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October 09, 2008

After John Piper finished his session, a “True Woman Profile” played on the screen. It was the story of one of the women at the conference and told of her conversion to Christ in prison. This was followed by the Getty’s singing “The Power of the Cross” and “When I Survey.” And then it was Nancy Leigh DeMoss’ turn to speak and she took as her text Romans 11:33-36. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?’ ‘Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’”

This passage offers a grid to respond to God’s sovereign control over lives and she spent some time looking at the character of God as it is revealed in this text.

She focused first on the word “depth,” saying and emphasizing that there is much more depth to be found in the person and character of God than in anything else in all of creation. And there are riches in God that far surpass any riches this world can offer. God has complete wisdom and knowledge, knowing everything about everything not just on the macro level but also on the micro. He knows all there is to know about the past and the future—your past and future. God’s ways are beyond understanding—they are unfathomable or past finding out. She quoted John Piper who once said, “In every situation, God is always doing a thousand different things that you cannot see and you do not know.” And so she progressed through the passage, providing teaching about each of the phrases.

And then she ask asked what the response is to be to all of this. Paul’s response was simple: To him be glory forever amen. The response is to put God in the spotlight where he belongs. We worship him and give him the glory, submitting lives to his holy, eternal purposes. What does this have to do with being a true woman? It has everything to do with it and DeMoss offered three points of applications.

1. A true woman lives a God-centered life. She lives for God’s glory and pleasure and not her own. When the true woman sees the magnitude of God’s greatness, it gives context to her puny challenges (even challenges that may seem so huge).

2. A true woman trusts God. We live in a fearful world but God has a plan and his plan cannot, will not, be thwarted. God is the one who defines good and the true woman trusts in him and in his definition of what is good.

3. A true woman says “Yes, Lord.” You can’t call him “Lord” and say anything other than “yes.” The true woman recognizes that her life is not her own and she lives for the glory of God. She affirms that God’s purposes for creating male and female are good and wise. She accepts the way God made her and who she is. She does it with a grateful heart. Saying “yes” may mean saying “no” to a lot of other things.

It really comes down to this: trust and obey. The pathway may be scary since we walk by faith and not by sight, but like Paul, eventually we will get to the heights and take in the beautiful vista of God’s will and plan. And then we will stand and be amazed.

At this point DeMoss asked the women to take from the tote bags they were each given the white hankie. This is to be used throughout the event as a symbol of surrender—a symbol of saying “Yes, Lord.” As the women find themselves surrendering to what God is teaching them, they can wave this flag as a visible symbol of a spiritual, inward reality.

And with a final hymn, the first day of the conference came to an end. And just like this, my day needs to come to an end. I’ve been awake for a long, long time now. I’ll be back tomorrow with more updates.

October 09, 2008

The first session of the True Woman Conference was led by John Piper who spoke on “The Meaning of True Womanhood.” He made it clear that he counts it a privilege to address the most influential people in the world (distinguishing, he said, between privilege and authority). There is massive power in this room and he does not take this as a light responsibility. This message is offered as a foundation for the True Woman Manifesto which will be unveiled on Saturday (“a magnificent document” Piper called it).

He began with an assumption: wimpy theology makes wimpy women. The opposite of a wimpy woman is not a brash, pushy, loud, uppity, arrogant Amazon, but a woman of character (and here he provided several examples of faithful, suffering women). Wimpy theology does not give a woman a God big enough or good enough to deal with the realities of life and still rejoice. This poor theology is plagued by woman-centeredness; it does not have the granite foundation of God’s sovereignty underneath; it does not have the structure of a God-centered purpose for all human life.

The ultimate meaning of true womanhood

God’s ultimate purpose for the universe and for all of history (and for you) is to display the glory of Christ in its highest expression in his dying to make a rebellious people his bride. This is the reason the universe exists. Everything exists so this can happen and to make much of it. This is based on texts like Revelation 13:8 (which shows that, before anything was made, before sin existed, God had already planned the death of his Son). Why? Ephesians 1:5-6 says that all was done to the praise of his grace. Putting this together with Ephesians 5:25-27 we see that the ultimate purpose of all things is the praise of God’s grace through the death of Christ.

What does this all mean for true womanhood?

There is nothing wimpy about what God has done; he offers a place to stand when everything around gives way. Proper theology leads to a mind-boggling understanding of true womanhood. What we’ve seen just in these texts (and there are many more) is that masculinity and femininity belong at the center of God’s ultimate purpose. These are not an afterthought of creation and are not peripheral to the purpose of the cross. They are right there at the center at Calvary. So we need to be done with small thoughts about God’s design for womanhood. It is only when we understand God’s design for womanhood that womanhood takes on its true significance.

People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that God made man and woman and then went looking for some kind of analogy to explain what he had done. But nothing could be further from the truth. When God designed this human creature in two kinds, he had the cross in his mind already. This is the very reason that he made us this way! We know this from Ephesians 5:31 where Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 and shows that marriage has always referred to Christ and the church. Thousands of years before the cross, God said that it is about the most important event in history—this is why he made men and women as he did.

What is the ultimate meaning of true womanhood?

“True womanhood is a distinctive calling of God to display the glory of his Son in ways that would not be displayed if there was no womanhood.” When God described the work of his Son as the sacrifice of a husband for his bride, he was telling us why he made us male and female. He made us this way so this relationship would describe more fully the relationship of his son and his son’s blood-brought bride. If you reduce woman to biological features you not only reduce the value of womanhood but reduce the glory given God. We must understand that, in opposition to what the world teaches, womanhood is not incidental to personhood.

Application Question:

Piper offered a couple of questions of application: What does this look like for married women? What does it look like for single women?

Married Women

Marriage is meant to display the covenant-keeping relationship between Christ and the church. Here Piper offered a word on headship and submission, defining both. Headship is the divine calling of a husband to take primary responsibility for Christlike servant-leadership and provision and protection in the home. Submission is the divine calling of a wife to honor and affirm her husband’s leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts. These two correspond to true manhood and true womanhood in marriage. These differences are essential by God’s design so that marriage will display more fully the glory of the sacrificial love of Christ for his bride and the admiration of the bride for her husband. If you can embrace this truth that your true womanhood ultimately means that your distinctive role in marriage is meant to magnify the glory of God’s grace expressed in the covenant keeping love between Christ and his church, you will have a compass that can navigate hundreds of questions.

Single Women

The Apostle Paul loved his singleness. He loved it because it gave him such radical freedom to get arrested month after month and to be beaten and lashed and shipwrecked. Singleness is a high calling. He celebrated it and called many to follow him in it, even with the beauty of all that marriage displays. Why would he lure some out of pursuing marriage if he made marriage as such a magnificent portrait? In this season of history since the Fall, the natural order God established is not absolute. The reason that rejoicing in singleness is not an assault on God’s glory is that in this world there are truths about Christ and his kingdom that can be more clearly displayed by manhood and womanhood in singleness than in marriage. He offered three things single womanhood can say better than married womanhood:

  1. A life of Christ-exalting singleness bears witness that the family of God grows by regeneration by faith, not propagation by sexual intercourse. The main thing we’re about is growing this family!
  2. A life of Christ-exalting singleness bears witnesses that relationships in Christ are more lasting than relationships in families.
  3. The Christ-exalting singleness of a woman bears witness to the truth that marriage is temporary and finally gives way in the end to the reality of what the portrait points to. A single woman who lives with this in view says something very powerfully about her Savior

Offering a final summary and challenge, Piper said that true womanhood is a distinctive calling to display the glory of the Son in ways that cannot be displayed in any other way. This is true whether a woman is married or single. No matter whether you’re married or single, do not settle for wimpy theology. Do not waste your true womanhood, for it was made for the glory of Christ.

October 09, 2008

And at 6:45 the conference got underway, right on time (though my brain and my computer are still one time zone ahead).

After playing some instrumental numbers, including a very nice Irish reel, Keith Getty and his band led the crowd in “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name.” Immediately I noticed how different a sound there is between 6000 women and, as at Together for the Gospel, 5000 men; or maybe it’s as much the feeling as the sound. With men there is a boom when that many voices rise together—something you can feel through the floor and feel in your chest. And though the women sing beautifully, it is not a feeling but a sound.

Bob Lepine took to the stage after the hymn to welcome everyone to the event. He said that 6350 women had registered for the event and that there is at least one women registered from every one of the states but Hawaii and Vermont. There are women here from 8 foreign countries (does Canada count as a “foreign” country?) including 100 from Dominican Republic. He then introduced Nancy Leigh DeMoss who shared some of the purpose behind this event and opened in prayer. The Getty’s took over again, reading from John 1 and singing “In Christ Alone,” “Across the Land,” “Everlasting God” and “Jesus Draw Me Ever Nearer.” The Getty’s have their touring band here—guitar, drums, bass and fiddle. Keith plays piano and sings backup on most songs while Kristyn leads. I love hearing them with their band—they are very tight and the fiddle adds such an important dimension to the Irish elements of their songs.

Though I’m sure many of the women here will be blogging about the event, Carolyn McCulley and I have been asked to blog the event in an “official” capacity. We’re sitting in the sound booth, about halfway down the hall, between the guy who says things like “standby for video…roll it!…nice! Very nice!” and the English-to-Spanish translators.

In just a few moments, John Piper is going to take to the stage and offer the conference’s first message.

Incidentally, if you’re watching the live video stream, you’ve got this guy to thank. I find it amusing that all those old(er) laptops arrayed along that shelf are the ones doing all the hard work of rendering the video in its various forms (high quality, low quality, Windows Media, Flash, etc). But it’s probably just the geek in me that is even noticing.


October 09, 2008

It somehow seemed appropriate that both the Captain and the First Officer of the flight that took me to the True Woman Conference were women. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not. I’ve often wondered if a female pilot would laugh if I said, “I’m totally comfortable with you flying the plane, but, you know, I’ve seen my wife’s spatial sense and, well, would you mind letting a man park it?” (If it’s not painfully obvious, I’m joking—don’t hate me.)

Whenever I leave for a conference I pack all kinds of books, but I generally pick up another one at a bookstore in the airport—something that makes for easy reading when I’ve got all kinds of ambient noise, a seat reclined in my face, and somebody I don’t know snoring on my shoulder. Today it was, finally, Three Cups of Tea and I read the first 150 pages. Overrated but still interesting. I splurged and bought a couple of other books as well—one dealing with the Second World War and one with music. We’ll see.

Anyways, the crowds of women are gathering out in the halls as they wait to head into the convention center. For now, here is the scene inside:


And here, from earlier, are the Getty’s and their band, preparing to lead in worship. Things will get underway in about 90 minutes. Tonight we’ll hear messages from John Piper and from Nancy Leigh DeMoss.


October 09, 2008

Today I’m a True Woman; or I will be, at any rate. This morning, before the sun comes up, I’ll be heading to Chicago to take in the True Woman Conference. This conference promises to be unique among those I’ve attended for the very fact that it is a conference for women (and, in case you’ve never realized it, I’m no woman). Of course I’m accustomed to going to conferences for which I am not the core demographic—I’ve been to pastors’ conferences, youth conferences, preaching conferences and the like. But I don’t know that I will ever have felt so different as I’m bound to feel there in Chicago, Illinois, among 6,000+ women. Time will tell, I suppose.

Anyways, it promises to be an excellent event. The list of speakers is top-notch and it sounds as if True Woman has a unique goal. I’ll tell you more about that once the conference gets underway. For now I’ve got customs to clear and a plane to catch. I’ll check in from the other side. Expect an update later this evening.

May 29, 2008

Last night I grabbed a few of the newest Banner books from the rather well-stocked bookstore here at the conference.

This morning Rick Phillips preached his second message on the book of Hebrews, this was entitled “Outside the Camp.” It was based on Hebrews 13:9-14: “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” Those who were at Together for the Gospel will note that this was the same text that John Piper spoke on and while Phillips’ sermon was very different, there was certainly some overlap. He focused especially on verses 12 and 13, saying that these verses are the very heart of Hebrews. It is the heart of the pastoral message and motive that is being given to these Christians (and to us today). He warned against the lure of false teaching that draws big crowds and wins popularity and encouraged instead that pastors need to be willing to go outside the camp and to suffer there with Christ. The suffering of pastors as they face persecution for the message they preach is the same suffering that Christ passed through when He was on the cross. Pastors must be willing to bear the reproach that Christ has already endured.

After a brief break, Ian Hamilton took the pulpit to preach his second message, titled “The Minister’s Character.” His text was Isaiah 42:1-5. Looking to this text he showed that here we are introduced to the servant of the Lord—Jesus Christ Himself. There is no other kind of gospel ministry than that of servant ministry. So pastors need to consider, ponder, behold this servant. God raises up servant, the second man, the second Adam. He is God’s answer to the darkness and vanity. We see here that he is set up as the model of true servanthood.

Servants are answerable only to God and are committed to doing His will come what may. We are not only the servants of God but also of the people of God. If you do not have a heart for God’s people, you should not be in Christian ministry. If our hearers do not feel that they matter to us more than life itself, if they do not see, hear and feel in what we say to them and how we interact with them than their good matters to us more than life itself, our preaching will never impact their lives.

The remainder of the message was structured around found things the Lord tells us to behold in this passage. What is it that He is particularly reminding us to behold in Christ?

His complete dependence on God (“whom I uphold”) - The Savior was upheld by God and the Spirit of God was placed upon Him. It was by the power and grace that He was enabled to carry out His ministry. He lived and ministered in humble dependence upon His Father.

His unyielding faithfulness to God - He would allow nothing to distract or divert, far less determine, what He would do. He was utterly faithful to the calling God had given Him. We need to let this mind be in us—that Christ had a commission from the Father and though it would cost Him everything, He would pursue and fulfill it. Being united to this servant of the Lord, we must go through many tribulations to enter the kingdom.

His personal humility before God - The servant’s service was humble. He does not shout others down or seek to promote himself at the expense of others, for He is the servant of Jehovah. It is never enough to speak the truth; the way we speak the truth is every bit as important as the truth we seek.

His servant’s unimaginable grace that magnifies God - The Lord’s servant in this chapter is not less than God himself. He is the true revelation of Jehovah. Here is the animating pulse of the servant’s ministry—He is gentle with the weak and the fragile. But it is far easier to preach grace than to practice it. Christ doesn’t just welcome sinners—He runs after sinners and embraces them. Does this kind of grace mark our ministries? Does it mark our churches?

And finally, we need to note that God says “Behold my servant…in whom I delight.” God delights in those who preach His Word and He loves them. This gives grace and confidence to the servants of the Lord.

May 28, 2008

This evening’s session was based around a talk given by Iain Murray and entitled “Our Present Needs.” It was a message that felt like an older pastor lovingly exhorting younger pastors. He covered three great needs for pastors (he spoke in the first person plural and I will do the same even though the “we” doesn’t really apply to me as a layperson!).

Our Need for Less Self Confidence

Calvin’s Institutes begins with by saying that sound wisdom begins with two parts—the knowledge of God and of ourselves. When we are young we pursue the knowledge of God but often omit the knowledge of ourselves. We assume that the knowledge of ourselves is a comparatively easy study but this is really an expression of our self-confidence.

He showed a few ways that we inadvertently display our self confidence.

First, we set out in our work, find difficulties, and tend to think that they are not insurmountable; if we give ourselves to it we shall overcome and win. But we come to find that there are difficulties that can be overcome and we tend not to anticipate this. We do not realize the importance of spending time in the school of failure. We have to learn our inability.

Second, we show our self-confidence in our prayer lives. We all confess there is a discrepancy between what we believe about prayer and what we actually do. We could offer many reasons that this is so. God has given us great promises and yet we pray in secret so little.

A third illustration of self-confidence is in the satisfaction we have with our theology. The Lord has taught us certain great truths and we should love and honor these. Among these truths we hold fast to the doctrines of grace and in the past fifty years there has been a remarkable recovery in these doctrines. But the danger comes that when men think they’ve ascended to these heights they feel they’ve mastered any point of theology. There can be a satisfaction in theology that is warranted in the Scriptures, but we do well to remember that the most advanced in the school of Christ are still but little beginners. There is so much we do not know and do not understand. The man who thinks he knows anything knows nothing. “We are called to preach far more than we understand.”

Our need of increased and persevering faith in God

When we consider our weakness and our inability, is it not amazing how many have done such great things for the cause of Christ? Faith is the mainspring of the Christian life and ministry. With all that the Bible says about faith and the importance given to it, it is no surprise that our faith is the main point of Satan’s attack. There is such a thing as being an “unbelieving believer.” In a real sense this applies to all of us.

We need an increase in faith in Scripture as the Word of God. Such is the perversity of our nature that we can become hardened even during the exercise of studying the Bible week after week, day after day. One can study Scripture and be dry as a bone. We can become people who feel nothing for the Word we preach.

We need an increase in faith in all of God’s attributes but particularly in His goodness and love. The first temptation of Satan was to tempt Eve to doubt the goodness of God. The message of the Bible is that God is benevolent and that He is friendly-minded towards sinners. Murray offered two reasons that this area needs to be strengthened: our spiritual happiness depends upon it and the recovery of the orthodox faith depends upon it. We can err in giving the impression sometimes that God is just interested in a small number of people whom He favors while the rest of mankind is outside of His compassion and interest. The way to counter this is to show God’s love for sinners. We can also fall into the trap of repeating truths but ones that have not been properly digested and meditated upon. For many people the intellectual priorities are too high while the priority of reaching the lost and serving the church is too low.

Our Need for Guidance on the Best Use of Our Time

When we first became Christians we became aware of the fact that time is precious; time is short. But as we get older it is a solemn reality that there is a divine inspection before us. We will all stand before the Judgment Seat to give an accounting. Only what Christ does in and with and through us will last; only that is of spiritual value. Should we not dedicate our time to those things? We need guidance about the best way to use the time we’ve been given. We need guidance to do the things we’re called to do and to leave aside the things we’re not called to do.

Here he offered six points directed especially to young men:

  1. It has been the practice for many ministers to be away from the routine and to look closely at our lives in the light of eternity. This is a valuable practice—taking a day per month or a few days per year.
  2. Watch your own temperament. If you love being out and about you probably need to be in your study more; if you love to be in your study you may need to be out and about more.
  3. Read the best books and only the best and read them with a pencil in your hand or with some other system so you can recall even years later what you’ve learned.
  4. Be sure you do not let emails and web sites control your priorities.
  5. We need very carefully to avoid losing time on controversies. Sometimes it is necessary but most often it is not.
  6. Do not “see” in your churches what you cannot change. In most churches there are things we’d like to see changed but that we can’t change. Sometimes it is good not to see such things—to just ignore them. It is better not to see a disputable matter that can disrupt the whole church.

The Need to Pray for a Great Awakening

We can become so accustomed to the status quo that we stop anticipating great change. The keenness of our expectation slowly disappears. Very few ministers keep up the edge on their spirit that was there at first. There is a sense in which being dissatisfied with the present is sinful, but we can still eagerly anticipate God’s works. The extraordinary is not ordinary and there is a real sense in which we need to be satisfied with what God is doing now. But at the same time it is true that we need to expect great things from God.

Murray’s final exhortation was this: we may not see a revival in our lifetimes but we have a present duty to be filled with the Spirit. There is a great danger that we’ve lost the awareness of the changes in our ministries if God was to fill us with the Holy Spirit.

This was a wonderful message and one that seemed to move the men in attendance. If you can find the audio, listen to it!

May 28, 2008

I had a good and restful evening last night. My roommates never showed up (or maybe I was never assigned any). Regardless, I got to bed early and woke up early; just the way I like it! I enjoyed breakfast with some fellow Reformed Baptists, though these ones hail from Maryland. It was good to spend some time with them.

This morning began with a sermon from Rick Phillips, whom I’ve written about several times in connection to his involvement with the Reformed Expository Commentary series. He preached on Hebrews 7:26-28 (and having written a commentary on the book he is well qualified). This is the first of two messages he’ll preach. This one was meant to lay much of the ground work with the bulk of the application coming in the second.

The passage he spoke on is one of the great chapters in the Bible and is Scripture’s most concentrated teaching on Jesus’ High Priesthood. His sermon reminded me of James Boice’s “Where is the Lamb?” sermon that he preached many times. From this text Phillips taught that there are four things that must be asked about any sacrifice: what is offered; to whom it is offered; by whom it is offered; for whom it is offered. He moved through each of these headings showing that the sacrifice was for sinful man under condemnation of the law; that it was offered to the Holy God; that Christ Himself was offered; and that it was offered for the sake of those who would be Christ’s. He taught that though “Where is the lamb?” is a great question, we must also ask “Where is the true priest?”

He offered just a few words of application to the pastors here, focusing on the necessity of preaching on sin and atoning blood. Those Old Testament sacrifices always pointed forward to Christ; as blood was so central in the sacrificial system, so Christ’s blood must be central to the theology of the New Testament church. His exhortation was to hold to this theology and to preach this theology with boldness.

After a short break, we enjoyed a sermon by Iain Hamilton entitled “The Minister’s Calling. ” He preached from Romans 11:33-36. It was a message very much geared towards pastors and very much encouraging them to press on in their calling to preach the unsearchable riches of Christ even as they deal with the tough times that are inevitable to those who are called to minister.