The first time I went to (what qualifies to an Englishman as) a massive conference (>5,000 attendees), I judged the conference entirely on the teaching. And that was no bad thing – Together for the Gospel 2008 had blisteringly powerful messages including John Piper ‘s on Hebrews 13:13 with its soul-deep focus on Christ’s suffering, humiliation, rejection and work for us being an ongoing work.
Four T4G’s, one Children Desiring God and three Gospel Coalitions later, the teaching is still the focus but it’s not just about that. It’s also about meeting new people and old friends, and spending time away from the day-to-day with existing friends when the only focus is learning more about our Saviour.
So I benefitted greatly from a long chat with an English evangelist (Rico), dinner with my American ex-boss-and-Pastor (Thabiti), spending time with my half-English, half-Caymanian friend James, and sharing a room and most of the time with my Dominican fellow-Pastor Luis. Likewise from the time I got to spend with Ryan, Tom, Andy, and running with Shaun.
Most of what I have taken home therefore is advice, encouragement, a greater understanding and a
closer relationship with a number of those godly men, alongside inspiration and impetus for specific projects.
The plenary speakers were Tim Keller, Don Carson, John Piper, Augustus Nicodemus Lopes, Mark Dever, Voddie Baucham, Ligon Duncan and Phil Ryken. Of these, Ligon and Mark’s sermons spoke most clearly to the heart as they dove with most abandon into the text, and Keller did as he almost always does, which is have at least one thing of which I say, “Woah…I never saw THAT before”. In this case it was Exodus 33:19 where God did not cause his holiness to pass before Moses, but his “goodness” (NIV) – even a hint of God’s holiness would have been more than Moses could endure.
Dever preached on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11, highlighting on the one hand the fundamental hopelessness and immorality of secularism, while encouraging, challenging and exhorting us to a life lived to the glory of the Lord in the light of his return. Perhaps the thing I enjoyed most about Mark’s sermon was his impassioned gospel plea to the possibly several – maybe dozens – of people in the room he figured weren’t Christians.
Ligon preached on ‘Living in the Hope of Liberation from Bondage’ from Romans 8. In particular he
focused on suffering in the Christian life, pointing out that “Our suffering is neither incidental nor accidental but purposeful. It is connected with our sonship and future glory.” There was also the challenge that “The glory of the not yet is not put before you so that you can escape, but so that you can endure and bless in the now.” This was helpful to focus our thoughts against the charge, and perhaps the perception in ourselves that by focusing more on heaven we care less about what is going on around us, or the lives of those in need. Quite the contrary, according to this passage – our hope of heaven and our assurance of an eternity with God should do to us what it did to Paul the Apostle: drive us into a headlong pursuit of God’s glory being made manifest in our own and others’ lives.
After all, if the ‘not yet’ is as great as we keep saying it is, won’t we want other people to share it
Ultimately then, the conference should leave us thinking not only how grateful we are for the salvation we have, but more concerned than ever for those around us who don’t have it.
Or as Rico Tice’s friend said to him many years ago when he found out about the gospel message, ‘If you are my friend, why haven’t you told me about this?’.