May 19, 2008
Dear Katie and Luke:
Last week I spent four days in California at the national FIRE conference (Fellowship of Reformed Evangelicals, a fellowship of churches and individuals from around the country, and even the world, of which our church is a member). It was a glorious time. One of the best parts of this conference is the meals, and I'm not talking just about how tasty the food is! No, I mean the fellowship around the tables. Every meal is shared together with pastors, missionaries, and church members from other churches represented there. So at breakfast, lunch, and supper, I regularly found myself sitting next to different people (some I knew from a past conference) and hearing about their lives, their churches, or their work in missions.
The preaching was excellent as well. I was particularly impacted by a sermon John Crotts from Faith Bible Church preached on Paul at Mars Hill in Acts 17. I came away asking the Lord to give me the compassion for lost souls that Paul had, and Paul's confidence in the power of God in the gospel. Perhaps that sounds "so simple," but so be it, God worked in my heart and I'm already seeing the impact in my life now that I'm home. Here's something else about that sermon: It was preached by a man who seems really humble. He preached it with zeal, but without a shred of arrogance. I got to spend a little time around John the rest of the week and he is the real deal. God is so good to bring men like this into my life, even if for just a couple of days of my life. By God's grace, I am a better man because of it.
Speaking of godly men, I also was privileged to meet a man named Doug Nichols. He's an older gentleman who has done extensive missions work, even serving as the international director for a missions agency. He still carries on a significant ministry all around the world (his home base is in the Seattle area, I think), but he especially spoke to us about the needs in The Phillipines, which are massive. For example, there are 48,000 untrained pastors there. That stirred my heart. One of my dreams has been to go on short-term stints to countries where there are pastors without training and teach them. I am one of the most privileged pastors in the world with all of the training I've had here in America (seven years of schooling, several years of pastoral experience, conferences, etc.), and I desire to share with these men elsewhere what God in His mercy has been so kind to teach me. I think Mr. Ellif and I might be headed over there next summer.
By the way, Doug Nichols was not only a great encouragement (he is a tremendous "exhorter"), but he also has some hilarious stories. Remind me some day to tell you the one about how, when he was seemingly dying of cancer, he stopped off at a Dunkin' Donuts and came upon a man screaming at the lady behind the counter because she wouldn't give him a free donut. It's a classic that I don't think I will forget.
I really missed you while I was away. There were numerous times when I thought, "It sure would be great to have Patty and the kids here." Someday!