Greg Strand is EFCA executive director of theology and credentialing, and he serves on the Board of Ministerial Standing as well as the Spiritual Heritage Committee. He and his family are members of Northfield (Minnesota) EFC.
This has been a year with challenges and changes in our lives and ministries. Our limitations and limps have been revealed. We have been made aware in a deeper and more personal way of our desperate dependence on the Lord.
The general focus of our Theology Conference is teaching, instruction, informing, encouragement, nourishment and edification for pastors and leaders in our churches. It is our attempt to inform of theological and cultural issues of the day. In this dizzying day, we all need to be anchored in the Bible, we need to have a sense of our time and place in relation to God’s time and place and his work throughout time (history), and we need some help and hope about how to think about and respond to these various issues. Our goal is that of building up the undershepherds as they shepherd God’s people in the midst of this present day marked by a doctrinal and moral tsunami.
In the Lord’s kindness, through the conviction and commitment of many and in the midst of COVID-19 we remained resolute to carry out the Theology Conference as a ministry to our pastors and leaders and churches. Because of the challenges of the past year, we prayerfully determined our focus would be somewhat different in that we believed there was a great need to encourage our pastors and leaders. We were drawn to the Psalms.
Our conference theme was “The Psalms: The Undershepherds’ Shepherd.” The Psalms have been a comfort to Christians throughout time, the Christians’ and churches’ prayer and songbook. Calvin refers to the Psalms as “An Anatomy of the Soul; for there is not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life of all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.”
The beauty and richness of the Psalms is that they give expression to the height and the depth of our emotions, our responses to situations, circumstances and events. They are mirror reflections of our souls. And yet, they are more than that. They ground these emotions, our responses to those situations and circumstances, in the truth of who God is and his promises in Christ to his children. This is what makes the Psalms unique; it is what resonates with Christians through time.
Our prayer for our conference was that the truths about God and his Word in the Psalms might strengthen, edify and nourish heart, soul and mind. Our prayer was that it would not only nourish and refresh participants, but that it would also renew those participants personally and also strengthen them to serve others.
In our gaze at the Psalms, we focused on these vital aspects in our six messages: The Psalms and Christian Worship (Scott Manetsch); The Psalms, Christ and the Christian Scriptures (James Hamilton); The Psalms and Christian Living (Walter Kim); The Psalms and Christian Lament (Mark Vroegop); The Psalms and Christian Prayer (Donald Whitney); and The Psalms and Christian Preaching (Robert Smith Jr.).
We are thankful to the Lord for the many who participated in our livestreamed conference. We had about 1,000 registered, and many others participated beyond registrants, consisting of individuals and groups, people from the U.S. and around the world. This is the largest number of registrants ever recorded for our Theology Conference, breaking last year’s record. It went extremely well, for which we thank and praise the Lord. In the Lord’s kindness, he shepherded us as we prayerfully planned our focus on the Psalms, the specific messages from the Psalms and the specific speakers to address those messages. The whole conference proved to be a rich feast from the Word of God, specifically the Psalms, for the weak and weary.
An Answer to Prayer
We have received many encouraging and affirming responses that our focus on the Psalms was nourishing to the souls of many. Here are a few of those responses:
Our humble prayer was that our immersion in the Psalms would bear fruit in the lives of participants, that they would be encouraged and experience spiritual refreshment in their lives, that their weak and weary hearts and souls would be strengthened. We thank the Lord for his answers to our prayer! The Lord did immeasurably more than we asked or imagined (Eph 3:20).
The livestreamed Theology Conference and all the accompanying resources can be found on our EFCA Theology Conference resource page. This will be helpful for those who want to hear a message again, for those who missed a message and for those who have not yet been able to hear any of the messages. At the link, you will be able to download a notebook that contains each of the speakers’ questions for reflection and discussion. It would be worthwhile to listen to the messages and then ponder and pray through the questions, either individually or with a group of elders or in a small group. The messages will also be posted at our EFCA Theology Podcast. As an additional resource on our webpage, there is also a “Songs from the Psalms” playlist, which consists of 238 songs specifically on and from the Psalms.
Join us in giving thanks to the Lord for his kind and gracious answer to prayer. Please continue to ask that he might continue to multiply this offering of five loaves and two fish in the lives of people, bringing spiritual refreshment, renewal and strength.
Dear friends, as you immerse yourself in the Psalms, let’s keep the bookends of the Psalms, the first (1:1) and last verses (150:6) of the 150 Psalms, in mind: “Blessed is the man who[se] . . . delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. . . . Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!”