Lessons from a Conference I Didn’t Attend

Last week was the Shepherd’s Conference, an annual conference attended by some 4,000 pastors from around the world. Each year, Grace Community Church and 1,000 volunteers host these men for teaching and fellowship. So many of my students, colleagues, and missionary friends from over the years come, so the annual reunion is a phenomenal blessing. I don’t attend the conference, but I do catch a few lunches and dinners and coffees along the way.

As I think about the conversations from last week, a few thoughts stand out.

The fingerprints of the curse are on everything. I had tea with one of my favorite authors, Alex Strauch, a man who has mentored me through his writings for the last 15 years and who is kind enough to grab time whenever he is in town. He mentioned that he had talked to over 100 pastors in two day’s time, and every single one of them was struggling with something difficult in their lives and ministries. As Andrew Peterson asks, “Do we feel the world is broken? We do.” You can see the brokenness in the tension of disagreements, in the tears shed by men praying for each other, in the new lines etched in a young pastor’s face. Life is hard, life is war. Pray for your pastor this week. They receive an extra dose of life’s battlements as they care for their flock.

Of the making of books there is no end. Literally. The tent that housed the book stalls was a gigantic, and the piles of books beckoned, luring me to swipe the credit card and carry home more pages of wisdom. No, Seduction, not this year! Maybe it helped that am barely launched into a four volume set that I bought at the conference last year. Or, maybe it was the pile of books beside my bed, or under my bed, or the pile in the closet still begging to be read. . .Anyway. I like books. I like the way they smell, and what the paper feels like when I run my hands through the first pages. I like the way a book can transport me 300 years into the past while propelling me to care for eternity.

Friendships that span 20 and 30 years are precious. As I introduced two of my friends, I mentioned, “I met Randy my first year of college. . .” That was 1989. How has 30 years gone by? We recounted the touchstones over the years, the transitions, triumphs, and tears, and just grinned at each other. God is so good to us! Over and over different friends counted the years with me. Some for 20, 25 years, and others 1 year or 3. This is a gift from the Lord to sit with them and say with the Psalmist, “Come and see the works of our God. He is excellent to the children of men. . .”

It’s a small world. I met with friends from all over the world: UAE, Canada, France, Great Britain, India, Zambia, Cambodia, South Africa, Madagascar, Jordan, Germany, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Russia, Israel, Ukraine–to name a few. And God is at work in every Kingdom posting. It is easy to look around a setting like Southern California and feel that this is blazing center of God’s work. But He is not restrained by longitude, latitude, or personality! Hearing the stories of children fed and land donated and resources translated and the Gospel flowing through parched souls around the world set my heart rejoicing with the delight in the work of our God.

This is what heaven is going to be like, I think, talking of Jesus, of His goodness and salvation with those He has saved.

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