Nautical themes in the Book Acts can teach pastors that God always provides a way to navigate through difficult times, Mac Brunson, newly elected pastor of First Baptist Jacksonville, Fla., said during Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s annual Expository Preaching Workshop March 6-7.

More than 350 pastors, students and other guests attended the annual workshop, which has as its goal helping pastors learn how to prepare better expository sermons, or sermons that preach through a biblical text rather than a topic. Question and answer sessions after each sermon offered unique insights into how some of the most well known preachers in the Southern Baptist Convention develop a sermon.

In addition to Brunson, speakers at the conference included Jerry Vines, former pastor of First Baptist Jacksonville; David Allen, dean of the seminary’s theology school; Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson; O.S. Hawkins, president of GuideStone Financial Resources; and Stephen Smith and Calvin Pearson, both professors of preaching at Southwestern.

Brunson said it is essential that a pastor learn to “sail against the wind,” or in other words, turn “your face against the opposition.”

“Don’t focus on the adversity; don’t focus on the opposition,” he said. “Turn and focus on what Christ has called you to, and the wind of His spirit will fill your sails and push you forward.”

Brunson led attendees through passages in Acts, especially chapter 27, outlining how Christians should accomplish what God wants his children to accomplish, even in the midst of adversity.

Confessing that 2004 was the most difficult year of his ministry, Brunson told workshop attendees that it was during that time that he turned to the shelter that God provided through a Christian brother. “We need to understand God has given us each other,” he said. “We need each other. That’s why he paired the disciples up two-by-two.”

            Brunson said Christians must learn to utilize “unseen currents” that God provides. He pointed out that Luke mentions “a couple of times” in Acts that “they sailed along the shoreline.” Brunson noted that shoreline currents flow counterclockwise so that even in a contrary wind, the currents still move the ship forward.

“The sun powers currents that move you against contrary winds,” he said. “In the midst of your difficulty and struggles, God can move your life forward.”

He recalled the difficult decisions that were involved as he sought God’s will on whether to leave First Baptist Dallas for the pastorate of First Baptist Jacksonville. During that time, Brunson said he took advantage of “the shelters God provided” for him in a close friend who prayed with him and labored over the decision with him.

“You need to take advantage of the shelters God sends your way,” he said. “A conference like this is a time to take advantage of something like that.”

Vines was also at the conference to model expository preaching. At a time when people are trying to put God into a theological box, using pat answers and formulas to explain His ways, Vines said Job 19:19-26 showed that God will always be bigger than any man’s system.

Vines focused on God’s presence throughout Job’s life, noting that “God already knows the things that go on in our lives and He always writes the final chapter. There is nothing we go through that God does not know about.”

Vines pointed out that between the beginning and end of what the Bible records of Job’s life, a dialogue took place between Job and his friends.

“Things were fine as long as [his friends] came to sympathize, but the problem began when they stayed to sermonize,” Vines said. “[His friends] had a neat little formula they used: ‘all suffering is due to sin. Job is suffering. Therefore, Job is a sinner.’”

Like Job’s friends, so many people today elevate “their formulas” to levels of faith and try to cause others to believe the same, Vines said. “God wouldn’t fit into the system of Job’s friends and he won’t fit into your little Arminian box and he won’t fit into your little Calvinism box,” Vines said. “God is bigger than any system the mind of man can devise.”

After hearing from his friends, Job heard from God, who asked him three basic questions.

“God asked Job:  ‘Who created the universe?’ ‘Who controls the universe?’ and Who understands the universe?” Vines said. “When it was all said and done, the Lord was basically saying to him, ‘If you can’t understand things on a physical level, how can you ever expect to understand things on a spiritual level? You just trust me.’”

Vines said Job finally rose from his ashes of despair as a “spiritual Phoenix,” and Christians going through the difficulties of life should draw strength from what God subsequently reveals to Job.

“Job gets a look at his personal redemption when he says, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives,’” Vines said. “Then he understands his literal resurrection. Job knows his flesh will die, his skin will be destroyed; but, the Lord will stand upon the earth in the latter days. Finally, Job understands supernal recognition when he says, ‘In my flesh I will see God.’”

Vines concluded his sermon by sharing what he said were the “sweetest words” in the Bible.

“The two sweetest words are ‘Jesus wept,’” Vines said. “The three sweetest words are, ‘God is love.’ The four sweetest words are, ‘Christ died for us.’ But to me the five sweetest words in the Bible are, ‘They shall see His face.”