Who Is the Fool?

court-jester-in-red-costume-vector-618270The book of James says that the Bible is intended to be a mirror, and Hebrews treats the Bible as a blade sharp enough to do surgery on the soul. When believers come to hear the Word of God, we ought to come in humble submission. We ought to come with an attitude ready to see our faults in the mirror and be ready to change, or to submit our soul to the knife of God to cut out sinful attitudes and actions that remain in us even though we believe. However, sometimes we come to the Scriptures with the wrong attitudes. What do I mean? If we come to the Scripture to hear a condemnation of “those people out there,” we are not drawing near to hear from God for ourselves. Instead, we sit in self-righteousness waiting for the Bible to confirm what we already believe.

Does the Bible ever prick your conscience? Does the Bible ever challenge the way you think? It should. If it doesn’t, you must not be listening. The Bible isn’t meant to merely confirm what we already believe. It is meant to radically change our lives. It is the means God uses to conform our minds to the mind of Christ.

Let me take Psalm 14:1a as a case in point. It says, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” The kind of self-righteous Bible reading that I’m talking about reads or hears this verse and immediately thinks of an atheist. In self-righteous smugness, we point our finger to those on the “outside” and say, “look at them, aren’t they foolish? Look, the Bible even says it.” We sit back in our smugness and think this verse is not talking about us—it is about “them.”

I do not believe this is the attitude that a believer should take to a passage like that. Rather, let’s look at it again. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Are there ever times when we Christians act like a fool? If we are honest with ourselves, we have to say yes. In fact, I would say that any time that a believer sins, we play the part of the fool. With that in mind, what we should hear from God here is that when we give in to sinful temptations, we are listening to a little voice within our hearts that says, “there is no God.” We tell ourselves, “no one will know,” or “it isn’t hurting anyone,” but we forget that God sees all that we do.

If God were physically present, in the room with us, in the moment when we are tempted to, tell “a little white lie,” type something we shouldn’t into an internet search bar, or say some unkind thing to our spouse or children, wouldn’t we think twice? Instead, we forget that God is omniscient and omnipresent, we suppress the knowledge of the God we claim to believe in, and we indulge in sins that we dismiss because we don’t get caught.

I don’t believe that Christians attain moral perfection in this life. That must wait for the life to come and “the redemption of our bodies.” In this age, we live with a “cognitive dissonance” in which to some extent we all know that there are areas where we don’t approve of our own actions. While each believer continues to wait for that day, we struggle and stumble along—knowing that His grace is sufficient. When that moment of temptation next comes for you remember this. Don’t believe the lie that whispers in your ear telling you that “there is no God.” Nothing escapes his gaze, and he is there and present with you for you to cry out to for help.

Community Meal

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At Redeemer, last year we decided we would begin feeding the kids who come to our Wednesday night kids programs. Each week over the last year (during the school year) we have prepared a meal at 6:00 p.m. before the kids went to classes.

One thing that we have found is that there are a few adults who started to come as well. They had kids, but the kids weren’t old enough for the classes that existed at the time. So, we expanded the classes. Starting this Fall, we started offering a preschool class on Wednesday nights too.

All that to say, we would like to expand yet again. That’s why we changed our sign. It now says, “Community Meal.” We want to invite anyone in our community to come join us for a meal on Wednesday nights. Everyone is welcome. You don’t have to be a kid to join us.

So, if you don’t feel like cooking on a Wednesday night, or maybe you are just sitting at home lonely, come join us on Wednesday nights at Redeemer Baptist Church in Panama. Come for the food, and maybe you can make a few friends while you are at it.

I hope to see you here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Help on What the Bible Teaches About Homosexuality

I’ve begun my explanation of why I hold to the traditional Christian sexual ethic concerning homosexuality in the last post. If you are interested in exploring the topic more while you wait for me to finish in another post, you can check out these two videos by Kevin DeYoung on the topic. I believe they are very helpful and he can probably speak more clearly than I can on many of the details.

Justin Taylor Interviews Kevin DeYoung, author of “What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?” from Crossway on Vimeo.

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? from Crossway on Vimeo.

What Do We Believe About Homosexuality? Part 1 (Creation and Fall)

This is a topic about which I do not believe I can be silent. From time to time as I have visited with people in Panama, I have been asked what I believed about this subject. And I think it’s right that people ask this question. I will also say, I have more to say about this topic than I can answer in one blog post. I mean, I could say it all in one post, but it would be really long, and I’ve found that longer posts are less likely to be read. so I will break up the answer into parts.

There has been so much change in our culture over the course of the last few decades, and it has happened at a breathtaking pace. These changes have come with the force of a cultural revolution, and Christians who are trying to be faithful to what the Bible teaches now find themselves  often called out-of-date, or worse bigoted.

This is not really a question that is best answered with a simple yes or no; however, because people have become so tribal and polarized about the issue, I expect that many who read this post will not really care so much about how I get to the answer, but will dismiss me without hearing my argument because of where I end up. I will cut to the chase and tell you from the start where I end up, but I hope that you will take the time to hear me out with my reasons. I, Jerad, as the pastor of Redeemer Baptist Church, hold to the traditional Christian orthodox position–that homosexuality is sinful and not to be celebrated.

Now, for those of you who will hear me out and not close your mind and heart to the rest of what I have to say, please consider this line of reasoning.

I must admit at the outset that all of my argument will be based on the assumption that the Bible is God’s authoritative word. That in the Bible, God has spoken to human beings and has revealed to us the answers to the most important questions in life. What does it mean to be human? What is our greatest problem? Why is the world such a mess? What has God done about the mess the world is in? If you don’t accept that the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to humanity, then I don’t expect you to buy any of my argument.

I have to  start in the beginning. In the first chapter of the Bible, we read about the creation of human beings.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:26-27 ESV)

In this passage we see that God created human beings. This should not be taken lightly. If God truly did create human beings, then he has a right to tell us how we are to live. He has made us, and we owe him our allegiance and obedience. We also see in these verses that God created male and female in his own image. The Bible tells us that God created gender. It is a good gift of God. In the Biblical story we see that our gender comes from the creation of God.

We live in a culture that has been deeply affected by the philosophy of existentialism. In this philosophy people are encouraged not to be defined by anything or anyone other than their own free choices. Everyone wants to define themselves according to how they feel, but this goes against the fundamental starting place. We don’t own ourselves, and we are not free to define ourselves. We have been created by a good and loving God who has defined who we are for us, and we should rejoice in the goodness of His creation. Rather than something to resist or rage against, the fact that we are not our own should be something we find comfort in. This is what we find in the Heidelberg Catechism of 1563. The very first question asks: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” and the answer is, “That I am not my own, but belong–body and soul, in life and in death–to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

We don’t have to go far from the first chapter and the Bible tells us what our greatest problem is, and why the world is so messed up. We reach in Genesis 3 that though God only gave the first human couple one command–not to eat of the tree in the midst of the garden–they disobeyed that one command. God had warned Adam and Eve that if they ate of this fruit they would die. While they did not immediately physically die, their death sentence was secure. They would each die, and so would each of their descendants because we have all inherited the same sin nature. This first sin that happened introduced death into the world along with a total corruption of human nature. And as an additional punishment, was proclaimed by God in a curse:

16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” 17 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen 3:16-19 ESV)

Notice, God brought pain to childbearing. Presumably, since they had already been given a command to “be fruitful and multiply,” childbearing was already a part of God’s original design, however, a woman’s physical suffering was introduced to what should have been a beautiful moment of celebration. Also, notice the later part of verse 16. The relationship between men and women was disrupted and distorted. Both men and women would find unique ways to sin against each other. Then we see that the ground was also cursed. Just as childbearing was a part of God’s original design, so was work. But no longer would the ground be cooperative. Instead, the ground would frustrate man by producing thorns and weeds. Man would now have painful toil as he works by the sweat of his brow.

Why is this relevant to the issue of homosexuality? Well, in the Fall, when sin and death was introduced into the world, all of creation was distorted from the original design. I believe this affected every part of human nature. It affects our bodies. It introduces pain and toil, disease and death. It also affects our relationships and our desires. The woman’s desire for her husband was distorted, and so was the man’s behavior toward his wife.

It has often been asked whether being gay is a choice or if you are born that way. Very often, especially in the past, many Christians have insisted that it is strictly a choice and that there is no possible way that a person could be “born this way.” I beg to differ. I don’t claim to know a definitive answer. In fact, I don’t know that it is even possible for science to find a gene that determines a person’s sexuality. However, if geneticists ever did find a link that could be proven beyond doubt, that would be no problem for Christian theology. From the texts we have looked at about the Fall of humanity, we see that sin corrupted human nature. It affects our bodies, our desires, and our relationships. I would say that it is very possible that a person could be born with a predisposition or an inclination to have attractions to the same sex.

The questions comes then, what does this mean? I will argue that those homosexual desires, even though not necessarily chosen, are a result of our Fallen nature. In no way does this mean that homosexuals are somehow deficient as human beings. The reason for that is we are all equally subject to the same distortion of our nature. For some people it may be a predisposition to drugs and alcohol, for others it may be promiscuous heterosexual sex, for others it may be pride or envy. Regardless of the sins we are tempted towards, we are all sinners, and we are all equally in need of God’s grace.

This is my first line of argument in answer to the question. I’m not sure when I’ll get around to it, but look for a part two where I will address more of the issues. Also, feel free to use the comment section to ask questions for clarification.

 

Sowing, Watering, and Reaping

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Last week we looked at John 2:1-12 where Jesus turned water into wine. A few of the observations I made were that Jesus used ordinary water to produce extraordinary wine—that is, it was wine that was even better than what could be produced by natural processes. This has some application to our life together in a church. We often want to depend on “natural processes” in the church. We often feel that we will grow when we get the right program, event, or activity to draw in the crowds. However, the growth of the church is not accomplished through natural processes, but supernatural ones. We are not to be passive observers—simply waiting for God to do something—but we do depend on God to grow His church. What do we do? We plant the seed, we water, we harvest, and God supplies the increase. When we do our part, we cannot neglect the work of personal evangelism, intentional disciple making, and praying for God to move in our hearts.

All of this is evident in what has been happening in Panama recently. We have had a presence in the community now for a little over a year, and we have been slow in our growth. We have experienced ups and downs, and our most consistent success has been with the neighborhood kids. (Just a note, the work with the neighborhood kids did not start with Redeemer. The faithful remaining crowd from Grace Fellowship had continued trying to reach these kids all along. We would not have the success we have with them if it had not been for their faithfulness in sowing and watering along the way.) Just within the last month some exciting things have been happening that have been God’s blessing on our faithful sewing. In the last few weeks we have had two first time visitors that we had been planting seeds with for months who finally came. And they have also since then each brought friends with them.

We can often get discouraged because we don’t see our labors paying off, but we need to remember what Jesus taught us about sewing and reaping. “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

Mentoring and My Story

One of the great needs of churches today is to raise up young leadership. One of the ways this must be done is through intentional mentoring. I’m growing to understand this more all the time, and it is actually quite a paradigm shift. The fact is, almost all of my life and ministry I’ve thought my “job” was the task of ministry in front of me that I was doing. Either teaching, preaching, leading, etc. However, over the last few years I’ve come to realize something new. I shouldn’t think of my “job” as the ministry task in front of me. I should think of my “job” as developing others to do the ministry who will also in turn see themselves as developing others.

I don’t want to minimize the priority of preaching for the church, but I would say there is at least as much if not a greater need for developing other leaders. Someone like me may shy away from saying something like that. I think preaching is massively important to the church–in fact, central. However, developing leaders is what Jesus commissioned us to do. The Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 says that we are to “make disciples.” So on that basis, I believe that it is also a central duty of pastoral ministry that I must reproduce myself in others. This takes place through intentional mentoring.

As I said, this is the need of the hour. In fact, it is an overwhelming need. It is a need that I have only had partially filled for myself. In my own ministry pilgrimage, I got most of my training in a classroom. I did pastor a church my last year in college, and I had my professors that I could go to with questions, but I don’t know that I had the kind of mentoring experience that I longed for. Then I served as a youth pastor for about a year and a half during my M.Div. studies. Maybe this was the best mentoring I had. The pastor took me with him on some hospital visits, and he did help and encourage me, but still from my perspective something seemed to be lacking. The next place I served, I was the pastor. I was a recent seminary graduate, and I thought I had what I needed to be a pastor. Boy was I wrong! I won’t go into the gory details, but I’ll just admit that I made a lot of serious mistakes very quickly that undermined people’s trust in me. I was completely at fault, and I only lasted there six months. The truth was, I didn’t need to be in the position of a senior pastor at that time in my life. I still needed a lot of personal development, and that is best gained through intentional mentoring.

In my next church ministry I was a bi-vocational youth pastor. I served with good men, but whether it was time, or some other factor, I still longed for mentoring, but my longing went unfulfilled. What I have found, is that there are a lot more young men who want to be mentored in pastoral ministry than there are pastors who are willing and have the time to do it.

Then, I went to work on a PhD, and ended up in a church where the pastor did prioritize intentional mentoring. Since I was in a PhD program, I was very pressed for time. The pastor there was sensitive to the fact that as a PhD student, I needed to focus on my studies, yet he made time to meet with me regularly. For a while it was weekly, and it was kind of weened down the longer I was there. I didn’t realize how much I was soaking in, but I would say I gained more from my experience in that church with that pastor than I did in the classroom. I never finished the PhD program, but I learned the most important things from being in a church where mentoring was so prized.

When I left there, I began to pastor here in Illinois. First at Woburn Baptist Church, and now also at Redeemer, I have been on the lookout for young men to meet with for intentional mentoring. So far I’ve had about 7 young men that I’ve met with on one level or another. Not every experience has panned out. Some begin to be promising and have ended up heartbreaking, but others are growing and thriving. Mentoring is also a risk. We only have 24 hours in a day, and we have to choose how to spend our time. Sometimes we may invest many hours in discipling one person, and we want those hours to count. It is worth the risk. Jesus warned that not all soil was good, but the sower sows the seed on all kinds of soil regardless. If we are so afraid that some of the seeds will end up on rocky or thorny soil that we refuse to sow, we will never reap a harvest. But if we do not grow weary in doing good, and if we keep on taking the risk to invest in people, we will reap a harvest of blessing.

Taking Kids to Day Camp 2017

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On June 29 and 30 we took some kids from Panama to the Rehoboth Baptist Campground for the day camp for kids from 5-10 years old. Had a good time. We did get rained on Friday afternoon, but apart from that the camp went very well.

Power Wash: Mission Panama, Part 2

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Wow! It has been a very busy couple couple of day. We worked from 8 am to sun down on Monday and Tuesday, and finished up power washing the last house Wednesday around 5 pm. We washed about 20 houses plus 2 church buildings (we washed the United Methodist building as well as our own).

We were able to serve our community and express the love of Christ to them. We had many gospel conversations as we went. We were able to serve widows and single moms and other families in our community. This was a great opportunity to share the love of Jesus.

Thank you to Ken, Cindy, and Sadie Wilson, Country Church of Southern Illinois, Jay Miller, and Jacob Nelson from Victory Baptist Church in Mendota, Illinois.  They came and served with us to do something we could not have done by ourselves. And thank you to Sally Spensburger, Jane Worstell, Julie Dothager, Terry File (my mother), and Amy File (my wife) for working so hard on providing meals while the team was here. And thank you to Franklin Baptist Association for allowing us to use a disaster relief shower trailer so our team had a place to clean up each day. We couldn’t have done this without the help of all these people.

On Christian Unity and Baptist Identity

Christian Unity

In John 17:20-23, Jesus prayed for the unity of all those who would believe in the preaching of the Apostles. That’s us. Christians today can know that Jesus prayed for them, and specifically, Jesus prayed for unity.

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Jesus says,

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,  that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,  I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (ESV)

Jesus prayed that the Christians who would come after the original apostles would be one. That they would not be fragmented. That they would not be divided. And he gives us the reasons why he prays this– “that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Our unity as believers is a testimony to a watching world that Jesus is authentically who he said he was.

He goes on. Jesus says, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, they may be one even as we are one.” Jesus here says that he has already done something to achieve the unity that he is praying for. He has given them glory. Now, this seems a bit ambiguous. What does it mean that Jesus has given “glory” to believers? While I can’t say with certainty, it seems likely that he is talking about the Holy Spirit. Believers are filled with the Holy Spirit that was given at Pentecost. They are indwell by him. So this is what Jesus says that he has already given them in order to accomplish the unity that he prays for.

Now, I don’t want to be too critical, but I have heard someone preach on this text before and the way they applied it, they said that this is the one case where believers get to answer Jesus’ prayer. I think that is dead wrong. According to the second thing Jesus says in the prayer, Jesus answered his own prayer by giving believers his glory, i.e. the Holy Spirit.

Now, if that is the case, then why do we have so many denominations and theological camps within Christianity. Did Jesus’ prayer fail? Absolutely not! I think one thing that can shed light on how this can be is the Nicene Creed. Concerning the Church, this ancient creed states,

 We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.

Now, this creed needs explanation:

  1. First of all, it could be confusing that the creed uses the word “catholic.” However, Protestants have always affirmed this creed. The reason is that the word “catholic” means universal. By affirming this confession, Protestants do not admit any hierarchical authority as the Roman Catholic Church claims. When we say we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church, we understand this with the original meaning of “universal.” So when I, or Redeemer Baptist Church, confesses that we believe in a “catholic” church, we mean that there is one universal and invisible body of Christ that is made up of all believers–everyone who Christ saved from creation until Jesus comes again are included in the “catholic” or universal church.
  2. Next, we believe in “one” church. While it may seem the contrary, because we have so many denominations, in this universal sense we believe there is only one Church. All who Christ died for are united in one body–the Church. The one Church is the body of Christ who Jesus laid his life down for.
  3. Third, we believe in a “holy” church.  This also may seem to be at odds  with our experience. How can we say we believe in one “holy” church when there are so many hypocrites? Isn’t that one of the most frequent charges leveled against Christians? Unbelievers don’t want anything to do with the “Church” because it’s filled with hypocrites. However, Christianity, from the beginning has been about grace. Jesus has washed his bride. To become a Christian we confess our sins, and throughout our entire lives as Christians we live out a life of repenting. But we ARE objectively holy. If we have believed on Christ, experienced the new birth, and cling to him as our only hope, Jesus has washed our sins away. He has set us apart for himself to that we belong to him alone. We may still be sinners, but he calls us saints because he has made us holy by his own work–and not our own.
  4. Finally, we believe in an “apostolic” church. This does not mean we believe in some kind of apostolic succession, that there is a hierarchy that has been passed down to us by the apostles with the Pope as its head. No, Protestants believe that we are “apostolic” because we believe in the TEACHING of the apostles. The Gospel that was preached by the apostles, that is preserved in the New Testament, is what establishes us as a church. Apart from the teaching of the apostles we would be no church of Christ.

So, on the basis of the Nicene Creed and the Protestant understanding of it, I believe that the Church is one. We may have different confessions of faith that express our denominational distinctives. We may have convictions that separate us from other Christians, but in spite of how it looks on the outside, we are united on the basis of the new birth, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the work of Christ on the Cross.

Baptist Identity

So, why is Redeemer Baptist Church a Baptist Church? If we believe we are unified with all true believers, why aren’t we non-denominational? Why do we put Baptist in our name? Shouldn’t we just be about Jesus?

Here is my answer:

I don’t have any hostility toward non-denominational churches. They are filled with true believers and they are my brother’s and sisters in Christ, but the truth is, there is no truly non-denominational church. They may not have any other group of Christians that they associate with in a denominational sense, but they believe something. If they don’t they aren’t Christian. They have to confess what they believe about God the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit. They have to make a choice, are they going to baptize babies or not? What they decide about that as a church will automatically put them into one camp or another. All pastors should aim to teach in a coherent manner, and churches need to be clear about what it is that they profess. So, to claim to be non-denominational is either to hide who you really are by refusing a label, or it is to be so watered down that you don’t have any clear convictions.

Stating clearly what we believe is essential for unity. If a church doesn’t clearly state what they believe, they will have people who believe all kinds of things want to join. They end up with a wide diversity of belief all under one roof trying to worship together. This is a recipe for disunity. What happens when the pastor preaches something that not everyone agrees with? You may have some that agree, some that disagree and hold one position, and others that disagree and hold another. It is a powder keg ready to split the church.

On the other hand, when a church is clear about what they believe, then they are poised for real unity. When someone is visiting the church and they like the worship and the preaching and they decide they may like to join, they are given a copy of the church’s statement of faith. They are told, “This is what we believe as a church.” The person can read through it and say, “I agree with this. I want to join,” or they may say, “I don’t agree with this. I’m glad you told me before I joined.” Or still yet they may say, “Well, I don’t agree with this, but I can live with it,” and at least that way they know what they are getting into before hand and they don’t try to change what the church clearly professes together.

So for this reason, I believe a robust confession and clearly teaching what you believe is essential to preserving true unity within a local congregation.

The confession of faith for Redeemer Baptist Church is the Baptist Faith and Message, 2000. This is what we profess to believe, and it is a profound basis for peace and unity.

Power Wash: Mission Panama

At Redeemer Baptist Church, we are excited that this coming week we will be hosting a team of Illinois Baptists to bless the community of Panama.

We believe that we should be a church that makes the community noticeably better. We are just starting, but we want to so involve ourselves with the community of Panama, that if we were to cease operating we would be missed in the community. We believe that one way we can do this is by giving something to the community with no strings attached.

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One thing that we realize is necessary to to this is we have to look for real needs in the community. We shouldn’t just come up with our programs that we think will be attractive and expect people to come and support us simply because we are a church. Rather, we should go to where the need is. As we began preparations for planting Redeemer, I met with Ken Wilson, a church planting catalyst for Illinois Baptists. He had driven around the community with this very idea in mind. “What are the needs of the community?” When we met together, he shared that one of the things he saw was that there were several houses that needed to be power washed. He shared that he could get a team of Illinois Baptists to come and power wash houses as a way to bless the community. I loved the idea from the beginning. It was a way we could give to the community with no strings attached.

Now the time is here. This Sunday a team will be arriving to help us. Our people will be busy feeding them. We have reserved a shower trailer, usually reserved for disaster relief, to use for the team, and they plan to stay on cots in our classrooms. They worship with us this Sunday night, and they will be with us until Wednesday.

I look forward to the opportunities this week will bring. We will get to meet new people and bless our community with the love of Jesus.

I will post a follow-up after the team is gone to share how things go.