This trip now makes the fourth time I have attended the “Shepherd’s Conference” in Southern California. Early in March, Grace Community Church (the home of Pastor John MacArthur) host this multiple-day conference to equip and encourage pastors. Each year roughly 3,500 men from all over the world attend to worship God and participate in the many activities. Joining me at the conference were good friends, Russ Brewer (right) and Mark Junda (middle), a full time staff pastor and volunteer lay pastor from our church respectively. We also found the time to visit Joshua Tree National Park on the final day.
On the first day of the conference I was able to meet my buddy and top mentor, Pastor Scott Ardavanis (below). Scott not only officiated our wedding, but also faithfully (and very patiently I must add!) trained me for the ministry when I served on staff with him at Grace Church of DuPage in the Chicago area for four years. Scott, a longtime California resident, is now back home in the Golden State ministering at different church.
The pictures above depict two of the men God has used tremendously in my life. On the left is Pastor John MacArthur. I’ve listened to hundreds of sermons from this man. I believe very few others in our generation have the same ability to exposit the Word of God and proclaim it in a clear and relevant manner. On the right is my friend, Philip Webb. Phil and I served together at Grace Church of DuPage. He now lives in California, but has already made several trips to our church in New Jersey to bless with incredible music and his beautiful tenor voice. The Lord has used his ministry on multiple occasions to encourage my heart.
A shot of my Bible, notes (and through the heads), the face of John MacArthur!
Thousands of men listed intently to the Q&A conducted by (from the left) MacArthur, Tom Pennington, Al Mohler, Steve Lawson and Phil Johnson. Definitely some “big guns” packing a wealth of wisdom! And then when it came time to worship in song, the assembled men stood to their feet to proclaim with one voice the greatness of our King!
The video below is a brief sample of that experience.
Dinner time! An Asian roll from one of the many food trucks parked on campus.
A nice shot of Phil Webb and I.
The picture above actually comes with a fascinating story. From the back of the shot you can see Russ, Steve Prologo (a member of our church), Mark, myself and in the black coat up front, Craig Baxter. Craig met us in the foyer of the hotel and asked us for a ride to the conference on the first day. Being from Australia and all alone, he spent the entire week tagging along with our group. We enjoyed his company and got to know him very well. In addition to attending the conference, Mark, Russ and I also when to this event to interview four men (from the Master’s Seminary) for an assistant pastor opening at our church. While not feeling any of them were the fit we were looking for, I turned to Russ and said, “How about Craig?” Craig felt the same way as we did. Soon he was in New Jersey for an interview and shortly after that hired by the church.
Standing at the place where many God-honoring sermons from John MacArthur have been preached!
Outside at the conference and then departing with our new books in the rain.
On the final day, we decided to depart following the afternoon session and drive about three hours west to Joshua Tree National Park. On the way be passed through a huge windmill farm.
Joshua Tree is a massive park. It comprises nearly 800,000 acres. Though we only had a few hours to spend, the park website says the area is a fragile, yet in-hospital environment. Rain is space. There are two ecosystems that converge within the park’s boundaries commonly know as the high and low desert. Most popular in the park (especially on the western half) is the large collections of Joshua trees. According to legend, Mormon pioneers considered the limbs of the Joshua trees to resemble the upstretched arms of Joshua leading them to the Promised Land. Others were not as visionary. Early explorer John Fremont described them as “the most repulsive tree in the vegetable Kingdom.” Regardless of what you call them, the trees are definitely a unique sight to see!
As the sun was beginning to set, the temperature plummeted. The winds picked up and snow (yes, snow in the desert) began to fall. It stated off as a few flurries and then as darkness hit progressed to a significant storm. It was an incredible sight to see as we walked through the snow covered cacti.
The 50 second video below shows a compilation of some short clips spaced over time depicting this unique experience. Also captured is a classic Russ Brewer conversation as he discusses telescopes and the Orion Nebula constellation with Mark.
Clowning around in the picture above, but the only real clown in the shot is me. I arrived at the park wearing shorts (you can see that in the first picture taken above by the welcome sign). Thankfully I had a pair of jeans in the car that I changed into not long after we arrived. I’m thankful I did because it really got cold. The sweatshirt and thin leather jacket was no match for the elements. My head was freezing so I took my shorts and wrapped them around my head for additional warmth. No doubt it looked silly, but since there was no one else in the park and it served its purposes, I basically had no problem with it.
A stop for burritos on the way back to the hotel!
Here’s a video with some highlights o the trip!
Another wonderful trip. It was a great time for the three of us to grow in our relationship with each other and our relationship with Jesus Christ.