Usually when I attend a conference, I sit through the sessions typing furiously trying to capture as much of what God is saying to us through his Word as I possibly can. This is not an easy task, but it is one I enjoy. It is something I am sure I will do many times over the next few years, as I have no intention of stopping.
However, preaching is not about making the process of transferring information from the speaker’s notes to the hearers’ notes as efficient as possible. We are meant to be impacted by the Word in the very core of our being, and allow our hearts and minds to be shaped by it. This is a holy moment. It is an activity of the Holy Spirit. It is something that does not happen to the same extent every time someone opens their mouth to preach. It seems to require the appropriate preparation of both the preacher and the hearers, not just the best preparation of his sermon notes. Over the years I have listened to many sermons that must have taken multiple hours to prepare yet had little effect on my heart. No doubt most of the time that was my fault rather than the preacher’s. But there have been times when I have not been well prepared to sit under God’s Word and yet a particularly anointed preacher arrested me and lovingly pummeled me with the Bible, leaving me forever transformed. I can point to messages I have heard more than a decade ago that are still having fruit in my life today.
So, in preparing for the Desiring God Pastors Conference that commences later today, I have felt led to on this occasion to lay aside my laptop. This is to make it easier for me to open my heart more fully to my Lord Jesus. I long for him to lovingly confront me at a deep emotional level by his Spirit operating through speakers who are surely among some of the most anointed alive today.
Desiring God is very generous with, where possible, sharing notes of the sessions and both video and audio online. This made my decision to approach this event differently from a blogging perspective easier. As a result, here is my plan. I will not write notes during the sessions. But that does not mean I will not be blogging this event. Each evening I will write what will effectively be a public journal. I will document the effects the day as a whole has had on me, and the way I want to live differently as a result. I will actually share some things that stand out for me from the talks, but even more than usual, these will be described through the lens of my own encounter with God through his Word. Thus, for me a single throw away comment in the middle of a talk might be THE thing that spoke to me most. Don’t therefore look to me this week for an accurate summary of the main points of all the talks. Instead, feel free to join me as I chronicle the work of God on an individual’s heart. Please pray for me that God will shape me well through his word this week. It would be very embarrassing indeed to have to report that my mind had been wandering and I learned nothing!
To give you a taste of what is to come, I will begin this conference journal by reflecting on this weekend. I have had an incredible time. Memorable highlights for me begin with my delight in sharing prolonged times with my pastor, Tope Koleoso. His wisdom, kindness, and constant desire for me to be the best that I can be for Jesus is the chief means that God uses to keep me on track with him. His faith is inspiring to me. Flight time, restaurant time, and sharing a room in the hotel, has been precious. I want to follow this man as he follows Jesus for a very long time to come. His devotion to and dependence on Jesus, as well as his commitment to prayer, is a constant provocation to me. May God make me to be more of a man of prayer.
Yesterday we attended several meetings at Bethlehem Baptist Church. From the moment I walked into their building, and throughout every meeting we were at, I was struck by the clear sweet sense of the presence of the same Holy Spirit we enjoy back at home. We encountered God in every meeting. How appropriate it was then that God chose today to be the day they described a church plant called Jubilee Community Church to their congregation. Coming as we do from a church called Jubilee, we felt right at home!
John Piper’s sermon, and the talk by their new church plant’s leader, also resonated with me. Their passion to serve the poor, but to do that while also sharing the gospel with them, is something that has been very much on our hearts back home.
As the planter pointed out so helpfully, the Spirit is on us in order that we can bring liberation to those who are poor. In particular, Piper made the point that Jesus who is glorified and all powerful has promised that HE that will build his church. A theme which seemed to underlie the day for me was the way they clearly felt needing to be good stewards of the remarkable outpouring of grace that their church has experienced. Not every church is as blessed as Bethlehem.
It was a delight also to renew our friendship with some dear friends – David Livingstone and his wife Karin (as well as meeting one of their daughters). They had previously visited us in London, but we turned up unannounced on Sunday morning at the Bethlehem campus David is the pastor of. We spent some precious time with them, and found in them such real kindred spirits. To visit a church for just a day and yet feel you are among dear brothers and sisters is something very special. It is a rare thing, but one in which I delight.
We also walked through the Mall of America, apparently we passed around 90% of the shops there, which is no small feat! I ended the weekend full of thankfulness to God for his abundant grace towards us. I was glad to hear that, as my wife put it, church back at home was “great” and when iChatting for just a few moments with the family back home, it was good to see that they all seemed to be happy and enjoying themselves without me!