God Has Promised to Sustain the Righteous, Luter Tells EC
by Diana Chandler
The Southern Baptist Convention will encounter affliction as it serves the Lord, but will complete its God-given mission because of the Lord's promises, Luter said in his presidential address to the SBC Executive Committee February 17 in Nashville.
Using Psalm 34:19 as a text, referencing the Old Testament's Job and adding humor with the fictional James Bond, Luter said the Lord not only brings tribulation to the righteous, but successfully brings the righteous through those same troubles.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous, the Scripture reads, but the Lord delivers him out of them all (NKJV).
"One of my favorite James Bond movies of all time was 'Goldfinger.' The guy had James Bond on this saw, and James Bond was about to get killed . . . And some way, somehow, [Bond] turned his watch, and his watch becomes a laser, and stopped the saw. And I said 'How does he do that?'
"I finally found out how James Bond was able to get out of all that stuff," Luter said, referencing a History Channel special on the making of James Bond movies. "You know how? It was written in the script that way.
"Southern Baptist Convention, the reason we're going to make it in carrying out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment—it's in the Script," he said. "It's In The Script!"
The biblical script promises us deliverance from tribulation, Luter said.
"Your affliction is temporary . . . It's only a trial. It is the other side of ministry," Luter said. "But always remember, if God brings you to it, He will bring you through it."
In his expository sermon titled "The Other Side of Ministry," Luter referenced David's plight in Psalm 34.
"[David] is praising God. He's glorifying God. He's giving God all the glory, all the praise, all the honor. But just a few verses later, David is singing a different tune," Luter said. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous. Brothers and sisters, such is the case of many of us, whether we want to admit it or not.
"So the question I want to ask tonight as I stand before you the last time [as SBC president] here in Nashville, Tennessee, 'How do we cope with that? . . . How do we as church leaders handle the other side?'"
Luter offered answers from the life of Job.
"In one day Job lost his health, his wealth, and his family. All of us one day, if we keep living, will face the other side of ministry. Listen, just because you're born again, you're not exempt from affliction," Luter said.
"What in the world did Job do to deserve what he got? Job had no idea that he was being picked out to be picked on. God said, 'Have you considered my servant Job?' The devil never asked for Job. God recommended Job."
Luter referenced a few saints God did not recommend, such as Moses, who committed murder; Noah, who got drunk; David, who committed adultery; and Solomon, who lived as a philanderer.
"If God suggested Job," Luter said, "God knew Job would stand the test.
"The reason you can handle the other side of ministry is because of the promise to the afflicted. The last part of verse 19 says many are the afflictions of the righteous," Luter quoted, "but!, but!, but the Lord delivers them out of them all!
"Ladies and gentlemen, sometimes we go through things that don't make sense . . . I don't know why I'm going through what I'm going through; but this one thing I know, I know that my redeemer liveth, and He shall stand at the latter day," Luter said, referencing Job 19:25.
The sermon was Luter's last presidential address scheduled for Nashville. He thanked those present for their support during his two presidential terms.
"I just want you to know that I've done all that I possibly can to represent my family, to represent my home church, to represent New Orleans, to represent the state of Louisiana, . . . to represent the Southern Baptist Convention, but most of all to represent God," Luter said.
Luter said he visited an SBC church every week of his presidency, except during his ministry visits to such places as Ethiopia, Uganda, and Israel.
". . . I'm hopeful for all the churches in this convention," he said. "All of them have the opportunity to grow, to be the churches that God desires for us to be, the Great Commission churches that God desires and designs for us to be."
Luter encouraged those present to persevere in ministry.
"Ministry is not easy. Ministry is difficult sometimes, and as a result of that many people just want to throw in the towel; they want to give up," he said. "And so I just want to . . . encourage those of you who are on the Executive Committee and staff, our entity heads, our seminary presidents, our spouses in particular, and all of those who work with ministry, just a word of encouragement to you tonight."
Page Hopeful for Cooperative Program Uptick
by Shawn Hendricks
Southern Baptists face "challenging days" with Cooperative Program giving, Frank S. Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, told committee members in Nashville, voicing hope for an upswing in giving.
While sharing his passion for CP and its role in supporting missions and ministry around the globe, Page said the momentum for the "1% CP Challenge" continues to grow for churches to increase CP giving by one percentage point of their budgets.
"I have written personal letters to almost 3,000 pastors thanking them for their involvement" in the 1% CP Challenge, Page said February 17. "Our state executives are saying, 'Frank, please don't stop. Our people are just starting to get it . . . ' We won't stop.
"It is my passion that fuels my heart belief in this," Page said. "I supported this before I was paid to support this. As a pastor I strongly supported over 10 percent of our church's undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program."
Giving through CP is the best way to "concurrently, consistently and, yes, completely fulfill Acts 1:8 as a church body," he added. "Through that, you're involved in missions and ministries all over the world, all the time."
Despite increased charitable giving in other settings, Page reported, CP giving has continued a slow but steady decline through the years. In the last five years alone, CP gifts forwarded by churches have dropped 11 percent.
"In 1982, the average Southern Baptist church forwarded on 10.7 percent of its undesignated receipts to the Cooperative Program," Page said. "But in 2012 it was down to 5.41 percent. It's pretty much declined two-tenths of a percent every year."
One potential bright spot, Page said, is that the current 5.41 percent has held since 2012, a possible indicator the CP Challenge is beginning to resonate with more churches.
"We pray [the decrease has] ceased and will now tick back up," Page said."That's our hope and prayer."
While CP giving numbers among churches have decreased, Page said state giving percentages have risen.
The average percentage of CP gifts forwarded to SBC causes from state conventions has gone from 34.7 percent in 2001 to 38.2 percent according to the latest figures. But because the percentages of CP giving from the churches has decreased, the dollar amount of $183 million received by the SBC in 2013 is near the 2004 level of $182 million.
State conventions also are streamlining staff. From 2000 to 2013, thirty-three state conventions reported staff has dropped from 1,750 to 1,350, Page reported. Some conventions are becoming "extremely focused" to better meet the needs of churches, he added.
"Now some of them say we didn't have a choice; we had to—the money quit coming in," Page said. "But some have done this purposefully. . . . State conventions are trying to do that which they believe their churches are calling for and that's to send more to the national level so that we might touch this lost world for Christ," Page said.
While giving patterns and trends continue to fluctuate, Page said he will remain firm on his commitment to promoting the Cooperative Program.
"I know that church giving is different these days but I will not back away from what I believe is the best Acts 1:8 strategy that [Southern Baptists] ever had," he said. ". . . I will tell you I'm excited about the unity that we've had in this body by the Spirit, a passion for reaching this world for Christ and I'm excited about it."