Thursday, July 13, 2017

Of Bible Translations and Heresy

Maybe you have heard the news, maybe you haven't:  Eugune Peterson, the author of the Message Bible, has recently endorsed same sex marriage, and even said that if given the opportunity, he would perform a same sex marriage
By Clappstar (Own work)
[CC BY 3.0 (],
via Wikimedia Commons

...And it is sending a ripple effect through the Christian world.  LifeWay Christian Stores will be discontinuing the sale of the Message and Peterson's books upon confirmation of the statements made from his interview with Jonathan Merritt.  Russell Moore, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote a response to this news worth reading.

Many pastors have been captivated by Peterson's writings.  Some use the Message "translation" as either a primary Biblical text or supplemental text to Bible reading.  His book "A Long Obedience In The Same Direction" is one that I had in my library, as I believed the title perfectly described what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus.  Many pastors have used the writings of his books for personal edification, as well as, a discipleship tool for those growing in their faith in Christ.

Peterson's seeming departure from Biblical orthodoxy (he has since recanted) is a natural consequence of a direction taken long ago when his "translation" of the Bible was released.  (In truth, it may have begun long before that, but only manifested itself through the paraphrased biblical book).  And it represents somewhat of a watershed moment in Christendom.  

I recently did a sermon on Bible translations focused around the text of Psalm 8 called "Hidden Majesty" (To hear the sermon, click on this link and type in "Hidden Majesty" in the sermon title section).  In it I reference a number of different translations, among them the Message, emphasizing the importance of a literal translation so that the message of Christ that is proclaimed from Genesis to Revelation isn't hidden from the reader's eyes.  Translations such as the New Living Translation (NLT), the Good News Bible (GNB), the Message and the current New International Version (NIV) all fall short of this standard and in effect hide Jesus in parts of the Bible in an effort to make the translation more "readable" or more "politically correct".  

The effect of such translations through these changes to make the Bible more readable or palatable in our current cultural climate actually ends up doing more harm than good.  Clear references to Christ prophetically proclaimed throughout the Old Testament are now hidden from the reader's eyes, as New Testament references of these Old Testament passages in these newer "translations" don't match up, giving the reader the impression that the Biblical text is malleable, able to be form fitted to any message the reader desires.

Doctrines essential to the Christian faith, such as, "repentance from dead works" (Heb 6:1 ESV, NASB, NKJV) become "turning your back on 'salvation by self-help'" (Heb 6:1 MSG) and do not clearly define the Biblical message.  This ambiguity threatens to distort terms such as "repentance", "sin", "judgment" and "salvation", all essential doctrines of the Christian faith that, without a Biblical definition, distort the message of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, nullifying its meaning, because God hasn't been allowed to speak for Himself.  The reader runs the risk of having "a God without wrath [that] brought men without sin to a kingdom without judgment through the ministration of a Christ without a cross" (Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America, 193).

It is a watershed moment because Christians in our culture through people like Peterson draw large swaths of followers because of their writings or teachings.  But some people become so enamored with the public figures, that they end up following them instead of Christ.  We forget the Biblical command to "take captive every thought to obey Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5 ESV) and to "test the spirits to see whether they are from God" (1 John 4:1 ESV) and end up holding in higher regard men (and women) who have taught us about God than God Himself, who sent His Son for our redemption and provided His Word "which [is] able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15 ESV).

Some Christian artists, Christian conference speakers, Christian writers and Christian pastors (in this case, I am using the word Christian in a marketable sense, not a biblical one) with large followings are straying from Christ and Biblical truth, in important areas, such as, abortion, living together, same sex marriage, transgenderism, love, hypocrisy, equality, repentance, sin and judgment.  As their views have publicly "evolved", their fans are forced to engage in these issues, often falling on the side of the public figure for either lack of knowledge of the written Word or lack of willingness to be on an unpopular side of a controversial cultural issue.

As a Christian people, we are to be ever on our guard for those wolves in sheep's clothing that have infiltrated our flock, who have fellowship with us, but when given the opportunity will stray from the teaching of Christ that could save them and their hearers (Mat. 7:15-23; 1 John 2:18-19; 1 Tim. 4:9-16).  No matter how much we may have benefited from such people in the past, our allegiance must always be to Christ first.  It may mean breaking with artists, pastors and writers that we have loved in the past.  It may mean having to live in conflict with family members, not walking in the truth (Mat. 10:32-39).  But following Jesus, rather than man or the culture, has always come with a cost (Luke 9:23-26).

Let Eugene Peterson be a lesson to us all that obscuring the clear revelation of Scripture has consequences that can (and many times does) lead one down the path toward heresy.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Don't Believe Everything You Read...(not even this)

I'm about to get into trouble.  Maybe with a lot of you.  But for sure with some of you.

However, I can't stay silent anymore.  I have watched an entire generation of professed Christians follow the lie of eloquent writing believing because a person identifies as a believer (or a pastor) that it makes him (or her) one in any Biblical sense.

The digital age has brought with it more information to our fingertips and touch screens than we could have ever imagined.  If we want to find out about something, we just Google it.  Instantly, 63,498 articles pop up on the subject we just inquired about (give or take 15,438).  It is has the ability to be simultaneously an amazing gift and a destructive force to our faith.  The one thing that all of this information doesn't do is interpret whether the information is good or bad.

In this type of atmosphere, heresy is easily fostered and adopted.  You can see it on the web in all of the articles that claim that they are coming from a Christian perspective.  I mean, how are we supposed to be able to discern what truth is when one article claiming to be from a Christian says that Adam and Eve aren't real and merely allegorical, while another claims that a literal Adam and Eve are necessary for our faith?  If one Christian pastor says that LGBTQ people are to be equal members of the church, while another declares that unrepentant sin disqualifies one from being a part of the body of Christ?  If one Christian vlog is dedicated to show how evolution and the creation account in Genesis are compatible, while another vlog from a believer categorically states that evolution and the creation account cannot both be true because it strikes at the heart of the gospel?

The good news is that because we have the Word of God, all of us have the opportunity to know whether or not articles written by people truly line up with what it says (no matter who those people are...including me).  The bad news is that because all of this information is readily at our fingertips, no one really reads the Word of God anymore.  It's just easier to trust a blogger and a few quotes of Scripture that may or may not be found within the context of the passage and adopt those views as our own, especially if they line up with what we already believe.  Truth has become whatever storyline catches our eye or tugs at our heartstrings.

It's nothing new.  The early church faced heretical teaching in its infancy.  Paul would proclaim to the people of Galatia that if a person was preaching a different gospel than the one he had proclaimed to them, those people should be eternally condemned (Gal. 1:6-9).  John's first epistle is dedicated to the refutation of an early form of Gnosticism that had made its way into the church (1 John 2:18-19).  Jesus, Peter and Jude all spoke of false teachers and prophets that would and had come into the church (Mat. 7:15-23; 2 Pet. 2:1-22; Jude 3-5).

As we listen to the confrontation of Jesus with the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, we don't hear a soft sweet refrain, wooing the confused teacher back to the kingdom of God, but a loud condemnation meant as a warning to them and those who would follow their teaching that their teaching was perverted & hypocritical, their destination was hell, their ways were corrupt and Jesus, whom they rejected, was the only One who could save them...but they were unwilling (Mat. 23).  They believed in the promised Messiah, but according to them, He looked nothing like Jesus.

As it was with them, so it is with us.  Only one can be right.  That one is God, of course.  It is why John told the church he was writing to "test the spirits to see if they are of God" because there were false prophets in the church (1 John 4:1-6).  These tests were not just based upon whether or not someone gave you the "hebejebes" or "a good vibe" when you were around them.  There were actual theological parameters one had to meet that were tailored for the specific heresies invading the church.  If they failed the test of orthodoxy, they were considered heretics (1 John 4:3).  They were cast out of the church (1 Tim. 1:20).

This test of orthodoxy wasn't just for the nature of God, but for being part of His church (Mat. 18:15-17).  Those professing belief, yet continuing in sin were removed from fellowship both for the sakes of the ones they were correcting (that they may come back to Christ) and to the church, as a warning not to follow in their footsteps (an example of this can be found in 1 Cor. 5).

Today, such teaching is considered judgmental, hateful and intolerant.  Those who think that Jesus would be loved by the masses forget that it was the masses who killed Him because He testified that what it does is evil (John 7:7), though many of them thought they believed in God.

However, there are those who claim to be Christians (pastors, bloggers, teachers...etc), who have perverted a relationship with Jesus to include any feeling they happen to have at the moment.

They teach that Adam and Eve weren't real.

They teach that homosexuality is not a sin to be repented of, but rather a lifestyle to be celebrated.

They teach that the fellowship of believers, known as church, isn't important.

They teach that friendship with the world is the movement of God.

They believe that sin is irrelevant and can't be defined (other than being judgmental).

They believe that hell is here on earth, if it exists at all.

They believe a woman's right is carried into the decision of the life or death of the child in the womb.

They believe that accepting and affirming the unbeliever is more important than loving fellow believers.

They believe it more profitable to treat God's Word more like guidelines rather than the sacred word that it is.

And believing all of this...they still believe they are Christians.

If you have ever read any of my blogs, you will notice that I include a LOT of Scripture references when I write.  I do this because in the end, my words don't mean anything.  You shouldn't trust me any more than anyone else that you read on the internet.  To those whom I know, I pray that I have earned some trust, however, you should still scrutinize me to see if my teaching lines up with Christ's teaching.

However, teachers like John Pavlovitz, Rachel Held Evans & Rob Bell are leading a generation away from the truth.  Each of these are powerful, gifted writers (and in some cases pastors) who rarely quote the Scriptures and often allude to them out of context.  I have read many of their writings and heard the messages that they have spoke.  I also know that many believe the words that they say.  I see more and more in my feed quoting their articles and stories.  And if it is you, I point this out, out of love and warning.

Paul said that we are to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).  A simple question I would like to ask all of you:  Can you biblically defend your views in the light of God's word or have the writings and the messages of the people you have followed become more important (this includes mine)?

False teachers were promised by Jesus long ago and continue to this day.  Our only defense is our knowledge of the Word of God.  We would do well to know what it says.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

It's the obvious sins we must repent of first...

Repent!  It was the call of John the Baptist to prepare the way of Jesus (Mat. 3:1-2; Luke 3:3-4).
But repent of what?

This seems to be the struggle of our modern day culture who want to have their salvation and their sinful life too.  It is the problem with many millenial Christians who want to reach a world for Jesus but don't believe that acknowledgement of sin and repentance of sin is necessary for salvation to the broken people they are proclaiming Jesus to. 

Having been in the world and seeing the image of God in the broken people whom they have met, the idea of repentance seems so unloving and intolerant.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the churches that have popped up proclaiming that they are "open and affirming".  Any lifestyle is equally acceptable and blessed by God, even if it runs contrary to what God has revealed in His Word.  There are whole denominations that are doing Scriptural gymnastics trying to deny what the straightforward reading of God's Word actually says, so they can "reach more people with the love of Jesus". 

But if we look back at the forerunner of Jesus, we see a man who confronted the culture with the obvious sins of their lifestyle. 

To the tax collectors, he told them not to take more than what they should (Luke 3:12).  Why?  Tax collectors were known for their dishonesty concerning the monies they collected.  In other words, they stole.  It was accepted within the Roman culture.  It was legal.  But it was still a sin in God's eyes.  But for a tax collector to prepare the way for Christ was to repent of the obvious. 

To the soldiers, he told them to be content with their wages and not pervert justice for unjust gain (Luke 3:14).  Why?  Soldiers were known for their extortionist tactics.  In other words, they gave false testimony, coveted and stole.  Again, it was accepted within the Roman culture.  It was legal.  But it was still a sin in God's eyes.  So for a soldier to prepare the way for Christ was to repent of the obvious.

To Herod, he told him that it was unlawful to have his brother's wife and wrong to do many of the other evil things he had done (Luke 3:19-20).  Why?  The king's power pretty much allowed him to do anything he wanted.  As long as it didn't bother Rome, Rome didn't care.  But just because Herod could make it legal, didn't mean that he could make it right in God's eyes.  In other words, it was still adultery and the other things were still evil.  So for Herod to prepare the way for Christ was to repent of the obvious.

Paul states in Romans that he wouldn't have known was sin was except for the law (Rom. 7:7).  He wouldn't have known what was wrong unless God was allowed to define it.  However, only in defining sin does repentance have any meaning.  Only in understanding the punishment for sin, death, does the substitutionary death of Jesus, and His subsequent resurrection have any significance or have the ability to give any true hope to our dilemma of the brokenness in our lives or the world around us (Rom. 6:22-23).

When we take away the repentance of obvious sins and the acknowledgement that God and He alone defines the perameters of what sin is, we prevent the broken people we encounter from ever truly knowing the freedom offered in Christ...a freedom from sin and its effects, not a freedom to continue in sin unpunished (Rom. 6). 

When I came to Christ, I came with the acknowledgement that I was a sinner, not a sinner in an ambiguous sense of "nobody's perfect", but a sinner who had issues of lust and pornography that had consumed my life, defined who I was, and I knew it wasn't right because God said so (Mat. 5:27-30).  The good news was that Jesus died for all of those sins and offered me life, if I repented, believed in Him and followed Him.  The freedom I experienced wasn't a freedom to continue that lifestyle, but the freedom to deny myself to follow Jesus who is true life (Luke 9:23-26).

I wasn't made perfect that day (though I have been seen as perfect through Jesus since), but my following of Christ and my recognition of the redemption offered by Him only came through my obvious sins.  As time has passed and I have stumbled along in this Christian life, He continues to reveal sins in my life that need to be repented of as they are made obvious to me as I follow Him.

The problem with those who are living together and think God's okay with it or those in the LGBTQ community who think that God will accept them into heaven as they are or those who wish to deny any part of the straightforward reading of the Scriptures that declares the obvious parts of their lives as sinful, is that they cannot receive salvation without an acknowledgement that it is for those reasons that Jesus died.  And acceptance of Christ comes with the cost of repentance toward those things for which Jesus died, so that we truly might follow Him and receive life (and we may have to repent of those things many times...see Luke 17:1-4).

The problem with those who proclaim a gospel without a repentance of obvious sins, is that they neither offer hope nor salvation to those they share with.  Rather they have become false teachers of a gospel which ultimately offers neither life, nor hope, nor freedom from the sins that Jesus died to set them free from...that life is only found through repentance. 

May we be a people bold enough to proclaim it.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Are we "inspired" to follow Jesus at church?

Is there such a thing as a "demotivational speaker"?  If there is, then I might be available for speaking engagements.  Read this post and see if I fit the bill for your congregation or youth group.

Well, that's how I feel, at times.

I have had wonderful people in our congregation tell me that they wish they could hear an uplifting message from me instead of all the hard sermons that seem to flow from my lips.  (I must add that it wasn't offered up as a criticism, as much as an observation.)  And to be fair, many of our sermons have focused on some hard passages of Scripture in the last few years.  We have gone through Judges, the Kings of Israel and Judah, the Gospel of Matthew and are currently in 1 Corinthians.

I have been at camp and at conferences and have heard awesome men and women of God share messages and give testimony of God's greatness in their lives that make me wish that I could be like them.  I see the youth and adults flock to the altar praying repentance and walking away seemingly renewed and refreshed with a commitment to follow Jesus anew.  I don't begrudge their gift for inspiration.  They have an amazing ability to help people see the glory of Christ through their circumstances and repented sin that God uses to make people want what they have.

However, when I review my messages over the last few years, constant recurring themes seem to surface.
--Watch out for entertainment taking God's place in your life or the life of your kids.
--Watch out for sports taking God's place in your life or the life of your kids.
--Watch out for politics taking God's place in your life or the life of your kids.
--Watch out for sex taking God's place in your life or the life of your kids.
--You need to make time to read your Bible and know what it says better than any of these other things.
--Parents, you need to train your children in the Word of God above all else.

The irony is that these messages seem to consistently come through even though we are simply going verse by verse through the Bible in our messages on Sunday morning.  If you've ever thought to yourself, "Here he goes again" on any of the points above, don't think I haven't felt it too.  Sometimes I have asked that same question to God as I am preparing.  It's not like I am trying to figure out how to insert these same points into the sermon that I will preach this next week.  However, contextualizing the Word keeps bringing me back again and again to these points.

I have often wondered why that is...maybe you have too.  Why is it that the Word of God constantly focuses on the things that distract us from our relationship with God?  There is so much more written on the distractions than there is of the revealing glory of things to come.

It is no wonder that so many people see the church as a place that focuses on things we shouldn't do and have reduced our relationship with Christ to simply a list of do's and don'ts.  Missing the motivation for the reason why this is, many leave the church or assume it's judgmental nature because of the constant correction.  

However, all I have to do is look in the mirror and see the reason why such admonitions exist.  You see, I and all who are called by Christ's name are on a mission to share Christ with the world around us.  But everyday as I look in the mirror, I see the distractions of everyday life crowding out the mission of God.  I would rather play on my phone, watch the next episode of the Flash or next round of the playoffs (no matter what sport), take my children to games they can play, sleep, do yard work or housework, unclog a toilet, run for political office, run a half marathon, skydive, jump in a volcano, swim in the middle of the ocean surrounded by sharks...than get to know God through His Word, through prayer and share that with my neighbors around me.

Jesus called it dying to ourselves (Luke 9:23-26).  It wasn't and isn't an option, but it is something that we struggle with everyday.  It's why we have to do it daily.  It's why the same struggles are mentioned over and over again from the pulpit and in the Scriptures, because we struggle with them over and over again.  Dying is painful, but it is the only way we can truly experience new life in Christ.  Paul said that he died daily in order to share Christ with others (1 Cor. 15:30-32), which means that he experienced this pull of life that drags us away from the mission that God has called us too.

Do you know what inspires me?

I am inspired when I see Paul, an elderly man, every week at church knowing that it probably took him a long time just to come to the fellowship of believers.

I am inspired when I hear about members reaching out to the community around them for the cause of Christ and I begin to see their friends and co-workers coming to our community.

I am inspired when I see someone lead a bible study or small group for the first time because God has led them to.

I am inspired when I see fathers and mothers baptizing their children in the name of Jesus Christ.

I am inspired when I hear of families taking seriously God's command to train up the next generation in the Lord.

I am inspired when those who struggle with sin turn to God and He answers their pleas, gives them new life and restores their hope.

I am inspired to live for God more and more when surrounded by those who have chosen to die daily to themselves, so the glory of God can shine through them.  

I am inspired when we treat Christ as the treasure He truly is.

However, I am often not inspired by my sermons.  Rather my sermons are reminders to all of us (myself included) that we need to die to ourselves to remain on the mission of God so that the world may see Christ in us and working through us.  For that to happen, we all need a lot of reminders to get out of the way, so Christ can work in our we can be the inspiration and light of the world He has called us to be (Mat. 5:13-16).

I'm still available for speaking...if you're into that sort of thing.

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
(], 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 (],
 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.

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) 

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