A Banner Day or Two

From Tuesday afternoon until later today I am at the Banner of Truth’s 2017 US Minister’s Conference. This conference is a refreshing time for pastors, elders, and ministerial students in so many ways. Here are a few highlights to share with you.

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The Banner offered scholarships to seminary students, so I had the joy of traveling out with three men training with us at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary. Having extended time like that with the guys outside the classroom is a blessing. On the way, we stopped for lunch at a rest area. The other American and I quickly ordered our burgers and sat down, only to find our two Asian friends had brought their own zongzi for lunch. They shared with us the zongzi, a leaf-wrapped meal containing a special, sweetish rice with peanuts, beans, and a date, and told us it was in honor of “Dragon Boat Day” in Asia, an annual holiday with a fascinating story behind it. The learning started before I even arrived at the conference.

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Over 300 are in attendance at the Banner conference this year, held on the beautiful, accommodating campus of Elizabethtown College. The theme is “The Living and Enduring Word.” We will listen to a total of eleven messages on the sufficiency and beauty of God’s Word over the course of our three days together. Being among so many like-hearted men from many denominations and places who love the simplicity of hearing God’s Word faithfully upheld and proclaimed is so soul-strengthening, as is hearing this number of male voices singing praises to God.

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Though all the messages have been sound and edifying, certainly a highlight of our time was Geoffrey Thomas‘ message last night on “The Super Supremacy of Scripture” from Luke 16:19-31. Pastor Thomas’ began by reminding us from the story of the rich man and Lazarus that everyone on this earth is in a room with only two exit doors, one marked “Heaven” and the other “Hell.” We either consciously follow the Word of God’s instruction that tells us so clearly about everlasting life or suffer the consequences of which it also warns. With great love and adoration for the Lord and his Word, Pastor Thomas moved behind the pulpit like a graceful conductor as he brought in movement after movement in his message to press upon us the utter sufficiency of Scriptures to provide all we need for life and salvation. Many men left the sanctuary quietly with red-rimmed eyes, weeping over our failures to be content with the miracle that is the Bible, the graciousness of God in providing it to us, and all those still perishing without its truths.

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If there’s one thing you can count on at a Banner conference, it is the books. And what impresses me is the generosity of this ministry. On one side of the building is a large room with much of their inventory present and nicely discounted, with a $25 coupon included in our materials. The opening night they take first-timers on a tour, and offer them even further discounts. One of my roommates received the six-volume set of J.C Ryle’s Expository Notes on the Gospels for only $10! But the Banner makes sure you do not only think of yourself in the midst of a minister’s bibliophile dreamworld.  On the other side of the building is a room containing slightly damaged books. We each have been allowed to go in with a standard book shipping box and fill the box with free books. Yet the books are not for ourselves, but to give away to others for their encouragement.

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A great part of the conference is the fellowship we enjoy at meals, break times, and late at night. I have had the privilege of talking about ministry matters with men in my own denomination, catching up with fellow co-laborers working in other parts of God’s vineyard, high-fiving a fellow student from my doctor of ministry studies, and meeting for the first time colleagues working at other seminaries. As I have entered into these conversations, the incredible connective nature of the greater body of Christ is both nurtured and impressed upon me again. How often you discover you know the same people or have had like experiences.

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On a stairway I met a man who looked familiar to me. As I talked to Sam, we realized we had roomed together at a Banner conference twelve years ago. We both remembered that a famous Baptist pastor shared our suite that year, but his memory is far more sanctified than mine. He recalled how young men kept coming into our suite to meet the Baptist pastor, receiving counsel and praying with them. As I nodded at his praise, I was ashamed that my only recollection was being upset that I had overheard this pastor talk to another about the failures of infant baptism.

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There was some fun built into our time as well. Last night there was an ice cream social on the edge of the soccer field on campus. While some ate, others watched as teams competed in soccer for the “Whitefield Cup.” A number of men proved they could handle the soccer ball as well as their theology. At one point of the game an overwhelming smell of hot fudge came to a number of us, and I was drawn over to the ice cream only to discover there was no hot fudge. Turns out the smells from nearby Hershey, Pennsylvania, were wafting over to us.

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Well, time to head back. Don’t want to miss the next message!

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