Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference

I was privileged to attend my 21st annual Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference this past week in Pennsylvania with about 250 other men. Although it was held in a new venue (Elizabethtown College) the format was the same, and the majority of the faces were longtime friends. It did seem that a record number of “first time attenders” were present, and I thank God for the growing interest in historic, experiential Christianity.

The conference theme was “The Glory of Christ” and speakers included Dr Sinclair Ferguson (always worthlistening to), Fred Malone, Jonathan Master (professor at Philadelphia Bible Univ.), Ian Hamilton, Iain Murray (a co-founder of Banner, former pastor and superb author), and Dennis Prutrow (professor of homiletics at RPTS).

Highlights for me were Ferguson’s two addresses on the high-priesthood of Jesus Christ, and Iain Murray’s address on William Tyndale, very inspiring. Of course, my frequent visits to the Banner of Truth “book room” (and friends Rob Wiley, John Rawlinson, and the crew) were most enjoyable! My primary purchase was a long-awaited acquisition of the six volume Works of (puritan) John Flavel. I also profited from talks with author Jim Garretson and as a result picked-up his new “Princeton and the Work of the Christian Ministry” (in two-volumes).

These times of conference — with great worship, passionate preaching, fellowship, and time for reflection – are always useful in refreshing my spirit and strengthening my resolve for serving in the ministry. The long drive home was filled with much thanksgiving and praise to our Lord for His grace and blessing in my life, and for the opportunity to serve Him in Clifton Park, NY.

It is well with my soul.
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Gethsemane’s King

Have you ever noticed how truly regal Jesus appears at the hour of His arrest? Consider the account from John, an eyewitness —

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron Valley, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2 Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4 Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5 They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6 When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7 So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8 Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” — John 18 esv

At the recent Banner of Truth Conference, Dr Joel Beeke, a long-time pastor, and President of Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Michigan (and a friend of mine), spoke from John 18 of our Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. We’re told that Jesus knew what would happen to Him (18:4), yet still entered the familiar place of prayer so that these events might unfold according to Scripture (18:9). It ought to amaze us to see here our 33 year old Savior directly in harm’s way yet acting with royal bearing, controlling the very circumstance of that night. Let me share Dr Beeke’s main points from first part of his address last Tuesday night….

THE KING’S THREEFOLD SOVEREIGNTY

(1) A Question asked with Authority. Jesus boldly takes the lead with the approaching mob: “Whom do you seek?” Faced with many men, with weapons, Jesus did not shrink back, but stepped forward. He is already in charge.

(2) Sovereign Self-Identification. Hearing their derisive reply (“Jesus of Nazareth“), He is not put off. “I am,” Jesus firmly answered — “ego emi” in Greek, the root meaning of the name LORD. At this, the formidable mob falls back, to the ground! Do you see this? If this Judas-led mob thought they were simply grabbing a troublesome young rabbi hiding in an olive grove at night, they were now sorely mistaken! His voice, that profession, His presence was awesome, if not fearful. They shrink back and cower. What would He say next?

(3) His Sovereign Self-substitution. After confirming His identity a second time, Jesus directs them in their task: “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” For many months Jesus had set His face towards Jerusalem. He was heading into His cross. The Gospel of Mark provides Jesus’ explanation: “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45). He offers Himself, and directs that His disciples be free to go. This was our Savior’s intention and work from the beginning: “Me for them.”

Amazing. Hail Jesus, the King of Gethsemane!

The second half of this conference message goes on to speak of the Lamb of Gethsemane. [more soon, DV].
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The Prayer of Jesus –

The night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed, in part, the following —

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (Jn 17:20-23, esv)

This was the opening text preached at the BANNER OF TRUTH MINISTERS’ CONFERENCE by Mark Johnston, Banner Trustee, Pastor at Proclamation Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. It was a fine reminder of one of our highest priorities: UNITY.

First note the WEIGHT of Jesus’ concern for our unity. He mentions “oneness” twice in short compass. This unity among believers here on earth somehow reflects the unity of our triune God in heaven above. It is not “uniformity” among believers [consider the ‘minimalist’ statement issued from the Apostles in Jerusalem for the early church in Acts 15], but it is real and must be visible. Second, consider the IMPACT of this unity. It goes far beyond our congregation or assemblies. The world is watching! Jesus mentions this twice. Indeed, the power of the gospel and the presence of grace in a united group of diverse folks is a tremendous witness to the world — as Jesus intended it to be. Third, we considered the MEANS of this unity. While more could have been said, the preacher reminded us that the church as an organism (not merely an organization) enlivened by the love of God our Father. Thus we must know God, and be loved by Him (which is what “known” here means in the biblical language). The mark of Christianity is love.

Brothers, do you realize that Jesus was praying this for us? Oh, may we strive for greater unity, in the strength of the Holy Spirit!

“Speak, O Lord” hymn/prayer for the Word

At the Gospel Coalition national conference this past week, our worship sessions were led by Keith & Kristyn Getty — a real delight indeed! One of the new hymns they introduced is “Speak, O Lord” (written by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend). It uses a marvelous, simple melody as the lyrics are a petition for the Lord to bless the preaching and hearing of His holy Word.

Here are the lyrics:

Speak, O Lord, as we come to You
To receive the food of Your Holy Word.
Take Your truth, plant it deep in us;
Shape and fashion us in Your likeness,
That the light of Christ might be seen today
In our acts of love and our deeds of faith.
Speak, O Lord, and fulfill in us
All Your purposes for Your glory.

Teach us, Lord, full obedience,
Holy reverence, true humility;
Test our thoughts and our attitudes
In the radiance of Your purity.
Cause our faith to rise; cause our eyes to see
Your majestic love and authority.
Words of pow’r that can never fail—
Let their truth prevail over unbelief.

Speak, O Lord, and renew our minds;
Help us grasp the heights of Your plans for us—
Truths unchanged from the dawn of time
That will echo down through eternity.
And by grace we’ll stand on Your promises,
And by faith we’ll walk as You walk with us.
Speak, O Lord, till Your church is built
And the earth is filled with Your glory.

To catch the tune and hear an interview with the writers, check out this video clip.

The Gospel Coalition Day 2 recap

Wednesday was a full day here in Chicago at The Gospel Coalition-2011 conference, with three major sessions and some workshop sessions. I also bumped into more friends — old and new!

EARLY SESSION – There was an extra session (over the breakfast hour) with a panel of speakers on Pastoral Transitions. I went to hear from Mark Dever’s insights (and to glean some ideas for a man I know looking to enter the ministry). I am also now more anxious to fulfill my pastoral responsibilities to my church, and help prepare them for their next pastoral transition [hopefully a long way off!].

Main Hall TGC-11 Stage

SESSION 5 – James MacDonald on “Not According to Our Sins” from Psalm 25. This is a popular mega-church pastor from Chicago, whose pulpit style was much more modern (lots of waking about, and use of video clips & props) and anecdotal (lots of personal sharing and illustrations). The props included three large ‘oil drum’ like containers into which he put cue-card sized terms as he made various points. One pastor I talked with said he learned a lot more about James MacDonald than about Psalm 25.

WORKSHOPS. The first workshop I attended was a panel discussion on the training of the next generation of Pastors & Leaders, featuring Al Mohler, Mark Driscoll, David Helm, Don Carson and Ligon Duncan. There some good insights into how seminaries and churches need to work together — and churches need to take the lead in training up future pastors.

Lunch at Giardano's!

For lunch I was invited to join with my friend Ron and the staff of Desert Springs Church — having deep dish pizza at Giordano’s (the best!). it took three taxicabs to transport our little group there (and back again). Sitting in the front with the driver I tried to strike up a gospel conversation. The first driver it turned out, was an Egyptian Coptic Christian, who was glad we were meeting in town. The driver on the return trip said it was his first day driving a cab. He was more interested in tossing me one-liners than anything else. When he learned I was a pastor, he quieted down a bit.

My second workshop was with Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert on the “the Mission of the Church” — no small topic that! It was great to see these guys in person after reading their books and blogs. I have some good notes from this for sharing later on.

SESSION 6 – Conrad Mbewe (of Zambia) spoke from Jeremiah 23:1-8 on “The Righteous Branch.” VERY fine, powerful preaching with great connections of broad themes (shepherd & righteousness) in the OT and NT. This has been one of my favorite sessions so far. Definitely worth listening to when the audio becomes available.

SESSION 7 – Matt Chandler spoke on “Youth” from a well known section of Ecclesiastes 11-12. This young preacher is an energetic expositor and very well versed in the message of Ecclesiastes. Although a much different style of preaching than Mohler, Mbewe or Carson, it was a good sermon with significant applications. (more good notes to use on the blog or at the church!). If you want to listen to this, wait for the video version!

Some of the people contacts today included Pastor David Brame – an old friend from New England days, and Dr Craig Troxel – a friend from the last Banner of Truth conference (where he also spoke). New friends included a fellow I prayed at the close of the first session, a helpful representative from Covenant Seminary, and the lunch bunch from Desert Springs Church (NM), including Pastor & Mrs. Ryan Kelly, Trent Hunter, and others. I even found time to read half a book during the supper hour, and also to pray for my family and the folks at CPCC as they were about to gather for Wednesday night programs (I’m missing them all).

Looking forward to our final day.
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Day Two dawns @ TGC11

The sunrise is a fantastic thing to see — as I did this morning around 6 AM over Lake Michigan (getting the camera out was an afterthought). Plan to blog on Psalm 19:4b-6 later this week….
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In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The Gospel Coalition — Day One

Effervescence is a fine sounding word that describes the process of bubbles moving through a liquid solution. At the end of the first day of the conference here in Chicago, I’m weary in body, but my spirit is effervescent! There has been ample spiritual stimulation — from the Word of God, from times of corporate worship, from reconnecting with old friends, and from discovering new friends.

This morning Ron and I walked through all the exhibits (seminaries and ministries) on display here — even one highlighting African Christian University (a seminary planned in Zambia, the vision of Conrad Mbewe and others). I hope you take a minute to check it out…

Then it was off to walk through the book store — the size of a small Walmart — with discounts offered of up to 50% on some mighty fine titles. I ran into friends working the tables at: the Matthias Media (Marty), Reformation Heritage Books (Mike & Joel), Banner of Truth books (Steve). I might mention some of the good books I bought later on, after the conference.

After an opening word of welcome by Dr Don Carson, we were led in worship by Keith & Kristyn Getty and their wonderful band. The room rang out with songs of praise to our Lord Jesus Christ, as an estimated 6,000 or more souls sang together in the huge convention hall.

SESSION ONE: Dr Al Mohler on “Studying the Scriptures and Finding Jesus” from John 5:31-47. The words of Jesus here Continue reading

The Gospel Coalition 2011 meeting begins

I arrived in Chicago last night in order to attend “The Gospel Coalition 2011” conference. The theme this year is They Testify About Me – Preaching Jesus and the Gospel from the Old Testament. Thousands of people are expected to attend. Speakers will include Al Mohler, Tim Keller, Alistair Begg, James McDonald, Conrad Mbewe (of Africa), Matt Chandler, and D.A. Carson. Music will be led by Keith & Kristyn Getty. I hope to blog my way through, but we’ll see!

I’m rooming with a very dear, old friend, (Dr Ron Giese), staying in the conference hotel overlooking the McCormack Place convention center. We have already enjoyed catching up on things.

McCormack Place from 14th floor of Hyatt

In the lobby I happened to be standing next to a little group that included Justin Taylor (he’s way taller than I expected), Collin Hansen, and a couple of other ‘famous’ guys. Neat stuff.

Last night Ron and I rode the city bus to downtown for world famous Giordano’s Chicago deep dish pizza (fantastic).

This is a big American city, with old and new buildings (tall and wide), and streets throbbing with commerce and people. This morning I read about cities in the Bible. I lingered over Isaiah 26, which declares to believers, “We have a strong city…”

In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
“We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. 2 Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. 3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord God is an everlasting rock.

From Genesis on, the Bible presents a contrast between the cities built by men, and the ‘city’ being built by God (here’s a nod to Augustine’s famous writing CITY OF GOD). The ‘city of God’ is the only safe and lasting place to dwell. As Isaiah tells us, you enter by being righteous — right with God — by humble faith (26:4) in His mercy and grace. And that’s found in Jesus Christ, who came and brought the kingdom of God near. Isaiah not only declares these things, but invites men and women to come and enter — and enjoy the blessings of our great redeemer God.

I look out my hotel window and see a great city before me. As I attend this conference, with thousands of believers gathering to praise the Lord, and to sit before His Holy Word, I see a greater city. I’m glad to be an American, but I am overwhelmed that I am a citizen of heaven.

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Piper & Sproul, honest and passionate dealers in truth


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John Piper and R C Sproul were recently together at the Ligonier conference in Florida. Two very significant men, representing two very significant ministries in our day (Desiring God & Ligonier). I can easily say that these men (I’ve met both) and their books have greatly shaped my own theology and ministry.

In a simple blog post about them and this event (by Justin Taylor), the following comment was made about why these men appeal so well to the younger generation….

Why, under God, are people attracted to the teaching of Dr. Sproul and Dr. Piper? Why do so many folks see them as “spiritual fathers”?

One reason is that younger believers, in particular, have highly attuned “boloney detectors” (to use the technical term). They are hypersensitive to hypocrisy and phoniness. And when they hear Dr. Sproul and Dr. Piper teach and preach, they hear authority and authenticity, truth and love, passion and power, combined in a compelling and arresting way. It’s not merely the God-centered, biblically saturated content. It’s that this deep theology is creatively presented and passionately believed. These men do not merely teach; they herald, they summon, they exhort, they plead, they yearn. In a way that’s difficult to describe in a non-clichéd way, the timber of their voices contains both sorrow and joy. And in that sense, I think they echo the tone of their sorrowful-yet-always-rejoicing Savior.

You can read the whole post here, and visit the Ligonier site for links to the conference video, etc. In 2009, at Piper’s 30th anniversary in ministry, I wrote about my time serving under him at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis here and again here.

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At “The Banner” Conference 2010

After a long drive on Tuesday — including the annual traffic tie-ups around Scranton, PA (30 minutes stalled on an interstate highway while workers picked up cones) — I arrived at the campus of Messiah College just in time for the annual Banner of Truth Ministers’ Conference. The Banner of Truth Trust is a book publisher based in Edinburgh, Scotland, which features wonderful Christian writings from the past and present with a theologically reformed point of view. Anything they publish is worth reading, and some of my most cherished books have their logo (George Whitefield preaching) on the spine!

This is my 19th annual conference. I dearly love the fraternal relationships here, the sweet times of worship (hundreds of men singing psalms & hymns), and, of course, the passionate preaching of God’s Word from esteemed brothers from around the world. 19 years ago Pastor Irfon Hughes brought me here from New England where I was serving at the time. Irfon is featured in a promotional video clip HERE (and at the bottom of that same web page, you can see me in a photo — blue shirt carrying my briefcase over my shoulder!). Irfon is not here this year; he is missed. I am also missing my dear friend (and Banner founder) Iain H Murray this year.

I have seen some dear old brothers, and met some new ones, too. The older ones are like familiar fixtures in my world of friends — bringing the comfort of familiar faces, and remembrance of many shared joys and tears; the new acquaintances are like a welcome, fresh breeze, as I get to hear new stories of the work of grace in their lives. I am encouraged each year at what God is doing in so many places in our land, especially in the younger generation (I can speak like this now that I am 50 years old!).

This is so much more than a conference with plenary sessions, and a bookstore of resources — it is a reunion of friends and colleagues, a time of deep theological thinking, a season of physical refreshing (on a beautiful campus), and, sweetest of all, a closer encounter with the Lord my God. The Spirit of God is working on me here — through the Word preached, and through the ministry of many dear brothers.

Pray that I learn what the Spirit is teaching me, and consecrate myself afresh to the service of my Lord Jesus Christ — for the glory of God the Father.

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