Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Loss of Discipleship, the Abandonment of the Church and the Breakdown of the Family

By Canonreflex (Own work) [CC BY 3.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior.  Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself.  After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--for we are members of His body. 

"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."  This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church.  However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
           --Ephesians 5:21-33 (NIV)

I, and many other ministers, use the above passage for premarital and marital counseling (and we should).  However, I believe that this passage of Scripture is key to the current dilemma that we are facing within the church and culture today.

To properly dissect this passage, we have to keep to its original meaning and extrapolate from there.  Paul makes it very clear that this was written to represent the profound mystery of the relationship between Christ and the church that is mirrored in marriage, not the other way around (v.32). 

Beginning with Christ

Christ's role was to love the Church, as His bride, by making her holy (set apart from the world) and blameless through giving Himself up for her (by His death), the washing of water (baptism) and through the Word. 

The Church's responsibility is to submit to Him in everything because of His great love for us demonstrated on the cross.  We hear those same commands echoed by Jesus in His command to make disciples in the Great Commission found at the end of Matthew.

Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
           --Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)

We make disciples by going and telling about Christ's sacrifice, baptizing those who confess His name and teaching them to be obedient to everything He commanded.  This is our primary responsibility as followers in Christ.

However, over time, we have been slowly lulled into the idea that Christ's mission for us to be disciples and make disciples is something we do, if we have time for it.  I used to have an old T-shirt with a saying on it that summed up this mentality well:  "When all else fails, read the instructions" with a picture of a Bible underneath.  So we treat our sports teams, our education, our hobbies, our entertainment, our relationships with unbelievers, our careers, our politics and our families as primary importance forgetting that we are supposed to start with Christ so that He may put all of these relationships in their proper place and perspective.

The Authority of the Church

The Church's role in its relationship with Christ is one of loving obedience in everything.  We obey because we love Christ, not to earn His love.  And yet, according to Jesus Himself, we will only obey if we love Him and our disobedience is proof that we truly don't love Him (see John 14:15-24). 

While we will never be perfected in this lifetime as we struggle with sin, God has called us together into community.  This community is bound together by their commitment to Christ above all.  Each has their unique gifting to be worked out among the brethren (see 1 Cor. 12 & Rom. 12).  However, it is through this brotherhood of believers where God has ordained us to grow into maturity (see Eph. 4).  For those who endure, it is a messy process to be sure.  I've certainly made my fair share of the messes that needed to be cleaned up by Jesus and endured by my fellow Christ-followers.  However, according to His Word, it is the only way for us to grow into a vibrant maturing faith.

Within the church Jesus has established, He has placed a role of hierarchy for the sake of His people's pursuit of Him.  We are taught obedience to our spiritual leaders (Heb. 13:17) and encouraged to respect the discipline given by them so long as it is in accordance with the Word of God and the testimony of Christ (see Mat. 18:15-17; Hebrews 12:1-11; Acts 4:19-20; 1 John 4:1-6).

While this may seem like Bible 101, it is at this very point that the critical error of our church culture has taken place.  Remember, according to the passage in Ephesians, the Scripture is written about Christ and His Church first...and then the reflection of marriage and the family.

Think about this for a minute.  The authority of the Church was considered so great that it naturally strengthened the institutions God created, but it also never lost sight of the main objective of beginning with Christ in all things.  This is how Paul could counsel the people of Corinth to separate from their spouses, if the unbelieving partner wished to leave (1 Cor. 7:14-15) and how he demanded orderliness in a leader's household, if he wanted to lead the Church of God (1 Tim. 3:1-7). 
So great was our bond and commitment to God and one another supposed to be that when the world looked at us, they would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another, despite all of our issues (see John 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 13).

However, in the Christian culture today in America, it has become commonplace to ignore the authority the Church is supposed to have.  As a matter of fact, the whole gathering together of believers has become optional to a whole generation of Christians who have seen the shortcomings and faults of those in every area of the Church and simply assumed that the hypocrisy that they saw or thought they saw was enough reason to be disobedient to Christ in this one area and somehow come out better in all the others this one area touched (Heb. 10:24-25).

There was a time where pastors and ministers were thought of highly and their opinion and direction was sought in every area of life before decisions were made.  Now pastors and ministers are lucky if people come in before everything falls apart.  Instead of being sought after first, the Church is often a place of last resort.  Paul considered those who ministered via preaching and teaching worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17).  But there has been an erosion of that respect by a culture that wishes to frame all Biblical counsel that does not affirm whatever lifestyle choice they are making as worthy of being dismissed out of hand and the counselor intolerant.  Now a mere offense from the pulpit or a youth ministry or children's church not flashy enough has people proclaiming the name of Christ running for the exit doors in hopes to find another church to fill their need.  Many others simply treat the counsel and teaching as a buffet meal, picking and choosing that which they wish to listen to and discarding whatever doesn't suit them at the moment.

Something tells me that this isn't what Jesus intended.

The Fallout

There is a connection between the regard one has for Christ and His Church and the relationships that He has established.  According to the Ephesians passage above, our marriage relationship is based on Christ's relationship to His Bride, the Church...not the other way around.  So when we as a Christian culture have so abused this sacred relationship between Christ and His Church, we will see the fallout in the relationships created by God to mirror it. 

Only when we bring back the proper placement of the respect and obedience of Christ's commands and a true love for His Church and the authority He established it to possess, will we begin to see the effects of this fallout start to fade.

I pray it happens soon.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Are You "All In" or Hedging Your Bets?

By John D. (Clemson University (Public), Flickr)
[CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)],
 via Wikimedia Commons
I would like to tell you a story.  But to do it, I am going to ask that you read all the way to the end, because it might not be what you think it is from the opening paragraphs.

Now it is no secret that I am a Clemson fan.  So to say that I am elated over their 2016 National Championship is probably a serious understatement.

For fun, I play Bowl Pick'em (where you choose the winners of each of the 41 college football bowl games) and try to get the most points to win the competition.  Each year I create two separate accounts.  With one account, I play against the people of my church.  With the other account, I play against my family.

Not to brag or anything, but I destroyed my church family (man that sounds bad...maybe I am bragging a little bit).  However, by the time the championship game came around, I had already won the competition.

Now I tried to pick the exact same picks for both accounts.  But a strange thing happened along the way and I missed a couple more games on my family picks, making the championship game the deciding game between me and my Dad.

As we were speaking to one another the week before the championship game, my Dad mentioned how he still had a chance to catch me on the final game.   I knew that in order for him to catch me, he would have to choose Alabama to win the game (I had the lead going into the championship game).

So I decided to play a little psychological warfare with him.  I told him that I could just be shrewd and choose Alabama for the title game, making it impossible for him to catch me.  His response to me was that I would never do that.  We laughed about it, carried on with our conversation and looked forward to a good game.

However, the little psychological warfare game I decided to play backfired.  Over the following days, I would find myself thinking about my choice for National Champion on my way to work and wondering if I shouldn't choose Alabama, just to ensure that I would win the game.  But every time that thought came into my mind, I was convicted over the fact that choosing Alabama, in any capacity would be choosing against my Clemson Tigers, a team I have been following for over 35 years.

There was a simple decision to be made, and I had made it all the harder with my "innocent" little statement to my Dad.  After days of deliberation, I came to the conclusion that my Dad (and probably everyone who has ever known me) knew I would come to:  I would choose Clemson no matter if it cost me the family title or not.  I would rather lose knowing that I was unwavering in my faith in my team, than gain a cheap victory by compromising my convictions.  But I'd be lying if I told you that the temptation to "hedge my bets" and gain a lesser victory didn't seem attractive at the time.

Yet it is that little dilemma that so powerfully demonstrates the temptations that we face as Christians to throw off our unwavering commitment for Christ for something that seems like a convenient (fleshly) victory.  We speak about how we have known Jesus and been committed to following Him for "X" years.  But then an "innocent" suggestion pops into our mind or is placed into our mind by another.  What seemed unthinkable grows in our minds the longer we entertain the thought.  We even mistakenly begin to believe that somehow that which God despises can be something He is okay with in our case.  "It isn't the best, but it isn't the worst either," we think.  Or something that God commands is something we can treat as a suggestion because God knows our heart.

The subtle draw of lesser "victories" threatens the commitment of every believer.

It happens when couples who confess Christ settle for living together rather than marriage, believing somehow its just as good.

It happens when husbands and wives forsake one another to chase after "greener pastures" because they believe things aren't as good in their marriage as it used to be and a change is better than where they are now.

It happens when people struggling financially believe that stealing or illegal activities that give their families a little extra income is okay because their situation is so desperate.

It happens when the truth costs more than a lie and it is easier to hold on to a position or a friendship instead of our integrity.

It happens when we believe we are justified in using language as a weapon against another because of a wrong that has been committed against us, or someone has cut us off while driving.

It happens when we actually think that we can get along just fine in our relationship with God alone because fellowshipping with others only exposes the frauds and fakes in the church and we can't stand the hypocrisy anymore.

With each sacrifice of conviction, we are drawn away from the amazing grace of Christ to the point where our relationship with Him doesn't seem as special as it once was.  Think about it, if we keep choosing against Christ over and over again in the meaningful decisions in our lives, how meaningful is Jesus really?  The more we do it, the less we really regard Jesus because our compromised victories take us further away from Him and shows us what we are truly treasuring.

If I would have chosen Alabama, I would have won the Championship.  I would have been able to have the best of both worlds (as Clemson won the National Championship).  But I would have also had regret in knowing that I had chosen against my conviction for expediency sake.  I would have wondered why I ever doubted the team I have followed since before their first National Championship 35 years ago.  Even if they had lost (which they did last year), I would have had the satisfaction of knowing that I chose in what I truly believed in, even if it cost me.

Dabo Swinney, the head coach of Clemson, has a well known philosophy when it comes to football and the players and coaches on the team.  It is the idea of being "All In", not merely "hedging bets" for what's expedient for the individual at the cost of the team.  It is that "All In" philosophy that brought Clemson to the National Championship game twice...bringing home the trophy this year.

It is that same "All In" philosophy that made my celebration of this year's championship (both Clemson's and mine in my immensely important Bowl Pick'em) so much sweeter to enjoy, because there is no regret for choosing something lesser.

If you're settling for lesser victories, let me encourage you to trade those in for true victories that are so much sweeter to experience...but you need to be "All In".

My prayer is that in the most important decisions of life and faith in Christ, we would be a people who are "All In" so that the rewards of faithfulness will be sweeter to enjoy and the losses that come from remaining faithful to Christ bring no regrets.

Lord bless you all.
 


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bannister Life Review 2016 (TFC Friends)

It's been a long time since we talked.  But because of technology, like Facebook, we have been able to keep up with all of you.  The line from the old Michael W. Smith song is true, "Friends are friends forever, if the Lord's the Lord of them."  After being in ministry for the past 15 years and watching all of you stand strong in the faith, I have a profound appreciation of this truth.
 
So let me begin by saying, we are so glad to call you our friends.  Distance tends to make strangers of us all, life continues to happen outside our shared class schedule we had at TFC.  Family, children, jobs, ministry as well as sickness and trouble have appeared on our Facebook feeds concerning all of you, keeping us informed and helping to know how to pray for you, as the years have flown by.

Vacations have been few and far between for us and visitations to our old stomping grounds, because our family is from the area, haven't netted the connection with each of you that we would have liked.  Hopefully soon that will change.

So what has happened to the Bannisters since graduation of 1999?  Like you...A LOT!

The week after graduation we found out that we were pregnant with our firstborn Victoria.  Because of that we stayed in the area until she was about 15 months old, we figured that one big life change was enough.  In the summer of 2001, I was hired as Youth Pastor for Heights Christian Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico...and have been here ever since.  When we came, Shannon was pregnant with our second child, Micah (boy).  About 17 months later, we had our third and final child, Kathlyn. 

The early years were a struggle for us as we had to learn how to balance ministry and family, often times failing.  We (mostly me) took on too much responsibility at the expense of a family that needed me.  God brought us through that season and it truly made us stronger as a family, and strengthed ministry as well.


Shannon worked various jobs from 2003-2010 and even tried college again, but God kept closing the doors.  In 2006, because of our chaotic schedule, Shannon and I began to homeschool our children, taking a break one year (2012) because Shannon was burned out. 

However, the fruits of our labor are paying off.  Victoria will earn her GED this year (1 year early).  Micah will hopefully duel enroll this next year at CNM (he will be in 10th grade then).  And Kathlyn is coming along fine in currently in 7th grade.

In 2008, we received news that Shannon was losing her vision.  She has a condition called Retinitus Pigmentosa, or RP for short.  It is a genetic condition with no known cure.  In her condition, she gradually loses sight around the periphery until she either sees a "tunnel vision" or goes completely dark.  In 2014, after our last trip to GA (where we missed many of you), she was officially diagnosed blind.  She has less than 20% of field of vision.  Now she can still see, but she uses a cane for objects out of her range of vision.  She has taken it very well.  Me...on the other hand...depends on the day. 
It has been an adjustment, but God is good.  We truly believe that this is the reason that we began to homeschool and didn't become dependent upon 2 incomes.  (I know she can work, but homeschooling 3 is job enough.)

Over the last few years, Shannon has been writing songs.  It has been amazing to see how God has grown her.  I am sure if you wanted a sampling of her work...all you would have to do is ask (and let her know where to send it to).  She has written or co-written about 15-20 songs (it's starting to get hard to keep up).  Right now, it is just a hobby, but she enjoys it so.  She keeps joking that in 10 years, we will flip roles and she will support me with her music (wouldn't that be cool!).

Victoria knits...mostly scarfs and hats, right now.  And she writes...boy does she write.  She hopes to write books someday and has already "completed" one manuscript.

Micah loves archery, animals, science and music.  He has been playing for about 2 1/2 years and has a real gift toward it.

video
Kathlyn is currently into gymnastics and cooking.  She is constantly flipping, rolling, splitting and handstanding everywhere she goes. 

It is a joy to see how different each of our children are. 


So what about me...well, I was hired as Youth Pastor in July 2001.  Over the years, I have seen two Pastors come and go and am currently working with the thirds since my tenure here.  It is a great working relationship and I truly couldn't be happier. 

The longer I have been here, the more responsibility I have acquired.  Since becoming the Youth Pastor, I have now grown into the role of co-Pastor.  We currently have no Senior Pastor, but rather Mark (the other co-Pastor) and myself work in areas of giftedness.  I am over Youth, Children, Families and our Day Care.  I also preach half the time at the church and help create the various series we do.

Recently, God has burdened me with reaching out to families and helping parents disciple their children.  As a Youth Pastor, I have always been convicted that it was the parent's responsibility to disciple their children in the Lord.  If they don't, then my impact in most youth's lives would be minimal.  Being in ministry for the last 15 years has only strengthed this view.

This past year, I have been working to create a set of videos for parents in helping their children in each of their phases of life (0-3 yrs old, 3-5 yrs old, K-2nd, 3rd-5th, Mid High and High School) in six different areas (Prayer, Bible Reading, Fellowship, Outreach/Service, Discipleship and Giving).  We just finished the filming and are hoping to have the editing done soon.  I pray for it to be a resource for anyone who wants to use it (free, we are putting it on YouTube).       

Known to some of you, we are HUGE gamers.  We love strategy and deck building games.  We are fans of Dominion, 7 Wonders, Ticket to Ride...etc.  So if we are ever in the area and you have the same passion, it won't be too hard to scare up a game with us.

More than anything else, we want to let all of you know that you will always hold a special part of our lives.  Whether we ever get to see each other face to face again or we are forced to connect electronically until the day we see His face together, please know that you are never alone and will always have a friend with us.

Lord bless you all!  If you get time, let us know about the adventure that God has you on.  If you don't have the time, we truly understand.  And we will be praying for you all the same.

I pray your 2017 is filled with God directed adventure!

The Bannisters  (Jeremy, Shannon, Victoria, Micah and Kathlyn) 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

When "Thank You" Isn't Enough

Blessed. 

Humbled.

Stunned silent (if anyone can really imagine that for me).

Over the last 15 years, I have had the privilege to be a pastor at Heights Christian Church.  During the last eight, I have shared the task of co-pastoring with Mark.  In 2008, with Mark coming on staff, we had just created our "new" mission and vision statement of "Love God, Love God's People, Love Serving God" for our church.  Our goal was to make a community where making disciples and truly desiring God was part of our DNA.

I wish I could accurately describe how I feel about our fellowship.  The people there are more than just friends and fellow believers in Christ, they truly are family.  As a matter of fact, our children's godparents are there.  Our staff doesn't just have meetings together, we pray together, laugh together, get in one another's faces when necessary and more than anything else, love on one another.  Our elders are much the same as we pray through the needs of the body and struggle over doing the right thing by God for each of the members entrusted to our care.  Sunday mornings, Tuesday nights (when my lifegroup meets) and Wednesday nights (when our youth meet) are highlights of every week, as I get to spend time with the people whom I care for most with my family.

The last few years have seen an outpouring of love toward us as pastors that has literally left me speechless.  Mike Hatchell's words of being compared with the greatest men to have lead this congregation over the years (because Heights has had a tremendous history of faithful men leading) is a designation that I don't know if I deserve, but the thought is humbling and I am honored to be thought of in that way. 

A few hours ago, I went through every card that was written to me (and my family).  The thankfulness conveyed, the appreciation for faithful, and even, hard sermons, the different ways in which we are told how God uses us, in ways small and large, to members whom we call friends is a humble recognition of the type of community God has created us to be and the reminder of the constant need of faithfulness by us as leaders to continue what God has begun.

I wish others could experience what we do each time we come together.  I wish other pastors from other places were as honored as we have been by those we serve. 

"Thank you" doesn't seem enough for the love shown to me, Mark and our families, but it is all we have to offer.  So thank you for everything, and may God keep us faithful to Him and continue to grow us all into who He has called us to be.

Lord bless you all.

Pastor Jeremy

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

How far is too far?

Since I work with youth, you might have guessed that this post is about the election.

I have had a lot of people ask me about the election wanting to know my opinion concerning the mess we are walking into in about 3 weeks.  This represents my thought process concerning the election and the candidates involved.  I realize that not everyone will agree with these thoughts or my decision and I hope to cover some of the other views and the reasonings behind their views too.

If you are repulsed, confused and just plain tired of the election this year...join the club.  Never in all my life have I so sincerely wished for Election Day to just go away.

My dilemma, and the problem for many people, is that the main candidates are so repulsive that whether I vote or not, I feel as if I am throwing away my vote.



I feel like Vizzini from the Princess Bride.  A clever man would want to keep the poison as far away from him as possible, so I clearly cannot pull the lever for Hillary.  But knowing I would want to keep the poison as far away from me as possible also means that I cannot pull the lever for Trump.  Hillary seems a criminal and is therefore not trustworthy, therefore, I can clearly not pull the lever for her.  Trump is an opportunist and is slanderous toward everyone who gets in his way, so I clearly cannot pull the lever for him.

You might think that I am stalling, but I am not.  At least with Hillary, as bad as it might be, we would know exactly what we were getting which is something no one can say about Trump, so I can clearly not pull the lever for him.  But with Trump, and only Trump is there a possibility for appointing conservative Supreme Court candidates and repealing bad laws that have been passed the last 8 years (and in some cases longer) that Hillary would never consider, so I can clearly not pull the lever for her.

No third party candidate has a chance at the election, so any vote cast for them is wasted because even if they were to garner electoral votes and play havoc on the choosing of the President by throwing it into the House of Representatives, no major party will choose them for the Presidency, so I can clearly not pull the lever for any of them.

And round and round we go just like the Princess Bride until a choice is made and we find out, too late, that both choices were poisonous.

Up until this election cycle, there has always been something that I could point to in a major party candidate that I believed I could pull the lever for and believe that I have made a principled stance (understanding, of course, that no candidate will line up with my views 100% of the time).

However, this time the question I have had to ask myself is:  How far is too far?

How far does a candidate's views on issues stray from biblical truth and I still vote for them (without denying my faith in the process)?  Or how far does a candidate's personal conduct stray from biblical truth and I still vote for them (without denying my faith in the process)?

The Democratic platform concerning abortion, gay marriage and heavy handed government policies have disqualified them from my vote for many years.

The argument on the other side for the Republicans was that they would appoint conservative justices and repeal bad laws that the Democrats have made.  Oh yeah, do you remember who was the deciding vote on the Supreme Court for Obamacare?  That would be Chief Justice Roberts, touted to be one of the most conservative justices ever appointed.  Promises, promises...but no delivery.

What's worse...is that the current Republican candidate is slanderous to no end!  He has continually smeared everyone in the most personal of ways in order to get his way.  What started during the primaries has continued on through his nomination and now during these debates for President of the United States.  Can you imagine what might happen if Trump were to negotiate with foreign powers this way?  What evidence or assurances could you point me to that he won't act this way?  Please...anything.

I find myself a Christian who happens to be an American with the privilege to vote and no candidate to vote for.  I know many Christians who are voting for the Vice President or the President based on the things that might happen.  I respect their reasoning and will in no way malign a hard decision.  However, my conscience holds me captive to the standard of God, and for me (not necessarily for them) to vote for either of these major party options would be sinful for me (see Rom. 14:23).

I am recognizing more and more that this world, and even this nation, is not my home and am content with the King whom I have chosen.  I believe there is more power is fulfilling His command of making disciples around me than electing the next President or ruler of any country.  So I am voting for Jesus this election cycle, while keeping my Presidental slot either blank or filled in with a candidate that I can truly believe in (even if it is third party).  I have a feeling that following His lead would do more good for this country than anything I can do in the voting booth.


PS...I do believe it is important to vote for other candidates both local and national (and I will be), but the same litmus test applies to them, as well.


Monday, August 22, 2016

Why the Gospel is the Best "Help" You Can Give Someone

As a pastor, I have seen great need come knocking at my door.  It is one of the things that I honestly wasn't prepared for.  Maybe not so much the need itself, but the sheer magnitude of the need and the consistency by which the need has presented itself over the years.  The homeless, the sick, the stranded, the single mothers financially struggling, the hungry, the relationally shattered and the desperate have all visited my office.

They have all come for one reason:  We are the church and this is supposed to be a place of help and hope. 

At the church, the need seems to come in waves.  There are sometimes whole seasons with very few needs presented.  Then, there are times where days and even weeks are filled with encounters of these heart wrenching stories from men, women and families who have come seeking a hope of relief.

I wish that I could say I have always met these needs the way that Jesus would want me to, but I am sure that I have failed about as many times as I have succeeded.  Don't get me wrong!  I am not being too critical of myself.  An education like this comes with its fair share of failures, if we are truly going to learn.  And my failure may not be what you think...

So what I would like to do is share with you an education that has taken me 15 years to learn concerning "helping" someone.  To be sure, there may be many of you who have already learned this lesson before me in less time.  To them, I can only hope to promise to be a better student in the future.  But I share this in the hope that it may lessen the "learning curve" for those who have begun to struggle with this problem.

The Gospel is the Reason We Help

I could have said "Jesus is the reason we help", but in reality we help in hopes to share the good news of Christ.  Our motivation for helping is because of the incomprehensible love of Christ that we have experienced ourselves and wish to tangibly share that love and hope with others. 

Sometimes we are too hard on ourselves.  Think about how different our culture would be if we took the Christian footprint out of our society.  Think of all the hospitals, soup kitchens, homeless shelters, abuse shelters, sex slave rescue missions, schools, third world child sponsorship programs, orphanages and a myriad of other programs and institutions that have been created simply as a means to advance the gospel of Christ and obey His commands (see Mat. 28:18-20; James 1:26-2:7; 1 John 3:16-18; Mat. 10:40-42). 

This doesn't even begin to consider the daily acts of kindness done by individual believers simply for the sake of planting a seed for the gospel of Christ (1 Cor. 3:1-15).  I mean, how many of you have, out of compulsion from the Holy Spirit, been lead to give of your time or treasure for the opportunity of reaching a family member, a friend, a co-worker or even a stranger, with the love of Christ...not for any glory or recognition, just because of a quiet obedience to the One you wish to serve (Mat. 6:1-24)?

How dark would our country, city and community become without this life giving presence of individuals and institutions motivated to do their good works because of the gospel!  

Our hope with this outreach is not just to meet an immediate need, but to present to those whom we are helping through our good works their true need and the good news that that need has been fully met in Christ and His sacrifice on the cross.

How Good Intentions Begin to Go Awry

However, many a believer is often overwhelmed with the sheer magnitude of the need before them, once their eyes are open to it.  Whether it is a person who has gone on their first missions trip or inner city excursion where the culture shock of the atmosphere can shake even the most stoic or it is a person who has reached out to a neighbor or family member in need and discovered the tangled mess that broken relationships and circumstances can lead, the situations faced can often engulf a good intentioned believer.

Even though we have been told by Jesus Himself that we will always have the poor among us (Mat. 26:9), we seem to think that if we work hard enough, give more, create more opportunities for relief, we can eradicate this need where Jesus could not.  And it is at this point, whether looking at the multitudes that we want to help but can't or looking at the one that we are helping, but the need is so beyond us...we begin to take on the responsibility ourselves and out of the hands of Jesus.  I have done this often and has been the cause of many of my failures to serve Christ (even as I was "serving" Christ).

We begin to think that we are the only hands of Jesus for the need placed before us, rather than the view that Paul had that he was one who planted (not the only one who planted) that Apollos was the one who watered (but not the only one who watered), but God, and Him alone, gave the increase.  We stop seeing the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12) in our everyday interactions with the needs that we face and erroneously believe we are the only part of the body that will have any effect.

But when we divorce Jesus from the solution, and make no mistake that is exactly what we are doing when we take on these needs ourselves without acknowledging our limitations, we end up hagridden, losing the joy of service and freedom of giving that Christ blessed us with to begin with.  We give, not out of joy, but compulsion and we begin to resent the "service" that we are doing for the Lord because of the lack of tangible results (the opposite of what we are commanded in 2 Cor. 9:6-15).

It is at this point that we face a crossroads. 

Settling for "Help" without the Gospel

In our hopes for solving the problems before us, because it is easier, we begin to look for what will make the person or people we are ministering to happy.  So we either drop Jesus all together (by saying something like, "I am trying to share Jesus through what I do, not through words.") or begin to morph Jesus into a "god" who is only concerned with the fulfillment or happiness of others.  Some of our institutions founded on presenting the true gospel to a world in need has replaced it with a false gospel concerned only with a person's perceived happiness.  They, with the very best of intentions, have found themselves slowly transformed into a people who boldly proclaim that God didn't mean all that He said about morality and righteous living, even though it may very well be those things that are needed most to help those they truly wish to minister to.

The solutions that are ultimately offered without the gospel only entangle and enslave.  Like cough syrup, they only mask the symptoms of a condition and never deal with the root problem.

Single motherhood, AIDS in the homosexual community, many abuse situations, the breakdown of the family, higher drug use (especially marijuana) and all the problems that these and many other ills bring to our society is a direct result of the sin we are so enslaved to that Jesus came to set us free from (Heb. 12:1-2). 

If you don't get to the root of the problem and treat only the symptoms, you will only get more problems and none of the gospel which we are entrusted with.

Stop Giving Pearls to Swine!

Which brings us to a harsh truth that all of us have to deal with:  Not everyone wants the gospel.  Or put another way:  Not everyone wants the type of help that Jesus commanded us to give others. 

We are told by Jesus not to give that which is valuable to those who disregard it (Mat. 7:6).  This comes right after He spoke on proper judgment (Mat. 7:1-5) and commanded His followers not to judge hypocritically.  But equally important is for His followers not to waste time on those who truly want nothing to do with Jesus and the good news that He brings.  They only want "help" on their terms, not His...which is really no help at all.  And when you don't "help" that way, no matter how often you have helped in godly ways, they turn around and malign you for all the "help" you didn't give (or call you judgmental).

I can't tell you how much time I have wasted in my ministry spending my time on those who truly wanted nothing to do with Jesus.  Whether it has been the endless times of encouraging youth, adults and families to come into fellowship, or trying to help with a specific situation that needed repentance that I would dance around or confront directly, again and again, each time thinking that this time their response might be different.  My time spent on giving the gospel to those who don't appreciate it or want it prevents me from giving it to someone who does or just spending time with my family building them up in the faith.

Shortly after many of my interactions with many of these people that I have wanted to help, I see them in worse condition than ever before I knew them.  Of them, Jesus' words ring more true to me than ever that the last state of that person is worse than the first (Mat. 12:43-45).  Or Peter's words of how it would have been better for them to have not known the way of righteousness than to have known it and turned their backs on it (2 Pet. 2:21). 

And the sad reality is...there is really nothing I could do about it, no matter how hard I tried...and neither can you.  This is why I have to entrust these larger than life problems with God...and you do too.  I can't tell you how long you are supposed to be in a certain situation, not every one is the same.  But I do know that we are not supposed to be weighted down with needs that we cannot meet or disobedient hearts that cannot be made to be obedient (that is the job and burden of God).  However, when we entrust these people whom we love in the care of God, we find ourselves praying more sometimes and doing less.  This isn't a faith without action, but rather a faith that trusts God after action has been taken and trusting that our help is enough because it is what God has called us to do.

After 15 years, I am finding that my timetable for helping people revolves around two things.  First and foremost, my responsibility to share the gospel of Christ the hope that He brings and the results that an obedient life will bring to those who are hurting.  Second, is their response to the hope and help that I have presented.  If there is no obedience to instruction, if there is no repentance and no trust that Jesus is the true answer that they need, then my timetable is drastically reduced.  Because I have finally come to truly realize that the gospel is the best, and ultimately, only hope and help I have to give.

Sure people don't always understand and sometimes I might be maligned for not giving them what they want...but it is all that I have to offer and I believe it is more than enough.

I pray this revelation through a lifetime of successes and failures will help you as well.  Lord bless you all.

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Problem with "Privilege"

In a fallen world, we have become obsessed with fairness.  While there are certain admirable qualities about being fair and desiring fair and equal outcomes to equal situations, we have taken things a step further:  We have decided to trace all perceived injustices back to their ancestral roots and blame the current generation for past misgivings and the benefits they may have received (or just assumed they have received) as a result of such injustice.

It is understandable that the world is having a hard time reconciling the idea that while all men are created equal in the sight of God, not all men are born into equal circumstances because of the fallen nature of the world we live in.  However, this very plain truth should be evident for every Christian.

As I search the Scriptures, I do not see God holding people responsible for sins of a past generation, even if there was gain by the current generation because of it.  To be sure, sins of one generation can affect the generations to follow (Ex. 20: 4-6).  While unrepentant sins of successive generations do lead to national punishment, for a people pledged to God, God makes it equally clear that individually He only punishes according to each person's actions apart from previous generations (Ez. 18).

The current fervor of our culture to shame or condemn based on perceived advantages based on race or status is, in many cases, nothing more than a cover for covetousness.  As a people of God, we should be content with the circumstances that we have been placed in, as long as our basic needs have been taken care of, so that we might be a witness for Christ (1 Tim. 6:6-10).
The problem with the concept of privilege
(other than it is unbiblical) is that it is so
hard to quantify.  By only looking at
one diametric (race or economic status), we
oversimplify the differing circumstances that
may affect individuals or even whole families.

Consider:  The single largest determiner of
poverty in America today is to be raised in
a single parent home.  Therefore, by simply
coming from a two parent family, regardless of
race, there is an advantage over those
whose homes are broken.

The most common factor of those incarcerated
is the lack of a father in the home.  Again,
simply having a two parent family brings an
advantage.

The fact that the black community suffers
from a larger proportion of single parent
homes and thus also has higher proportions
of poverty and crime cannot be simply
laid at the feet of "white privilege", no matter
what the unrighteous history of the past
generations may have been.

But the idea of privilege has our culture looking to everyone else's circumstances as a excuse for grievance that destroys godly contentment.  It does this in two ways:  First, it creates a false sense of guilt in those who are bombarded with the idea that their circumstance, because of skin color or socioeconomic status, is unjust by merely existing.  Second, it produces envy, strife and covetousness in those who feel that they have been wronged by merely being born into a circumstance less fortunate than others. Many professing Christians are adopting this harmful view into their lives, as well, and it eats away at the thankfulness we should have toward God for the provision that we have, no matter how meager or plentiful.

Consider the words of James...

What causes quarrels and what cause fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.  You do not have, because you do not ask [God].  You ask [God] and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  --James 4:1-3

Isn't that the state of our nation right now? Why would we, as the people of God, wish to emulate that?  Why would we trade out the knowledge, provision and blessings afforded us by God through Christ for discontentment based upon a comparison to someone else's circumstance?  Why would we choose envy and strife over joy and contentment?

As if those reasons aren't reason enough to change our attitudes, there is a greater reason still.

Listen to these amazing words by Paul in Athens:

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.  And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward Him and find Him.  Yet He is actually not far from each one of us...  --Acts 17:24-27

You see, the circumstance...the family...the race...the country...the poverty (or riches)...even the very time in which we were born was hand-crafted by God Himself. While you and I are distracted by the haves and the have nots of the world, God is carefully placing each person in each home in each country and each circumstance for one reason only:  that each person might reach out and find Him.

The very idea of invoking privilege as a reason that would make us more or less ready to accept the gift of Christ in our lives flies in the face of a God who has placed you (and me and everyone) in the most likely situation where we might actually reach out to encounter His grace through Christ to begin with.  By even acknowledging privilege as a commendable value, it reveals in us as a people that the greatest treasure that we consider having in this world is actual treasure (or position) and not Christ.  It also puts us in a position of an unrighteous judge toward God basically saying that, "God doesn't know what He is doing."  I'm not sure I can go there.

Our true treasure is that Christ has died for us and counted us, unworthy as we are, as one of His own.  We have reached out to Him and found that He was not far from us, as He has promised.  He has given us new life and the promise of the Holy Spirit.  He has satisfied all of our longings and we have found Him to be enough.  He has given us the mission of spreading this message of truth, grace, love and forgiveness to a hurting world seeking all the wrong type of privileges that never satisfy and only leave people longing for more.

As such, this worldly privilege is the enemy of the gospel of Christ.  We would do well not to see through its corrupted lens. 

The Loss of Discipleship, the Abandonment of the Church and the Breakdown of the Family

By Canonreflex (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons Submit to one another out ...