I’ve been reflecting a fair amount over the last month on conferences and their value. It’s been a rich time of celebrating the Lord’s grace in many ways. But the thing that’s come through strongest for me has been the blessing of relationships made and refreshed through these brief meetings. Here’s a taste of what I mean:
On September 10, I visited Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary for the annual 9Marks at Southeastern conference. As I reflect on that time, while I really appreciated the rich biblical teaching I received, very precious time was spent catching up with people I love. I had dinner and breakfast with Stephen, a former staff member now studying at Southeastern. It was great to see how the Lord has been blessing him, teaching him, challenging him, using him, and providing for him in his church there, North Wake Community Church. Along with Stephen, I had time with the Baptist21 guys who are doing a meaningful work for the Lord and his church. These, too, are seminarians finishing their studies and looking to give their lives to gospel ministry. At the conference itself, there was renewal of friendship and affection with some of the people who have had the most lasting and meaningful impact on my life: Mark Dever, Matt Schmucker, and Jonathan Leeman. There was the rest of the 9Marks crew, and the ever-gracious Paul Passaro, who responsible for bringing me to South Africa and introducing me to the church about a year ago. I had dinner with one of my best friends in all the world, and brother who is as dear to me as anyone, Clyde Alston, and our partner Linwood. Then there are the host of more recent friends like President Danny Akin of Southeastern, and people I got to serve with for the first time like David Platt and Matt Chandler. This is to say nothing of the 900 other friends who attended the conference and served in various ways!
September 12th I boarded a plane for New York where I was picked up by Pastor Ed Moore My relationship with Ed began when he “dropped by” the church office here in Grand Cayman while on a cruise. I love people who just rent a boat and “drop by”! Ed and his wife Anna are parents to four wonderful children, and they welcomed me to their home as if I were family. During that Saturday night, they had a college football party with a number of people from the church North Shore Baptist Church in Queens. Richer than the fun watching the football game was the opportunity to all huddle in the basement, fellowship, and pray. What sweet spiritual fellowship. They made me long for my own family and for the saints at FBC, as did the rich time of praise and preaching at the two church services the following morning.
September 13th Ed drove his family and me to the Ocean City Bible Conference, where we sat under the word for three days with preachers and teachers like Paul Tripp, Phil Johnson, Fred Zaspel, and Kevin O’Brien, pastor at Ocean City Baptist Church. So, it was moving from rich relationships to rich relationships. I was surprised to see old friends like Peter and Missy Hurter, Stephanie and their parents at the conference. In God’s providence, they were vacationing there. Also there was Deb Siler and her three girlfriends. What a treat! Then there were the new friendships budding all over the place, like that with Vernon Allen (preaching below), a pastor in Bluff Bay, Jamaica. We both had to leave the Caribbean to finally meet!
Wednesday, September 15th, a wonderful couple from Ed’s church in New York, and former members of CHBC, drove me from Ocean City down to Washington, DC following the conference. We shared our testimonies, talked church, and just had a great time on our road trip! Attended Wednesday night Bible study at CHBC, where I had opportunity to catch up with tons of people. That Thursday night, I had dinner with my oldest “daughter,” Kasey, and Scott, my son-in-law. Do you ever stop calling your son-in-law “son-in-law” and just start calling him “son”? I think that probably happened in my heart during our dinner. Kasey adopted us as her parents away from home (shout out to Menden!) about five years ago. And she makes all her parents proud. And if you’re ever at Old Siam on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., you gotta have the Bangkok steak! So good I went back two nights later to have it again! Since D.C. is our home away from home, there were tons and tons of people to get reacquainted with. There was also a Weekender that weekend, so there were also a few other pastor friends around like Dhati Lewis at Blueprint in Atlanta, and Brian Dye with the Legacy Conference in Chicago, and one of my favorite people for his humility and graciousness, Trip Lee.
While in D.C., I was speaking at the Ligonier regional conference and the Peacemaker Ministries national conference. I love both these organizations, their ministries, and the people affiliated with them. Robert Godfrey knows nothing about baptism, but he is one of the most gracious, funny, quick to laugh, never-take-himself-too-seriously, and brilliant men I’ve had the privilege of meeting and dining with. The Ligonier staff–Burke Parsons, Chris Larson, and the rest of the clan–are real gifts and a joy to be with. I think I’ve written this before, but the Peacemaker conference is like a big family reunion. And I got a glimpse into why when I had opportunity to sit for a couple hours with Ken and Corlette Sande and the great bunch of guys who make up the Peacemaker board of directors. If you want to spend time with men who are strong and gentle, who are insightful and funny, who love each other and challenge each other, this is one such group! Their personal example stirred me to love and good deeds, and genuinely built me up in faith, hope and love. Great guys and I hope great new friendships. We’re looking forward to hosting Ken and Corlette at FBC in late March 2011 (consider that an invitation to join us!).
Following the weekend in D.C., I returned to a warm welcome and loving fellowship back in Cayman. Of all the places the Lord lets me travel and of all the people I have opportunity to get to know, there’s no place and no people I’d rather enjoy than home in Cayman and the saints here. So for me, it was refreshing to be home again and to reconnect with life here. Those ten days of talking with others about hopes, pains, Jesus, the church, ideas, failures, the Father and the Holy Spirit, victories and needs… were simply a treasure. But the richest treasure this pastor knows is discussing and living those same things with his wife, children, and saints at FBC. In an interesting sort of way, traveling and building relationships abroad refresh me but at the same time make me hunger for the warmth of home (some of us praying at T4G).
We were home for a week before joining the Desiring God and Bethlehem Baptist Church families for the national conference and for the Bethlehem College and Seminary convocation. More Christ-exalting, God-honoring, church-building, faith-stirring time with a host of saints and friends. I particularly enjoyed time with Sam Crabtree and Tim Tomlinson, and the mealtime conversations with conference speakers Al Mohler, John and Noel Piper, Francis and Lisa Chan, David Mathis, and others. But the deepest impression was probably made when we gave thanks to God for His gift of John and Noel Piper and during the convocation. I had the same experience when Richard Denham was honored in Brazil. It was the sobering, hopeful, joyful, awesome awareness that 30 years (in John’s case) and fifty years (in Denham’s case) of faithfully making the word of God known yields fruit beyond imagination. These men just preached the word and God built people, churches, organizations like DG and Fiel, a seminary, and impacts hundreds of thousands around the world. In my spirit, I was challenged about my faith in God’s word. Do I believe that faithfully preaching for decades would yield such a bountiful harvest for the glory of Christ? Am I that committed to the word? Can I connect daily, ordinary faithfulness to grand, God-sized results? And I felt in my spirit the only possible answer: Time will tell.
So, I’m thankful for conferences for the way they stir my relationship with God, with my own heart, with the wider church, and with friends new and old. And this morning I’m giving thanks for it all and asking the Lord to multiply it in the life of the saints here at FBC.