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Unknown-1How long does it take for a local church to plan an annual Missions Conference?

Clear Lake Chinese Church of Webster, TX first reached out to me in July 2018. Their pastor told me that they had been planning their 2019 Annual Missions Conference for March, nine months away. I had to keep scrolling through my calendar to see if I was free to accept their invitation as their keynote speaker.

Before I accepted the invitation, I have several decided practices that must always precede my official answer. I don’t mean to sound super spiritual but I do pray about such invitations. Really.

My prayers for God’s guidance are not new. Regularly, I am praying about opportunities to serve the Lord who gave me a life-long calling for ministry. During these times of intercession I am asking for peace, enthusiasm, and guidance.

Then, I seek the counsel of my personal team. These are a collection of amazing and godly people who help me with varying perspectives. We discuss details. For example, where is the venue? How many times do they want you to speak? What is the purpose of the gatherings? Does the theme fit within your area of specialization? What is the demographics of the expected audience? Do the logistics lend themselves to your current obligations and commitments?

The final decision to accept or reject speaking invitations is ultimately left in my hands. However, I know that when I include these others in my decision, it automatically garners a huge amount of prayer support when I do accept these engagements. To end God’s sovereign administration never ceases to amaze me. He knows when my calendar if open. By far I accept more invitations than I send my regrets.

UnknownOver nine months I read with interest how the church was formulating their Missions Conference objectives. They wanted to have their church family challenged to “Reach the Nations in their City.”  Wow! That theme captured my heart.

Plotting out my study time in the course of fulfilling all of my current duties as the Dean of DTS-Houston, I made notes, studied exegetical issues, considered theological lessons, matched clarifying illustrations, and prayed for a powerful and clear presentation for this conference. During the course of our communications, I ascertained the receptivity of the audience, imagined definitive niches of people types, wondered at how the challenges of the Mission objectives could be presented to each season of life.

The time came. The introductions were given. I stepped up on to the platform and months of preparation unfolded. We connected. By God’s grace some amazing life-changes will be new habits of life for many.

IMG_1985The weather was beautiful in Michigan.  Temperatures were a perfect mid-60’s with sunny skies broken up with an occasional collection of cumulus clouds floating from horizon to horizon.  A gentle breeze caused the leaves in the trees to rustle.

My host, a sharp, creative, wise and devoted young pastor picked me up at the Detroit Wayne Airport.  Together we laughed, discussed, reported and caught up after years of being apart.  There was a lot of shop talk between ministers.

Interspersed in our conversations about our professional comings and goings were reports on our wives, children and common friends.  Periodically, I would glance out of the windows to take in the countryside of a state where I had invested over a decade of my life.  It is April and the hillsides were covered with lush green grass, foliage on the trees and crystal clear water babbling through the brooks and streams.

Great dialogue made the miles slip by quickly.  Soon we rolled up to Gull Lake Ministries near Battle Creek, Michigan.  Nestled among the winding roads lined with private homes, a Christian Conference center had its home.  This would be the site of the gathering of men that I would be privileged to address.

A few hours passed.  Slowly, steadily and surely men arrived.  Some traveled alone.  Others jammed into cars and then burst out with loud guffaws much to the entertainment of others.

Those in charge of the retreat directed the men to the first venue.  Fifty men, all from one  church, gathered in the meeting hall.  Their pastor led the first session, making the men laugh, tease and almost deliver the kinds of sounds that you only hear at a gathering of men.

Worship was strong.  Prayer was intense.  The introduction that was given to me was my signal to preach.  I did.

There is a phenomenon that we speakers experience in moments like these.  It is a sensation that something much bigger than what the eye can see, the ear hear or the body sense.  Instead, it was a spiritual amazement.

The men were attentive.  After a long week at work and a long drive to camp, these men gave me their undivided attention.  God was customizing the presentation of the Scripture to each of these men where they were, based on what they needed and what our heavenly Father knew was coming in their lives.  We all wanted to see our lives in Him make a difference and He is going to make that happen.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

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