Annual meeting sermons address distraction, gospel ministry, Whittaker

Published Nov 27, 2016

WEST SACRAMENTO — Sermons at the California Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting focused on “the main thing” and lauded the Convention’s retiring executive director.

Held at Russian Baptist Church in West Sacramento Oct. 25-26, the annual meeting drew nearly 500 messengers and guests.

Randy Bennett, director of missions for Kern County Southern Baptist Association and outgoing CSBC president, noted during his President’s Message how easy it can be to get distracted in the Christian life. He quoted Monty McWhorter, long-time evangelism leader in the state, whose favorite encouragement is to keep “the main thing the main thing.”

Distractions Christians can face include anger, guilt, finances, personal identity, etc., Bennett noted.

Referring to Judas Iscariot, who was distracted by anger and guilt, Bennett asked ironically, “Is it possible we ever get distracted by money issues?”

Christians also often struggle with “identity issues,” Bennett said, adding, “I don’t have to achieve a place of perfection because I’m already seated at the right hand of God through Christ!”

Bennett asked the audience to examine their hearts: “Are we distracted as the early disciples were? Are we distracted by anger and guilt issues?”

Power and self-importance also can be distractions, but “the greatest thing in the Kingdom of God is the servants,” Bennett declared.

Investing in the lives of people is one way to keep from being distracted, he noted, remembering several pastors and others who mentored him and encouraged him to get involved in state convention life when he was a college student and young pastor.

Bennett added that, while it is important to “pray for the world,” it’s also urgent for Christians to be praying “for one person.”

“Let’s win the world for Christ, but what about you winning one person? Win the person next to you.”

“If we’re gonna win the world to Christ we can’t be distracted,” Bennett declared.

Adam Groza, vice president of enrollment and student services for Gateway Seminary in Ontario, said during the Convention Sermon that one of the best ways he’s found to keep from distraction is giving all “for the glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Using the annual meeting theme of “Generations Reaching Generations,” Groza said, “Our job is to minister from generation to generation the unchanging truth of the glory of God revealed in the face of Jesus Christ.”

He noted five things that “flow from gospel ministry in Jesus Christ,” including encouragement.

“We do not lose heart,” Groza declared. Holiness also is a product “in our lives and to those to whom we minister,” he said.

Speaking to pastors, he noted a third outflow from the gospel: faithfulness. Groza referred to the Apostle Paul’s willingness to preach the gospel and “not water it down.”

“He was willing to be faithful in boldly, lovingly preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” which led to Groza’s fourth “fruit” of the gospel, boldness.

“How do we reach the pagan cultures in which we live? We faithfully and boldly proclaim the gospel!” he declared.

Finally, humility keeps the enemy from blocking the gospel, Groza said. Pastors must rely on “the power of God at work to preach the gospel day in and day out.”

“We are never wasting our time, brothers and sisters, when we faithfully proclaim” the Word of God, Groza encouraged.

“Witnessing, preaching, counseling and discipleship are treasures because in those things we point to God,” he said, drawing a contrast between God’s glory and power and human weakness.

“People thought Paul’s weaknesses meant God wasn’t with him — but they are evidence of God’s glory,” Groza asserted. “God has a purpose in our weakness — to magnify His power.

“The treasure of the gospel does not protect us from suffering or hardship — but it does preserve us. In our weakness we know that it is the power of God bringing people from death to life,” Groza said.

“Everything is ineffective apart from the glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Something retiring CSBC executive director Fermín A. Whittaker focused on during his 22-year ministry, according to Rob Zinn, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland.

Zinn, preaching for Whittaker during the Tuesday evening session, said, “Folks, for the last 22 years we have been in the presence of a man of God.”

Referencing I Timothy 6, Zinn said a man of God can be identified by “what he flees from,” including idolatry and the love of money, noting there are as many idols in this generation as there were in Bible times.

A man of God also can be identified by what he follows after, including leaving a legacy — which has been reflected in an “executive director who believes in every man, woman, boy and girl” coming to Christ, Zinn said, quoting Whittaker’s well-known mantra for California.

What he fights for also sets a man of God apart, Zinn said.

“As long as we’re still here, on this planet, it means there are still people out here that God is calling to salvation. And folks, we need to get excited and fight the good fight,” Zinn declared.

“Everyone needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Zinn said, echoing Groza. “Endure and put forth the effort to win!”

A man of God also is evident by what he’s faithful to.

“We need to be ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“We don’t need cute little sermonettes,” Zinn said. “What we need is to get down into the Word … to keep it and guard it and protect it.

“Fermin Whittaker, you have been faithful. You’ve not only been faithful to your Lord, you’ve been faithful to your call and your ministry; to your family, the Convention, your staff and the people of God.

“And we say to you tonight, dear brother, thank you for being a man of God.”