I’m back from another outstanding Straight Up Conference in suburban Chicago. Pastor James and the servant-hearted, talented group of leaders at Harvest Bible Chapel-Rolling Meadows/Elgin know how to put together a conference that is encouraging, inspiring, instructive, and challenging. Every year I return with my batteries recharged and with fresh ideas for ministry.
There is so much I could say about this year’s conference, but I’d like to focus in on the two special guests who have been such an inspiration to my life and ministry: John MacArthur and C. J. Mahaney. As an eighteen year-old aspiring to serve the Lord in pastoral ministry, I came across the radio ministry of John MacArthur. It rocked my world. Crystal clear verse-by-verse Bible teaching. MacArthur has consistently and ruthlessly spoken the truth no matter what the cost, and because of that the man is usually either loved or hated. Count me in the love camp. I’ve seen him a few times, once at his church in California. MacArthur is just one of those teachers who is so compelling I would get excited about listening to him if he was preaching verse-by-verse through Leviticus. He spoke to us from 2 Corinthians 4 on how to endure in ministry.
I don’t remember when I first heard about C. J. Mahaney, but I have come to respect him greatly in the past few years. This was my first chance to hear him live. Founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries, Mahaney is not nearly as published as MacArthur, but I would highly recommend everything he has written. The little book Christ Our Mediator is my favorite. Mahaney spoke from 1 Corinthians, answering the question, “How could the apostle Paul say he was grateful for the Corinthian church, a church that was a clearly more of a pain to him than any other church?” The answer is found not in the Corinthians, but in God, the author and perfecter of the Corinthian church. It was a great reminder to look for what Mahaney calls “evidences of grace” in people’s lives, choosing to celebrate those evidences rather than focus on their shortcomings. As you seek to help people to overcome their problems, focus on the potential that is there because God is at work.
– Dave Stone, whom I had never heard of before, was another speaker. He did a great job and I picked up some good pointers in his session on preaching. I accidentally met him between sessions the first day and then we ran into each other the next day and we had a brief conversation about a mutual friend. Very down-to-earth guy.
– C. J. Mahaney accepted Pastor James’s challenge to play a little game of one-on-one on the basketball court. Not only did he accept the challenge, he lived up to it. I won’t publish the final score because I love Pastor James too much to do that.
– Food, food, and more food. Tony rightly commented to me that one must forget about dieting when coming to this conference.
– Hanging out with Tone and Tony was encouraging, so was getting some time with the other Senior Pastors in the Harvest Bible Fellowship.
– Most importantly, God answered my prayers.