Partners in the Harvest
April has come. It is a good month. We associate April with a couple of things in our culture: Spending and saving. We talk about saving daylight. Today is the first day of daylight savings time. We also come to April and talk about spending dollars. I know that you know April 15th is just around the corner. If you are like I am, you are having to fiddle with that. It is always a problem for me to think about taxes. In fact, I wrote the Internal Revenue Service last year and asked them to cancel my account. I told them that I couldn’t afford their service any longer. They do things to try to help you in paying your taxes. They’ve got a new 1040 form made out of Kleenex. That’s for you who have to pay through the nose. Or maybe you are using the new form 1040 EZ. Have you seen that? The 1040 EZ--to make it easy to do your income taxes. It just has two steps. Step one, write in the amount you earned last year. Step two, send it in.
Spending and saving. There is one other thing that April means for Southern Baptists and it has to do with spending and saving. We’re going to talk about spending dollars, and (not saving daylight) saving souls. I am the vice president for the Cooperative Program for Southern Baptists and I am thankful to have that position. I am a beneficiary of the Cooperative Program. The church where I came to know the Lord was a mission church that had been sponsored through cooperative efforts of Southern Baptists, and so the gospel got to me because of this kind of cooperative effort, this partnership among our people. Also, when I sensed the call of God on my life and began to seek to be educated, I was able to go both to college and to seminary because of the generosity of Baptist people through the Cooperative Program. So I am glad to have the opportunity now to be a spokesman for the Cooperative Program.
I want to help you make that connection between the dollars and the souls. That’s what the Cooperative Program is. It makes the connection between the dollars, the resources that you give through your church, and the souls that are saved here and around the world. Some people miss that. They only get one end of that equation. They hear you talking about the dollars and they say, “Oh you’re just talking about money. Why do I have to hear about money when I go to church?” They don’t see the end. They just see the means. Other people like to talk about the end, the result. They want to see souls saved. They like that. They think about the harvest, but they don’t understand that it takes the means. The means are our praying and our commitment and the giving of our resources.
What is the Cooperative Program? It’s been around seventy-eight years now in Southern Baptist Life. The Cooperative Program is that way in which Southern Baptists respond with their energy, their resources, their giving, and their praying so that the ends of the earth can be reached with the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is a good time to talk about dollars and souls. Three years ago, in the year 2000, we had the 75th Anniversary of the Cooperative Program and you may recall we came up with a title, “Partners in the Harvest,” for the national campaign theme. We thought that was apt because it talks about our task, which is the harvest, and it talks about our methodology, which is partnering. That’s the genius of this. We believe it has a Biblical basis. Our text for our campaign was our text for this morning. In Matthew 9, where the Lord Jesus Himself talks about the task and gives us the understanding of what is involved in being partners in the harvest. We are partners with God and we are partners with each other in the greatest assignment in the history of the universe. Let’s see what the Lord has to say as He describes this task for us.
I want to tell you something, in the day in which we live, in the 21st Century; the words that Jesus spoke 2,000 years ago have never been truer than they are today. When we started this new millennium, the earth had a population of 6 billion people. It is reported that half of the people who have ever lived in human history, are alive today. They are everywhere. People are everywhere. This planet is covered up with folks and they are hurting. We know that more than any other generation. You checked before you came in this morning, didn’t you? You turned on CNN or Fox News to see how the war is going. Real time—we are right there. They take their little telephones and point them out there at what is going on with the tanks and battle. Real time. If it happens in the world, we see it: In Iraq, in Africa, in Ireland, in the Philippines. People are hurting all over the world. There’s no such thing anymore as a remote place on earth. It can’t be remote anymore. We are there seeing what is happening to people and we become connected with them. It is not just some group, some mass without faces and names. We’re right there. We meet the Iraqi lawyer who risked his life so that one of our soldiers could be saved. They become real. Little children that are just looking for some help, and would like to have a safe place to live and would like to have some sanity in their existence. They are everywhere and they are hurting.
And they are ready. Charles Spurgeon, the pastor in London from the 1800s, has a wonderful sermon on this text. If you don’t like this one, get Spurgeon’s and read his. It is great. It is entitled, “Harvest Men Wanted.” He says in the sermon that he believes there has never been a time when people have been dull to the Gospel. They are ready. They are ready, no excuses. They are ready to hear it. The Lord identifies the problem—the magnitude of the lost.
II. Then He institutes the plan -the mobilization of the laborers. That is where I want to spend some time: talking to you about the Cooperative Program. Jesus instituted the plan. He said, “The laborers are few.” As Jesus thought about the harvest, He thought, “We’ve got to take these laborers we have and we’ve got to marshal them. We’ve got to get them organized. We’ve got to mobilize them and put them out into this harvest.” In Matthew 16, Jesus established the church and empowered His church and gave them the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. In Acts 1:8 Jesus organized His church. As He was ascending back into heaven, He gave the battle plan. It was going to start in Jerusalem and then into Judea and Samaria and then to the uttermost parts of the earth. It was going to go out. Jesus saw His church as being this ever moving, ever expanding, relentless, marching army of evangelists until they reached the whole ends of the earth. It was going to be organized. Jesus wasn’t suggesting that His disciples run out into the harvest field, in some kind of irrational approach. He saw it being organized and expanding and going until every part of the earth and every people were touched with the Gospel. That is how He intended for it to be done. He gave us the marching orders.
Back in the 1920s an amazing thing happened in the southwestern part of the United States. You may have driven out there, outside of Las Vegas, between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon and seen the Hoover Dam; damming up the Colorado River, forming Lake Mead behind it. That was quite an ambitious project when it started in the 1920s. People didn’t think it could be done, but something had to be done. For over two decades, they had been trying to solve the agricultural as well as the power problems out in that part of the United States. The Colorado River at sometimes was overflowing its banks and rushing through and sending water everywhere. At other times, it was dried up to a trickle. The farmers couldn’t depend on it. They would have a drought. Then they would have a flood. There was nothing that they could do. There was great potential there, but it couldn’t be utilized. So people finally got together, got through all the red tape, got through all the intergovernmental fighting, got the financing, and finally started building. In 1935 they dedicated the Boulder Dam (changed back later to the Hoover Dam), a magnificent feat of modern ingenuity and modern effort and modern cooperation. Lake Mead contains enough water to cover the state of Connecticut to the depth of eight feet, and for all these years (68 years now) it has been producing water in a systematic way that has built the agricultural industry in the southwest United States. It has provided the water and a hydroelectric power for Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and that whole area has been developed. Within 50 years of its opening in 1935, it paid for itself—the 108 million dollar cost, simply by selling the power to those growing cities.
The Cooperative Program is the Southern Baptists’ Hoover Dam. We had a situation that developed. You know that we are over 150 years old and when the Southern Baptist Convention was founded, the dream was that it would be a way to elicit and combine and direct the energies of the Baptist denomination in America to reach the world with the Gospel, to propagate the Gospel. The problem is that it was a great dream, but they didn’t have any mechanism to make it a reality. So everyone did their own thing. If this school needed some funds, it would send a fundraiser around to the churches saying that they needed money for the school. Then missionaries would come and they would say that they need money for foreign missions and then the home missionaries would come and say we need money for domestic missions. Then the people from the orphanage would come. Then the Baptist colleges would come. And on and on and on it would go. We had this spasmodic funding mechanism.
There was uneven distribution of money, and besides that, up to half of the proceeds that were given for this denomination work were used to support the fundraisers. After all, they had to work and feed their families, too. It was a system that was not working. In addition, it was driving the churches crazy. Sunday after Sunday there would be another guy in his dark suit with his hand out. The pastors were being limited in their own pulpit time. Finally the churches said there has got to be a better way. Certainly the Lord means for this to be done differently. Out of this time of crisis and out of this great need, a plan was devised. The Cooperative Program was adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in Memphis in 1925. (There was a precursor plan called the 75 Million Campaign. You can read about that in our history). Instead of all these special appeals, the churches would just give regularly out of their budgets. It was during this time churches learned how to do budgets. Churches learned how to do stewardship. That was the beginning of the every member canvas and people making commitments to be tithers in their churches. It was a great benefit to the local church. Furthermore, Southern Baptists grew up to the potential that God had given them and grew up to the dream that their ancestors had when the denomination was formed in 1845. They were going to have a way to really do what God had called them to do and the Cooperative Program was that tool.
Now churches can give through their budgets regularly every month and that money is given through their state convention. The Baptist State Convention keeps a portion of those proceeds (about 65% on average) for their state ministries and sends the balance to the Southern Baptist Convention to cover an array of ministries. Since 1925, there has been a way to take care of the business that God had called Southern Baptists to do.
What have been the results? The first year in 1925 hit in the middle of agricultural depression. Southern Baptists were agrarian people so the income that year was 4 million dollars. Our income last year, just finishing last December 31st was just over 500 million dollars that churches gave to cooperatively fund what God has called us to do.
What is that money doing? In the Southern Baptist Convention, you are supporting today over 5,000 full time missionaries who are all over the world in over 150 different countries and ministering to over 1,200 different people groups. They are preaching the Gospel and you’re praying for them and you are supporting them through the Cooperative Program. Last year, over 5,700 churches were started overseas through the work of your international missionaries. Over 400,000 people were baptized after receiving the Gospel. You are a partner in that.
Our North American Mission Board sends out and has stationed all over the 50 United States and in some of our territories, over 5,000 missionaries who do all kinds of work in poor areas, in inner city ministries, resort ministries, and church planting. Through the efforts of the North American Mission Board missionaries, over 1,700 brand new churches were started in the United States last year alone. You are having a part in that--planting Gospel churches all over this land where they need to be planted in every state--in our new work areas as well as in the old established areas where the population is shifting.
In your six Southern Baptist seminaries, there are over 13,000 different individuals understanding God’s call on their lives, who are being prepared for the mission field, for the local church ministry, or for service in other Baptist ministries. They are training the generation that God is calling to reach this next century with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and you make that possible. Our seminary students are able to go and finish their education and go plant churches out in some area where Christianity is not established, where Baptists are certainly not popular, because they don’t carry a great education debt with them because you have paid the bill for them to be educated, trained, and prepared to be in ministry.
I could go on and on and on telling you about these wonderful, wonderful things. We are partners in the harvest. The Tennessee Baptist Convention provides student ministries at colleges all over the state. It provides scholarship support for the three Baptist colleges here in Tennessee. It provides the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home and communications and divisions helping to strengthen the churches through Sunday School and in evangelism and in childcare, and on and on and on the list goes. You make it possible. While you are working your good work locally you are thinking about that rest of the world, outside your Jerusalem, and into your Judea and into your Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth through the Cooperative Program. It is your vehicle. That is why we say that the Cooperative Program is your passport to missions. That is your delivery vehicle. You make it happen. I want to encourage you to keep that happening. Don’t let anybody talk you out of supporting the Cooperative Program or begin to think that we can do it a better way.
Let me give you four things quickly about why the Cooperative Program is a superior system for reaching the world with the Gospel. It doesn’t mean that it is the only way to do it, but let me tell you why I believe it is effective and a gift from God. It may be the most effective, efficient, far-reaching, consistent, missionary funding enterprise in the history of Christian denomination. If you think that is an over statement, we challenge you to compare what’s done through this method and this means with anything else happening.
I am going to give you 4 C’s.
First of all, the Cooperative Program is coherent, rather than chaotic. It is coherent. There is a plan. We are intending to do something. We are not just running out into the harvest fields and whacking away with a sickle. There is a plan. There is a strategy behind this. It’s thought out. It’s prayed through. We’re intending to reach in every way and everywhere that we can.
Secondly, it’s constant rather than spasmodic. Dr. Jerry Rankin, president of our International Mission Board says that he sits with his peers in Evangelical Missions about once a year in meetings and they pray for each other and share what is going on. He says those other groups often bemoan the fact that swings in the economy are causing their missionaries to have to come home because they do not have the stream of support that they need. They have to come home and stay a year or so to try to get people to re-up their commitment. They must raise new financial support, and then maybe they are able to go back. A lot of times they cannot. Their missionary forces are shrinking at a time when the population is burgeoning. Dr. Rankin says he tries not to say much because he doesn’t want to appear to be bragging, but he thanks God for the Cooperative Program because it is a constant stream of support. It’s not the flood and then the drought. Year in, year out, from the churches to the conventions to the mission boards, missionaries are supported. They don’t have to come home and spend half of their time trying to get you to make a commitment. Southern Baptists as a group partner together and they have that strength, that constant support for missions.
Then it’s also comprehensive, rather than isolated. We reach to the entire globe. We have missiologists who have the task of strategizing on how we reach into the parts of the world that have not yet been reached. They are leading us to it. You ought to thank God for them and pray for them. They are doing great work. They really intend to follow the Great Commission. Dr. Rankin says, “The Lord didn’t say, ‘Go into all the world where they will let you come.’ He said, ‘Go into all the world’ and that is what we are intending to do.” We have a comprehensive approach, reaching everywhere.
Let me say something to you about the great popularity of mission trips. Overseas mission trips are great things. I have been on half a dozen myself and hope the Lord will let me go on some more. I like going, getting right out there with the people, meeting them, and sharing the Gospel. I come back blessed and inspired. They have a great benefit and those of you who have been on those and are going on them, continue to do so. But remember, the local church partnership mission trip is not a substitute for the Cooperative Program. It’s a supplement to it. It is built on the foundation of it. Don’t let mission trips replace the Cooperative Program in your aim and in your methodology and in your resources.
Then we find also that it is cooperative rather than competitive. The Cooperative Program lets us work together. It reminds us that we can do more together than we can do separately. It generates synergy, which means to work together, which is the same as cooperation. We get more done when we work together than when we work independently or competitively and try to do it by ourselves. There’s been a spate of robberies in the past few years since the popularity of the automatic teller machines. Certain crooks have realized that they can hijack a car and force the passengers to go to an ATM and make them withdraw money from their account and give it to the thief. I read about a would-be crook in Illinois who didn’t seem to get it right. He hijacked a person, got in the car and forced the driver to take him to two different ATMs where the crook proceeded to withdraw money from his own account. He’s got to fine-tune his criminal activity a little, don’t you think? Let me tell you something. When Southern Baptists neglect the Cooperative Program they are stealing from their own account. It is robbing you from doing exactly what God has called you to do. Don’t cripple yourself. The Cooperative Program keeps Southern Baptists from being crippled in our missionary enterprise. It is that which keeps us focused on the Great Commission. Jesus institutes the plan, the mobilization of the laborers. Let me finish with this—
III. He issues the plea- the mandate of the Lord. Ask the Lord of the Harvest to send the workers into the harvest. It comes down to that doesn’t it? It finally gets personal. What are you going to do about it? Those that first heard this plea, asking the Lord to send forth laborers, ended up going themselves and they went to their deaths serving the Lord. Peter was crucified. Andrew was crucified. James was beheaded. John was exiled. All the apostles went to the far reaches of the known world spreading the Gospel at the cost of their lives. We are sensitive right now about the ultimate sacrifice for things that count--things worth dying for. We pray for our men and women, our soldiers who are in harm’s way, and for their families. You know that we are losing our missionaries, too. It is a dangerous world. Missionary Bill Hyde from Iowa was killed in the Philippines a few weeks ago. He was there to pick up other missionaries to come and do work in that place and he lost his life in the terrorist bombing. Three doctors and hospital administrators in Yemen, at the first of the year, lost their lives in an attack at the hospital while they were trying to share the Gospel and minister to people’s needs. All over the world our missionaries are in harm’s way. All over the nations they are doing hard work. All over our denomination they are sacrificing. The call comes to us to pray that God will send more into the harvest field. So what is your response going to be? Certainly, it is to pray. Certainly, we can do that. Jesus said, “Ask the Lord.” Certainly we can do that. Let’s pray. Pray that God will mobilize a whole new generation. Pray that God will unleash the call onto the world of the Gospel. Now that may be your children or your grandchildren. Are you willing to pray for God to call them and to send them, your own kin, into dangerous places? By the way, this new generation is up to it. They are heroic. They are ready to go. They want something really worth living for and that usually has to be something worth dying for. They find a purpose in the Gospel. It may be you who has to answer the call and get ready to go. There are no remote places anymore. You can get there and you can communicate and you can share the Gospel. Then, certainly, we can give. What a shame it would be if we locked up God’s resources or frittered them away in an indiscriminate way rather than focusing them and directing them to the task that is on His heart and ought to be on our hearts. Let’s make it so.
||First of all, He identifies the problem —the magnitude of the lost. Jesus was going about doing His ministry and He began to be overwhelmed. The Lord of the Universe, the one who had made the universe and cast the stars and the planets into place, was being overwhelmed by the crowds. He saw the crowds and the multitudes. One translation says, “He saw the people.” They were everywhere. They were coming out of the woodwork. They were all around Him and He was moved with compassion because they were harassed and helpless. The text mentions sheep without a shepherd. The word harassed could refer to being devoured by the wolves. They were bleeding. They had been cut open. The enemy had attacked them and they were coming for help to have their wounds bound up before they died. Jesus looked around and He was moved with compassion and He said, “The harvest truly is plentiful.” The harvest—notice He said the word harvest. It is something that needs to be reaped. It’s there. It is for the taking. In a companion passage to this in John 4, the same idea is used when Jesus says to His disciples, “ The harvest is ripe.” It is ready. Don’t say in four months. Don’t say next year. Don’t say in another decade. Don’t say when things get better. Right now the harvest is ready. Look at what Jesus says about this task. He identifies the problem—the magnitude of the lost. They are everywhere. They are hurting. They are ready. |
There was an official of the Canadian railroad who was hunting up in Canada in the winter and got separated from his party and was just about to freeze to death. He realized that he was lost, but he thought “if I go in this direction for a little while, I believe I will cross some of our company’s tracks and I can follow the tracks to the station house and get some help.” Sure enough he managed to find his way to the railroad tracks and follow them down for a couple of miles and found the station house. He went inside, but there was no fire in the stove in the waiting room. It was just about as cold there as it was outdoors. So he marched up to the lone telegrapher behind the window and said, “ How come there’s not a fire out here in this waiting room?” The telegrapher didn’t know he was an official of his company. He said, “Look mister, I’m too busy sending telegrams to build fires.” So the man grabbed a pad and wrote out an order to the home office to fire this telegrapher and send his replacement immediately. He signed his name as the official and said, “Here send this.” Within a few seconds, the telegrapher came out from behind his cage with an armful of coal and kindling and began to start a fire. The official said to him, “Did you send that telegram?” He replied, “Look mister, I’m too busy building fires to send telegrams.”
I want to challenge you to build a fire, to set aside whatever else you are doing to build a fire for the Gospel, to be a partner in the harvest. One of the ways that you can do that is through your praying. Another way is your going. A great way is by your giving through the Cooperative Program.
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