On the night of December 15, a seminary in Indonesia was attacked by a mob of 2000 angry Muslims, forcing students and faculty to flee for their lives. One student was caught and surrounded. The mob demanded that he renounce his faith in Jesus. He refused. So they pulled his mouth apart until his face ripped almost from ear to ear. He died from his injuries.
Most Christians will not be asked to pay this price for following Jesus. But according to Paul, "... all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12). There is to be no mistake: to follow Jesus is a costly discipleship. There is a cross of death to bear. If we are not killed for our faith, Jesus will still teach us what it means to lose our lives in order to find them. And courage is required to face whatever deaths are appointed for us.
Mercifully, Jesus appoints pastor-leaders in his church. Their role is to guide us in the truth and show us how to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus. Which means that pastors have a difficult job. They are not only to be courageous followers themselves, but they are to "encourage" the rest of us by helping us fix our eyes on Jesus and endure for the joy that is set before us (Hebrews 12:2). Pastors also fight to protect their flocks from wolves disguised as sheep. They confront sin and error. They comfort the hurting, pray for the sick, bear with the weak, counsel the depressed, and listen to the frustrated. They often lead in contending for the faith in the wider culture. They tend to be the lightning rods for every current Christian controversy. They get tired. They get "discouraged."
That's why for thirteen years Bethlehem has hosted a conference especially for the encouragement of pastors. The 2000 Bethlehem Conference for Pastors will be held at the church February 7-9, and we are expecting 800 in attendance from all over the U.S. and beyond - one Chinese pastor is even coming from Hong Kong! This year's conference theme is "Courage in the Christian Ministry." Our speakers will be Dr. Albert Mohler (keynote), President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Rev. Ben Patterson (pastoral), Dean of the Chapel at Hope College; Dr. Josef Tson (missions), President of the Romanian Missionary Society; and our own Pastor John.
Our goal as a church will be to provide three days of glorious worship, invigorating theological reflection, and stress-free refreshment for these men. We are keeping the conference fee low and allow any pastor to attend even if they can't afford the fee. From morning till night Brenda Remus and her crew will continually keep great food on the tables, hot coffee in the pots and cold drinks in the coolers for pastors' enjoyment at no extra cost. Shuttle vans will run to and from the airport, local hotels, and parking lots. Bethlehem families will open their homes to pastors who can't afford hotels. Rick Gamache and his crew will spread a literary banquet of discounted books that will fill the entire gym. Jodie Larson will lead an intercessory prayer team throughout the conference to pray for sessions and individual prayer requests.
All these pastors will need courage this year. Many will face extraordinary adversity. Possibly one or two will be called to lay their lives down like the Indonesian seminary student. Please pray that God will nourish and encourage them when they are with us.
May God be the strength of their hearts and their portion forever (Psalm 73:26),