When I think about Together for the Gospel 2014, there is so much for which to give thanks! Before all the specifics of the week fade into the past, I want to share seven of them. May they be reasons to give thanks for your own time there or reasons to prompt you to come to Together for the Gospel 2016.
1. The Preaching. As expected, the brothers who preached at Together for the Gospel brought weighty, glorious, gracious truth for us. Beginning with Mark Dever’s hope-giving message from Isaiah 36-37, the preachers called us to place our confidence in God, his Gospel, and its power to save. Particularly helpful for me were David Platt’s and John Piper’s messages. Together, they challenged me to pray and plead that God would save and sanctify those to whom I preach. Likewise, Kevin DeYoung’s message was a needed encouragement to preach the Word. Since I missed a couple of the messages, I will be visiting the T4G website to listen and watch (for free until June 1). You should do the same.
2. The Singing. Like the preaching, the congregational singing deeply encouraged my soul. Continuing the pattern of “mere worship” (i.e., a style of music that emphasizes the human voice over amplified instrumentation), Bob Kauflin led us in song from “center-court.” The music richly described the gospel, but my favorite songs were those written or adapted by Matt Merker and that can be found at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. Especially, in light of rising hostility towards Christianity, the song “He Will Hold Me Fast” comforted my soul.
3. Meeting and Making Friends. After the preaching and the singing, the reason I went to Together for the Gospel is to see friends—friends from college, from seminary, from ministry, and from a number of other places around the way. For instance, I had a chance to catch up with one of my oldest running mates in ministry. He and I met in college (ca. 2001), when we were both in Campus Crusade for Christ. Thirteen years later, it is a precious joy to see how God has worked in this brothers life. For me, chances to grab coffee or Qdoba with gospel-centered friends reminds me of God’s faithfulness in my life. It also spurs me on to keep walking with God and praying for others to do the same. One of the sweetest gifts in the Christian life are friends who point us to Christ; at T4G I have reunited with and made many.
4. The ERLC Dinner. On the same note, it was a blast to catch up with a ton of brothers from Southern Seminary at the ERLC Dinner. In an evening sponsored by Dr. Russell Moore, my former Sunday School teacher and School of Theology Dean, it was a joy to see so many serving the Lord all over the country. Even more, the evening concluded with a Q & A about ethics and country music (go figure ;-) and the way that the ERLC serves Southern Baptists and beyond. It was encouraging to fellowship with young pastors, theologians, and ethicists who stand on God’s promises and lean into the public square.
5. The CBMW Conference. From one acronymed-ministry to another, the CBMW pre-conference, national conference was a hit. Occurring in the same room as the first T4G, more than 1300 men and women listened to John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, Russell Moore, Danny Akin, Eric Mason, Albert Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Owen Strachan, and a panel of wise, godly women discuss topics related to biblical manhood and womanhood. The night before, the impossible was done, as a small army of kind-hearted servants helped pack bags and put out books for all the conference attendees. On the whole, this conference started the conference well and showed great promise for CBMW’s continuing voice among young evangelicals.
6. My Father-in-Law. With all the joys mentioned so far, the greatest joy of the conference was introducing my father-in-law to all the speakers, the singing, and the ministries represented at T4G. Upon the conclusion of the week, he wrote to me and said
I don’t know how to tell you how thankful I am that you invited me to the conference. I would not have gone without your encouragement. Truly the Holy Spirit spoke, challenging me on many fronts. The spiritual challenge, the fellowship and the wealth of resources combined to bless and overwhelm me, like getting a drink from a fire hydrant!!
My wife’s father is one of the most diligent servants of the Lord that I know. He is an associate pastor at Ashburn Baptist Church in Orland Park, Illinois. At that church, whose pastor happens to be his father, he leads in music, organizes (just about) everything, and makes endless visits—to name only a few of the things he does. He loves the Lord and the gospel, yet to date, he’s never been to T4G (or heard of Kevin DeYoung or Matt Chandler, if you can imagine). Consequently, he had a blast, was deeply encouraged, and edified to go back to Chicago and continue reaching the lost with ongoing zeal.
7. Prayer, Pleading, and Passion. Finally, and most importantly, I left T4G 2014 with a great burden to pray for the lost. John Piper’s final message in some sense completed for me a course in Christian Hedonism (i.e., Piper’s theology). For more than 12 years, his sermons and books have shaped my thinking about God, the gospel, and ministry. Yet, in all that time, I’ve never connected in Romans 9-10 the relationship between predestination and prayer. That connection was massive for me, and showed me how much farther I have to go in my theology and my prayer life. As I left T4G, I desired and still desire to be more zealous to pray for others and to tell them “Jesus wants you.”
All in all, the week was memorable, motivating, and Messiah-centered (forgive the forced alliteration). For me it truly refreshed my soul, and I pray it did the same for you, or that it will do the same for you in 2016 (April 12-14, to be exact).
In summing up this week, let me encapsulate seven things to make the most of Together for the Gospel, or any conference like T4G.
- Go for the content of the messages. Conferences are in vain, if the Gospel of God is not preached. And conferences are also in vain, if we are not letting the message speak to us. Plan to make time for the Word.
- Go to worship freely. For those who plan worship services, T4G is a glorious rest. To be able to enter the Yum Center without any care for service planning is tremendously refreshing. Still better than just the freedom from preparation though, the content of the songs, the testimonies, etc. is rich with fuel for worship.
- Make plenty of time to meet with friends. This is a doubled-edge sword. It was great to meet new friends and to “network.” But honestly (and I may be wrong in this) it was so much more enjoyable to go and reunite with old friends instead of just trying to met the latest author or blogger. I’ve done that before and it’s tiring. I love meeting new friends, but this week was so good because it was filled with old friends for whom I can be myself.
- Make time to pray, journal, reflect, dream, repent and recommit. As much fun as it is to see friends, make sure that during or after the conference, you take time to apply the truth that God shares with you. Life change happens when we look in the mirror, see the mess, and by God’s grace do something about it.
- Get to know ministries that matter. To say it differently, support those ministries which are solidly committed to the gospel and find out how you can encourage them and be apart of their work. T4G had a host of ministries worthy of your support. Make sure to engage with those brothers who are doing good work; they can serve your church and they need your support.
- Take someone with you. If possible, bring someone new. Or better, help someone else go. On my desk, I have the receipt of a pastor who paid for the hotel room of another pastor (and no, I’m not speaking about myself like Paul did of himself in 2 Corinthians 12). This brother-pastor has been a great encouragement to me, and it spurs me on to know (if only by accident) that he (with his church) footed the bill for someone else to go. May more of us do that, as we can.
- Finally, remember that the real work is not conference work; it’s local church work. As Albert Mohler closed the last session with the reminder that the important work is not what happened last week in Louisville, the important work is what happens every single week in chruches in Des Moines, Iowa, Auburn, Alabama, and Anchorage, Alaska—not to mention those brothers in other countries. It’s the work that goes on the churches that proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ that is truly important.
For that reason, I give thanks for all that happened last week, and I look forward to Together for the Gospel 2016, but only through the maze and the haze of two more years of ministry that I pray will be twice as fruitful, by God’s grace, in part because of what I heard, read, discussed, and saw at Together for the Gospel 2014.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss
[photo credit: Ivan Mesa's girlfriend]