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October 16, 2013

I am always intrigued by current trends in the Evangelical world, and especially in this Reformed corner of the Evangelical world. When something comes along that seems as if it will make a significant impact, I like to take note. For that reason I have been tracking with what John MacArthur is attempting through his Strange Fire conference and book. That conference kicked off just a short time ago and I listened with interest (via livestream) to the opening keynote because it was here that MacArthur would give his rationale for the event and it was here that he would set its tone.

Before I share my notes, let me say just one thing that stood out to me as the conference began. It is inevitable that at some point John MacArthur will be the subject of a biography (beyond the existing biography written by Iain Murray). Today he is beginning something that will, I think, appear in that biography. We will know better as the conference unfolds what impact it will make in his life and ministry and in the wider Christian world.

There are 4,000 people in attendance at the Strange Fire conference and many thousands more who are watching the live-stream in English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Arabic, Italian, French, Russian and Mandarin. Here is what they heard in the opening address.

John MacArthur’s Opening Keynote

As we address the contemporary Charismatic movement, we are addressing a subject that has been a concern of MacArthur’s for many years and decades. Back in the early days of his ministry he saw the early beginnings of the movement and was deeply concerned. He has addressed it many times since then, first in a series 40 years ago, and later in the book Charismatic Chaos.

When people ask MacArthur for his view on the biggest issue in the church, he always says it is the lack of discernment since, sadly, a great number of those who profess Christianity are lacking in discernment. The purpose of this conference is to be like the Bereans by looking at the work of the Holy Spirit through the lens of Scripture. He hopes to address it lovingly and compassionately, but in a straightforward way.

What is the scope of the issue? There are half a billion professed charismatics on the planet. He pointed out that we feel great freedom to confront Mormons and Mormonism, though there are merely 14 million of them. Yet we hesitate to address 500 million charismatics.

October 16, 2010

The True Woman conference is drawing to an end today. Several of the speakers are currently participating in a panel (kind of like The View but with actual morals) and in just a little while Nancy Leigh DeMoss will provide a final message. And that will be that. And then what? What’s really been accomplished here? Will it be shown to matter over time? This is something I always find myself wondering as a conference draws to a close.

Yesterday I spent some time in front of the business end of a video camera answering a few questions. One question the interviewer asked me was this: what’s the difference between a conference and a movement? It was an unexpected question that, but one that got me thinking a little bit. It got me thinking about this conference and every other conference I go to.

A conference is “just” a conference. Some of us tend to play them up, to make them into these pivotal, ground-shaking, life-sustaining moments in the Christian life through which God does so much of his work. Others downplay them, suggesting that conferences are little more than amusement, times for fun but not for serious growth.

The truth is that conferences vary a lot in intensity and in impact. They are sometimes life changing and are sometimes nearly inconsequential. I do not want to downplay the fact that they truly can be times where something clicks, where something changes in the heart or mind. Sometimes God chooses to act in a mighty way through something that is taught at a conference or sometimes even just through the atmosphere. And I’m sure I’ve seen some of that even this weekend as I’ve witnessed what’s gone on here, how the women have reacted to it and been touched by it.

But at the end of the day, conferences end. And then you’re left with real life, with the daily grind. You leave the place of refuge, the time of focus, and return to life with all its busyness and distraction and difficulty.

But in the case of this conference, a ministry stands behind it; and that ministry offers a lot of amazing resources. True Woman is a conference that is sponsored by Revive Our Hearts. And that ministry has a lot to offer to keep the momentum going, to maintain and further the growth.

There is a daily radio program featuring Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Nancy has written plenty of good books (Aileen is particularly excited about A Place of Quiet Rest, a book that discusses a healthy devotional life). There are several conferences you can watch and/or listen to. There is a True Woman blog that offers lots of really good content.

Perhaps most importantly (or most uniquely), there is a True Woman Manifesto. This manifesto is a call to believe and a call to take action. This video tells a little bit about it:

October 15, 2010

What is a true woman? How does a woman earn that one-word descriptor of true? It occurs to me today that as a culture we really have no hope of answering the question. After all, we have trouble defining a woman, not to mention a true woman.

In today’s A La Carte post I shared a link to a story about a transgender golfer, a “woman” who used to be a man. Lana Lawless, a former SWAT team member, was born male but underwent gender reassignment surgery (also known as a sex change operation). She changed her name (I’ll use the female pronoun here simply for sake of ease), changed her genitalia and now lives as a woman. And as a woman she now demands the right to participate in sports as a woman.

Society plays along with all of this. We all call her a “she” and society demands we do so. If she says she’s a woman, she’s a woman. Period. That’s her right. Don’t be old fashioned and pretend that chromosomes and genetics and genitalia define us. We can be who we feel we need to be.

But there’s a problem. Lana is a golfer, you see. She is a pretty good golfer and it may just be that  some of her success owes to the fact that she has the body and the muscle of a man, even while saying that she is a woman. Society may tell us that Lana is not a man, but it can’t erase the fact that a man’s body is very different from a woman’s body (even if we can remove the male genitalia and replace it with something that looks like a woman’s). And so she is suing the LPGA, demanding recognition as a woman—demanding the right to compete as one.

And really, I think I have to side with her on this one. As long as our culture continues with the insanity of pretending that gender is not innate, that gender is something that can come and go (I’ve heard that some university health centers no longer ask if you are male or female but instead ask you to describe your gender history), it seems to me that she ought to have the right to say, “I’m a woman because I say I’m a woman” and have the right to compete on that basis. We can’t have it both ways.

To loop back to where we began, I wonder, how can we possibly understand what a true woman is if we can’t even figure out what a woman is? Paula Hendricks of Revive Our Hearts hit the streets to ask people what a true woman is. Here are the results:

Confusion reigns, doesn’t it? That’s why I’m thankful for the True Woman Manifesto. It may not completely answer the question, but it is certainly a very good beginning. In the midst of all the confusion, it roots womanhood in the purposes of God. And when we begin at the right place, we’ve already half won the battle.

October 15, 2010

Men, this may hurt a little bit. Pastors, I think it should hurt a little bit. But here is something I’ve observed after being to a handful of womens’ conferences and quite a few pastors’ conferences. Care to guess which one has a more obvious reliance on prayer? Care to guess which kind of conference is more obviously marked by prayer before the conference, praying during the conference and prayer on behalf of those who attend?

I have been to at least 10 or 12 pastors’ conferences now, including most of the major ones that cater to this Reformed world. There is prayer there, to be sure, but these conferences are by no means marked by prayer. I don’t think too many people walk away from them and remember the prayer; they remember the sermons, the sessions, the teaching. I’m glad they remember the teaching. But I’ve long observed that prayer seems like something of an afterthought for so many of them.

One thing I’ve loved to see at True Woman is the very obvious reliance on prayer. This conference is soaked in prayer, bathed in it. Early on they introduced a crowd of men who have come here specifically to pray (and some of whom have done this at each of the True Woman conferences this year).These men come here on their own time and on their own buck. They have prayed by name for each of the 4,000 women attending and are continuing to do so through the event. They are collecting prayer cards every day and praying for those needs—needs the women have identified or the needs of the families the women have left behind for these three days. In an isolated little room, these men are on their knees (literally), praying for hours every day. While the women worship and learn and fellowship, the men are praying for them, laboring in prayer.

This isn’t an easy ministry. Nor is it a visible one; nor is it one whose results are easily seen. And yet they are committed to it. It’s all kinds of awesome. I wanted to talk to one or two of them, but it’s kind of hard to do because, well, they’re praying. I stuck my head into the room just a few moments ago and they were all on their knees. They didn’t look like they wanted to talk.

But there’s more prayer than that. Later tonight, from 10 until 11:30, there will be a concert of prayer, a time dedicated to confession, intercession and praise. Before sessions women are kneeling in prayer, praying corporately. During sessions the speakers are calling for the women to get together in small groups to pray for one another’s children, focusing on those who are unsaved. There are prayer rooms around the building (and they are being used).

The fact is, you can’t come here and miss the prayer. And it strikes me as I see this that the same cannot be said of most of the pastors’ conferences I’ve been to. That seems a shame, doesn’t it?

October 14, 2010

True WomanAt long last I’ve made it to Texas. I’m not quite sure why, but I’ve always wanted to visit Texas and have long said that I’d go the first time I got invited. That invitation came a few months ago in the form of a request to blog the True Woman Conference down here in Fort Worth. When they mentioned that Aileen should come with me, it was a done deal. So here we are. We’ve left the kids with my in-laws and have traveled down to Texas. (Now that I’ve made it to Texas, the state I most want to visit is Alaska. Or Oregon. I’m actually half convinced that Oregon is a fictional place; we all talk about it, but no one has ever bothered to go there to see if it actually exists. I contend that it does not.)

My first impression, as we drove out of the airport and headed toward Fort Worth was, “This looks like Orlando but without the swamps.” They say there are hills in some parts of Texas, but they sure aren’t anywhere near here. I think Fort Worth is probably not the best indicator of what Texas is all about. Nevertheless, it’s the only part of the state I’ll be able to see during this trip, so it’s all I’ve got to go on. So far the only cattle I’ve seen were mounted on the wall of a restaurant and the only cowboy hats were affixed to a sculpture hanging from the ceiling of the convention center.

My second impression came when Aileen and I went looking for dinner. We wandered for a while and eventually found ourselves at a barbecue place. The prices are ridiculously low and the portions ridiculously large. I suppose we are accustomed to Toronto where you pay twice as much money for half as much food. If that food tastes 2 times better or is twice as nutritious, I think it all evens out, right? But the food we had for dinner was plenty good (at least as much of it as we could consume. Neither one of us got through more than about ⅔ of it and even then we were waddling away).

The rest of my impressions will have to wait. Let me tell you a little bit about the conference.

June 20, 2010

Yesterday I posted a brief summary of Al Mohler’s answer to “why does the universe look so old?” Today I want to provide the answer to another tough question. In this case I’m summarizing Derek Thomas’ thoughts on how a good God could command a just holy war (as he did in the Old Testament). I’m not sure that I completely “nailed” the answer, but I tried to capture it the best I could. At the very least I think i got his main point (for which you can skim right to the end).

June 19, 2010

As you know I’m at Ligonier Ministries’ annual conference this week. I was going to give you some thoughts on the conference today but maybe I’ll do that another time. Today Al Mohler spoke on an exceedingly difficult topic—why does the universe look so old? And I think he did an exceptional job of providing an answer that affirms a young earth, 24-hour, 6-day view of creation while also maintaining theological and intellectual credibility. I thought I’d share my notes with you (and I’ll endeavor to let you know when the talk is available online).

Mohler began by saying that there are really only two options for us to follow when we seek an answer: either the world is, indeed, old or the world looks old but is not as old as it appears. He began by reading Genesis 1 and, having done so, affirmed that a straightforward reading of the text tells us of 24-hour days, 6 real days of creation and one real day of rest. And, indeed, this was the overwhelming, untroubled consensus of the church until the 19th century. However, since then four great challenges have arisen:

April 13, 2010

So, this was a long day. It’s about 9 PM as I write this and we’re about 30 minutes away from everything wrapping up for day one of Together for the Gospel. Unfortunately I have to head home tomorrow, so I won’t be here to the end. However, I’ll see if I can find something fun to shoot before I leave.

In the meantime, here are a couple of thoughts about the day along with some random snippets I recorded here and there.

April 13, 2010

I’m down here at T4G and, for the first time ever, have shot a bit of video. After eight years of blogging, this is the first time I’ve ever used a video camera and opened iMovie. I spent a few minutes shooting in and around T4G this morning. And here are the results. It’s rough, but it’s real…

Note: I meant Band of Bloggers, not Band of Brothers. My bad.

May 21, 2009

On this, the final day of the reFocus Conference here at Moody Bible Institute, we heard first from Henry Blackaby who is the Founder and President Emeritus of Blackaby Ministries International in Atlanta, GA.

More on that in a moment. In the day’s middle session Crawford Loritts brought a sermon on the necessity of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of a pastor. Basing his sermon in Galatians 5:16-25, Pastor Loritts, with real urgency, called upon the men to turn from the plans, programs, and perspectives which have captured the minds and hearts of so much of the evangelical church, and to “walk by the Spirit”. He used an excursion to Ephesians 5:18 to drive home the point that being filled with the Spirit was not a suggestion, but a command, which needs to be controlling and continuous. While his sermon was solid in exposition—meaty with teaching on the connotations of the Greek words in his text, Loritts’ delivery was kind, authoritative, and impassioned, provoking both exuberant ” A-men’s and hushed stillness, from a group of men not naturally given to this!

The conference wraps up this evening with an address from John MacArthur. Unfortunately, my flight schedule was such that I was not able to stay for this. I am rather disappointed, but it just plain can’t be helped!

And now back to Blackaby.

He began his time with a call to understand worship as being more than music. He especially wants pastors to emphasize reading Scripture in worship and also to reclaim the pastoral prayer in which the pastor, with the rest of the congregation, gathers up a person in prayer before the Father. These two traditional aspects of the worship service have been lost in many churches and I was glad to hear his call to reclaim them.

The purpose of Blackaby’s message today, I believe, was a call to pastors to listen to God to see if he would be raising them up to use them to call this nation to repentance. He said things such as this: “If you are not clearly, unmistakably hearing from God, it is your heart that is the problem. When you test your heart, honestly and carefully, see if you are hearing regularly, constantly from God.” He looked to Luke 12:54-56 and Ezekiel 22:30-31 to challenge the men here to see America as a nation that is under judgment. He said that God is looking for men here to stand for the land. America is under the remedial judgment of God and the Lord is watching to see if the leaders of God’s people recognize the activity of God especially as he moves in judgment. Every time, biblically, God was about to judge a people, he raised up a prophet and let the prophet know what was on his heart. What was on God’s heart was always either life or death with no in-between. It is important that those of us who have been called and appointed by God to hear a word from God that he intends his people to know, that we hear and quickly go to the people of God and let them know what is on the heart of God so they can adjust their lives back to God. God is looking for men to be spiritual watchmen on the walls of the nation, to be prophetic intercessors to the nation.

This was the purpose of the message. However, the dominant portion of the message (in terms of time) was Blackaby relating stories of the success of his book Experiencing God and all the lives it has changed. I believe he did this to show how God uses faithfulness on the part of pastors (like himself) to impact the world.

So let me stop here for a moment. This is what I am struggling with when it comes to this particular conference. On Tuesday the three keynote speakers were Voddie Baucham, Flip Flippen and John Piper. The message proclaimed by Baucham and Piper was radically different, opposite even, to the message shared by Flippen. Today we begin our day with Henry Blackaby and end the day with John MacArthur. And again, these men would be polar opposites when it comes to an issue as critical as authority, of sola scriptura. This is not to say that Blackaby had nothing valuable, nothing biblical, to say. Rather, it is simply to say that there seems to be a disconnect here and we have speakers coming from radically different theological perspectives; and I’m not sure how to reconcile this. Is this just a question of appreciating each of these speakers for what they do well? Is it a question of seeking to provide speakers here that will appeal to people from different traditions? Or do some people just not even see that there appears to be a huge contradiction here? I am confused about this. I just don’t quite know what to think about it.

At any rate, reFocus has wrapped up for this year. Talking to pastors as I did often over the past few days, I can see that this has been a time of real rest and refreshment for them. I trust they will head back to “real life” now recharged and hopefully refocused.