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SEBTS: ‘Stay close & clean,’ Hunt says

WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–In explaining what has become one of his personal catchphrases, “Stay close and clean,” Atlanta-area pastor Johnny Hunt noted the transition from hearing to receiving so that believers can be doing the Word of God.

Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention and a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke to students at the Wake Forest, N.C., campus March 25.

During his tenure as pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., Hunt said he has coined the phrase “close and clean” in relation to his spiritual walk, praying daily that the Lord would keep him close and keep him spiritually clean.

Preaching from James 1:21, Hunt urged students to “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” Hunt said when he first became a believer he had to make the transition from merely hearing the Word of God to receiving it, implanting it into his heart.

“Some of our people don’t receive the Word of God and don’t welcome it into their lives,” Hunt said.

In the current situations many believers find themselves in, including financial or spiritual distress, Hunt said, all should be asking the question the prophets asked: “Is there a word from God? God will speak into these crises.”

Hunt said the verse in James first addresses the abundance of wickedness in the world.

“This wickedness, we often don’t deal with it,” Hunt said. “James is talking to those who have already been saved. There is so much that can mess you up in ministry. It’s a long way from here to where God wants to take you. Ask Him to keep you close to Him and clean.”

Speaking of his own salvation and sanctification experience, Hunt said, “Who would have guessed God would take a high school dropout, a drunk and a pool room hustler and raise him up? God had to do it.”

Hunt compared putting off filthiness to taking off dirty clothing or a snake shedding its skin. Even things that might not be clearly sin, he said, could be a burden.

“I just don’t see how God is going to be glorified. [Unbelievers] don’t want somebody to crawl down in their pit with them,” Hunt said. “They want someone to lift them up because they’re standing on a firm foundation.

“Before God can produce His righteousness in us, we must first lay aside the sin that stands between us and His righteousness,” he added. “Moral filthiness is a serious barrier to hearing the truth of God’s Word. I don’t want to be a hindrance because of filthiness. There’s a lost and dying world out there.”

Hunt said putting off filthiness and wickedness must be a daily occurrence, like picking the weeds from a garden. He said the best way to do this is to daily ask the Lord to reveal individual weeds or sins.

“If it’s just one more in the middle of all the rest, you just get overwhelmed,” Hunt said.

The verse in James also instructs believers to receive the implanted Word of God with meekness, he said.

“Putting off filthiness deals with the sin itself,” Hunt said, “while putting off wickedness deals with the motivation to sin.

“James begins by talking about the spirit of receiving with meekness, that is, free access to all parts of a person’s life,” he said. “Then, the substance of what we receive is the implanted Word in the heart of the believer.”

Hunt said it is only when a person actively puts away filthiness and wickedness in his life that he will be able to receive and do the Word of God.

“There are some things you must give up. You can’t just pray, ‘Take that from me.’ You must say, ‘I give it to You,'” Hunt said.

SHADDIX: PREACHING REQUIRES PRAYER — Jim Shaddix, pastor of Riverside Baptist Church in Denver and former associate professor of preaching at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, commented that “it is possible to do this thing we call ministry, and this thing we call preaching, our entire lives and entire ministries and appear to be successful at it — and all the time be doing it in the flesh. That scares me to death.”

Shaddix spoke on the importance of being humble before God in sermon preparation, seeking to know Him and correctly understand His Word, in a two-day workshop at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Shaddix preached on the story of Ezra during a chapel service, then the following day discussed how pastors can faithfully put together exegetical sermons, using his own sermon from Ezra 8:21-23, 31 as the illustration. He also taught on pastoral care and other topics during the workshop at the seminary’s Wake Forest, N.C., campus.

“Preaching may be one of the easiest areas to fall into this trap [of the flesh], if we approach it from a purely academic and practical standpoint,” Shaddix said, lamenting the possibility of forgetting that “what are dealing with is a mystery. God has ordained it to be a part of the conversion of souls and [the] future of the New Testament church.”

Having noted the seriousness of “rightly dividing the word of truth,” Shaddix said sermon preparation must begin with much time in prayer before ever delving into language studies, commentaries or background studies. Looking at Acts 6:4, Shaddix said pastors must devote themselves to both prayer and the ministry of the Word, as the early church members did.

“I’m not talking about quiet time or prayer that every believer is called to,” Shaddix said. “How much time, as a pastor, am I devoting to that in comparison to the amount of time I devote to the ministry of the word?” he asked. The prayer facet of ministry is assumed, but he noted: “Exposition will not stand by itself. If you assume prayer and do not practice it in equal commitment to the ministry of the Word, it will break down the passion of the church.”

Shaddix said when formulating the sermon after much prayer, the next step entails determining what God has to say through His Word. “Every preacher has the responsibility to ask the question, ‘What does God say?’ There are a lot who get up and talk about things God didn’t say,” Shaddix said. “That’s why sermon-making and preaching are different. Preaching is what God said. Sermon-making can be about anything.” Shaddix exhorted, “Reduce the subjectivity of interpretation and go in and let the text speak for itself.”

Using his sermon on Ezra 8, Shaddix said to first encapsulate the sermon in a “pregnant sentence”; in this case: “Real trust in God doesn’t have a back-up plan, but instead relies on desperate praying.” He said, “When I come to the end of the message, this is what I hope is communicated.”

The bulk of the message falls under “exposition,” Shaddix said, explaining, “This is where I say, ‘Let’s see what God has to say about this.’ This better be the meat of what you challenged [the congregation] to hear.

“When I say ‘exposition,’ I’m not talking about sermon form, but about rightly exposing the text of Scripture,” Shaddix said. For his message on Ezra 8:21-23, Shaddix employed several points to reflect what the text says about operating without a back-up plan. “What does ministry without a backup plan look like? Taking risks for the sake of the Gospel,” he said. “If we’re not careful in ministry, we will build a mentality of insulation all around us. However, when I search the pages of Scripture, I can’t find the promise of a title or a salary or safety. You’ll only find the call of God.”

Ezra was able to take risks for God because he was jealous for God’s honor and glory, Shaddix said. “The real issue is the heartbeat of Ezra, who looked at the glory and honor of the God he served and said, ‘I don’t want anything to taint that.'”

A key to operating without a backup plan, Shaddix said, is the same thing that will be key for the future of expository preaching — desperate, wholehearted prayer as a daily part of ministry.

“These are desperate times. The bridegroom Jesus is going to come back for His bride — the church –- but between here and then, we are in need of a generation who is desperate for God and is crying out for God to show His glory,” Shaddix said.

The preacher must immerse himself completely in Scripture, Shaddix continued in his advice for faithfully preaching and teaching the Word of God. “When I look at this commentary on Ezra’s life, he seemed to have been permeated with God’s Word. His belief and things he taught started somewhere before sermon prep. It was more than just what he taught — it permeated his entire being,” Shaddix said.

Every preacher has the responsibility to dive into Scripture so it will transform his life, Shaddix said, “The people we’re preaching to are looking at the Bible and saying, ‘That’s irrelevant to my life.’ They say that justifiably. There have been numerous layers that have been piled up on the relevance of the Word of God — layers of the language gap, time gap, cultural gaps, and underneath it is the supernatural, eternal Word of God. It is the only thing with the power to transform people’s lives through the power of Jesus Christ.”

Greg Heisler, associate professor of preaching and speech at Southeastern, said, voiced appreciation for Shaddix’s Feb. 16-17 visit to Southeastern, particularly “his willingness to preach a message in chapel and then take time the next day to help students understand it. Textbooks are helpful, but there truly is no replacement for spending time with living examples who are willing to pour their lives into our students.”
Based on reports by Lauren Crane of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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