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FIRST-PERSON: Thank you, Southern Baptists for giving

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–I commend Ed Litton, pastor, First Baptist Church North Mobile, Ala. and president, SBC Pastors’ Conference, for his call to Southern Baptists to be fishers of men. I believe Ed has put out a national call (http://www.bpnews.net/BPFirstPerson.asp?ID=30496) to all Southern Baptists to be unified in this endeavor. I like the analogy of going fishing to describe, in a visual way, the Cooperative Program (CP). The church has the rod in hand, the hook is the Word of God, the line that enables the rod and the hook to work together in a unified way is the Cooperative Program, and the Holy Spirit is in charge of it all! The only time the Cooperative Program doesn’t work is when man inserts himself in the middle of it — separate and apart from the Holy Spirit.

Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is to love. Jesus said to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Do you notice that loving God with all of your heart is mentioned first? In Proverbs, God teaches us to trust Him with all of our heart, and we are taught, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” The solution to a downturn of giving in a church isn’t through the wallet, but through the heart. I contend that the solution to the convention’s steady decline in baptisms is found in the same place. The call for the Great Commission to be lived out in the local church is a call to first examine the heart. We have a heart disease, not an economic problem.

The Cooperative Program is Southern Baptists’ demonstration of the love expressed by Jesus in John 13:34-35: “A new commandment I give you: Love one another as I have loved you, so you must also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Love is and should be our focus. That is why most all CP promotional material produced by the Executive Committee (EC) has Love in Action as a major theme. The Cooperative Program is all about fishing for the lost. We should be doing more fishing in more ways, we should be consumed with fishing for a lost world, and we should ramp up our efforts. We do that through the Cooperative Program. While there are many fishing tools available for Southern Baptists to use, none have the Kingdom impact and are as effective and as efficient as CP. If you examine our promotional material, you will be hard-pressed to find money as a focus. What you will find are examples of the fruit produced through our cooperating ministries by putting Love in Action.

Has the Cooperative Program been impacted by the declining economy? Of course it has, but not in the way that some seem to believe. The following list provides a summary of total gifts, undesignated receipts and total CP giving over the past 10 years in the convention (the list’s data is as reported through the Annual church profile):

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As you can see, Total Gifts and Undesignated Receipts have increased every year. In 2008, U.S. financial markets were in a nosedive, but faithful Southern Baptists gave $300 million more in undesignated gifts than they gave in the previous year. And with a couple of very minor exceptions, CP giving by the churches in the SBC also has increased, particularly in each of the past five years.

In Mathew 6:21 and 24, Jesus teaches us a lot about money and wealth. In verse 21, He tells us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” and in verse 24, Jesus teaches that it is possible for a Christian to serve money, but you cannot serve both God and money. Sometimes I will end my study of these lessons on money with verse 24, but the bigger lesson from these Scriptures begins in the 25th verse where Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” And in verses 26 and 27, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Giving — both through the tithe and beyond — reflects the condition of one’s heart.

Instead of creating alarm, anxiety and worry, we should all rejoice that God’s people in our Southern Baptist churches have remained faithful in giving. Hallelujah!
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Bob Rodgers is vice president for Cooperative Program and stewardship with the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention.