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This past weekend I was privileged to attend the Desiring God National Conference for the 3rd consecutive year. It’s become a bit of a tradition for myself and a few close brothers from our church and this year we were able to bring our wives! The title for this year’s conference was “Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God.” It was another great conference and a humbling, stirring experience of preaching and fellowship. I’m not going to talk about the every message here but only the ones that genuinely pierced my heart. This is not to say that the others were not worth listening to!

The Friday Seminars

On Friday, I was able to make it to Matt Perman’s seminar on productivity and the Gospel as well as Nate Wilson’s seminar about story and the Cross. Matt shared some helpful thoughts about the nature of “good works” and what we’re really after when we talk about productivity. I could tell he had more to say but didn’t have enough time but it simply makes me more pumped for him to finish and release his book!

Nate Wilson gave one of my favorite and most personally impacting talks of the conference. He talked about story and fantasy, how we’re just nuts to look at this world and think we don’t live in a crazy fantasy world. This was a very engaging message. He hammered on how we need to understand the wonder of this world and how we are all involved in the story created and narrated by our Heavenly Father. The main point was that God created everything “ex nihilo,” meaning “from nothing” and that He continues to hold up the world by his own word. We can choose to respond to situations by trusting that our Father is in control or we can choose to be like Job’s wife and curse God and die. He then tied the theme of fantasy and story to Jesus coming as a man to be like us to die and rescue us. I won’t soon forgot Nate’s thoughts.

Unfortunately, these talks were not able to be recorded! However, 3 of the other seminars (recorded in the main auditorium), given by Tulian Tchividjian, Kevin DeYoung, and Randy Alcorn, should be available soon. There was also a Q&A with all of the seminar speakers to close the afternoon that ended up being more of a discussion about writing. It was very encouraging for me to hear these men talk about why they write and how they worked at writing and how reading plays into being a good writer. This Q&A session should also be available soon.

UPDATE: The seminar sessions given by Alcorn, Tchividjian, and DeYoung are now up at Desiring God. Sadly, no sign of the Friday Q&A (see below) yet.

Friday Q&A with DeYoung, Parsons, Tchividjian, and Piper

In this panel, the speakers/guests discussed their initial reactions to Rick Warren’s address and then began to dig into something that, for us, became an underlying theme of the conference. The theme is this: We can only be ourselves. Yes, we need to fight sin and seek to be growing in Christ-likeness but John Piper cannot be Rick Warren and Kevin DeYoung cannot be John Piper. We cannot be someone else nor should we be. The Gospel should free us to love Jesus and serve others as He made us to be. I cannot be someone else and can only emulate them so far. I can imitate their faith but I should not seek to emulate their exact strengths and habits even. I need to walk with Jesus, mortify sin, and then let Jesus free me to be myself and use my desires and my gifts, each given by the Holy Spirit, to glorify Him and bless others. Right now, I am reading about Hudson Taylor and reading books by Doug Wilson and Michael Emlet. I cannot be those men though I thoroughly respect their lives and what God is doing and has done through them. But I get discouraged thinking about how I can emulate Hudson Taylor or trying to think and communicate the way Wilson does. Nor does Jesus want me to be them. Jesus made me as I am and I need to be more and more yielded to the Holy Spirit to be exactly who I am so I can be the tool He made me to be. This is incredibly freeing!

Al Mohler: The Way the World Thinks

I have been reading Mohler’s blog for close to two years now and I was looking forward to hearing his thoughts on this topic in person. It was a very helpful message! The night before, a few of us were discussing the limits of the unregenerate/unsaved mind and the first half of the message was about exactly that. The fallen mind is not lacking knowledge but lacking the will. The real knowledge crisis is not about what we do not know but about what we WILL not know. Our intellect is not neutral but bent. Mohler’s demonstrated this by walking us through Romans 1. Our will does not allow our conscience to do what it was intended to do! We willfully suppress the truth.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:18-21 ESV)

Apart from the saving work of the Holy Spirit, we are rationally given over to sin. We cannot reason our way to the Cross but it is foolishness to us apart from His regenerating work in us. The reality is that this still taints us even as those follow Christ. Mohler talks about some of the remaing effects of this on our minds: ignorance, distractedness, forgetfulness, miscommunication, intellectual apathy, and more. To close the message, he talked about some specifics of how our culture thinks and then mentioned how teens in our own churches are showing themselves to moralistic therapeutic deists in their worldview! We need to pursue the Word of God, pursue life in the local church, and rely constantly on the Holy Spirit to conform our lives to Scripture. This was a great sermon, not to be passively listened to as it was intellectually challenging enough hearing it live.

Saturday Q&A with Anyabwile, Chan, Mohler, and Piper

The panel discussed the Gospel, learning from secular thought, how to handle being honored, and moving from anti-intellectualism to more of a balance. Again, though, the underlying theme, especially in how Chan interacted with the rest of the panel, was how we need to be ourselves in Christ. Francis Chan cannot be John Piper or Al Mohler or preach as deeply as Thabiti can. Francis Chan can be Francis Chan and Jesus can use Him as He is, through the Gospel, in the Spirit, plenty.

Francis Chan: Think Hard, Stay Humble

How should I describe this message? Love others? I cannot begin to do this message justice. Just watch it and be changed. I have not heard too many messages more gripping and stirring or more genuinely powerful than Chan’s message on Saturday night. He was humble and God blessed it and I was wrecked.

If you watch one message from this conference, you have to watch the one given by Francis Chan. As one brother stated after this conference, we’ll still be processing these messages and themes throughout the rest of this year. I look forward to rewatching each of these messages and trusting God to grow and change for His glory, to love Him more, and to love others much more deeply and consistently.

To watch or download all of the plenary sessions, click here.

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