Reaching Our Jerusalem
That now-President Trump is an enigma is an understatement. There hasn’t been a more polarizing president in my lifetime. Each day presents another piece of evidence that he has little experience in politics. And that is a significant reason many people voted for him. Now that he is in office there seems to be a new firestorm every day, with the one as of this writing being his immigration order. Whether you agree or not, he was very clear before he was elected that he would take many of these steps. His “Make America Great Again” resonated with millions of Americans. Whether referring to immigration, involving our military in foreign conflict, subsidizing the United Nations, or contributing billions of dollars to other nations, he has promoted the idea of refocusing our attention and resources on America or there may not be one for our children.
America has been a light and a savior to much of the world for a long time, which is one of the reasons I’m proud to be an American. I also think our president is right that if we don’t shore up the homeland, the light from Lady Liberty’s torch will become a mere flicker. I don’t personally sense that our president is cutting everyone else off, leaving us to be the planet’s most narcissistic patriots. Instead, I believe he is trying to hit the reset button so that we can rebuild some of our weakening principles that once made us great. If he isn’t successful, America will be of no use to the rest of the world in a matter of time.
Twenty years ago, I read a book that heavily influenced my view of American culture and politics, while also helping me see a connection between America’s ecclesiastical landscape and political current that I had never before noticed. Slouching Towards Gomorrah became one of my all-time favorite books, as Robert Bork was masterful at explaining the core of liberalism, how it operates, and why it isn’t good for America. As he laid out his case, I began to notice that American politics seemed to carve out a channel that influenced the flow of American religion, including independent Baptist churches.
I’ve never seen that connection more strongly than I do now, as I watch a president try to convince reluctant people that we must prioritize making America great again before aiding any other country. We have always been a benevolent country, but benevolence isn’t always virtuous. One of the hardest lessons I had to teach my children was that giving to others was no greater a virtue than taking care of their obligations and responsibilities. Keeping their own affairs in order was a priority. The reward of doing so provided an environment and the resources to then give to others. Obviously, I want my children to know the joy of giving. It is without question more blessed to give than to receive. But, it’s also more fun buying a friend a Starbucks card than paying your electric bill. Both are forms of giving, but one has to be prioritized over the other. If you kill the goose, say goodbye to the golden eggs.
Our churches could become just like America if we are not watching closely enough. Some of our most exciting times are Missions Conferences and Church Planting Conferences where we focus on reaching the world and other parts of America. Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth are part of our responsibility, and I’m thankful to be in one of the strongest movements for reaching beyond ourselves. Statistics are unmistakable that independent Baptist churches give more to missions per capita than most any other religious group in America.
But, it all starts in your Jerusalem. Your town. We believe strongly in the local church, as opposed to the universal idea. “Local” is more than a hot-button phrase to draw passionate “amens” in preaching, though. The passion is better served in emphasizing the practical ramifications of a church’s being local. It means that a church exists in a very specific context, first and foremost tied to its community. It demands that a church spend its majority passion on reaching the people around it.
We have sent a missionary family to evangelize Slovenia. When Bro. Monte Barlow took his family there to introduce people to Christ and to plant an independent Baptist church, the best of our research led us to believe that there were no independent Baptists in that country at that time. Yet, because of the churches supporting him, there are at least 70–80 churches cooperating through giving, praying, even going there to reach Slovenia. On the other hand, do you know how many independent Baptist churches are cooperating to reach our own community of Stillwater, Oklahoma? One.
If we don’t do it, there isn’t anyone else.
(That isn’t a plea for a church planter to bypass thousands of communities that have no independent Baptist church to start a second one in Stillwater, by the way. It’s somewhat helpful that offended people have to work it out biblically rather than escape to the next independent Baptist church across town.) Even with multiple independent Baptist churches in your town, you still have a geographic area full of people for whom you must take responsibility.
Most church members will admit, if they’re honest, that it is much easier to write a check for missions than to start a conversation about church or the Gospel with a co-worker or neighbor. We can easily get stuck in a rut that rejoices, even excels, at reaching people around the world and other parts of our wonderful nation, yet do a poor job of reaching “my town.” For several years I have emphasized “The Pyramid Principle” to our church. The pyramid is the strongest building structure known to man. One reason is that in order for it to go any higher, it has to grow at the base first. As long as the base grows, there’s no limit to how far one can go or how distant the reach. Faithful church members can only give so much money, and God calls only so many of them to go across the seas. Without being constantly replenished, the well dries up. Take care of the goose or say goodbye to the golden eggs.
I wish President Trump well as he fights the battle to Make America Great again. He has quite a challenge in resetting the mindset that seems cemented into many Americans. Let’s get our country in order so that we are better equipped to help struggling people in foreign lands. And let’s have enough of a chip on our own shoulder so that, if we’re more effective reaching people 2,000 miles away than two miles away, it produces enough soul-searching to refocus our effectiveness at reaching our Jerusalem.