Samford University Cafeteria
July of 1993 I attended my first Southern Baptist Founders Conference at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. It was a time of theological clarification and, in some ways, theological re-direction for me. That conference would prove to be instrumental in my understanding of God and His gracious work in saving sinners.
Yet, something else would be awakened during those days in Birmingham. It was during the normal routines of breakfast, lunch and dinner that old desires were stirred up. Though the teaching sessions were fantastic, it was the time around the table that I remember most.
As I reflect on that conference, the meal times were really a rediscovery of the conversation and laughter that had been so meaningful in college and seminary. Even now my heart travels back to Brewton Parker College, Georgia College and New Orleans Seminary. I can see the tables. I can hear the voices, the laughter and see the arms waving as a friend makes a point. I can almost feel the souls of brothers being knit together around the table.
I think that friendship is having someone to sit with.
I did not realize it during those humid days in the summer of 1993, but the Founder's Conference was a revival of an old passion, a renewal of heart longings, a rediscovery of something lodged deep within my heart--a desire to sit and talk, a desire for friendship. Isn't that the longing of every heart?
It was around the table that my life began to change. I would travel year after year to that conference. As my theology was sharpened, friendships were founded and developed. And throughout the year my heart would wander to Birmingham in anticipation of the next year's event.
Though the conference no longer meets in Birmingham, the memories of those summer days and evenings are fresh on my mind. Whenever I am having lunch with a friend or attending a conference that provides meals on site, I am often last to leave the table. It is hard to break away. Once I leave, the "sweat of my brow" will again drench me.
Around the table the chaos takes a break. The trials of life are left outside. It is also from those times that I am energized for the tasks that are before me, and the meaning of those tasks are made clearer.
Knowing that those times are so beneficial, I wonder why I do not seek them out more often. The requests of life are unrelenting. Mountains of responsibilities need my time. Those things most urgent scream for my attention. Yet my heart longs for the table and a friend who can sit with me for a while.
After all, friendship is having someone to sit with.