The Blessing of a Conference

I absolutely love going to conferences, if I could… I would go to them all.  So, if you know of anyone hiring a Christian Conference Reviewer please give them my name.  There is something special about conferences, different than church … different than my own personal study time… different than discussing theology over coffee with a group of friends.

This past weekend, I was with 7,200 other women who clearly feel the same way I do.  Many traveled far to be here, most were repeat attenders who might have brought along a friend or family member for their first time.  I didn’t meet a single person who wasn’t planning to come to the next one.

Worshiping in a room with that many people is unlike anything I have ever experienced.  Listening to anointed teachers, scrawling notes, tears streaming, hands clapping, audible gasps when a point hits home….  THANK YOU, JESUS!

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What makes conferences so special to me?  In part, it’s the opportunity to get away from the comfort and familiarity of my home town.  I’ve never feared traveling alone, and I love the opportunity to see new places and meet new people.  Flying absolutely astounds me and I could look out the window the entire flight… to think that I am suspended in the air, a God’s eye view to His creation.  The colors, patterns, lights… it’s really breathtaking.

As a person who has put on mini-conferences and women’s retreats in the past, I can also appreciate the amount of work that goes into an event of this magnitude.  Knowing that every detail was meticulously planned, each speaker vetted and prepared, content that can speak as clearly to 7,200 women as it does to just 1.  Conferences give me an opportunity to learn about ministries that I can share with our local women.  And, hey… when the International Mission Board wants to give a girl coffee… we’re best friends.  (The coffee was amazing. by the way).

As a reader, the fact that most conferences have a book store….  it’s a beautiful thing.  Add in that there is usually special conference prices on the books; this means I can grab books that I have been wanting but also take risk on some new titles.  So many of the women who have shared their book haul from this conference share about the gifts they purchased for friends who couldn’t come.  Women’s Ministry Leaders and Pastor’s Wives are bringing home books to plan out their Small Groups for the year.

There is even something to be said for those moments when I saw a woman thumbing through the pages of a book, contemplating the purchase… and I could say:

“That is one of my favorites.”  or  “You won’t regret buying that one.”

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Yes, all of these things are parts of what make going to conferences special.  There is something to be said about spending several days, unplugged from your every day life, worshiping with other women, seeing new sites, and meeting new faces.

However the thing that makes them so special to me and draws me in, every time, is the access to amazing people who have been walking this road ahead of me.  Men and women who are not only anointed with wisdom but called to share that wisdom with others.  Men and women who are apart of those called to not only be in the fray of this fallen world, but invest in raising up other leaders and equipping them for the battle we fight every day.

So that, when the day is done, my hands are tender from writing pages of notes and my brain is swollen from all of the Good Word that was injected into it.  Interpretation I had not considered, application that I did not see, and from that the burn to share that with others.  Immersed in the Word, surrounded by my sisters & brothers… all there for one reason, the same reason.

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This is incredibly special, a wonderful opportunity to glean form the sages of different walks, ages, and stages.

While this is what makes conferences special to me, it is the blessing that comes from the conferences that always puts me on my knees in gratitude.   If you follow me on social media, you will know that I got a bit whiny due to flight delays and complications.

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A friend responded:  There must be a huge blessing for you in Indianapolis!

And boy was she right.  In fact, every year when I have gone to this conference I have entered the conference with something weighing on my heart.  Every year, when I leave… there has been an answer, affirmation, or direction given.  Every single year.   If I gained nothing from the conferences other than this, I would still call it my favorite and I would still call it blessed.

The Lord blesses us when we surrender our time and ourselves to His Word and His teachers.   He blesses us when we humbly put our issues at the foot of the cross, and lean into His guidance.  God blesses us with the people whom He puts in our pathways to say “just the right thing” even when they have no idea what you are struggling with.  The Lord blesses us in a place like this, when we are all together for one purpose in one accord… and the Holy Spirit moves throughout the space.  Touching hearts, healing wounds, directing steps, giving wisdom, developing gifts, sharing tissues… THANK YOU, JESUS.

It comes in the plenary sessions, seated among 7,200 others.   It comes in the workshops for a few hundred to just 15 women sitting in a circle, who say:  “You too?”

We find so much in this COMMUNITY….

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And of course, it is nice to come home and find out you were missed..

Watch & listen for yourself, by clicking the banner below.

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Pre-Conference Sessions on Prayer

All Conference Main Plenary Sessions

And a thorough selection from the many workshops offered.

TGC Women’s Conference Notes, Part 3 – Nehemiah Sessions #1-2 (Ch 1-4)

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These are my notes on the book of Nehemiah from The Gospel Coalition National Women’s Conference.  There were 7 total sessions, covering all 13 chapters.

Session #1 – Kathy Keller, Nehemiah Chapters 1 & 2   (VIDEO:  Nehemiah 1-2 Kathy Keller: http://vimeo.com/99765572)

Nehemiah is an OT Narrative, it is basically Nehemiah’s journal of from that time period.  Israel at this time was a weak conquered remnant.

In Chapter 1, Nehemiah gets word about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile and the state of Jerusalem.  It wasn’t pretty.  The city itself was broken down, damaged.  So were it’s people.  Nehemiah is pained by this news.  He prays to God.  His prayer consists of 1st praise, then confession, then glory to God, and then asking for God’s favor.  This prayer was not a one time event, rather Nehemiah prayed for 4 months.  Until the Lord guided him to act.

In Chapter 2, Nehemiah (who is cupbearer to King Artaxerxes) presents his concerns about his people to the king, when asked why he looked so sad.  King Artaxerxes favored Nehemiah and not only granted his request to go to his people, but also his requests for provisions and provided protection for him.  Nehemiah went to Jerusalem and assessed the situation.  At first he kept his plans to himself.  Once he was able to survey the lands and determine a plan of action, he then shared what God had put on his heart.  The people were ready to work.   Although there were some that stood against him.

From Kathy Keller:

We have prayer from Nehemiah that can be summed up with:  If it will glorify you, then I am ok with it.

When Nehemiah got the word about Jerusalem & it’s condition, he had two choices… a bad reaction or a godly reaction.

The back story here, the history, is that Jerusalem was in ruins, Nebuchadnezzar took the Israelites captive. Time passes Cyrus has compassion for the people & wants favor with their God so he allows them to rebuild the temple (2 Chr 36:22-23) But then Artaxerxes stops the rebuilding progress due to the influence of his counsel.  Remnants of Israel begin to intermarry, their worship practices end.  (Ezra 4-6:10)

Now Nehemiah is a man who understands God’s Word, he sees the bigger picture.  He doesn’t just try to fix the circumstance, he recognizes it is more than just building the temple.  Restoration to the people needs to happen too.  Nehemiah leaps to action by praying.

Nehemiah is 1 small story, in the larger story of Jesus.  It’s a redemption story.  From ruin to renewal.

The Bible is not about us.  It’s not there to access to understand our circumstances.  It is there for Jesus and about how God deal with the world.  We do not need to be feeding our soul with artificial inspiration and toxic devotionals that have no value, aka “Soul Junk Food”.  We need the meat and milk of HIS ACTUAL WORD.

(my personal note…. the devotions I read and write need to be pointed to Jesus, not me… not my circumstances, unless ultimately GOD is glorified through it)

Nehemiah didn’t need a devotion, a fleece or a sign.  He was a man who knew God’s word & took action in that confidence to enable his peopleto be what GOD needed them to be.  Nehemiah didn’t negotiate with God (do this, then I will…).  He just did what God required of him. (I will, so God can…)

In his prayer, Nehemiah was interceding on behalf of Israel.  It wasn’t the first time either, Moses would do it frequently.

After his 4 months of prayer, God set Nehemiah on a fast track of action.  There was opposition, but Nehemiah went for broke.   He had confidence in God, so he had no qualms about asking the King for more provisions/assistance.  He was called.  He went.  Action was needed.  Action was taken.  When God calls you to action, it is often because you see a need others don’t.

Nehemiah was taking radical action based on his knowledge of God’s Word & for the redemption of his people.

Parallels to Jesus…  Nehemiah was with the king, in the comfort, safety and luxury of the palace.  (Jesus was in Heaven, with God).  Nehemiah assessed the situation and prayed before starting his work. (Jesus walked the earth for thirty years before starting his ministry).  He put himself at risk for Jesus.  (And Jesus put himself at risk, for us, and paid the ultimate price).

Additionally what is important to this story is that this HAD TO HAPPEN.  Nehemiah needed to restore Jerusalem and his people, otherwise there would be no Jewish culture/society that would need Jesus.  It would have been entirely lost.  They had to get back in the sight of God, so that God could redeem the people.

“God’s people do not need to be a powerful culture or in a powerful position to be obedient & accomplish his purpose in the world.  All they need is to be faithful.  He will accomplish it.” (Kathy Keller, The Gospel Coalition Women’s National Conference 2014, Nehemiah 1&2)

Session #2 – Timothy Keller, Nehemiah Chapters 3 & 4   (VIDEO:  Nehemiah 3-4 Timothy Keller: http://vimeo.com/99790975)

In Chapter 3 is essentially the delegation of work for the rebuilding of the wall.  Each portion of the wall is built by a specific group, basically repairing the portion of the wall that was was closest to their house.  The chapter details out that the people doing the work were made up of all classes and genders.   All of society was represented.

In Chapter 4 we see the opposition that they face in doing so.

From Timothy Keller:

Nehemiah left the safety of his position with the king, to do what God called him to accomplish.   The wall was the first thing build, to protect his people from those who would oppose the rebuilding process.  This is a parallel to salvation, like the walls of a city, protecting us from sin. (Isa. 26:1)

Keep in mind that we are not building walls to keep non-believers out, to be separated.  NO.  We are building walls of safety, and we are bringing the people into the city, into citizenship.  The gates are open.

Moses was often working for God without the cooperation of the community, they were easily swayed and distracted.  Yet here we see a full community, working together for the greater good.  This is a progression of redemption toward Holiness.  All of us, working together… The whole people of God doing the ministry.  We become living stones in a temple. (Eph 2, 1 Peter 2).

Nehemiah points to the future.   We all have a ministry.  We are one people, united.  All with gifts and talents to be used for HIS glory within our community.  The early churches grew through evangelism, not due to great pastors and preachers.  It grew because EVERYONE did it.  Studies, readings, prayer groups, etc.

We are unified as Christians first, our nationality/position comes second.   Just as all the different classes & positions & genders joined with Nehemiah to rebuild the wall, we must be unified as Christians FIRST in the calling God has laid before us.  It bonds us together, regardless of our individual identity.

In Chapter 4, when they face the opposition to the rebuilding from the outsiders… it says they were despised and insulted.  The response was prayer and then posting a guard.  This points us toward the relationship between God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.

They prayed, first (God’s sovereignty) .  They posted guards, second (human responsibility).

Jesus was sacrificed by God (God’s sovereignty) .  But, he was crucified by wicked hands (human responsibility).

When things happen:   God is in charge (God’s sovereignty).  What you do matters (human responsibility).

Just as Nehemiah and the Israelites were despised and insulted, we will also be persecuted (2 Tim 3:12). This side of the cross we have an opportunity to forgive that Nehemiah didn’t…. when people slander us, insult us, hurt us.

“Take the hit to your reputation, because I [Jesus] took more for you”   (Timothy Keller, The Gospel Coalition Women’s National Conference 2014, Nehemiah 3&4))

IN REVIEW – The Gospel Coalition National Women’s Conference (Part 1)

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When I shared that I would be attending The Gospel Coalition National Women’s Conference, my friends asked for my notes before I even left.  First of all, this illustrates that my friends know me well.  I am a note taker.  Second, my friends know that my notes are good.  It isn’t because I have a keen ability to key into the important things that are being said.  Not at all.  It’s quite the opposite. I write everything down.  Like, everything.  I came home with well over 100 pages of notes.  There was a distinct moment, about half way through the conference, I realized I may not have bought a large enough notebook.

I do this style of note taking for 3 reasons.

1) I’m generally overwhelmed with information, and I can’t always detect what “the point” is.  Writing it down allows me to reflect on it later, when my head isn’t so clogged with thoughts and information.

2) My memory isn’t as good as it used to me (thank you Hashimotos).  If I don’t write it down, I’ll forget it.  Writing it down helps me commit it to memory.  Sometimes the full information, sometimes all my memory catches is a brief synopsis but tags in my head “you wrote that down in the blue notebook from the conference”.   I can almost always find that information I can’t remember.

3)  I believe that God can use the same notes I took today, ten years from now to tell me something else.   I don’t perceive any information as invaluable.  It may not matter or make sense today, but 10 years from now… it very well could.

So, on to the conference notes… that my friends are so eagerly awaiting.  Let me assure you, I am not posting 100+ pages of notes here.  I’m going to give out some highlights, things that jumped out at me when I looked back over the notes.  If anyone would like more specifics, I’m sure we can work something out.  🙂

I am going to also be providing these notes in installments.  So, consider this:  Installment 1:  The Pre-Conference.  I’ll then move onto the Main Conference,The Workshops, and finally my overall review of the conference itself, as a whole.    I’m going to be working on these as I have time.  So I make no promises of the notes being posted on a set schedule.  I may knock out a few in a week, or it may take me a few months.   Also, several of the speakers have their own website and blogs.  I am going to try and link as many as possible, as they are excellent sources of information on a variety of topics. I encourage you to seek them out.  Others may not have blogs or websites, but have written books.  I will do my best to link to pages that list those books, so that you can seek out great reads.

INSTALLMENT ONE:   THE PRE-CONFERENCE – Male and Female, He Created Them

The pre-conference was basically a “bonus” for those of us arriving early.  It wasn’t exactly related to the main conference theme.  But the information was valuable, none the less.  It was broken up into three sessions.   The first was a panel made up of men & women (Don Carson, Tim & Kathy Keller, Kathleen Nielson, John Piper).   The second panel was made up of all women (Trillia Newbell, Kathleen Nielson, Noel Piper, Jenny Salt, Carrie Sandom).  Both panels were handled in question/answer sytle, where the third session was a topical presentation from Don Corson.

First things first, the panel were all in agreement on their “complimentarian” beliefs.  This falls between the idea of “egalitarian” and “patriarchal”.  Big words, I know.  I had to look one of them up during the conference to ensure I knew what they were talking about.  Smart phone, for the win.  Egalitarians, in short, believe that all are created equal, “have equal responsibility to use their gifts and obey their calling to the glory of God; and are called to roles and ministries without regard to class, gender, or race” (wikipedia).  Patriarchals, in short, believe in very distinct gender roles.  They believe “that God has ordained a specific family order, and that this family order must be followed. The husband leads, the wife submits, and the children obey. (patheos.com).  Complimentarian falls somewhere in between.  It agrees with egalitarian beliefs that we are created equal before God to use our gifts as God has called us to, despite class or race.  However, when it comes to gender it bends slightly toward the patriarchal side.  The complimentarian belief is that we are created equal but different.  Equally valued, equally purposed, equally important, equally loved.  Different roles and responsibilities, that compliment one another.  It supports biblical submission, that the man is the head of the household.  However, it doesn’t fall to the extremism that patriarchal Christians can take.  It doesn’t support abuse or even dictatorship in the home.  It doesn’t even imply that certain tasks are for the men, and other for the women.  One of the speakers shared how when his father was away at work, his mother filled the role of his father in his absense.   She would fix things around the house, mow the lawn, discipline and train the children, take care of the finances, etc.  However, upon his father’s return, she would return all of those duties back to him.  He was given back his authority, and frankly she was given a reprieve.

I can relate to this, especially during certain times of the year, when my husband is working 12-14 hour days, 13 days in a row with only a single day off before he starts over again.  Military wives can relate to this when their husbands are away on deployment.  Too often when they return home we can still try and run the roost because we are accustomed to it.  We need the reprieve of handing it back over, and they need it too!  And, it’s good for our children to see that changing of the guard.  He isn’t just a man who pays the bills, he leads the family.

What I also appreciated about these sessions was that all of the speakers had a very clear definition of what “biblical submission” is, and what it isn’t.  This is a subject that can spark a lot of controversy.  Biblical submission is a mutual relationship where the wife submits to her husband’s leadership… not the wife becomes the husbands doormat.  In return the husband loves his wife, like Christ loved the church… by willing sacrifice.  Christ sacrificed his very life for the church, and husbands should be willing to die to self for their wives.  In this mutual relationship of submission and love, we have a wife who has her feelings, wants and desires considered.  She is allowed to voice her opinions to her husband, and he considers them in his decision.  But ultimately the final decision (and accountability  for that decision) rests on his shoulders.  The wife is not cast aside, while her husband runs the home like a dictatorship.  A great line from the women’s panel said “Men often see leadership as authoritarian, but that is wrong.  Leadership is sacrificial”.

Between the panels they related that the idea of husband and wife are wound throughout scripture, from Genesis through Revelation.  They confirmed that while these roles are biblically supported, they are not salvation issues.  However understanding this “equal, but different” complementary relationship will create a ripple effect that impacts how you read scripture.   No one gender is better or worse, but have different gifts by the very nature of their gender.  John Piper referred to his mother as “omni-competent”, clarifying that biblical submission is not competence based.  It’s not about what you CAN do, but what you SHOULD do… what God has called you to do.

This complementary relationship isn’t a “women’s issue” because it is important to the husband, and the children whom it is modeled before.  So while yes, women should be invested in biblical submission from the standpoint of their responsibility … so too, should the husband.  Don Carson very strongly implicated that men do not know enough & should learn more about what REAL biblical headship looks like.

And, what I thought was FANTASTIC about the panel… was that they addressed what this looks like in the life of the single man, or single woman.  If you are not married, there are still applicable lessons here for your relationship with the church.  As a single man, are you stepping up into leadership within your church?  Mentoring?  Leading a study?  Women, are you submitting to the authority of your Pastors (please do not read that in any sort of way that supports abuse of position, or that women should be silent in the church)?  Are you stepping up and mentoring, leading studies, helping with the children’s ministries, etc?

The panel was also very clear that these relationships are not hard lined, but flexible.  We can allow denominational differences to try and say “the way our church does it, is the right way”…. and we can do it personally by saying “the way my family lives this, is the right way”.  But that is simply not true.  This mutual relationship of Biblical Submission (wife) and Biblical Headship (husband) is going to look very different from home to home.  It will not look the same in the home of a deployed soldier and a full time missionary.

Biblical Headship (husband) puts the weight of the burden on the family on his shoulders.  He is accountable before God for every decision he makes for the family.  It’s not a power trip, it is leadership.  He doesn’t rule from over you, he leads from the front lines of the family.

Biblical Submission (wife) is beautiful and she is pleased by his leadership when it is well.  And, while the panels didn’t say this, I’d add in… when he is wrong, God honors her for her obedience to His word and protects the family from his errors and helps them recover.

From the women’s panel, Carrie Sandom referenced that 70’s feminism taught us that we, as women, can do anything a man can do… in fact, even better.  However, God promises us even BETTER when we are in alignment with HIS WORD, HIS DIRECTION, HIS PLAN.  In fact, we are seeing more and more women abandoning feminism and returning to the word because they were lacking satisfaction in the “equality” that feminism brought.

In the Complementarian Christian churches you will not find a woman as Pastor, they believe this is a role God clearly defines for me.  However, they do not discount the role of women as teachers and leaders.  In fact, Completementarian Churches strongly support their women’s ministries, because “the ministry of women to women beautiful and connects in a way men can’t”.  It is within these ministries that God uses our gifts and talents.  This is where our gifts of administration, stewardships, leadership, organizaton, etc all SHINE just as equally as our ability to create, nuture and love.    We have a goal to encourage and shape women, to grow in godliness, understand the gospel, and teach other women and to make these things happen we have to be able to organize and prepare.  Either on our own, or paired up with someone who compliments us.  Where one is weak, the other is strong.

Equality.  Diversity.  Unity.  Order.  – It’s all biblical. Found in the Word.  It’s not a single topic, but woven throughout.

We need to be grounded in the word to fight against the culture that is changing around us.  We need mentors who have wisdom to share.  We need to be studying the word alone, but also with others.  We need to be involved in ministry work, somewhere… somehow.

The ladies panel was very adamant that there should be a role in the body for everyone to serve.  That while yes, some women want recognition, most really just want to feel needed.   They addressed some of the benefits and difficulties of women working in ministry with men, which really supported the idea that we are indeed made equal, but different.  We see things different, process things differently, and respond differently.  I’m going to save some of these bits for a future post.

The women’s panel wrapped up their portion with 3 key things we can do to encourage strong biblical leadership… model it in your marriage, speak respectfully about your church leaders and pray for them & your relationship with them.

Don Carson’s presentation (3rd part of the pre-conference) really deserves it’s own space.  So, I will be writing on that next.  It really goes into detail about “Complimentarianism” with scriptural support.  I am HOPING, that I can save my fingers and your eyes, and that in the next few days they will have the video from the pere-conference on their website.  Then you can watch it for yourself. 🙂