The last “Amen” hung in the air, and 10,000 attendees held their collective breath, in awe. The conference was completed, but I walked away holding onto the magnificent grace of the Gospel of Jesus who was crucified for our justification, raised on the third day to put death to death, seated at the right hand of God the Father making intercession for His Bride.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow, Praise Him all creatures here below, Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts, Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. A——-men.
We were witnessing, together, the end of an era. 9 gatherings. 90 some preachers. Thousands of attendees, church men and women from 60 plus countries. One aim, simply articulated in the name: Together For The Gospel.
I’d always wanted to attend. For the last 15 years, I had looked at the conference announcements and coveted the opportunity to sing with God’s people and to sit under the teaching of God’s servants. This was the year; it was now or never.
Now as I fly home from Louisville, that closing “Amen” reverberates in these thoughts swirling in my head and heart, as I suspect it will for many years ahead…
Biblically rich music sung with gusto stirs the heart with affection God and His people.
The recordings and live stream didn’t do justice to 10,000 male voices and bit of female harmony raised in worship. Standing in the middle of it all, though, singing life-long favorites and new hymns choked me up more than once. The beauty of the sound reflected the beauty of the King of whom we were singing. The strain of the past years showed on many faces, but the resonance washed countenances with the assurance of peace that passes all understanding. Hands upraised, tears flowing, hearts full.
No amount of teaching or preaching will ever plumb the depths of the glory of God.
Speaker after speaker, whether 35 or 80 years old, Presbyterian or Baptist, from DC, LA, or the UAE, with 10 years of ministry or 50, each held out a morsel of the counsel of God. They interviewed each other, provided historical perspectives, and exposited the final words of King David, of Paul, of Peter, all the while reminding the hearers of the just, merciful, providential work and character of the Almighty God. H.B. Charles exhorted: “You cannot faithfully serve the Gospel if you do not consistently savor the Gospel.” We savored those morsels in the moment, and walked away longing for more—more years to study, more opportunities to know Christ and to make Him known.
Ministry is hard.
I heard from pastor-friends of the crushing criticisms, injustice, and pressures both from inside their congregations and from without. Friends ministering in urban contexts gave witness to the darkness of our world—ruptured families, gang warfare, domestic abuse, child trafficking. They spoke of comfort found in the Scriptures replete with relatable lament, assurance of God’s justice, and refuge for sufferers. One friend described a woman in his congregation as a “Suffering-eater,” like the old Appalachian tradition of the sin-eater, one who absorbed the burdens of men and women in the church family, bringing joy and gospel relief to those in pain—and to her pastor.
John Piper and Sinclair Ferguson, both 50 years deep into ministry reflected on both the members who objected to everything and the faithful elderly women who prayed for their pastors. But they all pointed to the same root of perseverance: stewardship of the manifold wonders of the Gospel and glory of God.
The grace gift of friendship, whether decades long or newly formed, is overwhelmingly beautiful.
The conference organizers and speakers spoke with affection for the ministry of friendship rendered by the others on the platform, borrowing words of thankfulness from Augustine, Newton, Lewis, Solomon. They referenced the preciousness of friendship, the comfort of support and laughter, of loving doctrinal sparring, and desperate midnight calls for advice.
I attended the conference with a group of relatively new friends from my church, some who I have been acquainted with since they were young teen, others I have recently met. We were not checked in at the airport in LA before the reunions had begun—mission team leaders, former students, favorite supervisors from bygone days. And it didn’t stop for 4 days—students, students’ parents, my Hebrew and Greek professor from my first year of Bible college, missionary hero-friends, missionary kids, former staff, Canadians, Alex Strauch (a category all of his own), and adult children of long-time friends. I grew in appreciation of new friends as we sang and laughed and debriefed with full hearts.
Oh, how rich is my condition! I have no husband or baby carriage to point to as did one precious friend: “Those are my people.” But I could hardly walk 50 steps all week without a hug and the hearty laughter of sweet decades.
But this gathering, in this form, under this name, has ended. Mark Dever and Lig Duncan celebrated those who had served so well, and the last prayer was offered by Christian Lwanda. Matt Merker struck a note on the piano, and the rafters rang with gratefulness for the loving kindness of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.