Birmingham, Ala. | 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 2019 Southern Baptist Pastors’ Conference June 9-10 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex in Birmingham, Ala.
The worked their way through the Beatitudes — found in Matthew 5 — challenging church leaders to live out the theme of “Kingdom Character.”
Robert Smith Jr.
Robert Smith Jr., 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.”
Jay and Katherine Wolf
Evangelists Jay and Katherine Wolf of Hope Heals in Atlanta displayed Christ’s power in suffering by telling how Katherine nearly died from a massive brain stem stroke at age 26. From a wheelchair on stage, Katherine, now severely disabled, said all people “have invisible wheelchairs of so many different kinds.”
“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, 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.”
When Ed Litton’s wife Tammy passed away in a tragic car accident in 2007, he wanted to “helicopter over” the Valley of the Shadow of Death and get through it as quickly as possible. But God invited him to walk through it instead, he told those present at the Sunday night session.
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.
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.
In a social media landscape that can drive people to jump to conclusions and stokes the fires of online outrage, Christians should heed the words of Jesus to pursue meekness, said David Platt.
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.
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.
God’s definition of blessing means a follower of Jesus “can be blessed and be hungering and thirsting at the same time,” Russell Moore said.
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.”
Martin Young, senior minister of Rising Brook Community Church — a church plant in Staffordshire, north of Birmingham, England — explained living mercifully is living beautifully.
Teaching on the Beatitude “blessed are the merciful” from Matthew 5:7 and pulling from 2 Kings 6:14-23, Young shared 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.
Being a peacemaker is not “elective,” but is a call from Christ to every believer, Dhati Lewis, lead pastor of Blueprint Church in Atlanta, Ga., and vice president of Send Network for the North American Mission Board, said.
He spoke on Matthew 5:9 and Christ’s Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
As a leader of a diverse church and a husband in a diverse family (his wife is Caucasian), he encourages believers to “run to the tension” and to be known for their vision, instead of their “anti-vision” defined as being known “more for what you’re against than what you’re for.”
“My prayer for us in the SBC is that we can give what we can [and] start to have (peace) and that one day we would be able to really embrace the beauty and the complexity (of diversity),” he said.
Pastor Andrew Brunson, who was recently released after being imprisoned in Turkey for two years, talked about both the persecution that he experienced during his time in Turkey as well as the persecution that he believes is coming to the next generation of Christians.
“I don’t think that we’re prepared for what is coming,” Brunson said. “Especially the next generation, I fear that many of us are complacent and we’re unaware and this means that the people in our churches are going to be blindsided by what comes. You are the ones as pastors and leaders of churches who have the task of preparing the next generation.
“Many of you are going to have the opportunity to stand in that line of suffering and you have to prepare yourself for that,” Brunson said.
Jimmy Scroggins, lead pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach, Fla., spoke from Matthew 5:13-16.
In a world rife with sexual abuse scandals, racial conflicts, moral failures and social media quarrels, Scroggins encouraged his fellow believers to take responsibility for these issues in order to strengthen the church’s witness to the world.
“There are things happening in our families, in our churches, in our communities, in our world that are not our fault, but God has made them our responsibility,” Scroggins said. “When Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount, He is telling His disciples — and, by extension, He’s telling us — that the broken kingdoms of this world are not all our fault; but showing this world what the Kingdom of heaven looks like is our responsibility.”
David Uth was elected president of next year’s SBC Pastors’ Conference during the Monday afternoon session. The 2020 event will be in Orlando, where Uth has served as pastor of First Baptist Church for 14 years. Also elected: Vice President – Pastor Michael Wood, First West BC, West Monroe, La. and Treasurer – Executive Director Kevin Smith, Baptist Convention of Maryland-Delaware.