Pastors' Conf. a call to character 'from above'
BIRMINGHAM (BP) -- Whether in suffering or dealing with a social media firestorm, lean into the godly character that the Holy Spirit is fashioning in your heart -- that was the core challenge of the first two sessions of the 2019 Southern Baptist Pastors' Conference June 9-10 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in Birmingham, Ala.
The first seven speakers began working their way through the Beatitudes -- found in Matthew 5:1-12 -- challenging church leaders to live out the theme of "Kingdom Character."
Robert Smith Jr.
Smith, the Charles T. Carter Baptist Chair of Divinity at Samford University's Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, explained that the Beatitudes were paradoxical statements made by Jesus.
"A paradox occurs when two mutually exclusive statements meet at the intersection of apparent contradiction only to produce truth," Smith said.
The Beatitudes address nine "cause" statements and then leave the rest of the Sermon on the Mount to address the effect, he said. "They address the root while the sermon addresses the fruit. The Beatitudes address the motive, why you do what you do, leaving the entirety of the Sermon on the Mount to address the action."
Smith concluded his message by explaining that Christians will not be able to live out the Beatitudes without the power of the Holy Spirit and will not be able to embody them fully until they are glorified in Heaven.
"The Holy Spirit is not a luxury, He is a necessity," Smith said. "It's like you can't even be a Christian without the Spirit. God is working to develop from the inside what He has already put in you. In other words, you don't have seven of these blessings, you have all nine of them. The question is not how much of the Spirit do you have, but how much of you does the Spirit have?"
Jay and Katherine Wolf
"We've all been through various types of suffering -- hard things, past trauma, pain, the sin that's hurt us, how we've hurt others," Katherine said during the Sunday night session.
"... We're just a testament to the power of Jesus taking some really hard, bad suffering and using it. I want to encourage you to listen to us share with that perspective, seeing yourself in this story because it is in fact your story too," she said. "The specifics may be different ... but I guarantee you've had hard stuff in your story."
Jay, whose father is the longtime pastor Jay Wolf at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., said the body of Christ "forever has changed our story and our life, and I know we wouldn't be here today were it not for the church coming around us and uplifting our life and our story when everything fell apart."
In the hours after the stroke, Katherine's doctor did not expect her to live but decided to risk a lengthy surgery to give her a slight chance at survival. During that surgery, he had to make decisions about which parts of her would become disabled in order to sustain her life.
"In the wounding of Katherine came the healing of Katherine," she said. "I think that is true in all of our stories. In our terrible woundings, a beautiful healing can come, and that is the Christian life."
Katherine encouraged believers to accept that there is pain that is "lifelong that we will not understand or that will not be healed, taken away, until heaven."
"We need to be OK with the tension that everything is not healed and restored on earth and that there is a tenor of sadness to things in life for sure, and that that's OK, that God is absolutely present and at work even in the hard, sad things where there is ultimately such beauty," Katherine said.
"When I was standing at the trailhead of the Valley of the Shadow of Death I was frightened; I was terribly afraid," said Litton, pastor of Redemption Church, Mobile.
He asked, "Lord, how long is this going to take?" But God didn't answer him, Litton said.
"The more I traveled with Him, I discovered He is utterly faithful to us," he said. "He draws near to those who are brokenhearted and crushed in spirit."
If you skip the walk, "the reality is you miss the beauty that is hidden in that dark trail of tears," Litton said. "We miss the beauty and the God who says I will never leave you or forsake you."
This "blessed condition" for those in grief and sorrow is "only possible because of the Lord Jesus Christ," he said as he spoke on Matthew 5:4, "Blessed are those who mourn." But mourning in the Beatitudes doesn't just mean grief because of the loss of a loved one or an ability or ministry, he explained.
"I'm talking about a greater kind of loss, the kind of loss when we drift from the Lord or depart from the Lord," he said. When Christians see their sin the way God sees it, it leads to mourning.
"There's a hole in our repentance," Litton said. "We tend not to mourn; we helicopter over it and go straight to (God's) forgiveness."
True godly sorrow in repentance is not a quick fix, he said -- it's a blacksmith in Christians' hearts beating out the sin that keeps them from God, sins like racism and indifference toward their neighbors. It's this kind of repentance that can truly bring revival, Litton said.
"We need to stop just saying we want revival, and we've got to start filling the hole in our repentance which brings what we long for," he said.
Platt, pastor-teacher of McLean Bible Church in Vienna, Va., spoke at the Pastors' Conference only eight days removed from a public prayer for President Donald Trump during his church's Sunday worship service. Platt's prayer was the subject of much social media conversation. But more concerning for Platt was the divided response of his own congregation, he said.
Some members of Platt's church were overjoyed about the president's impromptu visit, Platt said, while others were hurt and discouraged. The church should be the place where believers can have different political opinions and remain unified in the Gospel, he said.
Preaching from the third Beatitude -- "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth" (Matt. 5:5) -- Platt said Christians should spend more time listening humbly in face-to-face conversations with fellow Christians instead of speaking boldly on the internet. In a politically polarized secular environment, Jesus' teaching about meekness -- something Platt called calmness and joy "from above" -- is a powerful antidote.
"We live in a culture that entices us at every moment to speak our thoughts from behind a screen instead of looking in the eyes of our brother and sister in love and listening to them," Platt said. "Let us not get caught up in this -- where we jump to erroneous conclusions and ignore honest convictions of brothers and sisters in Christ who may have different views from us."
Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, spoke on Matthew 5:6 -- "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied."
In this verse, Jesus says the ones who are blessed are blessed by God in a way that God defines it, Moore said -- "not a life free of suffering, not a life that is free of carrying the cross but a life in which someone is in right relationship with a God who loves them and is for them and a God who is putting them in right relationship with one another, a God who has blessed them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and a God who is enabling them to be a blessing to the nations."
"The hungering that God creates is the hungering He also fills," Moore said. "[W]hen we hunger and when we thirst for righteousness, what we inevitably say is: 'God have mercy on me.' We then are the people who recognize that we can only seek after righteousness when we understand and know that we are sinners in need of mercy."
Followers of Jesus must set themselves apart for holiness, Moore said.
"We do that by repenting of sin," he said. "We do that by coming into the light. We do that by holding up one another and bearing one another's burdens. We do that by feeling the weight of our own sin but not in despair, feeling the weight of our own sin as those who have believed the Gospel and who are walking toward the kingdom.
"But we're also the kind of people who make it very clear that the Gospel is not for the righteous but for sinners like us," Moore said. "We hunger and we thirst for the righteousness we have been called to but the righteousness that we in and of ourselves have not obtained."
Teaching on the Beatitude "blessed are the merciful" from Matthew 5:7 and pulling from 2 Kings 6:14-23, Young explained that believers should show mercy to the poor, to those different than them and to those closest to them.
"When we act mercifully, a flow begins because the kingdom of heaven is about flow. It's an ecology.... the mercy that was extended to us extends to other people.... We find ourselves in a flow, and mercy then flows through our hearts to other people's hearts. This is the secret of the Kingdom of Heaven," he said.
The bottom line, according to Young, is that both the one offering mercy and the one receiving mercy gain from the act.
In the end, he said, "Increasingly, people are finding Jesus. Increasingly, people's minds are being mended and relationships restored. This is the Gospel. This is the kingdom of heaven. This is eternal life being expressed and enjoyed."
Young also encouraged attendees to be particularly full of mercy when dealing with others who think or act differently than they do.
Mercy addresses difference, Young said. These differences can be racial, social or theological. It can be really hard to love people who are different than us, he said, but when people show mercy in given situations, those acts can be lovely and beautiful.
Mercy can be our "most powerful weapon against anger, sin, resentment, competition, bitterness," he said.
Young encouraged attendees to be on the lookout for the people around them in need of a merciful encounter.
"Mercy ... is the flowing of the Holy Spirit pouring out of a merciful heart and pouring into a merciful heart," he said. "Look for these moments ... and let us overcome evil by doing good."