Be refined through fiery trials, pastors told

SAN ANTONIO—The fiery trials of ministry will come. When they do, embrace them for the refining purposes of God, ministers and lay leaders were reminded during the SBTC Bible Conference, Nov. 11-12 at Castle Hills First Baptist Church in San Antonio.

Preaching under the theme “Forged by Fire,” the lineup of pastors on the conference program shared anecdotes of adversity and lessons learned from the pages of Scripture and proved by experience.

Rudy Gonzalez, dean of Southwestern Seminary’s William R. Marshall Center for Theological Studies in San Antonio, told those attending the conference that “everyone will be salted with fire,” quoting Mark 9:49.

Preaching from Mark 9, in which Jesus told his followers that it’s better enter eternal life crippled than to be cast into hell with an offending hand, foot or eye, Gonzalez said the promised fires for the Christ follower are notably juxtaposed next to a verse about the unquenchable fires of hell.

Many people think they are experiencing hell on earth—Gonzalez mentioned the leg braces he began wearing five years ago as a moment of questioning, and the loss of a son and a brother-in-law, both at young ages. “This reality comes to an end, but hell is forever.”

“I don’t want a fiery trial that I will forget tomorrow,” Gonzalez added. “I want a fiery ordeal that I will remember for the rest of my life” and for the glory of God.

Gonzalez said the believer must embrace testing by fire because without it he is susceptible to stumbling and it must be embraced desperately and joyfully in order to bear fruit.

Warning against spiritual amnesia, Danny Forshee directed pastors to 1 Peter 1:3-9 to recover a sense of God’s wonder. “We forget how awesome God is and how brief our trials are,” declared the pastor of Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin.

“Spiritual faith is to be enjoyed, not to be endured,” Forshee pleaded, referring to salvation’s joy. “God wants us to pause to have a full memory and say, ‘Thank you, Lord, that you are my joy.’”

In view of eternity, pastors ought to be encouraged by the brevity of trials and mindful of God’s purposeful sustenance.

“It could be that your greatest power is in your darkest trial. Be faithful. Keep preaching the Word of God. Keep praying. Keep telling people about Jesus because God is working a testimony,” he said. “When it’s all said and done, you’re going to say, ‘Hallelujah, what a savior! He brought me through.’”

Remembering salvation’s author, Forshee said, “It is for him that we serve, that we preach, that we live. It is all for you, Jesus, because you are awesome. I can’t see you right now, but one glorious day I will see you and it will be worth it all.”

Robert Webb, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Kaufman, said too many pastors have heard that if they loved Jesus more, their churches would be growing and things would be going well when in reality many “are one business meeting away from throwing in the towel.”

Using 2 Corinthians 4:6-12 as his text, Webb said the passage, which speaks of being “afflicted in every way, but not crushed,” changed his life, “for we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus’ sake.”

Webb noted that God draws an excellence out of our simplicity in that he chose “the foolish things of the world to confound the wise … But God’s not insulting you when he calls you that.” The Lord uses earthen vessels to accomplish his purposes “so that the excellence of his power may be of God and not of man.”

One of Webb’s pet peeves, he said, is the preacher who presents Christian discipleship as rosy. The believer is called to take up his cross daily, but that has been cast wrongly as merely a burden to pick up.

“The cross is not a burden; it’s a summons unto death,” Webb stated.

Believers have the honor of suffering and to do so with grace so that unbelievers might believe, he said.

Tony Mathews, pastor of North Garland Baptist Fellowship in Garland, preached from Matthew 9:9-13, a passage in which Jesus drew criticism for his calling Matthew the tax collector and his eating with “tax collectors and sinners.”

Mathews said Jesus is the role model for dealing with destructive criticism. Pastors must remember that “we are more than conquerors” through Christ and that destructive criticism often comes right after godly obedience—just like the passage.

Right after Jesus tells Matthew, “Follow me,” the critics show up, he observed.

“Destructive criticism comes when I’m doing what the Lord has called me to do” and also “when I’m getting results doing what he’s called me to do,” Mathews said.

Amid the criticism, pastors must follow Jesus’ example by answering the critics with truth but always in a loving, Christ-like way.

In Matthew 9:13, Jesus goes further, inviting his critics to learn the substance of the Old Testament scriptures regarding mercy. In the same way, pastors should invite their critics to learn about the rigors and calling of pastoral ministry because most congregants know little about it.

“You don’t have to be mean about it,” Mathews said. “Love them with a smile on your face.”

Southlake pastor Tom Pennington said personal trials over the last year included watching his wife endure radiation treatments, a daughter’s cancer surgery, and the prospect of church discipline for several beloved men in his church. For the believer and especially for pastors, these trials are not meaningless, he noted. “Because of Christ, our trials do matter,” Pennington, pastor of Countryside Bible Church, told the conference.

From Romans 5:1-5, speaking of the suffering, endurance and character leading to hope in God’s glory, Pennington reminded his hearers that “every sin you and I commit, every sin deserves the wrath of God.” But God’s extraordinary justification of sinners changes everything, he said.

“Justification is something objective that happens in the courtroom of heaven … He credits Christ’s righteousness to you” and therefore the believer receives the benefits of Christ’s righteousness that are expressed in Romans 5.

The believer, Pennington said, has peace with God by his grace, will both see and share in God’s glory, and is able to rejoice not merely amid trials but in the trials themselves.

“The reason we can rejoice in our trials and tribulation is that we know something”—namely, God’s goodness, wisdom and sovereignty, Pennington said. “When the pressures of life are mixed with that kind of faith, they produce perseverance” leading to proven character and then hope, realizing that “God’s love hasn’t waivered one bit.”

Pastors must choose to be unoffended by people, the experiences of life, and even the ways of God, urged Ronnie Floyd, pastor of Cross Church of Northwest Arkansas, in the Bible Conference’s closing message.

“You cannot walk around being offended and have the touch of God on you,” he insisted. “Let it go.”

As pastors seek to minister in a culture with high expectations for every area of life, Floyd turned to Luke 7:18-23, recalling how John the Baptist’s expectations of Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom were not being met. Jesus’ appeal for John the Baptist to trust him and be blessed by remaining unoffended serves as an example for pastors today, he explained.

Floyd said pastors must remember God’s perspective. “He loves them, died for them and forgives them, so live what you preach. Forgive them.”

It should be no surprise that the world is fallen in sinfulness and will conduct itself accordingly, he said. “Life and its experiences will take me down one straight pathway to unforgiveness.”

But the sovereignty of God should prompt a minister to ask what God is saying in the experience and what he is trying to teach, Floyd said.

“I wonder how many of you are blaming God for something he could have done, should have done or could have prevented in your life?” he asked. Directing pastors to immerse themselves in Genesis 37-50, he encouraged them to see that what others plan for evil, God can use for good.

“When the fires of ministry come into your life—it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when—you’ve got one big-time choice: Remain unoffended.”

Also during the Bible Conference, a new slate of conference officers were elected during the session on Nov. 12. Gil Lain, pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, was elected Bible Conference president for the coming year. Steve Taylor, pastor of First Baptist Church of Borger, was elected first vice president. Eduard Valdez, pastor of Iglesia Bautista Central in Terrell, was elected second vice president.

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