Refocus and Fortify

Puritan Family

Yesterday not only marked the beginning of a new month, but it was the beginning of a new and more intense focus for me.  Both as a husband and as a father, I decided it was time for me to prayerfully refocus on family life.  A more intense focus coupled with a need to fortify is the way things ought to go.  If you’re an astute leader of your home, then you’ll know when things need an adjustment.  You’ll know when things need correction, big or small.  What I’m talking about here is the whole of family life, not just selected parts.  Prayer, worship, catechesis, finances, eating habits, home improvements, yard work, hospitality, long-term plans, etc. come into play.  Every area of family life is brought into focus and shaped for the better.

As some of you may know, our family has been through a lot over the past couple of years.  We’ve experienced a lot of heartache and turmoil.  Our physical health has suffered.  So has our spiritual health.  Last year’s ordeal of fighting a legal battle to keep custody of our oldest daughter really did drain us spiritually, emotionally, and in various other ways.  Yet today, I dare say that I’m more optimistic than I’ve been in a long time.  I have more joy now and for the future.  In various ways, God has shown Himself to be faithful in the midst of all this.  He has used these circumstances (and is still using them) for our good.  Even though Emma is not living with us at the moment, she’s probably closer to us now than before all this started.  And that’s quite a blessing.

Being the leader of my home I recognize that I need to be more disciplined and focused.  I need to better equip myself so that I can lead and serve my family better.  That’s what servant leadership is about.  At the same time, I also recognize we’re still healing.  And there’s a lot of healing that needs to be done.  We need to grow in accordance with that reality.  God has used the events of the last couple of years to show me my weaknesses, especially as a parent.  That’s cause for praise!

In certain Christian circles, we hear a lot of talk about the so-called “Benedict Option.”  It’s the notion that there’s a time and place for Christians to step back from the culture, take stock of the situation, and disengage for a time in order to better ourselves spiritually.  That’s overly simplistic, but you get the idea.  You might say that what I’m trying to do right now is a type of “Benedict Option” at the family level.  It’s a time to refocus and replenish our resources, so to speak.  To be sure, I’m not going to give up all of my outside commitments.  However, I will draw back quite a bit.  As many Christian fathers can tell you, it’s very easy to let things on the outside become a distraction to the detriment of family life.

My previous posts about our cultural decline being especially manifested in this president election cycle are certainly a bit gloomy.  Yet there’s a providential silver lining in all of that.  Like many others, this would be the time of year I’d be volunteering for campaigns and the like.  Much of my free time would have been spent trying to help elect a candidate.  But the righteous candidate didn’t win the presidential nomination.  In fact, it doesn’t even look like the Constitution Party candidate will get on the ballot here in Virginia.  And there’s really nothing going on down-ballot.  The handwriting is one the wall and it’s almost as if the outcome of the election is already here.  All of that being said, this is a golden opportunity for me (and everyone else) to focus on their families.  In a sense, it’s liberating.

I know other people may have other distractions, but the point is made.  There are times when we as husbands/fathers need to step back and prayerfully change course in the direction of our families.  It’s a time for fortify and strengthen.  We need to realize that by doing so we’re making investments–and we’ll never live to see most of the fruit of those investments.  They’re generational in nature.  We need to love our wives as Christ loves His church.  We need to raise our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  The immediate result will be a healthy family culture which will exist to glorify God.  Why ought we to do these things?  Because we were called to this.

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Posted in family, marriage, redeeming the time | 5 Comments

Another School Year

Stack of Books

This was the start of the new school year for many children around the country, homeschoolers being no exception.  With all of the preparations in place, children in the Dermer household began the next leg of the journey in learning.  Watching all of the preparations and seeing what they’ll learn, I’m probably more excited than they are.  My favorite part is being the main consultant for any related to history or civics.  It looks to be a good year and things have gotten off to a pretty good start.

As always, I pray over my children individually before they begin another year of schooling.  Specifically, I pray that the Lord would bless them not just in terms of academics, but also in terms of their spiritual growth.  May they always be reminded that wisdom begins with the fear of God.  May they look to His word as the foundation for all truth.  May they hide His word in their hearts, that they would remember it all the days of their lives.  All of these things are my hope and prayer.

Not too long ago, I got a copy of Andrew Case’s book, Setting Their Hope in God.  If you’re familiar with the Valley of Vision, then you’ll appreciate this book and how it’s laid out.  Basically, it’s a book of prayers for parents to pray over their children.  This is a resource of great benefit to Christian parents, especially if you struggle with what to pray and how to pray it.  One of the practices I see lacking in the American church today is a steadfast devotion to prayer.  This book is an aid to alleviate that problem.

Remember, too, to pray for those hardworking homeschool mothers who devote themselves past the breaking point.  Pray for us homeschooling fathers to be invested and engaged.  There’s a lot of work involved in raising Godly seed, but the Lord will bless those faithful efforts.  Especially on the hard days, let us remember to think generationally and what God has called us to do.

Posted in discipleship, education, family, prayer, teaching | 2 Comments

The Importance of Pastors Knowing the Greek New Testament

Textus Receptus

Today I stumbled across this quote from Baptist scholar A.T. Robertson on the importance of pastors knowing the Greek New Testament:

“It ought to be taken for granted that the preacher has his Greek Testament. This statement will be challenged by many who excuse themselves from making any effort to know the Greek New Testament. I do not say that every preacher should become an expert in his knowledge of the New Testament Greek. That cannot be expected. I do not affirm that no preacher should be allowed to preach who does not possess some knowledge of the original New Testament. I am opposed to such a restriction. But a little is a big per cent. On nothing, as John A. Broadus used to say. This is preeminently true of the Greek New Testament.

“The real New Testament is the Greek New Testament. The English is simply a translation of the New Testament, not the actual New Testament. It is good that the New Testament has been translated into so many languages. The fact that it was written in the koine, the universal language of the time, rather than in one of the earlier Greek dialects, makes it easier to render into modern tongues. But there is much that cannot be translated. It is not possible to reproduce the delicate turns of thought, the nuances of language, in translation. The freshness of the strawberry cannot be preserved in any extract.

“The most perfect vehicle of human speech thus far devised by man is the Greek. English comes next, but Greek outranks it. The chief treasure in the Greek language is the New Testament. Homer and Thucydides and Aeschylus and Plato all take a rank below Paul and John and Luke. The cultural and spiritual worth of the Greek New Testament is beyond all computation. In the Renaissance the world woke up with the Greek Testament in its hands. It still stands before the open pages of this greatest of all books in wonder and in rapture as the pages continue to reveal God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

This is something to keep in mind–something to motivate me–as I pick up the study of Greek once again.  May the Lord bless me and other men preparing for ministry to that end.

Posted in education, exhortation, ministry, redeeming the time, Scripture | 1 Comment

By What Standard is Incest Wrong?

Virginia Law

Title page to the earliest statutes governing Virginia, firmly based upon biblical law.

 

That’s not a title for a subject I ever thought I’d have to write about on this blog, but there it is.  Sadly, we have to openly ask such a question in America in 2016.  What prompted a cultural discussion about incest is a story which has now gone viral about a mother-son New Mexico couple who are prepared to fight a legal battle (and do whatever else it takes) to be together.  Authorities in the State became aware of their relationship and are cracking down.  Now there’s a court order instructing them to stay away from each other, but they’re determined to continue their illicit relationship whatever the cost.  There’s even a “support and advocacy” organization giving aid to this incestuous duo.

Any of this sound familiar?

Over a decade ago, many Christian and conservative commentators warned that the cultural acceptance of homosexuality would necessarily open the door to acceptance of behaviors like polygamy and incest.  I was one of those giving such commentary.  As soon as the warning was uttered, the one speaking it was shouted down and accused of engaging in a “slippery-slope fallacy.”  Well, the slope is here and the whole country is about to slide down.  Last year’s Obergefell decision by the Supreme Court to effectively legalize same-sex “marriage” gave a boost to legal efforts to legalize polygamy.  The popularity of television shows like “Big Love” and “Sister Wives” are also aiding in normalizing of this behavior.  And after polygamy, incest is apparently the next frontier.

In my humble opinion, it won’t be long before polygamy is culturally accepted in America.  Legally speaking, it’s the next shoe to drop.  The media and entertainment industries will continue to fuel its acceptance much like they did for the homosexual and “transgender” movements.  A bit further down the road, we’ll see the same thing happen with those who practice incest.  The propaganda and talking points will emulate the homosexual movement almost verbatim.  I can hear it now:

“Hey, Josh.  Why are so opposed to this?  They’re consenting adults.”

“So what if he has multiple wives?  How is their relationship affecting your marriage?”

“How are you affected by this woman’s relationship with her father?  Just because you find it icky doesn’t mean it should be illegal.”

“Hey, I thought conservatives were against big government.  Why are you in favor of them intruding into people’s bedrooms?”

And I could go on.  As you can see, we can literally write the talking points for them.  It’s the same strategy just with different forms of sexual depravity.  But how did we get here and why is our culture so rapidly going into free fall?  This is the direct consequence of Western civilization’s wholesale abandonment of a Christian worldview.  Yes, this is what happens when you abandon Scripture as the authoritative standard for conduct in society.  The increasingly dominant Secularism is not going to provide a coherent sexual ethos other than, perhaps, a loosely-defined “consent only” ethic.  As long as there are consenting adults involved, all is well.  But even the issue of consent itself is increasingly open to question.

Can a professing atheist or agnostic argue against incest?  He can’t.  There is no standard to which he can appeal.  All he has are his own personal tastes and preferences.  That’s it.  Who is he to judge and by what standard?  The Christian, by contrast, can appeal to the transcendent authority of God’s revealed word.  It is not only a standard, but an infallible one.  He can look to Leviticus 18 where incest is condemned by the Lord as sin.  More foundationally, the Christian points to Genesis 2:18-25 and Matthew 19:4-6 as God’s positive affirmation of what marriage is supposed to be.  It is God alone who created our sexuality and defines its boundaries.  Nowhere in the Scriptures does He positively affirm polygamy, incest, or same-sex relationships.  The boundaries are clearly marked.

When a society ceases to acknowledge God as creator, sustainer, and lawgiver in order to pursue their own mythical autonomy, we get exactly the kind of moral chaos we see today.  The fact that this is happening so quickly is a testament to the swift judgment that is upon our culture as we speak.  As it says in Romans 1, we’re being given over to depraved and futile thinking.  As a society, we’ve lost the ability to reason about even the most basic of moral issues.  There may be a consensus that the incestuous relationship of this mother and son causes our stomachs to turn, but there’s no consensus regarding a standard by which we can judge their conduct.  As Dostoevsky reminded us, there is no moral standard without God–all things become permissible.

As we continue to trudge through the 21st century, we need to be reminded that this situation is nothing new for the church.  The people of God have seen this kind of thing before.  Just as the church survived (and even thrived) under the rule of the sexually immoral Roman Empire, so too will she survive a sexually immoral United States of America.  The pressure to conform and affirm will be immense, but Christ calls us to be faithful.  Even when the chaos threatens to undo us, may the remnant in America represent a solid rock that will outlast this present culture.

Posted in apologetics, culture, homosexuality, marriage, Scripture, Secularism | 7 Comments

Into the Wilderness

Desert.jpg

I don’t mince words when I say that looking for a solid, biblical church is akin to a trek through the wilderness.  Granted, I’m not talking about literally walking through a desert as the Israelites did.  Yet it can definitely be a spiritual desert void of much spiritual food.  This month will mark one year since my family and I began this search.  What a journey it has been.  We’ve seen a little of the good, plenty of the bad, and lots more of the ugly.  Along the way, I hope the Lord has used this time in the proverbial wilderness to grow us in our faith.  He’s given us a bit of manna along the way, but that same manna has also pointed us in the direction of eventually resting in a local church.  Somewhere.  At some point.  And so the journey continues.

Some people wonder why it’s taking us so long to settle down within a fellowship.  Truth be told, we’re having such a difficult time because so many of these churches rub up against our doctrinal convictions.  I’m not talking about differences over secondary issues, though some may construe it that way.  For example, we have convictions regarding the Fourth Commandment and you can probably call us Sabbatarians in that regard.  How are we supposed to fellowship with people in a church where the common practice is to go out to eat after the service?  (We simply can’t afford to do that anyway, but that’s another issue altogether).  Another conviction is being family-integrated in our worship.  In a number of churches, the pressure was on us to let our kids go to “children’s church” instead of keeping them with us in the service.

Focusing on worship itself, some churches have this “rock concert” atmosphere in which the music is ramped up loudly.  My wife told me on the way home from such a church that she just couldn’t focus on the worship of God because the loud music was such a distraction, a practical problem aside from any consideration of the regulative principle.  We’re not old fuddy-duddies, by the way.  Hollie and I are both in our early 30s.  In fact, we’re done everything we can to be flexible without breaking any of these convictions.  Differences in music?  Okay.  Casual dress?  That’s fine.  We’ve laid our hymnals/psalters aside and I’ve gone without a tie a few Sundays or two.  We really did try to fit into some of these places and show charity.

After years of not really having a lot of genuine fellowship, we definitely put a high premium on that.  Yet most of the churches we considered are pretty far away.  How are we supposed to have fellowship when almost everyone else is at least 45 minutes away?  Can’t happen.  You can think this is nitpicky, but I know of a pastor who actually tells some prospective members to find another fellowship if they don’t live close enough.  It’s that important.  Not only were these churches farther out than us, but they were in areas with a much higher socio-economic status.  I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s much more difficult to fellowship (and be able to relate) with a congregation of people who don’t have the same struggles and way of life.

I’m not writing all of this to complain or “vent my emotions” as it were.  In fact, Scripture tells us not to do that (Prov. 29:11).  Rather, I’m just laying out in general terms the paths we’ve taken and the problems we’ve experienced along the way.  And this isn’t to say that God hasn’t used these experiences for our good.  In almost every place we’ve visited, we’ve experienced kindness and warmth.  We’re blessed because of that.  In some places, we’ve heard good preaching too.  Yet those convictions we have are there and everywhere we go it just seems like we’re fish out of water.  Our goal was never to dot every “I” and cross every “T” in Reformed theology, but simply to find a church which actually worships biblically.

In one church in particular, I was told by one of the elders that we need to keep our doctrinal convictions about certain matters to ourselves and not discuss them with other members of the congregation, lest they be led astray.  Say, what?  Yes, that actually happened.  In another church, I filled out an information card to find out more about the church and perhaps talk with one of the elders.  No elder ever called, but one of the ladies from the church called to specifically talk with my wife.  She jokingly remarked to my wife that she was surprised to see a husband actually fill out the card.  I can only assume they aren’t big advocates of men actually being the heads of their households.

It’s very tempting to give into the notion that we’re just being too picky or otherwise trying to “find the perfect church” as someone else said.  But it really isn’t about that.  Not at all.  Last Sunday we listened to a sermon from Joel Beeke about the necessity of raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  In that sermon, he stressed the importance of children having a “seamless” witness of biblical Christianity from all of the influences around them.  That includes us as parents and it also includes the church we attend.  What kind of witness do we have when we lay aside convictions on essential matters just to put a check in the box for having attended church?  My wife and I have to answer to God one day for the influences we’ve placed around them.  Let that sink in.

So here we are…marching along in this spiritual wilderness.  Depending upon where you live, searching out a new can be a daunting, heartbreaking, and often depressing task.  We’re doing our best to keep our heads up and our eyes pointed toward Christ.  I write this as encouragement to anyone out there going through the same type of wilderness.  Sadly, this is normative for Christianity in America.  If you’re walking the same trek, you aren’t alone.  We know other brethren going through the same thing.  Perhaps this is a time for us as a family to humble ourselves, repent, and seek the face of God.  May I lead us to do just that and may we remember to have hearts of gratitude even in the midst of this.

Posted in family, worship | 12 Comments

Election Day Idea

election-day-add-P1

I’ve toyed with this idea before and wrote about it briefly on social media, but never really got much feedback about it.  My idea has to do with evangelism on Election Day.  In terms of this election, I’m one of those people who doesn’t have a dog in this hunt (as the old saying goes).  As a Christian, I can’t in good conscience vote for either Clinton or Trump.  So as far as I’m concerned, this election cycle is over.  The time I would have spent campaigning for a candidate will now be spent doing other things.  One of the best ways to redeem the time is to engage in some form of evangelism.

I hear many Christians rightly saying that our nation desperately needs revival more than mere political change.  They’re correct.  So rather than working the polls on Election Day for a particular candidate, why not work the polls doing evangelism?  If you’re allowed to stand outside and hand out sample ballots and other propaganda promoting a candidate, then it stands to reason you should be allowed to stand in the same space and hand out Gospel tracts.  You may want to double-check with your local laws on this, but I would assume it’s legit.  And what better cause is there than promoting the Kingdom of God?

Think about it.  You have a guaranteed stream of people from your precinct entering the polling place.  Depending upon voter turnout and the time of day, many of these folks will be waiting in line.  That’s a wonderful opportunity to hand them a solid Gospel tract to read while they’re waiting.  Other ideas include handing out pocket-sized New Testaments or similar-sized booklets of the Gospel of John.  There are probably other ideas out there which you could come up with for such a time as this.  I would humbly suggest at least two brethren ministering at one polling place.  Be prepared for tough questions and make sure you have enough materials on hand.

For the sake of God’s kingdom, I’d love to see this idea go viral.  I’d love to see pastors/elders get behind this.  In fact, you should have the blessing and oversight of the elders of your local church before jumping into this.  What an impact it would make if we could have hundreds of congregations doing this very thing on Election Day.  Again, this is just a simple idea I thought of one day.  It’s probably not even original.  But I think it’s a great idea, one I’d like to see the church take hold of and run with all the way to November.

Posted in evangelism, events, exhortation, ministry, redeeming the time | 4 Comments

Grace for Southeastern Ohio

Hocking Hills

The Hocking Hills in Southeastern Ohio

Driving the stretch of Route 50 and crossing the Ohio River at the Blennerhassett Island Bridge thus begins our familiar journey into the region of Southeastern Ohio.  This part of the Buckeye State represents the outer part of Appalachia with many of the same cultural and economic trappings.  Coal mining used to be a booming business before dying out.  To a somewhat lesser degree, manufacturing had its heyday here as well.  There are still a few factories dotting the map, but by and large this has become a service economy.  Virtually everyone I know from here has a job which is connected, in some way, with the medical field.

The most populated area I’ve seen in this area is the City of Athens, a college town which boasts about a little less than 25,000 residents within its limits (Athens County as a whole has around 65,000 people).  My wife grew up in nearby Perry County, one of the poorest counties in the State.  The demographics here resemble which you’d expect in any area of Appalachia.  It’s overwhelmingly white (98% in the last census), very rural, and it’s not hard to find signs of a defunct coal industry.  Things like deer hunting are a way of life.  The town of New Straitsville hosts a popular moonshine festival every year.  Of all the places I’ve ever seen in Ohio, this area is definitely the most hilly and reminds me of the foothills of the Blue Ridge.

As homogeneous as the region is ethnically, this part of Ohio is fairly diverse religiously.  The first Roman Catholic congregation in Ohio was started in Somerset and today Roman Catholics remain a pretty significant group here.  Oneness Pentecostalism is also fairly popular in these parts.  Methodist and Baptist churches are numerous and old line Presbyterian congregations (PCUSA) are scattered about.  And of course there is a smattering of non-denominational churches in the mix.  To the best of my knowledge, there is not a confessional, Reformed congregation is this particular area of Southeastern Ohio.  There is definitely a great need for an intentional effort to bring one about.

If you look at trends in church-planting these days, a place like Southeastern Ohio seems like the last place on earth to plant a church.  Most of the trends point toward urban areas, the most fervent pleas being for folks to plant in the inner-cities.  There’s nothing wrong with making disciples in urban areas (and I praise God for that), but I humbly suggest that the current focus in planting churches is very unbalanced.   I suspect that places like Appalachia aren’t on a lot of short lists of areas for missionary effort.  That’s incredibly sad.  It’s been on my heart for quite awhile to spearhead a church-planting project in this area.  When I recently stumbled across this article about Appalachia which talked about how this people group was one of the most unchurched in America, I was galvanized all the more.

Just shortly before I read that article, I was very inspired when I read a blog post by James White in which he described the efforts by Apologia Church to set up a church plant in Hawaii.  He talked about how whole families are pulling up roots, giving up careers, and starting businesses out there.  I’m not an expert on Hawaii by any means, but I’ve heard that the cost of living is pretty high out there and I image it may be difficult to start a business there from scratch.  Yet people are willing to do that in order to fulfill the Great Commission in that part of the world.  So what’s my excuse?

I’ve taken the first baby step toward getting this project off the ground.  I created a Facebook page in order to gauge interest in starting a church plant in Southeastern Ohio.  The page isn’t just geared toward folks who already live there, but to anyone who may be interested helping with this.  When I talk about help, I’m talking about everything from regularly praying for this effort to actually considering moving here yourself.  It can mean all kinds of things.  For one, I’m going to need to find a job in this general area of Ohio to provide for my wife and five children.  I will also be seeking the guidance, advice, and oversight from at least two different pastors.  The bulk of my theological education will have to be completed.  There are certainly other practical needs which will come up as this gets off the ground, but you get the idea.

Only time will tell if God will bless this effort.  There’s a lot that needs to happen before we can get this going.  I encourage everyone reading this to spread the news about this project.  It’s going to take time.  Our desire is to be a worshiping congregation which has a high view of God, Scripture, holiness, and grace. We’re trying to form a genuine community of believers which emphasizes the “one anothers” of Scripture. This will be a local church based upon the doctrinal standards articulated in the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith.  We want to be a church which makes an impact upon the local area, supporting evangelistic efforts and outreach.

Please consider supporting us as we are obedient to this calling.  Thank you in advance for your prayers and any other help you can provide.

Posted in church planting, discipleship, evangelism, exhortation, ministry, prayer | Leave a comment