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Author: Michael Bannon

For God’s Sake: Butter tarts and the Bible have something in common

This past Sunday, I completed a 55-week preaching series through the Gospel of Mark. I began by summarizing where following Jesus had taken us these many weeks, what we heard him teach and what wonders we saw him perform. My summary brought us to the last chapter of Mark’s gospel, which I read.

There we saw the first witnesses, three women, come to Jesus’ tomb early in the morning the first day of the week to anoint his body for burial. They found the large stone rolled away, peered cautiously in the tomb, and saw, not a dead body, but a young man, very much alive, robed in white. He reported to them the good news that Jesus who died had risen from the dead.

My congregation noticed when I read Mark 16 in the English Standard Version that the last 12 verses are bracketed. A footnote explains: “Some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20,” suggesting that they are not part of the original, God-breathed, Scripture text. How did these verses get added to the Bible? Let me offer an illustrative explanation.

My mother made the best butter tarts, but now that she is gone, my sisters and sisters-in-law make them. They found her handwritten recipe tucked away in a cookbook and initially followed that recipe. Soon they began trying different steps and adding other ingredients.

If the results were good, they wrote those steps and ingredients into their copy of my mom’s recipe and shared them with each other. My sisters make a good butter tart, but if you want one that tastes like my mom’s, you have to find and follow her original recipe, or the earliest you can find.

Similarly in Mark 16, it seems that scribes have added details found in other gospels, details that are true, but Mark, writing under divine inspiration, did not include in his account, like Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and Jesus appearing to the eleven apostles in the upper room.

Some additions are teachings which do not agree with the rest of Scripture, like baptism as necessary for salvation. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone

Other additions like casting out demons, speaking in tongues, safely handling snakes and drinking poison, and healing the sick, sound like a summary of the apostles’ experiences in the Book of Acts, but are not normative for the average believer.

Because these additional verses appear in older, trusted Bible translations, the newer translations include them, but set them apart with brackets and an explanatory footnote.

Oh yes, the Bible and the butter tart have something else in common; the psalmist describes God’s Word as “sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” Delicious!

For God’s Sake: Preach the truth

His precepts do not change, nor do His promises, because He does not change.

His Word, the Bible, is truth. His gospel, the promise that we can be saved from sin and death by His grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone, is trustworthy. Some would say, “in theory.”

I read an article recently entitled “Theoretical Inerrantists.” Tom Ascol, a member of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the largest Protestant denomination in the world, expressed his concern, and rightly so, about the SBC’s drift away from the orthodox conviction that the Bible is without error in its original manuscripts. He writes, “I have come to a sad, yet unavoidable conclusion.

When many Southern Baptist leaders and pastors of today affirm biblical inerrancy (they do so) in theory but not in practice.

That is, they will make the affirmation, sign the Baptist Faith and Message, Abstract of Principles, or Chicago Statement on Inerrancy without hesitation or mental reservation and then will go right on thinking and living in ways that are contrary to the Word. They are theoretical inerrantists.”

It is disturbing enough that these Christian leaders do not hold this high view of Scripture, but more so that they portray themselves as in agreement with biblical inerrancy but practice otherwise. They are the proverbial wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Sadly, in our current doctrinal famine in the American church, the average Christian is not likely to be concerned because they do not know enough to realize that they should be concerned. Let me illustrate why you should be concerned.

There is a rule of thumb in air navigation called the “1 in 60 rule.” If a pilot is off course by just 1 degree, for every 60 miles he travels he will be 1 mile off course. Let’s apply the rule: you are traveling to Paris from New York City, approximately 3600 miles by air.

The pilot is off course, but only by 1 degree. What difference will it make? At the end of your trip, you learn that your flight missed Paris by 60 miles!

What if the pastor of a church congregation, its pilot, does not hold to biblical inerrancy and is comfortable teaching doctrine not in line with the Bible?

At first, it may not seem to make any difference, but if not corrected, over time that congregation will have veered perilously off course doctrinally to the detriment of future generations. History offers far too many examples of that very occurrence.

To my colleagues I say, let us hold fast to biblical inerrancy in practice, not just in theory – preach the truth! To my fellow Christians, desire biblical truth, insist on it. Amen.

For God’s Sake: Find a healthy church

My wife and I had an unexpected pair of tagalongs – my oldest brother and his wife, who were living with us at the time. My brother describes himself as an atheist and my sister-in-law’s beliefs are, well, somewhat eclectic. Our church visits together promised to be interesting.

When I had first arrived in that community 12-years earlier, I’d asked a staff-member of a local mega-church, “What is the state of the ‘Church’ in this city?” “There are a handful of large, healthy churches like ours,” he answered, “and a bunch of small, dysfunctional churches.” Like many, he equated bigness with health, which is not necessarily a true measure.

My criteria were: is God the subject of the worship; is the Bible faithfully exposited; is God-dependent prayer modeled, and is faith alone in Christ alone presented as the only means by which we are saved?

Our experience at the first church we visited was different from the rest because I was the guest speaker.

Though an atheist, my brother recognized that if a preacher reads a Bible text and declares it to be the subject of his sermon, that sermon should bear some resemblance to the message of the text. He declared that I had done very well in that regard. Our standard had been set.

To our surprise, and my dismay, that most-basic expectation was rarely met at the churches we visited.

The preachers instead used the Bible text as a launching point for pragmatic or moralistic messages of their own invention. After each service, my brother would ask, “How do you think that guy did?” I always replied, “You tell me first what you thought.” His observations were good and showed that he was paying attention.

We eventually visited that “large, healthy church.” As expected, every aspect of the worship service was well-polished, especially the music, though the song lyrics were theologically shallow. I knew the senior pastor to be a skilled communicator and anticipated being refreshed from our theological drought. His sermon was skillfully presented as expected, but it bore little resemblance to the Bible text he had chosen.

Why should any of this matter? If a church does not preach the message of the Bible, it is preaching the wisdom of men, which will equip no one for a God-honoring life now.

If God and his divine attributes are not the subject of the worship songs, it is self that is worshiped and human devotion for God exalted. If God-dependent prayer is not modeled and encouraged, the illusion of navigating this life in our own strength is promoted. If salvation by faith alone in Christ alone is not taught, people will be lost for eternity.

Find a healthy church!

For God’s Sake: Starting a church like establishing a new community

The reality is that everyone brings with them the distillate of their church experiences good and bad. Nonetheless, a new church is started by a group of families who share the same ministry values and expectations.

That is how COMPASS got its start, a group of area families who shared the same ministry values and expectations got together to talk and pray and dream. Later, my wife and I became a part of that conversation and moved to Navarre to put our gifts and experience to work.

The first ministry essential was to prayerfully discern this church’s vision, the high ideal toward which we would work. You may be surprised to learn that discerning what our vision should be was not hard.

As a congregation of Christians, Scripture tells us that we are conduits that God is pleased to use to spread his gospel around the world for his glory. Our highest ideal was that every man, woman and child in Navarre and beyond would have an opportunity to hear the gospel and, by God’s grace, become a follower of Jesus Christ to the glory of God on the earth.

The second ministry essential was recognizing what is our mission, the work we must engage in to realize our vision. I said “recognizing” because Christ Jesus gave us our mission when he commanded his disciples to go into the world and make disciples, other followers of Christ.

Starting a church is essentially establishing a new community with its own culture and with shared core values about who we are and what is important to us. It was here that this pastor’s dreams started becoming reality. Topping our list of core values was a commitment to learn God’s Word, the Bible, adults and children alike, by reading it, studying it, and obeying it.

We committed to modeling Christlikeness especially in our neighborhoods, and committed to God-centered worship, singing songs to God about God. God-dependent prayer was also an essential for us because we are gladly a God-dependent people with a God-given work that can only be done in God’s power. And we have purposed to become a congregation that builds one another up and not tears one another down.

Candidly speaking, some days I feel like I am balanced on a highwire and wonder how I came to be here. I never wanted to plant a church, but God changed my heart and called me to Navarre.

Whenever I feel inadequate, God reminds me that He is the one who plants churches. I need only look back over the recent months at the top-drawer people God has brought to us. God alone knows what COMPASS will become and in that I can comfortably rest.

For God’s Sake: Only in Christ can true reconciliation be achieved

The main character, Edna Spalding, is a woman whose security in life died when her husband, the local sheriff, is accidentally shot and killed by a drunk teenager.

In peril of losing their farm to the bank, she enlists the help of an unlikely crew – a black drifter named “Moze” and “Mr. Will,” Edna’s blind tenant – to plant and harvest a cotton crop on her 40-acres.

It is Texas in 1934 during the Great Depression, a time when life was hard, the elements unforgiving, and naked human depravity readily on display. Nonetheless, with Moze’s skill and knowledge of the cotton industry and Edna’s sheer determination, they harvest a crop. The celebratory mood quickly evaporates when Moze is ambushed and beaten by some local KKK members. He is rescued from certain death by

Mr. Will, who shames each hooded assailant by name, having recognized them by their voices. Badly bruised, Moze tells Edna that he is moving on.

The movie ends with a sequence that at first warms the viewer’s heart then confuses with a scenario improbable for Texas in 1934. The camera slowly zooms in on a small church from which emanates the sound of hymn-singing.

The scene shifts to the church sanctuary, where we are not surprised to find that the hymn singers are all white. After some brief remarks by the preacher on what the Bible teaches about love, the singing resumes and the camera follows the communion trays as they are passed down the rows of pews, each person partaking. In the fourth row we see Moze and then Mr. Will. I was pleasantly surprised to see Moze there, then remembered that this was the South in 1934.

The non sequitur is resolved when he hands the tray to Mr. Will, who hands it to Edna’s children, then they to Edna, who hands it to her dead husband, who hands it to the dead teenager, who shot him.

I don’t know what message the filmmaker intended, but in my mind this display of reconciliation in the communion service, which pictures the body and blood of Christ given for human sin, conveyed the biblical truth that only in Christ can true reconciliation be found.

The Bible assures the sinner who trusts in Christ alone that he is instantly reconciled to God for eternity. It assures us that God has reconciled all things to himself in Christ, a truth we will not see realized until Christ’s return. God’s children and his creation will exist in perfect harmony.

The brand of reconciliation our society is trying to advance through political correctness and short-sighted legislation is external at best and tenuous. Only in Christ can true reconciliation be achieved for only God can change the human heart.

For God’s Sake: Faith in Jesus will save you

A less tolerable description is one I heard from a store clerk, who said, “it’s hotter than hell outside!” I know he was speaking hyperbolically, first, because it is certain that he has never been to hell, and second, hell will be much hotter than the temperatures we’re dealing with today by anybody’s measuring system.

The doctrine of hell and judgment has become increasingly unfashionable in our day. Instead, people invent for themselves a god and an eternity shaped by their own value system, which guarantees that they, and those that they love, are in. Any notion of judgment rarely figures into their scenario, unless, of course, the person is “really bad.” The standards for that call are nebulous and subject to change.

Jesus spoke more about hell than he did about heaven. In Matthew’s gospel, he described hell as “a fiery furnace,” and in Mark’s gospel as a place, “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” It is, he warns in Luke’s gospel, a place of eternal torment from which there is no reprieve. Just as the beauty of heaven is infinitely more than the magnificent environment – its most sublime beauty is the radiant glory of God himself – so too the greatest horror of hell is not the environment, but the unrelenting wrath of holy God poured out against unrepentant sinners for eternity.

That Jesus spoke more about hell than heaven should not surprise us – if you knew that a horrific danger lay ahead and that there was a way to avoid it, wouldn’t you continually sound the warning? It would be cruel to remain silent or to whitewash the danger with some invented story. Jesus warned that, “The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them in the fiery furnace.” The burning question, if you will excuse my pun, is whom does God deem “evil” and “righteous”?

Many will be surprised to learn that the Bible says that no one is righteous, not even one. God himself is the measure of righteousness. “But I try to keep the Ten Commandments,” someone might argue. God gave his laws to reveal our sin, not to make us righteous. Further, you would have had to keep God’s law perfectly your entire life and not be a descendant of Adam. How then can anyone be made righteous?

God has made his righteousness available to us through faith alone in Jesus Christ, whom God has set before us as the only Way to heaven, to be believed on by faith. Your creative inventions about heaven may make you feel better, faith in Jesus will save you. Repent and believe!

For God’s Sake: Trust in what God has provided for redemption

My weight gain started after I moved to Navarre. Lamenting my gain with a portly colleague, he boasted that he had actually dropped several waist sizes. Looking at his unchanged girth, I couldn’t figure how that was possible. Now I know.

Last week, my wife measured me for a pair of shorts she was buying online. She wrapped the measuring tape around my waist and reported a number 6-inches bigger than the pants I am wearing now. “No way!” I protested.

She measured again, and diplomatically shaved an inch off the earlier report. “How can that be?” I stammered, “The pants I’m wearing aren’t that big!” She said, “Show me where you wear your pants.” In that instant, my portly colleague’s secret was revealed: if you wear your pants lower on your waist beneath your belly you can achieve a more desirable measurement. Apparently, that is what I had begun to do.

That is our modus operandi as human beings whenever we are measured and don’t like the results. No one likes to feel badly about themselves, so we just lower the standard to make the measure more agreeable and, for a season, more achievable.

And having lowered the standard once, lowering it again becomes easier each time. The doctored results agree with the illusion we have about ourselves, and we once again feel good about ourselves.

In one of those person-on-the-street video polls, the pollster asked, “Are you a sinner?” Most responded easily that they were not. “Would you agree that a sinner is someone who sins?” All agreed. “Is lying a sin?” Yes. “Have you ever lied?”

All admitted that they had. “Doesn’t that make you a sinner?” During the uncomfortable silence that followed some hasty, inner repair work must have been done on their illusion, because the majority still insisted that they were not sinners.

Biblically speaking, we all are, by nature, sinners, so we sin as naturally as we breathe. Though we might measure our sin on a sliding scale, the actual standard is fixed; it is God’s perfect righteousness. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” the Bible reports.

Worse yet, it tells us that even one sin earns us eternal death. We could try to prop up the illusion to feel better about ourselves or we can take real action. The only acceptable action is to admit your sin and trust in what God has provided for our redemption – trusting in Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, who died for our sins and in whom we can be declared righteous.

For God’s Sake: Trust in Christ today

This year, there seems to be a larger number of a nasty, little fly that is very quick, very agile, and likes to take chunks out of human flesh.

My wife is an amateur “bug-ologist,” and, after a few bites, she looked her tormentor up on an app she frequents. Its name sounds like something out of a fantasy tale – the yellow fly of the dismal swamp. I know, I had a hard time believing it myself. Now, I have become a fantasy hero who has been summoned by the lady of the manor to do battle with the yellow fly of the dismal swamp. I have emerged victorious.

Look this fly up online and you’ll see that it is quite beautiful, somewhat gem-like in its coloration. It is hard to imagine that such a small, beautiful creature can inflict such pain and be such an annoyance. Perhaps that is its most effective trait – deceptively beautiful and insignificant. Another pest shares those traits – sin.

Sin portrays itself as something to be desired, something that will improve your life, something beautiful.

In our moment of deliberation, sin presents itself as small and harmless, nothing compared to those heinous crimes like stealing and murder. “What harm can come from eating a piece of fruit?” Adam surely thought before he bit. “It is desirable and will make you wise,” the tempter pressed. Since Adam took that fateful bite in defiance of God’s one command, we, his descendants, have had a massive problem with our perception of sin.

Rightly perceived, all sin is rebellion against God, high treason, and worthy of death. The finite creature looks up at its infinite Creator, balls up a tiny little fist, and defiantly declares, “I don’t care about your laws, I’m doing what I want!” Our horribly skewed perception of sin’s beauty and benefits provides us with all the justification we need. We even malign God in our rebellion, accusing him of withholding from us something good. “God knows that in the day that you eat of it your eyes will be opened,” the tempter suggested, “and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Whenever I think that my sin is insignificant, beautiful and beneficial, I need only look at the cross where Christ willingly bore God’s just wrath for our sins in our place.

Even from the spare descriptions in the Bible, the cross is hideous, and so is our sin that hung him there.

What is truly beautiful and truly beneficial is God’s gospel, the good news that by faith alone in Christ, who died for us, rebellious sinners can know the joy of every sin forgiven and the assurance of eternity with God. Trust in Christ today.

For God’s Sake: God like music score for our new life in Christ

Yet, it was only after two decades of being deeply entrenched in the music field that I was encouraged to use a metronome and that by my jazz guitar teacher!

For the benefit of those with no knowledge of things musical, a metronome is not an elf who commutes. It is an adjustable device that unerringly produces a tick or a tock or a pulse that defines the tempo, the frequency of beats-per-minute.

The dedicated musician sets a tempo on a metronome, then practices their etudes and exercises striving to keep pace with the device. My jazz guitar teacher insisted that I use a metronome in my practicing, and in hindsight, I am forever grateful.

Novice musicians tend to hurry through the sections of their etudes and exercises they can play well, but slow down to navigate the more difficult.

The ideal is to set a metronome at the slowest speed at which you can play the whole exercise without mistakes and without slowing down or speeding up. The click of the metronome is there to reveal to you when you are not maintaining the tempo. Slowly, under the discipline of the metronome, the novice begins to master the instrument and not be mastered by it. How much like a metronome to the musician is the Holy Spirit to the Christian.

Before using a metronome, I did not perceive that I had a problem keeping tempo; my playing sounded fine to me. Once I started using a metronome, my tempo problem was revealed.

So it was before I was redeemed, I had no perception of having a sin problem, I was quite satisfied with my life. Now that I have the Holy Spirit indwelling me, I realize that I have a sin problem.

The promise of God to those whom he has redeemed in Christ is the Holy Spirit, who indwells the redeemed both as the assurance of their salvation in Christ and as the agent who enacts in them the benefits of their salvation.

The Holy Spirit of God works through the Word of God to transform the child of God to become more like Christ, the Son of God, to the glory of God.

In this way, the Word of God is like the music score for our new life in Christ, and the Spirit of God like the metronome. He reveals to us the sin in our life, the places where we are not following the score and where we have not kept pace with righteousness.

Wonderfully outfitted, the general trend in the Christian life should be a growing steadfastness to the Word of God and the ever clearer evidence of that promised transformation in our lives.

The Bible assures, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”

For God’s Sake: Disciple-making creates a win-win situation

This win-win arrangement she was touting was one that she and I had put together where, in exchange for me giving Jack guitar lessons, he would mow my grass.

Jack is dropped off at my house every Thursday afternoon around 5:00, goes through a guitar lesson, and then we head outside where I sit in a lawn chair in the shade and watch him mow. It is a beautiful thing watching someone else mow your lawn particularly when there is no monthly bill. Jack’s mom thinks it is a beautiful thing to have her son get guitar lessons and there is no monthly bill. It’s a beautiful, win-win arrangement.

One of my other teaching opportunities is a weekly men’s class where, most recently, we have been going through Matthew 28:16-20 with the proverbial fine-toothed comb to learn well what is commonly known in Christian circles as The Great Commission.

The resurrected Jesus appears to the now eleven apostles and tells them how all authority in and heaven and on earth has been given to him, then he commands them to go and make disciples – other followers of Jesus Christ – of all nations.

Some Christians regard Jesus’ command as extending only to the eleven and is of no concern to any other Christians then or now. Were that the case, Christianity would have been a flash in the pan, dying out in that first generation. Jesus went on to say to the eleven that they were to teach these new disciples to observe all that he had commanded them, which naturally would include making disciples. They were to make disciples who make disciples.

It has been my observation that, even among those who recognize that Jesus’ command is to them, there is a reticence to obey.

Disciple-making is rarely done these days. While we are thrilled to be in a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, we are often afraid to share this good news with anyone else lest they reject us or write us off as crazy. And there is also the strong likelihood of failure.

But this fear is misplaced, because whenever a Christian obeys Christ and puts their hand to disciple-making, it is a win-win arrangement. How so?

The first win is that the Christian is being obedient to Christ even if their disciple-making efforts are met with rejection. We call Christ “Lord,” we should obey him as Lord.

The second win happens when someone, by the grace of God, responds to our disciple-making efforts and puts their faith in Christ and begins to walk with us as we follow Christ. Think of it, you have been used by God to bring someone into an eternal relationship with God. Win!

If you’ll excuse me now, I need to go outside and watch a certain someone mow my lawn.

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