Together for the Gospel

 

Apr

15

2014

Thabiti Anyabwile|1:08 am CT

T4G’ 14 Debrief

The every-other-year family reunion called “Together for the Gospel” has come and gone for 2014. Somewhere near 8,000 persons gathered for a week of preaching and teaching on the theme of evangelism. There couldn’t be a timelier theme or a more encouraging group with which to consider it.

As with all edifying events of any length of time, there’s much to give God thanks for and to reflect on. And there’s many way to distill one’s thoughts into a summary of sorts. In fact, there’s probably too much to comment on for any one debrief post. So, I’m going to narrow my thoughts to a series of superlatives. Mark Dever doesn’t like superlatives, but I think they’re the best! So, here goes….

1. Best sermon for my heart

Without question, Lig’ Duncan’s exposition of Numbers 4, “The Gospel by Numbers,” was the best sermon for this often weary, sometimes heavy, frequently wandering heart! As I listened, I felt a new appreciation for the Savior’s words, “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to me.” Christ was majestically lifted up and extolled as glorious! From Lig’s meditation on sin as defilement to his biblical theological run to Christ as the One who cleanses, my heart mourned over sin and rejoiced in my Lord! Thank you, Lig!

2. Most convicting sermon

That superlative goes to David Platt’s passionate exhortation to prayer, “Relenting Wrath: The Role of Desperate Prayer in the Mystery of Divine Providence” (Exodus 32). I wept listening to this sermon, heavily convicted of my relative prayerlessness. David’s preaching is consistently God-centered, really Puritan-esque (as was the title of the sermon) in its development of the doctrine followed by the exhortation/application. So his sermon’s tend to leave you with the escalating majesty and weightiness of God and a clear sense of what God wills you to do. I found that to be the case with this sermon. Afterwards, I felt we should have spent a season of pleading prayer with God for lost family, friends, and people groups. I was also warmed by this sermon since it’s the text the Lord used to save me nearly 20 years ago.

3. Sermon with the greatest likelihood to help a generation

That’s how I feel about Kevin DeYoung’s address on inerrancy, “Never Spoke a Man Like This Before.” A good 40-50 percent of the attendees were there for the first time and in their 20s or early 30s. In other words, this was a young crowd growing up in the shadow of the last major battle around inerrancy. They’ve grown up taking it for granted and now find themselves on the edge of renewed battles. Kevin’s talk was a piercing exploration of the Lord Jesus’ view of scripture and the view all Christ followers should take. I’ve never seen Kevin better, and I’m not sure any other sermon has led me to treasure the Bible more.

4. Most encouraging evangelism testimonies

I really enjoy the testimony elements that have been a part of the last T4G conferences. This year conference organizers filmed and presented a number of testimonies involving new converts and the Christian evangelists (none of them would like have called themselves that) who shared the faith with them. I loved the stories of God’s powerful grace. But the testimonies I found most encouraging were the two evangelists who shared with the friends who were not converted. It was such an encouragement to be reminded of the privilege and burden of pleading for the unrepentant and unbelieving. Here are the two testimonies:

5. Hymn I’m most likely never to get out of my head

“Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling….” Thank you John Piper!

6. Weirdest piano placement that kinda grows on you

Bob Kauflin in the middle of the arena floor. The singing at T4G is not about the guy up front. Nobody understands that as well as Bob, who serves so faithfully and cheerfully. Bob was his cheerful self leading with his usual joy and skill… from the “piano mosh pit” in the middle of the floor. But it worked. Or at least it stopped feeling weird and I was taken up in the wonderful singing of T4G once again.

7. Funniest line…

“Did I say ‘merely’? I love precision.” You had to be there.

8. Oddest microphone for a person’s skin tone

Mine. My wife says it looks like an ice cream cone hanging from my ear! Think I’m going to have to pull a Chandler and start bringing my own. That’s the price you pay when you have a head the size of mine! :-)

9. Sweetest truth in song during the conference

“He Will Hold Me Fast”

10. Most beautiful woman at the conference

Kristie Anyabwile! Forgive me, but after communion with our Lord, the sweetest part of the week for me was sitting with my lovely wife hearing the word and being built up in the faith we share. Doesn’t get any better than that!

 
 

Apr

20

2012

Thabiti Anyabwile|12:46 pm CT

T4G Debrief: Where Were All the African Americans?

A couple days ago, David Murray posted a second reflection on T4G where he asked, “Where were all the African Americans?” Murray expressed some timidity raising the question for fear of saying something offensive or incorrect. We’ve all had enough hand-slapping when it comes to reaching into the “race” and ethnicity cookie jar.  I appreciate the courage to press into the issue.  As far as I’m concerned (and who am I to offer an opinion?), it’s okay to ask the question, even though something feels “off” with the question.

For anyone interested, here are my quick responses:

1. Murray guesses that African Americans made up about 1-2 percent of the crowd.  That might be correct.  But here’s the question for me: What percentage of the Reformed Christian world do African Americans comprise?  I’d think we’re not much more than 1-2 percent–tops!  The Reformed world is small and the African-American Reformed even smaller.  Perhaps this is what seems “off” about the post to me.  On a percentage basis, I wouldn’t be all that concerned even though I’d love all my kinsmen according to the flesh to adopt this robust, God-exalting, and biblical theological world and life view.

2.  Murray mentions that the Man Up! conference was happening at the same time and might have attracted some who otherwise would have attended.  That might be true.  I know a couple guys who opted for Man Up! over T4G.  And I think they made the correct decision.  Here’s why.  Man Up! represents an important movement with more application to the African-American community and more popular appeal among young African Americans than does T4G.  Don’t forget that T4G is unashamedly a pastors’ conference.  Though many are welcome to come, the conference has always had as its aim to primarily address and encourage pastors and aspiring pastors in their role.  If you’re a young African American Man Up! likely seems more relevant and important a theme and topic.  Would I rather they attend a conference with one panel on complementarianism and no specific reference to African-American applications or attend an entire conference contextualized on the theme of manhood for African Americans?  No brainer.  The fact that some might choose a unique conference like Man Up! is no indication that we’re not together.

3.  R.C. Sproul and John MacArther are probably the T4G speakers that Reformed African Americans most often identify with.  Sproul and MacArthur are the human means the Lord used to introduce many of us to Reformed theology.  Just check the appendix of Tony Carter’s Glory Road for an indication of their influence.  In retrospect, I’m guessing Sproul’s and MacArthur’s inability to be with us must have weakened interest among some African Americans (and not just African Americans).  I’ve already written about how I personally missed them.  I’m guessing I’m not so weird that I’m alone in that.  We were without the two Christian radio ministry leaders that many African Americans would know.  There’s far less familiarity with the rest of us as speakers.

4.  My impression is that in absolute numbers the attendance of African Americans seemed stable.  I can’t say I noticed a big drop off over the years.  There weren’t a ton in 2006, 2008, or 2010.  However, the venues and the audiences were smaller in each of those gatherings.  In social psychological terms, what we might have here is a case of “the visibility hypothesis” at work.  The visibility hypothesis is simply the notion that the smaller a group is in the general population the more noticeable they are and the more attention they attract.  The attendance grew over the years, the absolute numbers of African Americans remained relatively constant, and so the visibility went up for some.

5.  The speaker rostrum at T4G, unlike most other conferences, is built on friendships.  I noticed in the comments of Murray’s post that some speculated that a more diverse representation of speakers might help attendance.  It might.  But speaking invitations aren’t “managed” that way.  At the heart of the conference are four friends with like passion for the gospel.  Over the years, they’ve invited 3-5 other friends to participate with them.  Everything that happens with the conference–from speaking invitations to meals with the speakers to retreats before and after–is aimed at deepening friendship.  That’s not to say any of the men lack close friendships with people of other ethnic backgrounds.  They all have many.  It’s simply to say, as far as I’m aware, though everyone would like to see greater diversity, such diversity is not the main strategy for organizing the conference and speakers.  The main goal or strategy is to rally around the Good News.  Would we ultimately have it any other way?

In all of this, one thing seems abundantly clear to me: The greatest ability to strengthen and diversify friendship in the gospel probably comes not from the speaker panel’s ethnic make-up but from whether or not we attenders intentionally invite and reach out in our own circles of influence.  We could ask ourselves: How many African Americans (Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans, etc.) did I invite to come to the conference (any conference) this year?  If we didn’t invite anyone not like us, then at best we have the same blind spots or limitations we assume conference organizers to have.  One result of past conferences is that we’d regularly hear from people that they came alone the first time and committed to bringing others the next time (usually staff or elders or young guys from the congregation).  I think that’s great.  Maybe we should modify that commitment just a little to ask: What brother from a different mother has the Lord placed in my sphere of influence to invite the next time?

Maybe that makes things a little more diverse?  Maybe it helps our friendships?  Maybe not.  Either way, we still have the gospel of our Lord and the Lord offered in the gospel.

 
 

Apr

20

2012

Thabiti Anyabwile|10:15 am CT

T4G Debrief: My Favorite Sermon

By “my favorite sermon,” I mean the sermon that helped my soul most and the sermon where I had the most “I never saw that in the text before!” moments.  I was particularly gripped with the Mt. Horeb to Mount of Transfiguration to 2 Cor. 4:6 connections Lig made.  Masterful.

Some one-liners that ministered to me:

“Discouragement is no stranger to the lives of faithful pastors.”

“There are things we’re meant to learn in our disappointments. Our disappointments, if we will study them, we will see what we love. When the bottom falls out, I will learn things about what I love that I didn’t know before.”

“In deep discouragement we are tempted to forget that God is God and God is good. And it doesn’t matter how long I’ve been teaching the people that God is God and God is good, I’m still tempted to think this.”

Insightful outline:
I. Even people who believe in the sovereignty of God can fail to believe that the Lord is God.
II. Even people who fight against idolatry can succumb to it.
III. Even when it looks as if God is being hard on His servants, His goodness, grace, and gifts are lavish.

“When you hear a voice that says, ‘You really ought to have everything you want,’ that voice comes with a hiss!”

“God ruthlessly crushes their idols in His mercy and grace because He wants them to have a superior joy.”

“Don’t think God will use me in His service then leave me to writhe in my disappointments because He has a plan to give us more than we hope and think.”

I hope you benefit from this sermon as much as I did, or better yet, as much as the Lord intends you to!

 
 

Apr

16

2012

Thabiti Anyabwile|8:45 pm CT

T4G Debrief: Overall Observations

As you probably know, the every-other-year conference known as Together for the Gospel was held in Louisville, KY last week. I had the privilege of traveling there with my darling wife and 14 others from FBC Grand Cayman. I’m still processing the tons of good stuff I heard and received while there.  ”Drinking from a fire hydrant” doesn’t quite capture the experience.  I’m soaked and pray it’ll take a long time to dry out!

In order to process some of what I heard, I plan to offer some short reflections over the next several days.  I welcome your interaction and thoughts.  Before I give some overall observations, I want to point to a few others who have sifted some nuggets for reflection: Kevin DeYoung, Mike McKinleyDan PhillipsCarl Trueman, and Trevin Wax.  All these were worth reading, especially Trevin’s.

As for my own overall take, a few things stand out.

1.  This was the most encouraging T4G of the four to date.  I found the entire time filled with that peculiar and precious hope that comes from life with our Lord.  All the plenary addresses were flavored with pastoral concern throughout.  In previous meetings, at least some of the talks were either polemical or historical in nature.  They were great, but I really enjoyed the pastoral tone of this meeting.  More than that, I needed the injection of pastoral care.

2.  This year’s conference made the theme far more prominent and compelling.  If someone could leave under-estimating the gospel, then I don’t know what could raise their estimation!  I was humbled from the opening three testimonies of conversion–a new feature to the conference that over and over again illustrated in real lives the power of the Good News to transform sinners from every walk of life.  Honestly, when the first three shared their testimonies I felt as if my sermon had already been preached much more effectively and succinctly, leaving me little to say.  Which, in God’s kindness, exposed once again my tendency to under-estimate the message of Jesus’ love, righteousness, death, and resurrection to redeem sinners.  I loved the repeated hammering of the theme.

3.  The panel discussions were usually too short but also engaging.  We took some hits last time around for being too chummy after each person’s talk.  Sorta, “You’re great.  No, you’re great.  Well, you’re great, too.”  Whether or not that was a fair representation, clearly we needed to mix things up a bit more.  Switching to topical panels of varying configurations helped the conference experience a great deal.  Like everyone else, there were topics that interested me more than others.  But I thought they all edified.

4.  The singing was good but subdued–until the last night.  Perhaps it was the larger facility or the piano positioned less prominently.  I don’t know.  It seemed to me (and this could’ve just been me) that compared to previous years there was less energy in the singing.  The singing was still very good, but you could tell the difference between the first two days and the very last segment Thursday night.  Thursday night was the singing I’ve come to really enjoy–energetic, rich, joyful.

5.  I missed Sproul and MacArthur.  I like these men.  They’re heroes to me.  In the past it’s been like being with your granddad or great uncle.  Sproul has this lovable, playful “pull my finger” quality about him.  And to be in a room with MacArthur is to be warmly and graciously noticed, regarded, loved.  Their combined decades of ministry added ballast to the T4G boat.  Please don’t misunderstand.  This is no commentary on this year’s speakers.  It’s simply a personal appreciation.  I like and missed these men even as I enjoyed the sweet fellowship with this year’s speakers.

The crew from First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman

6.  My greatest encouragement–apart from the strength that comes from the word of God–comes from traveling with the saints of FBC Grand Cayman.  There’s nothing quite like the assurance that comes from looking out on the audience, spotting the sheep entrusted to my care, and recognizing that they’ve come for the benefit of their own souls but also to stand with me.  It’s a great joy.  It makes me deeply happy to see this growing aspect of our partnership in the gospel.

7.  I’m grateful I’m not alone.  Some people don’t like the large crowd.  They prefer smaller conferences.  I really enjoy small conferences, too.  But I draw a different kind of encouragement from seeing a larger assembly of like-minded men and women.  Seeing the crowd reminds me I’m not alone.  That’s important when you live on an island!  Perhaps I’m the only one who needs this encouragement, this reminder that I’m part of something much larger and wonderful.  I don’t know.  But getting this shot in the arm once every two years doesn’t seem like too much to ask and enjoy when I can.

Lord willing, I’ll say more about the sermons and panels in the days ahead.

For now, how about you?  Any general reflections on T4G this year?

 
 

Apr

23

2010

Thabiti Anyabwile|8:44 am CT

A Couple of T4G Pics

There were a number of things that encouraged me about the recent T4G gathering in Louisville.  I wrote about a few of them here.

But one thing I didn’t write about in my previous post was the joy of seeing so many parents bring their children to the conference.  There were parents there with infants, caring for them in their strollers while taking in a speaker or an exhibit.  There were parents there with their adult children, like my friends Jeff and Barbara who attended with their son (hey, you owe me some pictures :-)).  And there were parents with their teenage and pre-teen children.  One afternoon I had the pleasure of walking behind a father with his three daughters, who looked to be about 10-15 years old.  They casually strolled along and playfully talked.  I eavesdropped (don’t tell anybody).  It was sweet.

And then there were faithful fathers like John, who brought his son Jerod.  What a privilege to see John’s faithfulness, and to share in Jerod’s enthusiasm to be with his dad sitting under the word.  Here’s a pic with Jerod, who makes an old gray-haired man look rather joyful.

And I especially enjoyed the time with the FBC gang.  Here’s a photo of our last prayer huddle.  We prayed a lot, and the Lord has answered with so much grace.  Next to being with my wife, being with the saints from FBC was the highest highlight for me.

Notice Kurt Gebhards, faithful pastor in NC, looking on wanting to get in on the FBC love!  Kurt, you’ll have to come back down to Grand Cayman with the Mrs!  Thank you Crystal for clicking the pic!

 
 

Apr

17

2010

Thabiti Anyabwile|9:02 pm CT

Home from T4G

Well, the every-other-year family reunion known as T4G has come and gone.  It was a wonderful time of word, fellowship, and singing.

It’s impossible to do a complete re-cap, but there are a number of things I cherished about T4G this year.

1.  My Bride: I had the honor of being with my bride of almost 19 years, sitting under the preaching of the word and enjoying one another’s company.  Since I preach most Sundays or at most conferences we attend together, I don’t often get to sit with her any more.  It’s one of life’s finest pleasures to sit real close to my wife, whisper in her ear, and have our attention drawn to Jesus as the word goes out.

2.  FBC Crew: After the time with my wife, I was most honored, encouraged, strengthened, and humbled by the attendance of about 15 people from FBC Grand Cayman.  These dear saints took time off work; left children and family members back home; paid for airfare, hotels, and meals; and braved a crowd of 7,000 faithful to feed upon Christ.  They came primarily for the word, but my heart was simply giddy at having them meet/hear some of my closest friends and knowing their prayer and support.  I am grateful beyond words for each one of them, and for all the saints who couldn’t come but blessed us with their prayers.  I’m the most blessed pastor in the world because I have the privilege of serving the saints at FBC.

3.  The singing: Outstanding as  usual.  Bob Kauflin masterfully lead us again.  Two new favorites: “All I Have Is Christ” and “I Asked the Lord.”  Powerful, powerful stuff.

4.  Preaching: I enjoyed all of the talks.  But I especially appreciated Mark’s opening talk on “The Church Is the Visible Display of the Gospel” (sweet and compelling”), Lig’s talk, “Did the Father’s Know the Gospel?” and C.J.’s closing talk on 1 Tim. 4.  Mark made me love the church, as he always does.  Lig’ made me want to read the fathers, gave me guidance on how, and reminded me that reading history to understand how others read the Bible helps me read the Bible.  And C.J. had me in tears laughing and in tears mourning as he instructed us all in “ordinary” pastoral ministry.  I was full to the brim.

T4G 2010 — Session 1 — Mark Dever from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

T4G 2010 — Session 7 — Ligon Duncan from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

5.  Matt Chandler: It was great to meet Matt, share a meal, and hear his heart at the conference.  What an amazingly gifted and gracious brother.  The time of prayer for Matt and Lauren and other pastors with similar ailments was powerful (too weak a word).  The many of us who attended from FBC were often praying for a dear brother and former elder battling cancer back home, and for the mom of one of our elders recently diagnosed.  I think there was longing for heaven in these prayers, and deep trust in the goodness of God.  C.J.’s comments following Matt’s sharing was insightful, especially the line: “trust God’s heart when you can’t trace His hand.”

T4G 2010 — Special Session — Matt Chandler from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

6.  Volunteers: More than a few thanks and many prayers are owed to the volunteers who made the event possible.  These folks were eager to serve, dedicated, cheerful, and very good at what they did.  They gave themselves to the 7,000 in attendance, and I trust that produced fruit in our lives and will redound to their everlasting happiness in eternity when they see the fruit the Lord produces.  Praise God for the many volunteers.

7.  Breakout Speakers: This year the conference featured eight breakout speakers.  From what I heard, all the speakers did a phenomenal job glorifying the Lord and opening His word.  I had the privilege of introducing Mike McKinley, one of my favorite pastors.  His talk was incredibly clear, pastorally insightful, and personally engaging.

 
 

Mar

09

2010

Thabiti Anyabwile|4:31 pm CT

Together for the Gospel: The Music–Behind the Scenes with Bob Kauflin

Registration for Together for the Gospel is over 6,000 strong.  Now, I’m not measuring the success of the conference by the numbers.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s just me and a few of my closest friends hanging out.

Here’s what excites me about that number.  Last year, there were over 5,000 people in attendance and the singing was out of this world!  There are over 1,000 more people added to the “choir” this year!  I’m so looking forward to singing Jesus’ praises with all who attend, and anticipating the Day when we shall these praises to the Savior’s face!  Oh, come Lord Jesus.  That’s how I felt singing last time–”Oh!  Come Lord Jesus!  Come!”

If this is your first time at T4G and the Lord blesses us in any way like 2008 or 2006, you’re in for a treat, my friend!  You just may leave saying this was your favorite part of the time together.  And to whet your appetite, here’s Bob Kauflin talking about the music at T4G, the approach, and a bit about what you can expect.

Yeah… that’s me and my wife in the middle.  One guess as to who is to the left and the right of us!  I hope to see you April 13-15 in Louisville, KY!

 
 

Feb

11

2010

 
 

Jan

27

2010

Thabiti Anyabwile|2:12 pm CT

Al Mohler Excites My Book Lust

Take this tour and you’ll see what I mean.

Al Mohler – Study Video from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

 
 

Dec

08

2009

Thabiti Anyabwile|8:44 am CT

A Couple Reasons I’m Looking Forward to and Praying for T4G 2010

C. J. Mahaney – Recap from T4G 2008 from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

Lig Duncan – Recap from T4G 2008 from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

John Piper – Recap from T4G 2008 from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

Thabiti Anyabwile – Recap from T4G 2008 from Together for the Gospel (T4G) on Vimeo.

Jesus. Love. Joy. Gospel. Reward. Love. Did you hear that running through these videos? That’s what I love about T4G! Can’t wait for them to release the rest of these brief recaps and to gather in Louisville in April! Find out more and register here.