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Pastors hear biblical truths & testimony

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SAN ANTONIO (BP)–While thousands of fans cheered for the San Antonio Spurs basketball team in the Alamodome, several thousand Southern Baptist pastors cheered for Jesus Christ at the Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference in the nearby Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center.

“The issue is not that the Spurs are playing in town in the NBA Finals,” Hayes Wicker, Pastors’ Conference president, said to the attendees. “Instead, we want to stress our victory and identity in Jesus Christ this weekend.

“We believe God has brought us here for a special reason … so that we can say, like Jacob, that ‘we have met God face to face’ … and [can] experience real revival.”

The Sunday evening session -– encompassing expository preaching and personal testimony -– featured Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship who accepted Christ after gaining notoriety for his role in the 1970s Watergate scandal; Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, and a former SBC president; Jerry Vines, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., and another former SBC president; and Roger Spradlin, pastor of the 7,000-member Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield, Calif.

The Pastors’ Conference theme -— “Jesus Christ … from Him, through Him, to Him” -– reminded pastors of the source of their strength and passion for ministry.

Colson addressed the theme by warning that Christians face “a vicious attack by neo-atheists,” citing the immense popularity of such recent books as “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkins. “This is a virulent strain of atheism that seeks to destroy our belief system.”

To engage the culture and counter the prevailing belief that truth is relative, Colson said Christians must do better at explaining, in a winsome way, what they believe and why they believe it. To start, Christians must understand that Christianity is more than simply a personal relationship with Jesus, Colson argued.

“We have to understand that Christianity is a worldview,” Colson said. “Christianity is a way of seeing all of life and all of reality. It’s the way of understanding ultimate truth.”

Beyond understanding Christianity in its entirety, Colson said Christians must be faithful to pass their beliefs to their children.

“What is wrong with us when kids are being raised to believe there is no such thing as truth?” he asked. “That’s the end of the Christian Gospel if we can’t make a truth claim in our culture today.”

Such counter-cultural stances can earn enemies, with Patterson speaking on what he has learned about victory in Christ in spite of opposition. Patterson began by noting that any opposition he had experienced in ministry “was infinitesimal” compared to the suffering of Christians around the world who are persecuted for their faith as well as the many pastors each year who are asked by their churches to resign.

For pastors who experience opposition and suffering, Patterson expressed commiseration for the toll it takes on their families.

“The greatest sorrow is not what you experience yourself; it is the sorrow visited on your family,” Patterson said, relating that his wife suffers with him “every step of the way.”

Speaking to the children of pastors who face opposition, Patterson said, “Don’t put your eyes on those events. Put your eyes on Christ Jesus.”

However, Patterson noted that God allows opposition in order to develop Christian graces and to “chip away at the barnacles of sin that attached to this old hull.”

“God allows opposition and suffering to teach us about His providential oversight,” Patterson said. “In the darkest valley, look for the hand of God.”

Opposition and suffering point to greater heavenly rewards, Patterson said; they “remind me of the blessings of God and show me the glory that shall be revealed.”

Vines engaged the conference theme with an evangelistic message exhorting pastors to be prompt, obedient, observant witnesses for Jesus Christ. Turning to the account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch described in Acts 8, Vines pointed out that all the ingredients for an effective evangelism approach are outlined in that passage.

When Philip was told to go to Gaza, he did not hesitate. “He could’ve said, ‘Let’s appoint a committee and vote on it,'” Vines said. “But, you do not vote on the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ…. Philip did not say, ‘Not now.’ If you are not willing to tell one person about the Lord Jesus, then you are not qualified to tell multitudes.”

The Holy Spirit had prepared the heart of the Ethiopian eunuch to receive the Gospel message. Likewise, Vines encouraged pastors to be alert to any opportunity to share the Gospel with lost men and women in their daily lives, but not to water it down.

“There has been in our country a growing universalism,” Vines said, decrying the teaching that everyone goes to heaven regardless of their faith or lack of faith. “Yet the Bible clearly teaches that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God…. The missing element in church growth and evangelism today is the role of the Holy Spirit of God. We need to join ourselves with the Holy Spirit…. [He] will make it possible for you to attach yourselves to people who are receptive to the Gospel.”

When people search for answers by going to church, Vines said they need to experience Spirit-filled preaching, music and an invitation to accept Jesus Christ as Lord. Church visitors too often find churches that are either “fried or frozen,” he said.

Spradlin brought a personal testimony about how Christians can finish life well like the Apostle Paul recounted in 2 Timothy 2:1-7. First, Spradlin said finishing well means being prepared to fight for your faith and focus on the future.

“We are in a long relay race, and the baton has been handed to us,” Spradlin said. “We must hand it off to the next generation undiluted.”

Spradlin exhorted the pastors to resist the tendency to be isolated and, instead, enter into accountability relationships with each other. Isolation leads to discouragement that can come from daily ministry to “sinners saved by grace,” he said.

“There is pettiness and opposition that keeps us from seeing the big picture,” Spradlin said. “Sometimes in ministry you have to go where the band doesn’t play…. The prize is at the end of the race.”

Spradlin said Paul was finishing well by forgetting about the failures of others, especially if they have caused pain or grief. Spradlin shared how his first-born 4-year-old daughter Charity was killed by a hit-and-run driver about a year after he started leading the Bakersfield church.

The driver turned herself in to the authorities, but one Saturday morning she came knocking on the door of the Spradlins’ house. She was in tears and begged them for forgiveness. Spradlin said at that moment he prayed and asked God for help in how to respond.

“I forgive you,” Spradlin told the weeping driver whose recklessness had caused such pain. In honor of his daughter and in recognition of God’s compassion and providence, Spradlin established Charity Ministries to provide a home for orphan girls in India.

“Some people have a long list of those who have wronged them. Bitterness comes from unhealed wounds, which can ruin your ministry,” Spradlin said. “People are going to hurt you…. Paul had learned to let go, and so must we.”
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With reporting by Tim Ellsworth.