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.
"We can debate all day, but the Scripture is fundamentally clear: God loves the whole world and everyone who trusts in Him will be saved," he said. "We do not have time to waste debating the Good News when we have been commissioned to share the Good News.?
HERB REAVIS JR.
Herb Reavis Jr., senior pastor of North Jacksonville (Fla.) Baptist Church, delivered a message exhorting pastors back to the fundamentals of Scripture.
Reavis, drawing from 2 Timothy 3:14-17 and 4:1-8, said he came up with the title of his sermon when asked after a speaking engagement whether he had a book or CD to share. Reavis said when he told the man he had never written a book or made a CD, the man responded, "Oh, you're just a pastor."
"Faith is a matter of the heart," Reavis said. "Salvation is not about religion, but a matter of relationship."
Study of the Word of God is essential, Reavis said. The Bible should be every pastor's textbook. "There is no substitute for the Word of God," he said.
And pastors should be preachers, not talkers or lecturers, he said.
"God did not call me to lead in group therapy. God didn't call me to get people in touch with their inner child. God did not call me to be a motivational speaker," Reavis said. "God called me to stand up and preach the Word of God."
Jack Graham, senior pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, said pastors must be stripped of their own self-reliance and learn to surrender to God if He is to use them and rejuvenate them in trying times.
Graham used the account of Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3 to encourage pastors who are struggling in the ministry.
"Whatever you're going through, God is in control," Graham said. "What He originates, He orchestrates. Just as God was preparing and positioning Moses for the best years of his life and ministry, I believe that God is positioning you for the very best years of your life and ministry."
While pastors may regularly go through times of despair and depression, Graham said they need to remember the call of God on their lives. He reminded pastors that God has uniquely designed each of them to fulfill His purposes.
"There is nothing that God cannot do through you when He is in you," Graham said.
James MacDonald, founding pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Chicago, drew from the John 2:1-11 account of Jesus' turning water into wine, preaching a sermon on "When I need a miracle."
MacDonald initially said the text did not hold allegorical meaning, did not make Jesus a magician, and did not prove that miracles were for another time in history.
"Miracles flow from what we have," said MacDonald, noting there were empty jars and water readily available. "Every miracle in the Bible involves something" that was already at hand, he said.
"Miracles flow from active faith," he said, adding that the servants did what Jesus said. "They had to do something, and God met them at the point of their faith."
MacDonald cited several points of action while waiting for one's miracle:
-- "Have you done everything you know to do and are capable of doing?"
-- "Have you done everything you've been counseled to do?"
-- "Have you removed all impediments to prayer?"
-- "Are you praying in faith and expectancy?"
-- "Are you praying for God's glory as your motive?"
"Miracles flow to the glory of Jesus," MacDonald said, reading the passage's same assertion. "The miracle wasn't to keep the guests hydrated or keep the party going. It was for God's glory.
"Miracles flow for a deeper faith," MacDonald added, saying the "disciples believed in him. The result was a great faith foundation for the disciples, who not too far down the road are going to rock the world."
FRED LUTER JR.
Fred Luter Jr., senior pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, preaching the closing message of the Pastors' Conference, spoke about the transforming power of the Gospel using Romans 1:16-17 as his text. Luter referred to several visual depictions of the cultural decline before asking: "What is it going to take to change our society? Let me ask you, Southern Baptist: What did it take to change you? Your life was transformed by the Gospel.
"If God's Word can change you, God's Word can change them," Luter preached as he made the first of several points: The Word of God is personal, powerful, practical and persistent.
The Gospel met every need in the apostle Paul's life, because it's personal and relevant no matter what's going on in one's life, Luter preached. "The Word of God is the only thing I know that can penetrate years of sin and save a lost soul. How do I know? I wasn't always a preacher. I was going to hell and enjoying the ride," he said.
Luter noted the Gospel is practical because it can be accepted by anyone, and it's persistent because "when everything in life fails, the Word of God will still be standing."
Luter said he was ashamed about a lot of things he sees in America today, including abortion, racism and a lack of unity among Christians.
"Maybe if the world saw us getting along, maybe we can be an example," Luter said.
NEW OFFICER ELECTIONS
Officers elected for the SBC Pastors' Conference in Houston, June 11-12, 2013, are president, Greg Mott, pastor of First Baptist Church, Houston (nominated by John Bisagno, retired pastor, First Baptist Church, Houston); vice president, Paul Jimenez, pastor of Taylors First Baptist Church in Taylors, S.C. (nominated by David Horner, pastor of Providence Baptist Church, in Raleigh, N.C.); and treasurer, John Morgan, senior pastor of Sagemont Baptist Church (nominated by Tommy Winders, pastor of Carrollton Baptist Church in Carrollton, Ala.).
Compiled by T. Patrick Hudson, with reporting by Jerry Pierce, Jennifer Davis Rash, Karen Willoughby, Tim Ellsworth, Lonnike Wilkey, Joni B. Hannigan and David Roach.
Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net