Johnny Hunt says he can’t tell your story and you can’t tell his. But he knows who he used to be — and that makes the cross of Jesus even sweeter.
“I’m shocked at how He’s changed me. I really am,” he said. “It’s amazing how He can change a heart.”
Hunt, senior vice president of evangelism and leadership for the North American Mission Board, told the crowd at the Alabama Baptist Pastors Conference on Nov. 11 that he prayed he would “never get over getting saved.”
He said he wants the memory of his old self — the man who ran the pool hall — to be fresh in his mind so he’ll remember how desperate his need for Jesus was.
He wants that to fuel his passion for sharing his faith with the lost.
This year’s conference theme was “Hallelujah for the Cross,” and all eight speakers at Eastern Shore Baptist Church, Daphne, talked about how the cross changes both Christians’ destiny and their relationships.
Like Hunt, Terrence Jones, pastor of Strong Tower at Washington Park, Montgomery, said Christians all too often have a hard time remembering who we were before Jesus found us and we encountered the cross.
“You and I can walk with God so long that we forget the beginning of the story,” he said, preaching from Ephesians 2:11–22. “Paul challenges (his readers) to remember because it’s easy for us to forget.”
Remembering is important so Christians never lose sight of the cross, but also so they never forget their common ground with people who might otherwise be different from them, Jones said.
“If we’re going to be real partners in the gospel then we have to recognize that what we share in common is that at one time we had a nature that hated God,” he said.
The cross sets all that right, he said — it reconciles Christians to God and to each other.
“Remember that at one time you were without Christ, without hope,” Jones said.
Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said there’s no greater cause than the ministry of reconciliation.
“The peace that can stabilize and solidify our lives is found in the person of Jesus Christ through His death on the cross,” he said. “He’s given peace to those who have their minds stayed on Him.”
Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church, Memphis, Tennessee, said the cross is “the epicenter” of hope, “ground zero” of the gospel.
“You can talk about gospel conversation all you want, but if you don’t mention a bloody cross or an empty tomb you have not shared the gospel,” he said. “You’ve got to come to the cross if you want to talk about salvation.”
The cross is what pulls people out of the miry clay, Gaines said. “When it’s preached it’s power.”
Jay Wolf, pastor of First Baptist Church, Montgomery, said people need to be pulled up by the power of the cross.
“People are discouraged. People are hurt, they’re beat and they’re broken. And encouragement is the Miracle-Gro of the soul,” he said.
Even pastors can be discouraged but Christ asks that they pick up their cross and press on, Wolf said.
“We’re supposed to be a model for ministry,” he said, noting the Apostle Paul had faith that was tough like a rawhide boot. “He was made of the stuff that black boxes for airplanes are made of. He had a rugged faith and that’s our model for carrying our cross.”
Life is tough and ministry is hard, Wolf said, but pastors have to press on.
“The only way you can do that is if you keep your eyes fixed on Jesus,” he said.
Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, said sometimes Christians’ sin can get them down.
“How has Satan been so successful at getting Christians to do bad things, at getting holy folk to do unholy things? I’m talking about saved folks,” he said. “Trained teachers, seasoned sisters, blessed brothers, committed couples, saved singles, trusted trustees — people like you and me. People who love God with all of their heart, might and spirit.”
Satan’s tactics are sophisticated and he aims them at committed Christians, Luter said. No pill can heal Christians of their sin problem — only the cross can do that.
“Friend, don’t ever let the devil tell you you’re not loved,” he said. “Everything about Calvary is because of God’s love for you. Jesus came, Jesus lived, Jesus suffered, Jesus bled and Jesus died on the cross just for you and me. Wow, what love.”
Dana Watson, COO for south Alabama at Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries (ABCH), agreed that God loves people right where they are.
“Come to Him in your sinful state and He can make you clean,” he said.
Watson grew up through the ministry of the ABCH and said he met Jesus there. And now as a ministry leader he works to introduce others to the same hope he found.
“We see people come in with these torn pieces and we can do everything we can through counseling and stable homes … we can proclaim Christ and show them love, but ultimately we can only do so much with these torn pieces,” he said. “But when the cross is involved with the power of the Holy Spirit all that brokenness is gone and all that’s left is the cross.”
Robert Mullins, pastor of Crossroads Community Church, Elmore, said the cross excites him every time he sees it.
“I remember that there was a price paid for me,” he said. “Jesus loved you and me so much that He paid this price that we can’t even understand — because He loved us.”
During the conference Mullins was elected vice president of the 2020 Pastors Conference, which will be held Nov. 16, 2020, at Taylor Road Baptist Church, Montgomery.
He joins Blake Kersey, pastor of First Baptist Church, Decatur, who moved into the president-elect role; Nathan Daniels, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, Andalusia, who will serve as president; and Richard Richie, who was re-elected treasurer.