This year we were treated to a marvelous banquet on Friday evening, with none other than LCMS President Matt Harrison as the keynote speaker. What a blessing for our synod to have him at the helm. I know I say that a lot, but I am just more and more impressed with his careful, considerate, compassionate, and confessional leadership. He has a wonderful sense of humor, stands ready and willing to answer questions on the spot (how refreshing is that?), is Lutheran through and through, and most importantly, recognizes himself to be a sinner in need of a Savior. Plus, he teaches right from his shabby, worn out, Greek New Testament, which is a rare thing these days, but warms this fellow "Greek Geek's" heart. Here's a pic (yeah, that's my bald head front and center - well, actually not center, but right):
He spoke for a bit regarding the new emphasis for our church body, introduced by he and his team: Witness, Mercy, Life Together. The more I consider and study this three-fold emphasis, the more I love it. The best thing about it is that it is purely catechetical, begging to be unpacked and taught. As I've said in the past, when asked what I thought Pres. Harrison and company could accomplish for our synod, the best thing they can do is promote, endorse, and teach our Lutheran confession of the faith. That's all. Just be Lutheran. I think this will do wonders for our synod, because I happen to think that when Lutherans learn what Lutherans actually believe, teach, confess, and practice, they'll love it, as I do. If they don't, well maybe Lutheranism isn't for them.
Anyway, here is a short video clip of his presentation. Below that is his full presentation in audio.
After Pres. Harrison's presentation, we gathered together for Evening Prayer, during which Rev. Jon Vieker - Assistant to the LCMS President served as liturgist and Cantor Phillip Magness, along with the talented musicians and choir members of Bethany, led us in song. Here's a clip of the closing hymn Pr. Fisk uploaded at his youtube page:
After Evening Prayer, Lisa and I went to Quigley's in downtown Naperville for a couple of drinks with Larry and Andrea Elliott, good friends and members of our congregation, which was good fun.
Saturday morning brought us a tasty "Manly Breakfast." Larry, Andrea, and I were privileged to sit at the same table as Pres. Harrison. Lisa decided to skip the morning sessions and veg out in the hotel. My plan was to go pick her up at lunch time, as she wanted to be there for the Divine Service in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the schedule got changed and they moved the Divine Service up to before lunch, so she missed out on that. :( Anyway, back to the "Manly Breakfast." Great food, and good entertainment, as Pr. Charlie Henrickson led us in a couple of his song parodies, which you can read about here. Larry and Andrea were thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with Pres. Harrison, and to have him sign their copy of his "A Little Book on Joy":
After the "Manly Breakfast," we listened to a fine presentation on "Witness" by Cantor Magness, who did a wonderful job unpacking that first emphasis in our synod's new three-fold emphasis, leading me (and I'm sure many others) to ponder some things I hadn't pondered before. Cantor Magness' presentation was followed by a presentation on "Mercy" by Mr. Tim Hetzner, President of Lutheran Church Charities. There were many nuggets to be gleaned from his presentation, which was delivered enthusiastically and passionately. I didn't agree with a couple of his interpretations of our Lord's parables (I'm guessing he expected that, since he prefaced his comments by stating that some of us may not agree with portions of his presentation), but he was spot on in emphasizing the fact that our lives in Christ are lived out in acts of mercy toward others.
After those two presentations, we took a short break and then gathered together for Divine Service, which was beautiful. Our Lord delivered His Divine Gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation to us through His Holy Word and Sacraments, employing Pr. Tim Rossow (Bethany's Senior Pastor and gracious host of the conference) to serve as Liturgist and Celebrant, and Pr. Jonathan Fisk, whose excellent Worldview Everlasting videos have been a tremendous blessing to many this past year, to serve as preacher. The whole Divine Service was Christ-centered and Cross-focused, including the excellent sermon by Pr. Fisk, which makes it an A+ in this Lutheran's book.
After the Divine Service, I was blessed to spend some time chatting with Missionary Pr. James May of Lutherans in Africa, who shared some of the challenges and blessings he and our Lutherans brothers and sisters in Africa experience. Please consider following that link to learn how you can support this important mission work. A pic of Pr. May and yours truly (just ignore the goofy half-smile on my face):
Unfortunately, my chat with Pr. May concluded the conference for me. By the time I got back to the hotel to pick up my lovely wife and pack up for the trip home, it was too late to get back for Pr. Rossow's presentation on "Life Together," so we decided to head for home a bit earlier than we had planned. That traffic is something else, let me tell you - took me about twenty minutes to drive the five miles back to the hotel! So glad we live in the middle of nowhere. :) Larry and Andrea filled me in on what Pr. Rossow had to say and told me it was a great presentation. Hopefully, they'll post it at the BJS website sometime soon so that I can listen to it.
I was thrilled to finally meet in person my good "internet buddy," Jim Pierce, who traveled all the way from Seattle to attend. It was great chatting with him and a blessing to have him sign my copy of his book, "Wittenberg Confessions," which is an outstanding read. A pic of Jim and me:
It was also wonderful to spend a little quality time with my lovely wife. We traveled down Thursday afternoon, so we were able to enjoy time together Thursday night and lounge around together all day Friday before the conference began at 5:00 p.m. We even got to eat at our favorite restaurant, Olive Garden, during our trip, which is a rare treat for us, since we don't have an Olive Garden anywhere near us.
It was a great time away. The only thing about the conference I would change is to bring back the "No Pietists Allowed" Parties next year. Our group missed those, and I heard others saying they missed them, too. Oh, wait, a couple more things: As beautiful as the Evening Prayer was, I was a little disappointed that there was no homily. Yeah, I know we don't have to have a homily during Evening Prayer, but there are many of us pastors there who cherish those rare opportunities we get to sit in a pew and hear the Word of God proclaimed. The other thing: If y'all are going to make last minute schedule changes, please change the schedule on the website. Some of us dummies are not smart enough to look at the schedule in our packets. Other than that, another great BJS Conference, and I look forward to attending again next year. Thanks to Pr. Rossow, Cantor Magness, and all the folks at Bethany for putting together, and hosting, another top-notch conference.