HOUSTON (BP) -- Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter brought a rousing close to the first night of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors' Conference, with an encouraging message for discouraged pastors.
Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans, preached from Psalm 34, with particular emphasis on verse 19, and addressed how pastors should handle difficult times, or what he likes to refer to as "the other side of ministry."
"I have one purpose and one purpose alone for tonight," Luter said in the introductory remarks for his June 9 message. "That is to encourage pastors and pastors' wives. In this last year that I've traveled the country as SBC president, I've run into so many pastors and pastors' wives who are discouraged or ready to throw in the towel or ready to give in."
Luter described the joys and blessings that come along with the task of pastoral ministry.
"[But] then one day," Luter said, "everything falls apart, and now you are facing the other side of ministry. For whatever reason, brothers, the blessings have stopped flowing."
Luter shared from his own personal experience of pastoring a thriving church in his hometown of New Orleans to standing in a line for government assistance in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Pointing to Psalm 34, Luter said even King David, who was considered a man after God's own heart, faced affliction. After praising God in the first four verses, David describes his afflictions in subsequent verses.
"In just a few short verses, David has gone from divine preservation to human persecution," Luter said, noting that no one in ministry is exempt from hardships. He also explained his own struggles with the passage in that David says a multitude of afflictions are inevitable for those who are righteous.
"The struggle I have with this text is that the words 'afflictions' and 'righteous' are in the same verse," Luter admitted. "I could have handled the text better if the Bible would have said 'many are the afflictions of the [sinner] ... because then I could have come to the conclusion that what goes around comes around, ... that they're reaping what they've sown. But the Bible doesn't say that."
Luter explained that Job was a righteous man who faced unwarranted affliction, who was "picked out to be picked on." Yet, through it all, Job continued to praise and trust God.
Luter concluded his message with an encouragement from the end of verse 19: "But the Lord delivers him out of them all." He emphasized that the negative conjunction "but" wipes away everything that is said before it.
"Just when it looks like things are bad, just when it looks like things are hard, just when it looks like you're about to go under, God can put a 'but' in your situation," Luter exclaimed. "Your affliction is temporary. Your affliction is for a specific time. Your affliction is for a specific season. Your affliction is for a specific reason. It's only a test. It's only a trial. It's the other side of ministry. But always remember pastors and pastors' wives, this too shall pass."
In a closing illustration, Luter described his great love for James Bond movies as well as his longtime curiosity over how Bond was able to escape precarious situations. Finally, one day while watching a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the Bond films, Luter realized the reason.
"You know what I found out?" Luter asked. "It will blow you away. ... It was written in the script!"
"I've come here tonight to tell every pastor and pastor's wife, 'You know how I know you'll make it? It's in the script!"
Keith Collier is director of news and information for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas (www.swbts.edu/campusnews
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