Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Angel Was... a Calvinist!?

"She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, 
for he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21. ESV). 

Alright. I know my Arminian readers (if I have very many) will be crying afoul with the title of this post. No, I don't believe the angels are divided on issues of soteriology between Calvinists and Arminians. So of course, the title is somewhat tongue-in-cheek. 

On the other hand, there are some serious theological implications to the angel's proclamation about our Lord and His work. Let's look at this brief, angelic decree about baby Jesus:

He Will Save
This is a statement of certainty, not possibility. Calvinism holds that the only Savior of God's elect is our Lord Jesus Christ. This was God's plan from all eternity. It is not 'Plan B,' in any sense. It can be Jesus and only Him who saves. We confess the Reformed doctrine of Solus Christus, meaning that salvation is entirely the work of Jesus and none other. 

Neither the decision of a man, nor his freewill (actually, we believe the will is bound, not free) is able to accomplish redemption (John 1:13; Romans 9:16). The angel decreed that Christ's work of redemption was a sure thing, not a probability; Jesus would not only be able to accomplish salvation for the elect, but it is certain that He would.  This can be said because redemption was predestined by God's eternal decree (Ephesians 1:4-5, 11).

His People
Calvinism also holds that Jesus came to redeem a particular people, the elect. In one sense, the blood of Jesus is sufficient to atone for the sins of this whole world--and every other world besides. We grant that the sufficiency of His blood is unlimited in that sense. On the other hand, however, Christ came to shed His blood for a particular people particularly. He came with names and faces in mind, inscribed in the Book of Life.

His atonement was not just a generic offer, like a coupon in the newspaper; it was a specific plan to save particular men, women, and children whom He foreknew from all eternity. John 17, is perhaps where we see this implication spelled out most clearly in Jesus' own High Priestly prayer to the Father (see especially verses 2, 6, and 9).

From Their Sins
Calvinism holds that the condition of man is so severe, that man is not able to help himself, or even prepare himself for salvation, in the slightest degree. Salvation must come from the outside. Unlike other systems (i.e. Arminianism) which see the crucial factor in salvation as the sinner's own decision, Calvinism understands that the depravity of man was so severe that we could not lift ourselves up from our bootstraps and merely will to believe. Sin affects; body, mind, will, affections, and heart. 

Praise God that the angel was right! He will (predestination) save His people (particular atonement) from their sins (total depravity). 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow on Twitter at @matt_everhard.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Anew. By Gail Hollenbeck.

Editor's Note: The following is written by Gail Hollenbeck, a correspondent for the Tampa Bay Times. I have worked with Gail several times and have found her to be a wonderful example of a Christian journalist.  --M.E.

I’d like to share a poem with you that I wrote about Christmas many years ago. But first, I want to explain how I came to write it. It all began when I was a little girl………..

Christmas was always a joyful time at our house. My father especially loved Christmas and made it special for my mother and my sisters and me. As a youth, I loved the story of how Jesus was born, of the shepherds who came to see Him and the wise men who later came to worship Him. As a teen, I even wrote a story about the shepherd boy who was left behind when the others went to visit the baby Jesus in the stable in Bethlehem.
In those days, I thought I was a Christian. I believed everything I was taught about Jesus. I affirmed it all when I joined the church at age 12. I was active in my youth group and sang in the choir, even duets in church.
I thought if my goodness was weighed against my sins that my goodness would weigh more. Sure, I’d done some things that were wrong, but I figured God would overlook that, because for the most part, I reasoned, I was pretty good.
But something niggled at my heart and told me that was wrong.
There were some things about Christmas that I didn’t understand. In church we would sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” In one verse we sang:
          Oh holy Child of Bethlehem
          Descend to us, we pray;
          Cast out our sin and enter in,
          Be born in us today.

Be born in us? What did that mean?
We also sang “Hark the Herald Angels Sing”:
          Born that man no more may die
          Born to raise the sons of earth
          Born to give them second birth

Second birth? Whatever did that mean?
Then there was Easter when we would be told “Christ died for you.”
What exactly did Christ’s death on the cross have to do with me personally? I didn’t get it.
When I was 16, I was in a bad car accident. The car rolled over. This was in the days before seat belts, so when the car rolled, I rolled with it. But miraculously, I didn’t even have a scratch.
When I walked away from that overturned car and looked back and saw it upside down and the fire trucks and ambulance there, I knew God had spared me. And just as I came to that realization, God spoke to my heart and told me: “I’ve spared you for a reason. There is something more.”
Wow! The Creator of the universe had just spoken His thoughts into my heart. He had my attention.
I was 17 the night God brought a young man to speak to my Methodist youth group. I can’t remember all he said, but I do remember two Scripture verses that he used.
John 3:3 says: Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.

This was said to Nicodemus when he came to see Jesus. Here was a Godly man, a Pharisee who kept the law, a ruler of the Jews. If his good was weighed it would have weighed far more than mine. Yet Jesus was telling him he must be born again.
The other verse was Rev. 3:20 where Jesus says: Behold I stand at the door and knock, if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with me.
What was it those carols said? Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today?..................and, Born to give them second birth?
That night, God gave me understanding. I realized that this was personal. I needed to be born again. I needed a new and sinless heart and that Jesus was willing to come into mine and give me His. Wow.
There wouldn’t be a weighing of my good vs. my bad, because I could never be good enough. Like Nicodemus, I needed Christ’s righteousness.
So that night, I exchanged my sins for His righteousness.
A few years later, I wrote it into a poem……I called it “Christmas Anew.”

CHRISTMAS ANEW. By Gail Hollenbeck.

 Once it didn't mean so much,
         that baby in the manger.
 I'd known His story from my youth,
         but still He was a stranger.
 That baby born in Bethlehem
         so new and pure and sweet,
 Who'd give His life for all mankind
         was Someone I had yet to meet.

 The seasons changed throughout my life,
         the babe became a man.
 The infant with the radiant face
         now hung with nail scarred hands.
 "Oh God," I cried, "What do you mean
         that Jesus died for me?"
 And so He showed me how my sins
         had put Him on that tree.

 But then He conquered sin and death,
         He rose up from the grave.
 If I would take Him as my own,
         my sinful soul He'd save.
 "I'm knocking at your heart," He said,
         "I've done it all for you.
 If you will let my Spirit in,
         I'll make your life like new."

 And so one night I opened up
         and let this Savior in.
 Oh praise His name, my life WAS changed,
         He'd saved me from my sins!

 My life has never been so blessed,
         He knows my every care,
 I go to Him with want or woe,
         His grace is always there.
 He binds my wounds and heals my scars
         with tenderness and love.
 His richest blessings have been mine,
         Oh praise my Lord, my Love!

 Now it means so much to me,
         that baby in the manger.
 His story's written in my heart
         and He's no more a stranger,
 For I have met Him face to face
         I have a home above,
 And Christmas isn't just a date,
         for now I know HIS love.

Copyright 1967© Gail E. Hollenbeck
Perhaps you are like me. Perhaps you have known about Jesus in your head, maybe all your life, but you’ve never received Him into your heart. I hope this Christmas that will change.

Dear God,
I know I’m a sinner and need Christ’s righteousness.
So today I stop trusting in my own goodness and transfer my trust to you, believing that when you died on the cross, you paid the penalty for my sins. I want to be born again with Christ living in me.
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my personal Savior.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Pray for Your Pastor (Especially on Mondays!)

As a pastor, I have become especially dependent on the prayers of God's people, especially those within my own congregation. Without the sustaining grace of our Lord, and the intercessory prayers of fellow believers, our pastoral labors would grow heavy indeed.

I am not sure how most pastors feel, but judging from some anecdotal conversations I have shared with other pastors recently, we are especially vulnerable to battles of the soul on Mondays.  (For what it is worth, I also tend to feel acute spiritual warfare on Saturday evenings as well).

There may be a few reasons to increase your prayers for your pastor on this day especially:

1) First, pastors are subject to intense spiritual warfare--regardless of the day--by the very nature of our work. There is nothing the enemy would like more than to discredit the Gospel by discrediting the Church. The easiest way to do that is to cause pastors to fail, quit, grow jaded, or fall lame. Church members need to know that their pastors are liable to the same--if not more intense--battles of spiritual warfare as the common Christian. The fact that we are ordained does not protect us from the trials and tribulations of the heart and soul that our people in the pews face. This can and does include depression, doubt, and anxiety.

2) Nevertheless, Mondays seem to be particularly hard because it is the day of "coming down from the mountain top." After preaching with body, heart, and soul on the Lord's Day, we must come down exhausted to the harsh realities of the "real world." School resumes for children, home repairs can no longer be ignored, cars need oil changes etc. A spouse's health concern is still there. After being in the presence of God so manifestly in sermon and sacrament, the normal grind hits again with a reverberating thud.

3) We are our own worst critics. We usually agonize over our sermons in our heads long after we preached them. Often we are harder on ourselves than even our worst detractors. Jokes that failed, points that were botched, or even a theological doctrine that was stated inarticulately can be deeply vexing. While the Word of God is infallible, the sermon is not. No one knows this better than us. Often our inability to preach better is a emotional frustration.  As one wise minister once said, however, "We surely could have preached better sermons, but we could not have preached a better Gospel!"

4) The criticisms of others ring in our ears. Since Sunday is the day that pastors are in contact with the most parishioners at one time, we tend to hear more criticisms that day also. Most are not meant to hurt us. Some are. While the Holy Spirit (and no little adrenaline!) gets us through the pastor's longest day, Mondays are left to mull over our peoples' concerns. While some critiques are very legitimate, others come across as disparaging. Either way, we tend to feel the soreness of the impact of those comments the next day.

5) The numbers come in. Attendance data and giving trends tend to make their way to our attention early in the week. Some weeks the numbers are an encouragement. As unhealthy as it may be to evaluate ourselves by numbers alone, often the only grades we receive are flat-line statistics. Giving and attendance may not be the best gauges of our church's spiritual health, but they do affect the pastor's heart.

6) Our labors of preparation start all over again. Since most pastors prepare all week long for their sermons, and deliver them on Sundays, the progress begins all over again as soon as the final 'amen' rings from the choir. Unlike other jobs where progress is demarcated by goals achieved and projects completed, the labor of preaching never ends. Sure, some sermons burst into full color like fireworks.  Other sermons fizzle on delivery. Either way, even the best sermons fade as the last echo dies in the sanctuary. On Mondays, we must begin preparations all over again with a blank sheet of paper.

7) The Lord conceals most of our fruit from us. This is for our good, lest we become prideful. I think that if God showed us how our people were growing under our ministries, we would be tempted to think we had done something wonderful. God would be robbed of His glory by human pride. Most often, pastors are not fully cognizant of the results of their labors. A sermon that really 'lands' with full force is not often readily apparent to our awareness. Like the agricultural metaphors of the parables of Scripture, most real spiritual growth is slow, imperceptible to the naked eye. And yet God is good to ensure the harvest!

So please, pray for your pastors. We need you. Especially on Mondays!

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Is the Baby in the Manger Really God?

Who is Jesus, the baby lying in the manger? Is He really God? 

This is the most important question of all of history. Everyone seems to have an opinion. Muslims say Jesus was a prophet.  Hindus say He is one of millions of “gods.” Jehovah’s witnesses say Jesus is the archangel Michael. Buddhists say He is an enlightened teacher. Scientologists say Jesus is a “thetan” (Don’t ask me what a thetan is; I don’t read science fiction!). Liberals say He was a peace-loving hippie.

Of the many opinions, C.S. Lewis is probably the most helpful yet when he gave us a very useful framework in his famous book Mere Christianity. It is known as the “trilemma.” Lewis wrote that Jesus is either a liar (for He deceived many) a lunatic (He deceived Himself) or else He is Lord (He rules over all, just as He said). Let us examine the evidence from Scripture.

There is much in Scripture that teaches clearly the divinity of Christ.[i] First, we could look at direct statements about His divinity:

·         “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made…..The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1-3, 14).

·         “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness." (Philippians 2:5-7, emphasis added).

·         “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9).

·          “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:1-3, emphasis added).

If we had time, we could look at His fulfillment of scores of OT prophesies (i.e. Isaiah 9:6; Daniel 7:13-14), and specifically those where the Greek word “Kurios” (Lord) is applied to Jesus, translating the Hebrew “Yahweh” or “Adonai.” We might also consider His divine miracles over nature (Matthew 8:23-27; 14:13-21, 22-36; John 2:1-11), over sickness and disease (Mark 2:1-12; Matthew 9:18-26) and even over death (John 11:38-44; Matthew 28:6). Too, there are the titles given to Jesus by others
such as  "Immanuel”—which means, 'God with us'” (Matthew 1:23).

Jesus’ Own Claims Regarding His Divine Nature.

Nevertheless, let us look at several of Jesus’ many claims to be God. For space considerations, we will do this in outline form:

1. He called Himself the Son of Man. "At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30).

a. Note that the title “Son of Man” is used by Jesus of Himself about 84 times.

b. This name is rooted in Daniel in the OT. "In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).

c. Thus Jesus utilized this divine ascription and for Himself regularly and saw it as crucial to revealing His identity.

2. He is without sin.  “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me?” (John 8:46). Not even His brothers could verify His sins. Would this be a challenge you would take upon yourself? Pilate likewise said, “I find no guilt in this man.”

3. He judges the world. “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:21-22).

4. He is able to forgive sin. Consider this event: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven." Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home” (Mark 2:5-11).

5. He rightly receives worship. “Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:28). If this was a mistake on Thomas’ part, there was never a more important moment for Jesus to correct His disciples—unless He actually is worthy of their worship!

a. Jesus does not correct Thomas for worshiping Him, instead He hands out blessings, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

b. Notice too that the author of the Gospel, John, breaks into the narration in verse 30 and says, “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30). In other words, this is the whole reason I wrote!

6. He has all authority. “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me…” (Matthew 28:18). Only God has all authority. 

7. He gave Himself great titles. The ascription of divine titles to Jesus such as “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Revelation 22:13, compare to 21:6-7).  

8. He is eternal. "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I am!" (John 8:58).

a. We know that the divine name (Yahweh, as expressed by the four Hebrew letters YHWH) means “I am.” Grammatically, if Jesus had not meant to give Himself the very name of God here, He would have said “I was” or “I existed.” But His claim is twofold: not only is He pre-existent, but He takes God’s very sacred and holy Name unto Himself.

b. Notice how the Pharisees get it clearly by attempting to throw stones at Him! There was no equivocation there. They understood His claim and were ready to stone Him for it.

9. He is One with God. His most obvious claim is: “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30).
a. Again, notice how the Pharisees clearly understood this by saying, "We are not stoning you for any of these," replied the Jews, "but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God."

Pastor Matthew Everhard is the senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow on Twitter @matt_everhard.

[i] It is beyond the scope of this article to show Jesus' full humanity as well, but orthodox Christian theology holds that Jesus is God and man; one person in two nature. The reader would do well to refer to the Chalcedonian Creed for more in this area. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Five Crucial Truths from a Passage You (Probably) Skim Every Time

There are certain parts of the Bible that we are tempted to skim (or at worst, skip) almost every time. One of them is the long genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17.

 "....Azor the father of Zadok, Zadok the father of Achim..." and on it goes; over forty generations of hard-to-pronounce Hebrew names.

Nevertheless, even in this long list of names there are at least five crucial truths that are worth our meditation during this Advent season, as we turn our hearts towards Christ's coming.

1) This child is the seed of Abraham. Notice how Matthew had framed this list into three main sections. Matthew himself points that out in verse 17. Each section has a main point, I would conjecture. In the first section, Matthew hints that Jesus will be the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant. (See Genesis 12, 15, and 22). God promised that in Abraham's seed, He would bless the nations of the world. By tracing Jesus' lineage to Abraham, Matthew is going to show us that the Great Commission will be fulfilled in person of Jesus Christ.

2) This infant is the heir to David's throne. In a like manner, God covenanted with David and promised to put an heir of David's throne eternally (cf. Psalm 89:34-37). Matthew, among the four gospels, is especially interested in fulfilled prophecy. 61 times Matthew cites a direct fulfillment of OT prophecy. 42 times Matthew speaks of the Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven. Ten 'Parables of the Kingdom' are given. The first evangelist's point is clear: Christ is the coming King who will rule the world with justice and righteousness.

3) Christ is the hope in a dark and broken world. In the third set of 14 generations, Matthew mentions the deportation to Babylon; the low point of Israel's national history. The Northern Kingdom was dominated by Assyria in 722 BC and the Southern Kingdom was exiled by Babylon in 586 BC. And yet it was during these despondent times that some of the most hopeful prophecy was given. (Jeremiah's 'Righteous Branch' in 33:14-16 for instance). Matthew wants you to know that Christ is the only hope in this dark world.

4) Christ came to redeem the broken. In this long list of names there are gentiles (Ruth the Moabitess), adulterers (David and "the wife of Uriah"), heretics (Manasseh), deceivers (Jacob), and the exploited (Tamar). By recounting Israel's history, and not skipping over the more sinister characters and moments, Matthew has reminded us that none of us are worthy of His grace.

5) Finally, Christ has come to make a new family. In fact, He will connect this new family to the long unbroken line of faith enduring all generations. It will be more than a biological line, however, it will be a line of Redemption through faith in His blood. Despite our failures, despite our frailties, Christ Jesus--the baby in the manger in the succeeding passage in 1:18-25--will make a new re-created family, He will adopt them by grace, place His name upon them, and continue the unbroken, ancient line of grace. 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

When Heretics Come to Church

In every church I’ve been in, there have been those who came to the church with that worst of baggage—the combination of false teaching and unteachableness that makes every pastor face-palm.  They usually attempted to blend in with the congregation, and then began to spread their viral message. It’s happened at least 3 times since I’ve been pastor at Dayspring. God has been gracious to protect us and we have caught the problem quickly and only needed to address it publically once, and then it was public only for those of you who found yourself in the narthex following the Lord’s Day service a couple of weeks ago.

A kindly looking man approached me after the service and explained that he’d been told by the Holy Spirit to go from church to church and give a message of warning and judgment to the church and to the pastor. He explained that the Holy Spirit had told him that we (and all churches, he was traveling to them all) needed to restore altar calls to our services and if we refused the Holy Spirit, it revealed all sorts of problems in us.
I don’t know if I handled it perfectly—I certainly didn’t convince him he was wrong. But I started by asking him how his mission had been going. He explained that he’d been very disappointed in the responses of the churches. One that shocked me was from a liberal church pastor he’d visited recently. That pastor’s excuse for not doing altar calls? “The board only lets me present the gospel every fourth Sunday.” 

I explained that we would be glad to repent and do this every week if he could show it to us in the Bible. This led to a passionate discussion on the relatively recent history of the altar call, with him responding that there was no gospel where there was no true call to repentance, as the altar call is, so our church (and the others) clearly didn’t care about the gospel. At that point I quoted the rather passionate parts of Galatians 1 to him and left the conversation.

What is the best safe-guard against false teaching? J. C. Ryle reminds us that “the regular study of the word of God, with prayer for the teaching of the Holy Spirit” is what we need to protect our families and churches. It is neglect of the Bible which makes so many a prey to the first false teacher whom they hear. Stay in the Word this year. Do not neglect it. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Why Some Prayers are Weak

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit (James 5:16-18. KJV).
We pray in accordance with our doctrine of God. The higher our theology of God, the more devoted to prayer we ought to become. The higher we regard His majesty, the more we are driven to His throne. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. The higher we esteem ourselves, the less driven we will be to such an 'unproductive' and ethereal act as prayer.

Is it possible that some prayers are hindered by our faulty, sloppy, or lazy theology of God's holy nature?

I think that, more often than not, we pray in accordance with our actual view of God. The kind of 'god' we believe in deep down. Not with the doctrine we SAY we profess. Not with the doctrinal statement that we assent to on paper. Not with the creed or confession to which our denomination subscribes. But we pray in accordance with the doctrine of God that we actually believe.

This doesn't mean that those with a high view of God will always pray 'from strength to strength.' Even the most godly men fail when it comes to prayer! We all do. Even our best prayers need to be washed in the blood of Jesus. But too often, I would suggest, we utter feeble prayers (if we pray at all) when we lose our zeal for the greatness and supremacy of God.

Allow me to illustrate. 

Imagine two sliding controls on a console before you. The first toggle represents our view of God; the second our view of self. The higher the first slide is positioned, the lower the second must necessarily be. If I slide one up, I must slide the other down in a corresponding fashion. I cannot hold both God's sovereignty and my own sufficiency in the same esteem.

If we pray halfheartedly, without fervency, lacking conviction, or not at all, we are simply revealing that our theology is weak no matter how orthodox we claim it to be on paper. We are then revealing that our confidence in self is where our true reliance lies. We pray weakly when we believe in a weak, small, and finite deity.

But if we pray in accordance with our understanding of the true nature of God--His omnipotence (limitless power), omnipresence (ubiquitous presence), and omniscience (all-encompassing knowledge)--we are praying to a God who has inestimable power. We are praying like Elijah. No wonder he prayed fervently. No wonder the Heavens broke open and gave rain!

A Mighty God is worthy and able to handle mighty prayers. 

If this article was helpful, it may be helpful to some one you know. Please "like" or re-post with the buttons below.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow on Twitter at @matt_everhard.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Evangelical or Evan-jellyfish?

"Evangelical." We all use the word. We rarely define it. 

The Greek New Testament term, from which our modern word derives, means an announcement of good news. A herald's joyful cry.

In NT usage, it refers specifically to what we call the Gospel--the euangellion--the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When Martin Luther broke away from the Roman Church in the Reformation, he initially intended his followers to be called "Evangelicals." He meant to identify those who believed in grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Unfortunately, the term did not stick, and his movement became known as the Lutheran movement.

Today, however, the term has lost all formal resemblance to either NT or Reformation usage. It has become a "wax nose," able to be shaped and reshaped as one pleases. For some, it is a voting block of conservatives (most often associated with the Republican Party).

For others, it means non-denominational Christianity,  i.e. generic doctrine divorced from the specificity of credal and confessional Christianity.

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) gave one of the best warnings I have heard regarding this kind of doctrinally vague Christianity. He said, generic doctrine...

" an epidemic which is just now doing great harm, and especially among young people. . . . It produces what I must venture to call . . . a 'jelly-fish' Christianity . . . a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power. . . . Alas! It is a type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, 'no dogma, no distinct tenets, no positive doctrine.'
We have hundreds of 'jellyfish' clergyman, who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity. They have no definite opinions . . . they are so afraid of 'extreme views' that they have no views of all.
We have thousands of 'jellyfish' sermons preached every year, sermons without an edge, or a point, or corner, smooth as billiard balls, awakening no sinner, and edifying no saint. . . .
And worst of all, we have myriads of 'jellyfish' worshipers—respectable Church-gone people, who have no distinct and definite views about any point in theology. They cannot discern things that differ, any more than colorblind people can distinguish colors. . . . They are 'tossed to and fro, like children, by every wind of doctrine'; . . . ever ready for new things, because they have no firm grasp on the old."(1)

If by "evangelical" you mean the strand of believer who holds fast despite the cost to the great and ancient doctrines of the NT: atonement, justification, repentance etc, count me as one.

But if by "evangelical" you mean a generic, feel good, self-improvement, entertainment-based form of Christianity, then just call me Reformed.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

(1)  From an excellent sermon on the life of J.C. Ryle by John Piper.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Dragon of Revelation 12, and the Incessant Attack on Christmas

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it (Revelation 12:1-4).

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s the church became embroiled in a theological war between the modernists (the children of the enlightenment) and the fundamentalists (believers in orthodoxy). And what doctrine do you suppose was contested most vigorously? The Virgin Birth.

The modernists said four things: A virgin birth (a) has never happened before (b) has never happened since (c) could not be observed empirically (d) could not be repeated scientific setting. In other words, they took the tools of empirical observation, applied them to the doctrine of the Virgin Birth, and rejected it.   

But this is exactly the limitation of the naturalistic sciences. Science can only study that which is "inside the box" of the observable world. But the Lordship of our Sovereign God extends to both the natural/material and supernatural realms. Science is limited by definition.

But conversely, God is not limited in any way. As I have so often preached to my congregation, if Genesis 1:1 is true “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth…” then absolutely everything else in the rest of the Scripture is possible. 

When science says it doubts the Virgin Birth because it cannot be repeated in a lab, Christian Philosopher Alvin Plantinga says it’s a lot like a drunk driver insisting on looking for his lost car keys only under the bright streetlight, on the grounds that the light is better there![1]

But now we must ask, Why does the wicked seven-headed dragon attack the Virgin Birth so strenuously and aggressively?
The answer is that the Virgin Birth of Christ is the one domino--that if Satan could cause to fall--would destroy the whole of Christianity. If the Virgin Birth is not a fact rooted in the dusty hills of Palestine in the city of Nazareth 2,000 years ago, then our Bibles are not inerrant, because Matthew 1:18 and Luke 1:35 expressly say that it was so. Furthermore,

  • If Christ was not born of a Virgin, then the full deity and full humanity of Christ would be impossible. 
  • If Christ was not fully divine, then His sinless life would be impossible. 
  • If Christ sinned even one time, He could not have laid down His life on the cross for our sins as an atonement of satisfaction and propitiation. 
  • If Christ did not lay down His life for us, our forgiveness and renewal would be impossible.
 In other words, tipping over this one domino would ruin the entire Christian faith.

If it could ever be proven somehow that Jesus was not born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, He would not be worthy of our worship. But if He is—truly man and truly God—as I proclaim to you today that He is, He is worthy of our eternal praise. Amen. 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

[1] Quoted in Tim Keller. The Reason for God. 86.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Report: American Materialism Lives! (But Will Freer Holiday Wallets Lead to More Charitable Giving?)

Apparently American materialism has not died, and neither has our penchant for extreme shopping. 

According to CNN,  
"Customers flocked in to early store openings on Thanksgiving day to scoop up 'doorbuster' deals. A record 247 million shoppers visited stores and websites in the post-Thanksgiving Black Friday weekend this year, up 9% from 226 million last year, according to a survey by the National Retail Federation released Sunday."(1)
And we are not just window shopping either!

We are throwing down credit cards and greenbacks at record levels. The article continues, "Individual shoppers also shelled out more money -- spending $423 this weekend, up from $398 last year. Total spending over the four-day weekend reached a record $59.1 billion, a 13% increase from $52.4 billion last year."

Up 13 percent? That's pretty hopeful for an economy that has been teetering on the brink of red-ink chaos for several years. But it does make me wonder--will giving to local Bible-believing churches rise by the same amounts?

As a pastor who is interested in cultural mega-trends, I cannot help but toss out a few wild conjectures about the possible meaning of this data. (Remember: I'm a pastor not an economist!).

First, this makes be wonder if Americans are really as terrified about the dire economic news as we seem. If fiscal conservativism is the flavor of the month, that objective seems to fly out the window when it comes time to buy the newest gadgets, toys, and technology for ourselves and our children.

Perhaps we rationalize exorbitant spending this time of year by our irrepressible quest to give our families the same kind of Christmas morning that we have grown accustomed to in the past. 

Secondly--and I confess this is conjecture at best--but I doubt our looser wallets will translate into more charitable giving in the pews of our Bible-believing churches. I cannot be sure, but at this point in the church fiscal year, I certainly would not project that church giving and tithing will be up by a similar 13% margin during November or December. Giving seems to be the last aspect of our economy to recover during times of recession.

When pressed, most Christians are still not comfortable giving and tithing at the same rates that the were before the so-called "Great Recession" began. Many feel in their hearts that they ought to be able to regain the ground they lost in investments and real estate before they can give at the same levels that they did before the housing bubble burst. But is this death-clutch on our tithing envelopes during times of economical duress Biblical?

This leads me to my final point. Many American Christians will likely NOT raise their giving by the same percentage as their spending, because our giving records are one of the most transparent views into our true values and priorities. 

Here's where it gets scary: our tithing reflects our true confidence in God's sovereign rule over our lives. Deep down, many of us are afraid that if we give away too much, we may be making a poor strategic financial move that we will regret later.

It may not be possible to diagnose exactly why American Christians give what we give (and cling to what we cling to). Some of our motives are deceitful even to ourselves. But there is one relatively sure way to evaluate the priorities of a man's heart: simply examine his checkbook.

No matter how much we may deny it, we use our money to glorify those priorities which are truly highest to us. For some, that is unbridled materialism. For others, it is the Kingdom of Christ.

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

1. (

Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankful: a Matter of Perspective

I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. (Psalm 69.30 ESV)
This was done by my good friend Tim who works at Val-Pak.
God has given him great talent!

Yesterday was our national day of Thanksgiving.  Some trivialize it by calling it turkey day- I abhor that practice.  For my family, it is not about turkey (in fact, I really wanted ham for dinner)- it is about being thankful to God for His many blessings.  I had hoped to have Thanksgiving off so our family could visit with friends in North Florida and celebrate with them.  However, I did not get the day off and our trip would not be taking place.  I was not thrilled about it, but at least I have a good job.

Yes, I was disappointed.  And it could have remained that way.

However, this year I gained a new perspective.  On November 5, 2012 I came down with some sort of sickness.  At the time I did not know what it was.  On November 7th I went to work only to be sent back home with a fever.

Over the next two weeks I was out of work, visiting the doctor, getting x-rays, taking medicine and trying to recover.  I was diagnosed with pneumonia.  Yes, pneumonia, my old 'friend.'  I tend to get it every few years.  Bah.  This time it was worse than normal.  

Two weeks of lying on the sofa, battling fever and chills, coughing and not sleeping.  It was not fun.

Finally, I was given clearance by my doctor to return to work on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving.  I worked Wednesday and Thursday.  We were unusually busy and there were multiple instances in which people required restraints (I work in a hospital ER- I am in the psych ER, but help in the ER when necessary).  It was a very busy two days.  Physically demanding at times.  Definitely mentally demanding.

It was still a wonderful Thanksgiving.  The disappointment of working on Thanksgiving became a joy to work on Thanksgiving!  My health is almost back to normal and I was able to do everything my job required.  Compassion came easier.  Busy times were not a chore, but a pleasure.  I was extremely thankful to be at work.  

My perspective changed.  Instead of resenting a work day on Thanksgiving, I was gladly working.  It was much better than the alternative I faced for two weeks prior.  

It was a lesson learned.  Thank you Lord for your many blessings- even the ones I do not recognize right away!

Pete Garbacki is a minister with Time for Truth Ministries and Mission.Brasil. Follow him on Twitter @mission_brasil or FaceBook at

Monday, November 19, 2012

Book Review: C.S. Lewis. The Magician's Nephew.

I am not ashamed to admit how much I have lately enjoyed rereading the children's books from The Chronicles of Narnia series as an adult.

Having read a few books from this series aloud to my children several years ago, we are now going through them again as a family, reading a chapter or two together in the evenings. Let me share a few tidbits about the first book in the series. 

The Magician's Nephew was one of the later books written by C.S. Lewis in the T.C.o.N. series, but is first if read in chronological order. Some literary critics argue--on the basis of narrative suspense--that it should be read later, as it explains many of the foundational elements of the other books (such as the wardrobe and the light post).

T.M.N. describes the first encounter with the magical world of Narnia as experienced by Digory Kirke and his childhood friend, Polly. Digory and Polly first enter Narnia through the deception of Uncle Andrew, an amateurish magician (and the personification of the Proverbial 'fool').

But before entering Narnia, Digory and Polly unintentionally enter the world of Charn, a now-dead civilization destroyed by cosmic war. In a stirring scene that recapitulates the Fall in the Genesis 3, Digory awakens the evil Queen Jadis by striking a bell with a hammer:

Make your choice adventurous Stranger;
Strike the bell and bide the danger, Or
Wonder, till it drives you mad, What would
have followed if you had.  

Digory, like Adam, cannot resist the allure, and The Queen is subsequently revived from her comatose state and transported with the children in their return to London, reeking havoc both on the human world and later Narnia itself.

Chapter nine, The Founding of Narnia, is particularly stirring as the reader witnesses the great lion Aslan beautifully singing Narnia into existence, thus retelling the Biblical creation story in a fantastical manner. Here we meet (and fall in love with) the Christ-figure of the Narnian adventures for the first time. Aslan is portrayed as invincible, wise, loving, and indomitably compassionate throughout T.C.o.N.

Parents will have much to discuss with their children as they read this work aloud; and greater adventures are surely to come in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. 

Pastor Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Reflections on the Reelection of President Obama

There we sat in the comedor (cafeteria) of the Shalom Children's Home in Santiago Texacuangos, El Salvador on November 6th. We were huddled around the dinner table around 10:30pm after a long day serving the orphans, eagerly waiting to check our smart phones on a hit-or-miss WIFI connection.  The agony of waiting for the results of the election was both thrilling and excruciating (mostly because I would not allow the mission team to check the news sites until AFTER our corporate worship and Bible study).

And then came the result: Obama Wins Reelection.

I don't think any of us will soon forget that night. Walking back to our dorm rooms on the orphanage campus, some of the team members were visibly frustrated. Some had hoped that this might be the beginning of a change of trajectory for our nation. Apparently, that moment has not yet come.

But now, ten days away from Obama's reelection, I have had time to process the result and distill my feelings into a few bullet points. Here are a few random thoughts in bullet-point format.

1). God remains sovereign over the whole course of human affairs. Scripture says, "Kingship belongs to the Lord and He rules over the nations" (Psalm 22:28). It also reminds us that God "works all things according to the council of His will" (Eph 1:1), and that "The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will" (Proverbs 21:1). 

No, Obama's reelection does not mean the end of God's reign, nor the cession of Christ's Kingdom on earth. The Kingdom of God and the United States of America are NOT one and the same.

Our confession states as much about the sovereignty of God over all things (including presidential elections): "God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established" (WCF 3.1).

We may not like it: but God has ordained that this particular world leader have a second term. Note: this does NOT mean God approves of Obama's rule or policies. It only means that God has deemed it necessary to fulfill His plan.

2).  It does seem evident, now, that our children will grow up in a very different moral climate than their parents. Our children will grow up in a world very different from the one in which we grew up.

  • Our children will be raised during a time when heterosexual marriage will be increasingly seen as irrelevant, puritanical, and outmoded. 
  • Sexual mores will be increasingly skewed and distorted such as that no boundary lines will be visible at all (at least in the public square). 
  • Even work and labor, a duty given to Adam before the fall into sin, will be increasingly viewed as optional as undesirable. 
  • Public education will likely slide further and further left, as tax dollars are spent by the millions to shape children's worldviews. 
  • The church will be increasingly shoved to the sidelines of public life.
All of this will demand greater diligence on our part as Bible-believing Christians to catechize our children and bring them up under the instruction of the Lord. 

3). Christianity often waxes strong where it exists as a persecuted minority, and wanes shallow when it enjoys a majority. This is counter-intuitive. For instance, while the Church was arguably strongest during first and second century times of oppression, church historians have often identified a correlation between the weakening of the Christian church in the fourth century and the ascension of the first Christian Emperor of Rome, Constantine.

The marginalization of the Christian Church today may actually result in a more vivacious, nimble, athletic, and serious brand of evangelicals. Like the "underground church" in Dietrich Bonhoeffer's day, being driven out of sight may actually strengthen the resolve of the committed believers to refuse to be co-opted by the secular state.

This is good news, if we have eyes to see it. In this coming century, the smaller confessional Church will likely have more in common with the Early Church, the Reformers, and the Puritans than the shallow evangelicalism of the late twentieth century that produced such things as televangelists, mega-churches, the seeker-sensitive movement, and Joel Osteen.

4). Viewing Obama's reelection as a "sure sign of the apocalypse" is myopic and lame. Yes, I have heard that Obama's reelection is a sure sign of the end times on more than a few occasions in the last ten days. But that seems to suggest that the United States of America is the central pin on God's eschatological map. I don't think it is.

It also seems to smack of our inextricable self-centeredness to suggest that this must surely be the end of all history because our sitting President is leading from a secular worldview. Many of our Christian brothers around the world have suffered tremendously under the brutal regimes of far worse and evil men: Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Nero, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, and Kim Jong Il just to name a few. 

Let's be sure not to add our names to the ever-growing list of fools who predicted the end of the world based on current events they read in the newspapers. Jesus warned us not make such predictions at all (Matt 24:36).

This point came across to me strongly on the Wednesday after the election. We went out in a pickup truck to feed the poor of a tiny village called Oasis. The community centered around one central running water connection that supplied hundreds. An octopus of hose connections ran water to some (but not all) of the dirt-floor homes. There were no working toilets to be seen. Most came filthy and dirty--yet joyful--to eat a meal consisting of rice and beans.

As I watched a people stricken by a poverty that I have never personally experienced myself, God struck me with a profound thought: Only an American would believe the whole world is ending because the stock market is down and the tax code is up. 

We press on. 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Even Meth Heads Need Love

I could've said crackheads, whores, drunks or ... whatever group is defined by a derogatory label due to "poor life choices." 

There are times in my life I look at some of my good friends, like the writers of this blog I personally know- the closest being Pastor Matt Ellis and Pastor Matthew Everhard.  Two men who have accomplished much in their lives.  Good educations, beautiful families and wonderful ministries. I can look at men like the Pastors Matt and think of how I do not compare.  We are all within a few years of each other age-wise, but I feel that I have missed out on so much because of timidity, stubbornness, lack of faith- just to name a few of the many reasons.  On the other hand there is one of my best friends ever, Pastor Phil Karasiewicz.  He is not a blogger on this site.  In fact, he is not reformed at all.  He pastors a church in Portland, PA.  They have a strong ministry there and I see that God is changing lives and maturing Christians.  He is not seminary trained, he does not hold a degree.  But God uses Phil in some mighty ways in his community.  His dedication to, and reverence toward, God is undeniable.  I look at these men and see things I wish I was.

Do not let me lose you here.  I am not throwing a "pity party" (but if it were my party I'd cry if I want to).  There is sometimes a different way I see some other people.

I work at a hospital in the Tampa Bay area- one I will not name since this blog is from my perspective and not necessarily theirs.  I work in a Psychiatric Emergency Room.  Occasionally, we hold people in our small "psych ER" as they await a transfer to a room at our psych unit or at another facility.

Working in the mental health field you see people at their worst.  Sometimes it makes me want to cry on their behalf.  It can be that sad.  Other times it is difficult to find a way to have compassion for people.  For instance, a polysubstance abuser- someone who uses a lot of various drugs- street name: druggie.  The "meth-head" or the "crackhead", the junkie.  The lush or the drunk.  

People think, "well they did it to themselves, it's their own choice."  Some would take the argument that some people have a "disease" of  alcoholism or one of addiction.  I disagree with that assessment- addictive personality traits can be a factor, but the person choose to drink or shoot up, or snort or whatever.  They choose their path.

The thing is, as Paul points out in a sense when says, "But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me." (1 Corinthians 15.10 ESV)

When I look at the lowest of the low, I realize they chose their lives by the many poor decisions they made.  I also realize that the best of the best- like the men I look up to in my life- made decisions and chose the better way more often than not. Add to that the grace of God, and you see why they are blessed. God honors their obedience, humility and Biblical standards for living.

As I survey my life, I see so many poor decisions.  But there were also times when I could have chose another path and faced major consequences or risks to my health.  I could have become a druggie.  I could have become a prostitute.  I could have become a drunk laying on the side of the street until a police officer nudged me along.  I could have been a murderer.  And they could have all been like me.  Or either of the Matts. Or Phil.

The point is, that when we see people who are destitute, we can judge them and be disgusted with them, or we can have true compassion for them, because, 'but for the grace of God, that could be me.'

Pete Garbacki is a minister with Time for Truth Ministries and Mission.Brasil. Follow him on Twitter @mission_brasil or FaceBook at

(for a ministry that helps those in need check out in Hernando County, FL)