Unfailing comfort

Oh, you who want unfailing comfort, I commend you to Christ! In Him alone there is no failure. Rich men are disappointed in their treasures. Learned men are disappointed in their books. Husbands are disappointed in their wives. Wives are disappointed in their husbands. Parents are disappointed in their children. Statesmen are disappointed when, after many a struggle, they attain place and power. They find out, to their cost, that it is more pain than pleasure, – that it is disappointment, annoyance, incessant trouble, worry, vanity, and frustration of spirit.
But no man was ever disappointed in Christ.

~ J.C. Ryle

*I’m back from a whirlwind vacation week: Last Monday I flew through Atlanta to Florida, then drove the family minivan from there to northwest Georgia (experienced night of tornadoes there), to Nashville (2 days); then on through Ohio to Grove City, PA and Syracuse, NY. Home late last night. This week I hope to post comments on the rest of the T.G.C. conference, as well as the vacation week. God has been teaching me much, and sprinkling blessings at every turn.

“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.

TGC-2011 Day Three…

Today started earlier than normal with a special session at 7:30 AM, entitled “God: Abounding in Love, Punishing the Guilty.” It began with Dr Don Carson laying out a detailed picture of the problem of universalism and a biblical case against it, followed by a panel of four pastors (including Kevin DeYoung & Tim Keller) answering questions on the subject. This special session was called in response to current events, namely the book “Love Wins” by Rob Bell which denigrates the traditional view of the reality of hell, and promotes a form of “universalism.” Dr Carson’s main points were helpful in approaching this dangerous view of universalism. In his conclusion he said that Bell’s handling of the doctrine of the atonement is deeply manipulative — and even blasphemous. I urge you to check out the audio of this address (if/when available here

This issue is of great importance for the future of Christianity in America. *Just today TIME magazine put this issue on its cover (click cover for magazine site).

SESSION 8 – Mike Bullmore (a pastor from Wisconsin!) spoke from Zephaniah on “God’s Great HEart of Love Toward His Own.” A fine exposition, clearly connecting the OT with the NT, and point to Christ. (listen here).

SESSION 9 – featured Don Carson speaking on “Getting Excited About Melchizedek” with texts from Psalm 110, Genesis and Hebrews [note his high aim with that title!]. This was, perhaps, the strongest message on the theme of the conference — Preaching Jesus and the Gosel from the Old Testament. Listen here.

In between sessions I was able to pack and store my suitcase, and walk through the exhibits and book store one more time! I also ran into an old dear friend (the former IVCF staff from my college campus) Cam Anderson. After 30 years with InterVarsity, Cam is now director of CIVA, Christians in the Visual Arts. We had a nice time catching up — and thanking God for blessings past and present. I also ran in to another former intern at BBC, Brent Nelson, (a guy with a golden voice) who now pastors a large church in Michigan.

My view of the stage (one of 4 huge screens is partly visible beyond the podium)

As I ponder a final assessment of this conference, I know already I can say the following:
• it was a vibrant gathering of a great number of believers that brought an increased sense of hope in God’s work in this present day
• much was learned about important passages in the Bible
• sound doctrine and the gospel are what I crave to hear preached
• the variety of ministry styles observed here was instructive
• there are far more good books available today than I’ll be able to read
• that there are myriads of wonderful songs for singing God’s praises
• that some of the sweetest blessings to my soul come from contact with old (and new) friends who clearly walk with Christ
• and that I cannot thank God enough for such seasons of reflection, refreshing & rejoicing!

– pdb

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.

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….

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.