22 October 2013

Strange Fire Conference #1: personal

by Dan Phillips

Here begins a series of posts on the Strange Fire conference held last week at Grace Community Church.

This may be the briefest, as it will be personal. I find people are often more interested in posts like this than I would ever in my most febrile moments imagine, so here 'tis. If you're not one of those people, sorry, really I am; see you next time.

Big Gulp. Dear wife and I flew out Monday evening, leaving our boys (14 and 18) alone for the first extended time. With a brilliance that I display only when I don't try, I had just preached a sermon on God's surprising cure for anxiety, which I selected without thinking how much I'd need it myself. We were helped in knowing that many in our dear church were available to them and would check up on them, perhaps performing unannounced inspections and the like.

Flight. But we ran into a (wait for it) glitch right away. Frontier Airlines, whose reputation for frequent cancellations and re-routings seems to be well-earned, wanted to re-route us due to a "routine maintenance." We wondered why, if it were routine, it caught them by surprise. But never mind; initially it looked like a windfall, in that we'd get a direct flight to LA instead of having a layover in Denver. Win, right? We only lightly detected the ominous overtones in the agent's promise, "I'm going to try really hard to get your luggage transferred to your new flight."

Heroic though her efforts may have been, they were not successful. We had a fairly uncomfortable ride in the very back two seats, hard against the bathroom, next to the only surly and unfriendly flight attendant I've ever encountered. When we landed — no luggage. Not a total surprise, so we logged our case with the agent after a long wait, and went to our room. Valerie had found a lovely Comfort Inn motel near Universal Studios, with a very nice, decent-priced room, great breakfasts, and best of all, about equidistant from Grace Community Church and Bob's Big Boy.

To close those loops:
  • Our luggage did not come, nor were we contacted. So we contacted American Airlines, which was easy enough. However, they said Frontier had our luggage, and every time their driver went over, Frontier was closed. Finally, we tried to contact Frontier. It was impossible. Their web-page number, with menu selections for "luggage issues," went to a ticketing agent who had no way to contact anyone with luggage. The number we were given rang, got a voicemail that said in total "At the tone leave a message," and was worthless. So it's getting to evening-time, we've nothing but our travel-clothes, one phone is dead and the other is down to 13%. So in desperation, I Tweet about it. Incredibly, that gets a response. A very nice lady named Colette actually takes ownership of the issue, follows through, and we finally get our luggage — at 10:10pm the night before the conference.
  • Bob's Big Boy matters to me because my first job out of high school was at the Bob's #1 in Glendale, California, which in 1973 still had actual car-hops. I still love their burgers, love them. Formula for about forty years: bun well, no relish, heavy mayonnaise, add avocado. This year I went crazy and added grilled, sliced onions. Yum. We got to eat there three times, once with our dear friend Tom Lusby (my Best Man at our wedding)! #WINNING
People at the conference. Now to overview the personal aspect of the conference — well, I do this with some fear. I know I'm going to forget something I shouldn't, and will kick myself when I find it out. But given that something is better than nothing...

The volunteers at Grace were amazing. There were 700 of them. And the place was laden with free food — fruits, candy, coffee, fancy-coffee-like-drinks, ice cream, pop/soda/cola/coke (depending on where you're from), and much else. They were unfailingly kind, friendly, cheerful and helpful. Just terrific.

We got to re-meet and (mostly) meet a number of online friends and new friends. We already knew the owner of truly the most underappreciated, excellent blog on the intrawebz, Fred ButlerFreddie was as he always is: friendly, helpful, interesting, laid-back, fun. Valerie and I loved hanging with him.

Also we had the joy a couple of times of chatting with longtime commenter Susan and her mother. What fun! She had a stack of Proverbs books for me to sign, so she could give them to friends, as she already had done with TWTG. Bless her.

I also met a brother named Brian from Ireland, who'd been involved for years in the "apostolic" "renewal." He thanked me for my writings on continuationism, saying it and the other Pyro resources had helped deliver him from the bondage of that false movement. We praised God together. One of my regrets is not being able to reconnect to hear more of his story.

Also, met Douglas Kofi Adu-Boahen, who was prevented by illness from meeting us at the Ashford Messianic Prophecy conference. Time will fail me in mentioning Nick Rolland, Matt McGrew and his father Dan (do I have that right?), Robert Audet... brothers and sisters from Iowa, Colorado, Texas, Australia, England, and so on.

It was a surprise treat to meet Andy Chulka. Andy is assistant pastor at a church in Missouri, and is using TWTG for the second time. First he went through it with a Men's Fellowship, and the response was so positive that he's now using it with the whole church. Of course, that doesn't spoil my day any.

At Grace itself, it was great seeing Travis Allen (who has a formidable memory) and Jay Flowers again. One of the highlights for Valerie and me was enjoying dinner with m'man Mike Riccardi, who's flourishing at GCC and Master's, and busier than a one-eyed cat watching six mouse-holes. Also got to renew acquaintances briefly with Phil's son Jeremiah Johnson and meet his lady-friend. Jeremiah was among those enjoying Valerie's life-changing peanut-brittle ministry when we visited his parents a couple of years back.

I didn't really look up the speakers, except of course Phil, briefly John MacArthur (more later), and Todd Friel. I had to see how tall Todd really was. "Freakishly," as it turns out. Loved talking with him, albeit briefly; it was a bit like talking to a lightning bolt. Todd asked me a really good, pointed question, and I was too cheese-headed from lack of sleep and extreme old age and other excuses to have a good, quick answer. One came to me a bit later, but I could never connect with Todd at the conference again. So I plan to share it with you (and him) in a post.

Of course the crown was breakfast Saturday morning with our dear friends Phil and Darlene Johnson. Phil was so busy that all we could do was chat in passing before and after meetings, but they were kind enough to get up (too) early, to have breakfast with us before we flew off. Barely time to talk grandchildren, conference, and a few other matters. Suddenly and far too soon, the time was gone, and so were we.

A full day of flying brought me back home to our dear boys, cats, and house — all still standing and in good shape, thank God. Very happy to be home, and very grateful to be back in worship and fellowship at the church I love on Sunday.

Dan Phillips's signature


Tom Chantry said...

It seems kind of hard to be off topic in a post like this, so I'll plunge into a story:

My parents first left me at home for a week when they went to a conference when I was sixteen. They were gone roughly an hour before I had my first car wreck. I somehow had no idea what to do about it, but in the providence of God it occurred on the very block where my dad's insurance agent had his office, whom handled everything as thoroughly as if I had been his son.

About that, three things:

1. Even when God doesn't take care of our kids, He still takes care of our kids.

2. You're very glad you heard this story after your return from California.

3. I don't plan to leave my kids at home alone until they're thirty-seven.

FX Turk said...

Yesterday I wrote something about events over the weekend, but this series by Dan seems far more interesting to me. Let's go with this and if any of the contacts I have made develop into a conversation, we'll do that next week.

Michael Coughlin said...

I enjoyed reading this thoroughly. It's proof you are not a robot. Maybe a calvinist puppet, but certainly not robotic.

Anonymous said...

I'll throw my hat into the "thoroughly enjoyed" ring here.

Everytime a conference comes around I have daydreams about attending and getting to meet some of you men.

To echo Michael, it's (oddly enough) a helpful reminder that you and I and everybody else aren't all that different, when it comes to regular, everyday life stuff. I just happen to draw buildings instead of preaching..

Looking forward to hearing more thoughts on the conference.

Also, incidentally, looking forward to the Sola13 conference at KDY's church in December.

Rob said...

You know that Bob's Big Boy never left, Dan. He's always offered the same high-quality meals at competitive prices...

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Gee, Chantry, thanks for the dread ;D

Actually Dan, you left me thinking how nice it is to have boys that one can trust like that. By the grace of God first and foremost, and the faithfulness of the parents in training them up...


FX Turk said...

Chantry is that kind of Puritan.

Kay said...

One day I'm going to a)go to a conference as challenging as this one and b)actually meet someone connected to pyro.

I've come so close a handful of times, but providence has never brought us together..

Tom Chantry said...

Without dread, life is an empty trifle.

You're welcome.

Rachael Starke said...

Wow. Mike Riccardi has really aged - he looks at least 22 now. :)

Jules' Diner said...

I've never wanted to go to California...until the Strange Fire conference. Eager to read your diary.

Merrilee Stevenson said...

Kinda surprised that you and Phil and Frank didn't have some kind of huddle or high-five photo op. (Just love seeing y'all together, that's all.)

So much has been posted by so many people about stuff that happened at the conference. But I'm really looking forward to reading about it here from you and Frank, and even Phil, should he choose.

Solameanie said...

I am a bit surprised Dan would bring up Big Boy when the rave from Grace conferences is usually In-N-Out Burger. But if they have them in Texas, maybe familiarity has bred contempt. No? ;)

Anonymous said...

This is like the San Diego Comic Con for Christians. Makes me wistful that my old prodigal living on geekery now leaves me unable to go to a con that's actually meaningful. : /

DJP said...

Some day, G&G!