A Sorrowful But Always Rejoicing Conference

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I’ve been to a lot of conferences in thirty plus years of pastoral ministry. Another one has gone into the books. I, along with the rest of the elders at OGC, just finished attending The Gospel Coalition’s 2015 National Conference. The theme was “Coming Home: New Heaven and New Earth.” We drank from a non-stop fire hose of teaching about eschatology, the doctrine of last things, the recreation that is not yet, and how it makes a difference in our lives in the now.

I’ve dubbed it my sorrowful-yet-always-rejoicing conference. Of course I’m thinking of Paul’s description of gospel-shaped saints in 2 Cor. 6:10. This is the nature of living in the now while we wait for the not yet. We suffer the sorrows of the now, living under the curse (see Genesis 3). However, we do not grieve as those without hope, but rather rejoice always in the sure promises of the not yet still to come.

I experienced the tension in both ways these forty-eight hours just passed. I felt the sorrow. While Voddie Baucham preached on 1 Cor. 15 about the resurrection of the dead, he painted a picture. In it he described standing over the dead body of his sixteen year old cousin and the emotions which flooded him as he was confronted by the sting of death. I flashed back to standing over my own son’s lifeless body last year. Yet another terrorist attack of grief detonated within. I endured once more those horrible pangs of sadness which I suspect will linger until I finish out my own numbered days.

But I also felt the rejoicing. The conference finished with Phil Ryken teaching out of Revelation 21-22). He too painted a picture. It involved not a now, but a not yet hope for every believer as detailed in Rev. 21:4 – “He will wipe away every tear.” That hope comforted me. It tempered my loss and renewed my joy. On that day when I go home, because of what Jesus has done for me in His death, burial, and resurrection, the Lord will greet me and personally wipe away every tear I have and ever will shed over the agonizing loss of my firstborn. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to that moment.

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Of course, as you might expect, there were many other things of value that came from the conference. Not the least of which was the benefit of having all seven of our elders there to increase our gospel passion and ponder how better to lead OGC. Please pray for us as we gather our thoughts and eventually debrief toward some action steps as God would lead. I can hardly express the value which comes from these rare opportunities when we can discuss with leisure the state of Christ’s church and how to lead her into the future.

On behalf of our entire team, this pastor says, “Thank you, the gospel-shaped, giving people of Orlando Grace Church.”

Transition – Time for Pondering Anew

Any time the Lord gifts me with the privilege of attending a pastor’s conference, especially the Desiring God one in Minneapolis each February, I always pray the same thing. Lord, speak. Let me hear your voice. Show me what you require.

Once again He has not failed me as I reach the end of day two of this particular event entitled, Brothers, We Are Still Not Professionals.

This morning Pastor John Piper introduced his replacement at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Pastor Jason Meyer. Ever since I heard about this young man having to step into such humongous ministerial shoes I have asked myself, who in the world would want to follow John Piper? I learned this morning as no surprise at all that this man has felt much the same thing. In fact, when first queried about the possibility of taking over Bethlehem’s reins by Piper himself, Meyer responded quite vulnerably, “Nothing scares me more than that.” To which the retiring mentor replied, “Well, that’s not a no.” The rest, as they say, is history.

In his talk entitled Pastoral Transition After a 32-Year Ministry: Strategy and the Supernatural, Meyer went on to do two things. He told the story of how the whole surprising and, in some ways, unlikely appointment to such an imposing post came about. And then he offered four lessons from the process for our edification. You can listen to the entire message here. Consider it a worthy use of your valuable time. You won’t be disappointed.

Bethlehem’s “Joshua” transitioning into her treasured “Moses” role as shepherd of this congregation, fashioned his talk around phrases from two great hymns of the faith – Praise to the Lord the Almighty and To God Be  the Glory. The phrase from the first was this: Ponder anew what the Almighty can do. There is where the Lord spoke to me in the way the man linked that timeless exhortation of the hymn writer to the challenge of change in any ministry. Transitions are not to be feared; they are opportunities  from God to ponder anew what He can do.

Truth be told I can get scared when I think of losing Greg & Christina this summer to his church planting apprenticeship. How will our rich music ministry continue? Where will help for pastoral demands come from? Who will take care of the seemingly endless number of administrative details Greg handles in a given week? These questions and more can keep any pastor awake at night.

God knows. I say it again. God knows.

So ponder anew with  me what the Almighty will do as we wait on Him for His provision. Pray with me and the elders that we will plan and execute a God-centered strategy that profits Orlando Grace nearly as much as the one these dear folks in Minnesota employed to arrive at a replacement for someone of Piper’s stature.

Let us not fear transitions, but God who unfailingly leads His people through one change after another.

Then we will sing once again, “To God be the glory, great things He has done.”

Two Complimentary Registrations

Through my connections with the Florida Chapter of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, I have access to two complimentary registrations for this weekend’s conference on adoption in Lake Mary.

For a detailed look at the conference click on here.

The description on the site is as follows:

We will hear gifted men exposit the Scriptures concerning how you, your family, and your local church, can embrace this life-changing truth in very practical ways. The speakers will trace the love of God to the adoption of His children. They will also bring out how that love should motivate us to care for the needs of children that do not have loving parents or a family.  These teachings on the comfort and hope of adoption will warm your heart and deepen your understanding of what it means to be a part of God’s forever family. Your appreciation for the Christian family and the church will grow as you discover how these divine institutions meet very real needs in practical ways.

Registration included entry, meals, and a concert by Andrew Peterson on Friday night!

If you would like to know the coupon code to use for registration, email me at revheff@gmail.com and I will be happy to share it with you, first come/first served.

Story '10 from Pioneers

Pioneers will do it again.

In the years between Urbana conferences, they host their own mission’s conference right here in Orlando. I went to Story ’08 and found it well worth while.

Here is the description of the conference from their VP:

Story’10 is a missions conference from Pioneers which invites you to be a part of God’s story among the unreached peoples of the world.  You’ll hear first-hand accounts of how God is moving in the world from missionaries fresh off the field from areas like Thailand, Central Asia, Indonesia, Europe, South America, Africa and more!  There’s even a track specifically for kids!  For more information check out pioneers.org/story!

Watch the trailer now!

Story’10 Trailer from Pioneers-USA on Vimeo.

Adopted4Ever Conference

A few weeks ago David Wooten of Embraced By Grace ministries joined us to tell us about this event in Lake Mary on Nov. 5 & 6 at the Westin Lake Mary that will focus on adoption from two directions – vertical in terms of our relationship with God and horizontal in terms of the ministry of adopting orphans into our Christian families.

Here is a portion of the description for the conference web link:

We will hear gifted men exposit the Scriptures concerning how you, your family, and your local church, can embrace this life-changing truth in very practical ways. The speakers will trace the love of God to the adoption of His children. They will also bring out how that love should motivate us to care for the needs of children that do not have loving parents or a family.  These teachings on the comfort and hope of adoption will warm your heart and deepen your understanding of what it means to be a part of God’s forever family. Your appreciation for the Christian family and the church will grow as you discover how these divine institutions meet very real needs in practical ways.

Early registration of only $59 ends this Thursday, September 30, and includes two meals AND a special concert by Andrew Peterson.

If you want to learn more about this doctrine of Scripture that John Owen called the fountain privilege of the gospel and/or find out more information about adopting children into your own family, this conference is for you.

Ligonier National Conference Begins Today!

Tough Questions Christians Face.

That’s the theme for this year’s Ligonier National Conference beginning today here in Orlando and running through Saturday morning.

Here is the promo paragraph from the Ligonier website for the conference:

Christ has redeemed us to be a light that directs others to Him. Fulfilling this call requires us to be able to deal with the most difficult questions asked about the Christian faith. If we are unprepared for the darkness around us, it will be harder to counter it with the truth of God’s Word. Join us as we look at some of the toughest questions Christians face. Our goal is to equip you to answer questions that all Christians and non-Christians find perplexing.

Did you know that Ligonier is live streaming video of every session on line?

You can view any talk you wish by clicking on here.

Battle for the Bible (CRI National Conference)

The Christian Research Institute will hold its 2010 national conference, Battle for the Bible, from May 6-8 in Tampa, Florida.

Here is a brief description of the event’s components from the conference director:

Our event starts on Thursday evening May 6th for a special National Day of Prayer service with Dr. James White, Hank Hanegraaff, Lee Strobel, Steve Camp, Joe Hancock and Steve Kreloff.  It will be an evening blessed with incredible worship and corporate prayer. Friday May 7th begins with James White, Hank Hanegraaff, Lee Strobel, and Steve Kreloff and ends with the “Is the Bible True” debate.  Saturday May 8th is a strong day of conference and worship with Joe Hancock, James White, Lee Strobel, Hank Hanegraff, and Dr. Tom Ascol.  The program will conclude at 8PM.
Our congregation has been granted 100 free tickets, first-come-first-served, to the conference. Click on the website here and when you register use the code GEN300 and you will get in for free. Pretty sweet.

Piper/Warren & the Coming of the Antichrist

Rarely without a provocative opinion and always prepared to dis pessimistic eschatologies in favor of his postmill view,  Pastor Doug Wilson (my pastor for a season during our stay in Moscow, Idaho long ago) offers his take on the Piper/Warren controversy.

Check it out. He has some good stuff to say.

Rick Warren and Desiring God 2010 (Part III) from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

Headed for T4G

T4G stands for Together for the Gospel, a bi-annual conference that encourages pastors to take their stand together for the gospel.

I attended back in ’06 but missed two years ago. The image above shows the speakers at that conference in ’08.

This time around I felt strongly led to return. I don’t know of any other event of its kind that draws together like-minded reformed pastors and church leaders from a variety of traditions for the purpose of promoting modern reformation and fidelity to the gospel in the pulpit. I just couldn’t see how I could afford to miss another opportunity like this on my watch at OGC.

The theme of this year’s conference is The (Unadjusted) Gospel. Click below for a look at the brief promo video.

I leave early tomorrow morning and arrive home late Thursday night.

Would you please pray for me that I hear the Lord’s voice these next three days? Also, pray for my time with various folks I know who go to school there as well as other pastors with which I will be sharing fellowship. Pray that I might be refreshing to them like Onesiphorus of old (2 Tim. 1:16).

I am asking the Lord to make me a better pastor by the investment of resources required for attending such an event. I covet your prayers for the same.

I do hope to post on our blog from Louisville while I am there, Lord willing and time permitting!

Strange Bedfellows: Piper & Warren at the DG National Conference

I suppose it won’t take long before someone asks me what I think about John Piper inviting Rick Warren to speak at this fall’s Desiring God national conference.

Honestly I could hardly believe my eyes and the brows above them raised to just about the Minneapolis Convention Center ceiling last February at the DG pastor’s conference when I saw the screen slide indicating that Pastor Warren of Saddleback Church and the best selling Purpose Driven Life fame would share the dais along with the likes of Mohler, Sproul (via video), Anyabwile, Chan, and Piper himself.

Dr. Piper recently sought to defend his actions in one of his Ask Pastor John sessions. You can view the video here.

I’ve watched that, as well as the other video where Piper talks about why he invited all the speakers. You can view that here. That he would call Rick Warren “rock solid” surprised me, I must admit. I’m not an expert in all things Rick Warren, to be sure, but I have read Purpose Driven Life and agree with Tim Challies that Pastor Warren takes excessive liberties with his treatment of the Scriptures as a teacher of the same. He is not one I would hold up as a prime example of 2 Tim. 2:15.

In one way I could care less about Warren’s politics and international connections (read the blogosphere banter and you will quickly see what I mean). All I need to know is how does the man handle the sacred writ. Everything from politics to partnerships in a person’s life goes uphill or downhill from there.

So bottom line? I must confess that the choice does trouble me. There is so much I respect and treasure about John Piper’s influence on my life as a pastor. Few theologians, save Dr. David Wells, who wrote five books like No Place for Truth to counter Warrenesque-like thinking, has done more to aid the ongoing reformation of my own more man-centered approach to ministry, to what I trust continues to become a more God-centered one, than John Piper has. And it is for that very reason that I wonder about the wisdom behind such a decision. Why invite so admittedly, to use Piper’s own words, a pragmatist and purveyor of the modern evangelical malaise (my words) to arguably one of the finest annual banqueting tables of God-centered, modern-reformation-committed, truth-saturated, events available today? Strange bedfellows indeed.

I deliberately waited to post my comments on this controversy lest my words reflect more folly than understanding in the debate (see Prov. 18:2). God help us who post prematurely. Anyone who frequents DG events knows of Pastor John’s penchant for pushing the envelope by inviting controversial figures. Do the names Mark Driscoll and Doug Wilson ring any bells? I do not believe Piper possesses a codependent bone in his body. Fear of man does not seem to be one of his issues, unlike this preacher. And I wholeheartedly agree with his appeals for caution in issues related to secondary separation and the need for love to abound in the way we engage one another in our disputes. By the way, I’ve read enough of the blog comments both on the DG site and elsewhere to confirm that we Reformed types still need massive doses of help in toning down our rhetoric and lacing even our most passionate protests with the greatest of these (1 Cor. 13:13). See Justin Taylor for a helpful analysis of the blogosphere free-for-all here. But does the opportunity this DG choice affords us to practice these virtues justify inviting Warren when so many other values related to modern reformation seem jeopardized as a result? I fear not.

Apart from Tim Challies’ perceptive comments referenced above, I found conspicuous by their absence any of the “heavy hitters” (Challies does not count himself among them, but his blog is esteemed by many in our tradition, including me) weighing in on the controversy. Granted, my search was not as thorough as it could have been, but in the time I invested I couldn’t find anything by the folks I would hope would address this (I’ll bet you can guess who they are). Curious. Can anyone help me with links to these “fathers” and their thoughts on this?

Here is my hope. Those folks are talking to John Piper. They’re picking up the phone or flying to Minneapolis, taking the man to lunch and asking something like, “Can you help me understand why you made this choice?” and “May I share with you why I fear it lacks wisdom?” and “What may I do to help you with dealing with the repercussions and fallout?” They’re exercising patience and discretion and due diligence and biblical peacemaking before spouting off on the web.

I might be wrong, but I do not agree with the calls to rescind the invitation to Rick Warren (Psalm 15:4b). I trust Pastor John will do the interview with Warren as promised. My hope is, at some point, my dear brother and mentor from afar might humbly admit that he erred in judgment on this one thing and has learned from it. Lord knows I’ve done my share of that and more in my journey as a pastor-teacher. This whole deal makes me want to exercise even greater care in my decision making as a leader of God’s people, even though the size of my portion of responsibility in the evangelical vineyard pales in comparison to the likes of men like him. Still, I/we shall all give an account no matter what God has entrusted to each of us (Heb. 13:17).

Will I go to this year’s national conference? Probably not. Not because I don’t want to, but because I’ve used up my conference budget on the pastor’s conference, T4G next week (I’m hoping for some redemptive interaction about the Piper/Warren controversy in Louisville), and Ligonier in June . So many conferences, so little time, and only so much money. But I will watch the streaming video if I have time or the recorded video for sure after the fact.

I do not intend at this point to sever fellowship with DG and John Piper. That seems reactionary and extreme a response to me. I still plan to attend the pastor’s conference in February of 2011, Lord willing.

Pastor John may be rightly faulted for imprudence on this issue, but it doesn’t nullify the passion, precision, and integrity with which he breaks the word of life, sermon in and sermon out, conference after conference. Until he shows me something different than his impeccable example of all things 2 Tim. 2:15, I’m in his corner, whether I agree with him or not on his choice to invite Rick Warren to speak this October in Minneapolis.

I would hope he would do the same for me and believe he would.