|NEW ORLEANS (BP) -- Pastors can find hope, protection, encouragement, truth and strength in Jesus Christ and in the Word of God, Pastors' Conference speakers said on the second day of the June 17-18 sessions preceding the SBC annual meeting in New Orleans.
Speakers addressed the theme, "Changing Lives, Communities and the World," during the sessions in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. The conference also elected officers for its 2013 meeting in Houston.
Johnny Hunt, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., opened the Tuesday morning session with a message of hope to pastors who feel like "a wineskin in smoke."
Referring to the term from Psalm 119:83, Hunt described the time after his diagnosis, treatment and recovery from prostate cancer when, from a ministry perspective, something inside of him died. "I can remember going weeks and just wondering, Will there ever be another hopeful day in my life?"
Eventually, Hunt recalled, he slowly began feeling like his old self. "God really did restore the joy, the strength and the passion," he said.
For those experiencing similar situations, Hunt said Psalm 119:81-88 is about a new beginning.
"If you're going through a difficult time, I'm confident God has a word of encouragement for our hearts," he said.
Noting the Psalmist was distressed and had a troubled soul, Hunt said he wasn't without hope. "When God seems absent and the darkness stalks us, we have the light of His promises to us," he said.
Hunt described how in the Old Testament wine and water containers were made from animal skins. As they hung in homes and dried over fires, they became cracked and useless. "Have you ever felt useless? Have you ever felt forgotten?" he asked.
Challenging the audience to do likewise, Hunt said when he checked his own condition, he told himself to keep hoping, searching, remembering, and asking -- and to be faithful.
Hunt said some might think, "Even though I really do want to be obedient to You , I don't have the strength to do it."
"That person should cry out, 'I need You to revive me. I need a fresh touch of God's grace to strengthen me. I need a new beginning.'"
Wayne Robertson, pastor of Morningside Baptist Church in Valdosta, Ga., said pastors can experience God's protection when they are persecuted -- even though persecution of American ministers is vastly different than persecution of first-century believers.
"Because of our laws, we're not as prone to hear of people dying for their faith in this country," he said. "In our sophistication, we are far more prone to destroy a person's reputation, and there is more than one way of persecuting someone."
Preaching from John 16, Robertson said remaining faithful to God is the first key to experiencing protection amid attacks. In moments of mistreatment, remembering God's call to ministry will help pastors press on, he said.
"One of the things you need to review is, why are you in the work?" he said, adding, "There are some uncertain days that you stay in the work because God called you, and you have never forgotten the call God put on your life."
Jesus told His followers that persecution was inevitable, but He also said it had a purpose -- and enduring it brings pastors an eternal award, Robertson said.
"When you stand before one day with everything that's been said against you, with every wrong you have had to face, with every time your eyes have cried tears, every time your heart has hurt, every time you've had brokenness -- those things are counting for something," Robertson said.
God will not only help persecuted pastors on the judgment day, he said, but the Holy Spirit comforts them in this life as well.
"When we have spoken to one another all we can speak, oh, get on your face," Robertson declared. "God will do something in your spirit that nobody else can do."
" is not separated from your trial. He knows where you are. He knows what you're going through," Roberts said.
Phil Hoskins, senior pastor of Higher Ground Baptist Church in Kingsport, Tenn., challenged Southern Baptists to be empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Speaking from Acts 2, Hoskins observed that in many congregations it appears the Holy Spirit is either overlooked or absent.
Hoskins said he is convinced many Christians have never fully understood what it is to be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Hoskins observed that the "greatest need of the hour is for the Holy Spirit to breathe a fresh breath of heaven across our lives, our churches and, ultimately, our nation."
"I believe that when real revival comes and the spirit of God is allowed to move among His people like that mighty rushing wind of Pentecost, gone with the wind will be the sins that hold back revival and the power of God in our lives," Hoskins said.
Just as Jesus endured the cross for greater glory, Christian leaders should keep the end in mind amid discouragement -- "lest you be weary and faint in your minds," said David Jeremiah, quoting the end of Hebrews 12:3 in his message to the Pastors' Conference.
Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, Calif., used Hebrews 12:1-3, a familiar passage about believers -- being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses -- to finish the race of ministry.
Jeremiah told of Jeff Ray, a longtime professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas who lost his wife early in marriage, endured a son's death and overcame discouragement and depression. Ray eventually rebounded, propelled by a poem titled "I Won't Let Go," Jeremiah said. Like Ray, "the great temptation of God's people today is to be discouraged and give up," Jeremiah observed.
The Hebrews author was writing to those who had converted to Christianity who were discouraged and tempted to quit. The persecution was so intense some thought of going back to their old lives, Jeremiah said.
The incentive for their continued journey, Jeremiah said, was the cloud of witnesses in the passage -- witnesses of the past -- who testified the race could be finished honorably.
Believers are to offer the same witness as they live, Jeremiah said. The journey must include laying aside every weight, to run with endurance and to look exclusively to Jesus, he added.
"When we consider Him, we realize our challenges pale in comparison to His," Jeremiah said. "He is our inspiration for the journey."
Preacher-comedian Dennis "The Swan" Swanberg unveiled his humor and his staple impersonations before moving into a brief message from John 11 and 12 about Jesus and His friends Mary, Martha and Lazarus.
Swanberg, billed as "America's Minister of Encouragement," said Jesus especially loved "real people" such as the three siblings in the biblical account.
In fact, Swanberg said, Lazarus might have been Jesus' best friend, even though the Bible doesn't record a word from him "because he couldn't get a word in edgewise," Swanberg joked.
The examples of Martha, Mary and Lazarus give an important reminder, Swanberg said: "Love your siblings. I know some of them are pitiful. Probably take them 20 years and two months to change. Well, they probably won't change, but just love them."
When Jesus arrived at Bethany in John 11, Lazarus had been in the tomb four days, Swanberg reminded. Mary and Martha knew Jesus' power "but they loved their brother."
Martha, consequently, appears to scold the Lord with "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died."
"I'm glad we have a God who understands when we get upset," Swanberg observed.
He reminded the audience that as teenagers they probably said things that made their parents swallow hard yet not lash out. Likewise, "He's a big, gracious, loving God," Swanberg said.
And then just six days before the Passover, Jesus went to Bethany. "Of all the places He could go, He goes to Bethany. Why? I think He wanted to be with His best friends. Pastors, you need some best friends," Swanberg said, adding that pastors especially need laymen -- real people -- as close friends.
"Jesus needed His best friends, and you do too. I don't believe we'll make it in ministry and be the change agents we need to be unless we're real and we open ourselves up to have best friends," Swanberg said.
David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., pointed to the "pandemic problem" of spiritual deception taking place in churches and urged Southern Baptists to beware of a "false, superficial faith" as opposed to a "true, salvific faith."
"Are we calling people to biblical faith in a day of rampant easy believism?" he asked. "We must be very clear lest we lead people down a damning path of spiritual deception."
Preaching from John 2 and 3, Platt noted how many in the Scripture believed in and accepted Jesus but were not accepted by Jesus.
"Clearly from the beginning, the Gospel of John revolves around the centrality of belief in God. He makes clear there is a kind of faith that does not save," Platt said. "Jesus says , 'Your belief, your trust is insufficient for salvation. You must be born again.' This is shocking.
"Here is a devout, respected man who has devoted his entire life to entering the kingdom of heaven. Yet Jesus looks at him and tells him he has no spiritual life in him whatsoever. He believed in Jesus, but he is dead in sin and headed toward condemnation.
"Is this possible? For people to say they sincerely believe in Jesus, have accepted Jesus, have received Jesus but are not saved and will not enter the kingdom of heaven?" Platt asked. "Absolutely it is possible. Not only is it possible, it is probable.
"Many assume they are saved simply because of a prayer they prayed," he said. "It's not that praying a prayer in and of itself is bad -- but the question in John 2 and 3 is what kind of faith are we calling people to?
"We need supernatural regeneration," Platt said.
Platt also urged Southern Baptists to "behold the mystery of biblical conversion" and "be gripped by the urgency of global mission."
"Let us humbly discuss the things we do not know and boldly declare truth that we do know. Everyone who repents and believes in the Lord Jesus will be saved," Platt said. "We can all amen that, and everyone who is saved is saved by the grace of God. We are together on this. Continued...