Saturday, July 21st, was a huge scramble to get all my ducks in a row to leave for Marion, Indiana, where I was to speak five times—once each day, from July 22 to July 26, on living the Christian life at the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America’s RP International Conference, which approximately 2,300 people attended. The RPCNA holds this conference every four years. More than 1/3 of the denomination attends, along with RPs from other countries, including Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Japan, and Australia. I know of nothing else quite like this in any other North American denomination.
On Sunday, Rev. Rich Holdeman preached on keeping the heart as a matter of life and death (Prov. 4:23), Rev. Dave Reese preached on “The Sabbath: Creation, Covenant, and Christology” (Gen. 2:1–3), and I spoke on “Cultivating Holiness” (1 Pet. 1:16). It was a good day.
Early Monday morning, my sister called to tell us that my dear mother finally went to be with her Lord. Our loss is her gain, and ultimately, ours as well. (I will post some reflections about my mother’s life soon, D.V.) A few hours later, I received a call from a family in our church just five minutes before I was scheduled to speak that their mother also had passed away.
My heart was full when I began to speak, but the Lord upheld me. I told the audience that it was providential that I was about to speak on “Prayerful Prayer” because I had just lost a mother who was the best prayer warrior I had ever known. I then gave a few examples of what we children experienced of her prayer life. I can truly say that the Lord helped me through this unprepared part of my address in a humbling and comforting way, and from the response afterward, it became apparent that God’s leading in this address and these deaths left a deep impression upon many.
How good God is! His strength is perfected in our weakness. How many times I have experienced in my life that the best thing for me to do when I feel weak, burdened, and overwhelmed, is not to run from the pulpit but to run to it. There is no better place on earth to be.
When I finished speaking, a minister came quickly to the pulpit, and spontaneously asked all the ministers and elders in the audience to come up and surround me, as he wanted to pray for me and my family. About 75 men then joined me behind the pulpit, and this brother prayed movingly for me. It was truly a touching moment.
Since family would not gather for the visitation until Thursday, and the funeral for my mother wouldn’t be until Saturday, we decided prayerfully to continue to fulfill our obligations in Indiana, which were scheduled to be completed on Thursday at 10:00 a.m. We knew my mother would want it that way, and I also felt the Lord’s favor on this decision when He gave an unusual degree of freedom to speak for the remaining days. That was particularly true of the address on coping with affliction in a Christ-centered way. The people were absolutely wonderful; they lifted me up on the wings of prayer and we felt bonded to each other. I also thoroughly enjoyed a Q&A time with about 300 young people.
During those days the conference attendees also showed their desire and hunger by buying $16,600 worth of books—the most we have ever sold at a conference in the history of Reformation Heritage Books.
After my last address on Thursday morning, we rushed to the airport amid an overwhelming display of love from the Reformed Presbyterians. The private jet whisked to Grand Rapids in 40 minutes (a four-hour drive), where I conducted the funeral, visited with the family, did the committal service, and then joined my own family for my own mother’s visitation service. God is truly amazing how He coordinates our lives.