There’s a place I spend the last four days of the year, every year. It’s no resort; far from it, nor is it a place that most people would want to spend four days; the main room (pictured at the bottom; click and drag to look around) sometimes smells like lakewater, the hallways of weed, and the carpets haven’t been cleaned in well over a decade. But for the last four days of every year, there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.
Even though I have vague memories of the year-end Conference at the old Governor Spottswood Motel or the “aMeRiCa’S bEsT iNn,” the bulk of my Conference experience has been at the current location. It’s mostly been wonderful, aside from one dark memory that left me pretty upset—but the LORD is able to redeem places; that incident happened well over ten years ago and now, I hardly even think about it at all when I’m there even though I pass right by the place where it happened on multiple occasions every day during Conference. Every day I’m there with those wonderful brothers and sisters, I’m as happy as can be. The LORD is also able to redeem dates in time: on December 27, 2020, I was very sad; for the first time ever, due to the Pandemic, there would be no Conference. It was 7:30 PM, when the Conference was supposed to be starting, and I was at home, unable to get it out of my mind. I imagined that room, dark, empty, and desolate, waiting for all of us to be there one year later. Sure enough, to the very minute, on December 27, 2021, that room was filled with love again.
The theme for this past year’s Conference was “A Thrill of Hope,” the phrase from “O Holy Night,” a famous song about the night of our dear Savior’s birth; below are some of the notes I took at the Conference.
The most anticipated birth in the history of the world was foretold to Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, and David (among many others). This baby was welcomed into the world by old and young, male and female, Jew and Gentile, you and me. The wise men didn’t just say “I’m so excited you’re here” then leave; they fell on their knees and worshipped him. Two thousand years later, the weary world lays in sin and error pining for when the soul will feel its worth, somewhere yonder.
“Let there be light” is the first command in the Bible, and we’re here to channel it. Darkness and light: in hope, we experience both. Even the Moon waxes and wanes—very telling of us; we focus on the negative in the present but the positive in the past. When things happen in our lives, they happen FOR us, not TO us (also maybe THROUGH us). Don’t rob yourself of happiness for fear of grief. Hope fills a void in our day-to-day life. Hope is your mind doing this calculus of steps to achieve a goal. When you think you can get there, that’s a thrill of hope. Hope is a thrill, a charge, because it helps us to achieve that goal.
Existence has to entail action; God has a plan for the earth. Want to be on God’s team? Be ready for action; you can’t just sit there, you have to be doing something. Jesus gave every ounce of energy to God and to us; ask God to do whatever will make us love him more. When we communicate with God, are we just using words, or are we using everything? Legion was all-in; his words, how he said them, and his body: “Lord Jesus, I need you; can you help me?” For us, sometimes it’s just “I’m really not that ‘here’ right now, Lord, but I’m just going to spend some time with you.” Because of Jesus, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence. God works through Jesus; this is what gives us confidence that we will inherit eternal life. There are four dimensions of God’s love; something that takes us deeper than the three dimensions. No one knows how many Jesus will be Savior of; it depends on you. It’s tough not knowing how long we have to go; run the race with endurance. How long? Where are we headed? Where do we go from here? We don’t have control over a future Kingdom date, but we do have control over how people around us experience the Kingdom of God in our lifetime. Choose to bring the Kingdom a little closer to someone now. Keep doing the little things, keep doing the big things; you are choosing to improve the life of another person, and it’s working. Spend that time for the person next to you, giving them glimpses of our destination. There is but one Fruit of the Spirit: Love, which is made of joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Salvation wasn’t there yet when Jesus was born, but seeing the baby was enough for Simeon to die in peace (Luke 2:25-32). God has prepared a city (Hebrews 11:16); we have obtained an inheritance: what can we see today that is enough? We can see him today; we can only imagine how much more fulfilled we will be on that day when all the world will see him as he is. This hope is an eternal hope that encompasses all your desires.
In Revelation 3:20, Jesus offers the greatest invitation ever: he stands at the door and knocks. If anyone will hear his voice and open the door, he will come in and dine with him. Don’t let this moment pass.
(Here is the morning exhortation I gave on Friday, 12/30, titled “A New And Glorious Morn”)
This past year at this special place, I made three new friends; interestingly enough, I had known these guys for years, but only at a distance. I also got to hear some great words of encouragement during the morning sessions, had great discussions, whether in a group or one-on-one, and enjoyed lots of great music.
In Genesis 28, we find a story about Jacob, a servant of the LORD, who was on the run from his brother Esau. He went to sleep, using a rock as his pillow, and had a dream of a stairway connecting heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending. He awoke and said, “How awesome is this place!” Bethel—“the house of God”—was dusty and ordinary, but was made holy because the LORD was there. Of course, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob exists everywhere; his eyes run to and fro throughout the whole earth (2 Chronicles 16:9). Just because he exists everywhere though does not mean everywhere is holy: Times Square, for instance, isn’t what anyone would call a “holy” place, even though the LORD “exists” just as much there as he does in a church building on Sunday morning. A place is made holy by his presence, as in the days of Moses when the LORD told him, from the burning bush, that the place he was standing on was holy ground, therefore to be careful and to approach with reverence (Exodus 3:5). Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20).”
There’s a hymn that begins,
“Wherever, LORD, thy people meet,
There they behold thy mercy seat;
Wherever they seek thee thou art found
And every place is hallowed ground.”
There’s a million and one reasons I go to that special, holy place in Williamsburg at the end of every year, but mainly, I go because for those four days, the LORD and his people are there. The Apostle Paul tells us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25), and the prophet Malachi, the Messenger, wrote that those who feared the LORD spoke often to each other, and that a book of remembrance was written (Malachi 3:16).
I always feel reconverted after Williamsburg; it’s like a “recharge station.” In many past years, I would feel sad to be leaving Williamsburg on December 31; but for the past couple of years now, I’ve felt the opposite: fulfilled and satisfied, empowered, and looking forward to the New Year.
After Conference ended—and as I do at the end of Conference every year—I took a few minutes and sat down in the main room there, by myself, and reflected on the previous four days. Then, as I’ve done the past two New Year’s Eves, instead of heading home to Richmond, I went out to the beach and sat by the ocean for a while, reflecting on the week and the year. My heart was full, and—even though it’s taken me a couple of weeks to finally write this blog entry—I looked forward to sharing that with you all. After having been with the LORD and his people, how could I not want to tell anyone?
The Conference ended with the congregation singing:
“I will enter his gates with thanksgiving in my heart,
I will enter his courts with praise,
I will say this is the day that the LORD has made,
I will rejoice for he has made me glad.
He has made me glad, he has made me glad,
I will rejoice for he has made me glad (glad glad).
He has made me glad, he has made me glad,
I will rejoice for he has made me glad.”
That song has been on replay in my mind ever since.
Grace and peace, and joy and gladness, and love in Jesus, the Thrill of Hope,