Rays of dawn peeked through the cracks of the curtain in our fourth floor hotel room at the Park Vista on the morning of July fourth. I had thought waking up in the Great Smokey Mountains was going to be a treat…but the added blessing of drawing back the curtains and taking in a view of the third highest peak in the Smokies, Mount La Conte, was quite the luxury! (For those who delight in the details – at the Park Vista, if you were on floors 5 to 15 you had to pay extra for the view, but we were on the fourth floor and still had a spectacular view! God is so good to bless us even in the little things!)
For 50 cents per person we rode the trolley down to the convention center and followed the signs for the Gatlinburg Gathering; we walked in just before the congregational singing began. The emcee, Greg Cook , then asked us to welcome the president of Abraham Productions to the stage, Ray Flynn. The first thing that Ray said was, “Happy Independence Day.” Taking a moment to talk about our nation, he went on to say that the “hope for this country is sitting in this room.” (Speaking of the downslide America has taken spiritually, morally and politically.) “Even if we don’t think we can do much,” Ray encouraged, “if we get right with the Lord and pray, this country could turn around.” Then he opened the evening in prayer. When we opened our eyes Greg stood holding an American flag and Karen sang the National Anthem. In respect to the meaning behind the ballad, the audience rose to their feet and placed hands over their hearts. As Karen sang, a soft accompaniment from the audience echoed around the room and the voices welcomed a sweet spirit.
Ray introduced the first artist to the stage…Ivan Parker! He kicked off the night with Big Change and a cheerful, “Happy Fourth of July! I hope you’ve had a good day. Without missing a beat he brought up his son, Josh, on stage to play (guitar) as he sang. Ivan mentioned the cruise that Karen Peck Gooch talked about during the sales pitch and how the next song was perfect for sailing – Sail On! After telling the crowd how much he enjoyed looking out and seeing all their smiling faces, he teased some of the others, “I’m assuming that if you’re not smiling, you left your teeth at home.” LOL Ivan wanted Josh to play a guitar solo and explained the style of the tune to the crowd like this, “Not just every audience would appreciate this song because it’s more for young folks,” he said. When he paused the audience took that as their cue to cheer, holler and whistle and they did just that. “How many young folks do we have here tonight?” Ivan asked. The response doubled in volume and Josh began to play. (Though I recognized the tune without a problem, the title just wouldn’t come to mind!) On the other hand, regardless of the song title, the crowd gave him a standing ovation. Ivan stepped up and introduced the following song, “One of the greatest songs I’ve ever had the privilege to sing, right here.” It was Midnight Cry. Ivan asked the crowd to stand for a moment and began talking about what it was like to stand off to the side and watch Karen sing the National Anthem earlier, and then he started to “preach” a little and encourage the folks in the audience. “Today is not a day of gloom and doom, it is the day of promise,” he said. (He really preached it!) “It’s time that Christians start picking up their heads and smiling for a change because there is hope for tomorrow in Christ Jesus.” Then he introduced his closing song by saying, “Last night as we were in the parade I heard this song for the 150th time and said, ‘There is no way I can sing that song tonight’…but I’m going to.” As he began singing God Bless the USA everyone stood to their feet in honor of the message. The images that flashed on the big screen as he sang each line reached deep down and gripped my heart – we truly live in the greatest nation on earth!
“Psalm 46,” Greg began, “’God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof…He makes wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and cuts the spear in sunder; he burns the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God.’ Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together and welcome the Tribute Quartet!” Tribute walked on stage and Gary prompted the crowd, “How ‘bout it for Ivan Parker?” A loud whoop rippled across the crowd and then their first song began, Thank the Lord. In settings like this one, Tribute doesn’t spend a lot of time talking, so most of the songs were done one right after another…like these next ones: It Always Gets The Darkest, Through Me The Cross Lives On and Homesick Angel. “Thank you so much,” expressed Gary, “What an honor to be here in Gatlinburg.” After a quick introduction of the group and a word of appreciation for all the hard work Abraham Productions does in Gospel Music, they sang When Jesus Comes – it didn’t take long for the crowd to get excited about this song and stand to their feet. Because of the enthusiasm, Tribute encored it. The two songs that closed their set were One Holy Lamb and their new #1 song Good News From Jerusalem. (Standing ovation!)
Another passage of Scripture was read by Greg before the next group came on, “Romans 5,” he announced, “’Hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ I’m thankful that He loved me enough that He went to an old rugged cross and died for me there,” said Greg, and then exclaimed, “The Talleys!” A hymn that correlates with that song was the perfect opener for the Talleys – Amazing Grace! When that song finished, Lauren tested the crowd, “Somebody give me a good ole big Gatlinburg amen!” Then she asked the right side of the room to shout “Amen” and the other side to say, “Sing it girl!” whenever she pointed to each side. After a little “practice” the track for the next song began and she pointed the left. The crowd replied, “Sing it girl!” and Lauren winked at them and said, “”I’ll try.” LOL The song was the Church Will Overcome. She said afterwards that we were all cranked up, so she wanted to have some fun with us! Roger sang his solo, Every Scar, next and then Lauren introduced everyone, “Are you glad to see my parents Roger and Debra Talley tonight?” She went on to give us an update on her husband and what he’s been up too (they just celebrated their 2nd wedding anniversary) and Brian now announced that he is called to preach. Lauren said, “So now I’m something I’d never thought I’d be – a preacher’s wife. Ya’ll need to pray for me ‘cause I know nothing about that!” LOL (I happen to think she’ll make a great preacher’s wife, don’t you?) The Broken Ones came next along with He’s Alive. (I’ve never seen them sing this song and not get people on their feet, and this was no exception – folks were popping out of their seats left and right!) “I’m glad He’s alive,” said Lauren, “and I’m glad that in America, in a public building we can say, He’s alive.” She went on to share a little bit of a conversation she had at lunch with her mom, Debra. At some time in the exchange the topic came up, “How tragic it would’ve been if the statue of Liberty was hit in 9/11.” Lauren went on to tell the audience that all the monuments in this world will one day will be knocked down but our liberty (in Christ) has nothing to do with anything a government has given us. To end their set, they sang Truth Is Marching On. Debra sang the first verse and Lauren took the lead on the second. I don’t remember hearing them sing this one before but it sure fits them well! I love the ad lib Lauren tagged on at the end. Beautiful! (…and! Another standing ovation!)
Struggling to make the wheels on the podium roll in the correct direction, Greg pushed it to the center of the stage and asked us to welcome Pastor Jon Bowman. When he announced the pastor’s name, a lady’s voice behind me uttered an, “Ooo!” I immediately thought, “That means he must be a good preacher!” Pastor Bowman’s topic was “What God Can Do.” He emphasized that this life is not about what man can do to you but what God can do for you and through you. He began with a story about an opportunity he had to fly to Peru (to distribute Bibles, if I remember correctly). On the flight down, he flew over New York City for the first time – he was so impressed with the view that he called his wife and told her how amazing it was. Later, he flew over the Andes Mountains. Calling his wife again he said, “Scrap New York, I just saw what God did!” The moral of the story was that “man” built New York and did a great job, but God made the Andes Mountains and there’s nothing that can compare to that! Throughout the sermon he used examples from the book of Daniel to illustrate what man can do and what God can do. Man can build a statue with a head of gold…but God can make His servants survive in the fiery furnace. Man can build a beautiful city like Babylon with the Hanging Gardens (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), but God can take a powerful king like Nebuchadnezzar and what the Word says, “He was driven from men and did eat grass as oxen.” (Daniel 4:33)
Jeff and Sheri Easter followed the preaching and while the podium was removed and the band hooked up, Greg had the crowd sing the chorus of Thank You Lord For Your Blessings On Me. The room was filled with sweet voices and a reverent tone hung over the crowd…until half way through, when the band kicked in. Jeff and Sheri took the lead which changed the tempo and the beat of the singing. Greg walked off stage (he didn’t even get to introduce them!) as Jeff sang the second verse first and then had Morgan go back and sing the first verse. (I really don’t think that was how they were supposed to come on…they really stole the spotlight on that one.) Two songs later, Sunshine and Over And Over I slipped out. Though intermission loomed after their set and a round of Gold City, I needed to get up and walk around, but unfortunately with the late night we had with the parade and the amount of walking we did around Gatlinburg that day caught up with us and we decided to head back to the hotel.
Conclusion: For the last couple of years the Gatlinburg Gathering was always on my “to do” list. (Or “wish” list, whatever you choose to call it!) While the event was in the Fall, it was hard to imagine how I could wrap my schedule around it. Then the event moved to July and after we had such a GREAT time in Myrtle Beach at Singing in the Sun, we knew that 2013 would be the year! The night was wonderful. The artists were so fired up about the 4th of July and our freedom; they all had something pertinent to say and did a little preaching of their own! I love the spirit the Talley’s bring with them when they walk on stage, second to them; Ivan Parker was my favorite from the evening – great preaching!