in the Christian faith struggled with doubts. Miller would conclude this session with the fact that something much deeper is needed in a walk with Christ. “We must learn that it’s important to come to a place of naming our doubts before the Lord,” said Miller, “By doubting our doubts and choosing to engage in a commitment of trust in the Lord, we can reach a point of truly addressing the questions we have." Session three (Tuesday morning)
Tuesday morning brought about another new discussion in regards to spiritual barriers. Miller relayed how singleness, though difficult at times, has become a way for him to learn more about God. “Sometimes my house can honestly feel quite lonely,” said Miller, “a lot of us have empty places in our hearts, but that’s right where God wants to meet with us.” Miller stated how barriers and things that make people feel apart from the world can often bring them closer to God in the process. “We put all sorts of things between us and God,” said Miller, “instead of these things bringing us closer to what we want, we find ourselves asking, ‘am I going to be okay?" Miller emphasized how people often get stuck behind barriers of emptiness and tragically fail to understand God’s grace. “What if suffering is actually an invitation to trust in God?” said Miller, “He’s telling us that whatever you think is missing in your life is nothing compared to the love he wishes to bring into renewal in your life. Right here and right now, where you are at, is where a kingdom can arrive.” Miller mentioned how singleness and the feeling of being alone is something many college students wrestle with. This topic created a gateway for Miller to meet these students with a common struggle that he himself has experienced personally. From start to finish, it appeared that the audience lent their ears to the pastoral teacher, who concluded the sermon with strong words. “Although there can be pain in wishing for something to be different, my life is so full through these moments,” said Miller, “will we trust in God’s kingdom for our life?” Session four (Tuesday night)
Miller brought the final night session of the conference forth with delicate care. A personal story, telling how he had once been affected by immense grief and suffering, caused the room to grow quiet and still. He geared students’ hearts towards the idea of suffering, but not in the conventional sense. Miller, standing before a crowd of a few hundred students, told of how there’s power that suffering can have when confronted properly. “There’s power in our responses to suffering,” said Miller, “suffering begins not with what we will do after things happen to us but instead with what we will do with what we become.”
Miller would go on to speak of how suffering may be more than the pain that is so often associated with it. “Suffering shouldn’t be seen as a barrier,” said Miller, “what if we began to see suffering as a gateway to God shining through in our lives in ways that we just can’t understand yet.” The audience was filled with many students on this night. Some stared down at pads that held copious calculated notes. Some leaned in with attention to the speaker and a few progressively became moved to tears. However, through it all rang the profound statement that Miller began repeating late into this night. In the final moments of this session, students rose as one and linked arms in embracing the words of God being spoken. “If God hangs on a cross, then suffering is not a sign of his absence,” said Miller with authority in his voice, “it is a guarantee of his presence.” Session five (Wednesday morning) Throughout a long week of poignant, testimonial truths and challenges, Miller kept coming back to the same idea: What barriers come between us and living for God? He discussed the presence of things such as shame, pride, circumstances, suffering and fear. All of which carry the potential burden of becoming a barrier of faith. Miller explained that Christ’s being a father to people is his ultimate blessing, for it brings about the greatest opportunity for him to walk alongside us. “He is moved in the fact that he gets to be a loving father to his sons and daughters,” said Miller of God, “He tells us that he’s our loving father and asks us why we would put anything between ourselves and him. This is not that he’s angry at us, but because he loves us so much.” Miller shifted the final session of the conference towards the conflict in sin. “Sin isn’t something that God wants us to beat ourselves up over,” said Miller in a reassuring tone, “God’s heart breaks when we put sin between ourselves and him.”
In the last moments of this session and the concluding moments of this year’s Deeper Life Conference, Miller left the crowd with one last challenge to dwell upon for their future endeavors. “We sin and put things before God in our life, which is unfortunate,” said Miller, “but confession is putting words to the barriers that stand between oneself and God. He’s the father who loves. Why would we put anything between us?”