Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How Does Exercise Relate to Sanctification?

Interesting discussion with John Piper and Bob Glenn on how exercise/sleep delves into our personal sanctification... Be blessed.


Drew Taylor
RTS Orlando 3rd Year MDiv Student

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Book Review. John Piper. Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God

The heart burns in worship what the mind provides for fuel. This is true whether we are believers or idolators. Therefore let us burn on what is true.

This is the centering thought of John Piper's delightful book, Think: the Life of the Mind and the Love of God. Throughout, Piper connects these two great facets of our humanity: loving the Lord our God with both heart and mind as Jesus commanded.

Often these two pursuits (heart and mind) are placed at odds against one another as though doctrine was cold and dead, while real worship was "felt" emotionally, disconnected to propositional truth.

In this book, Piper admonishes believers to fully engage God with our mind. We are to intellectually pursue the wisdom of our Creator since worship and clear thinking (especially about His revealed Word) should be inseparable.

Piper gently attacks two false positions. The first false position is that worship is primarily done with one's feelings. Here Piper attacks the anti-intellectualism that has pervaded American forms of evangelicalism, especially since the Second Great Awakening. On the other hand, Piper deconstructs the prideful position of those whose knowledge "puffs up" lending itself to arrogance, conceit, and self-confidence.

Working through several key Biblical passages throughout the book (Proverbs 2:3-5; Matthew 22:35-40; 1 Corinthians 1:20-24) Piper is relentlessly exegetical. He never strays far from his key Biblical texts. He carefully shows how thoughtful Biblical Christians are exhorted to pursue an apprehension of divine truth with humility.

Chapters seven and eight are worth the price of the whole book. There, Piper utterly destroys modern relativism as both rationally incoherent, and intellectually dishonest. As I read these two chapters which expose the pride of the heart of unbelieving man, I repeatedly wished I could put these pages before the eyes of every member of my church.

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

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Rebellious Nation

And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.  And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day.  The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’  And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.  And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words,though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.  And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house.
 “But you, son of man, hear what I say to you. Be not rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”  And when I looked, behold, a hand was stretched out to me, and behold, a scroll of a book was in it. And he spread it before me. And it had writing on the front and on the back, and there were written on it words of lamentation and mourning and woe.
 And he said to me, “Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat. And he said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly with this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” Then I ate it, and it was in my mouth as sweet as honey.
And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them. (Ezekiel 2.1-3.4 ESV)
This is a lengthy portion of Scripture for my post, but it is relevant.  Ezekiel was charged with bringing a message to Israel, however, they were characterized by God as being a “rebellious house”.  If you look closely, God makes it clear to Ezekiel that He understands Israel’s rebellious nature.  After all, He led them through Egypt and the wilderness and they turned against Him anyway.  While He led them through the wilderness and provided for them they still complained and wanted to turn back.  They were an ungrateful people.
Israel’s history included following Molech- an evil demon god whose worship required child sacrifice.  Human sacrifice was common as was sexual perversion as “worship” to the false gods Israel cavorted with.  How could Israel turn on God when He did so much for them?  They had a foundation God built with Moses and Joshua!  They had the Ten Commandments and the Law to keep them on track.  They had the prophets to bring them God’s Word.  What buffoons.
Of course, to be indignant about Israel turning on God is in some ways hypocritical.  As a nation, we have turned our back on God.  He brought together great, not perfect, leaders- just as Moses and Joshua were great and not perfect.  We were given men of wisdom who wrote the Constitution of the United States and brought forth, not a democracy, but a Representative Republic.  They were blessed by God with wisdom.  Preachers were used to bring about revivals and a dependence on God during the history of the United States.  It was a great parallel to how God acted toward Israel (though the differences are real).  
The United States has been blessed by God like none other than Biblical Israel.  
What is the result? The United States has cursed God to His face.  We, as a nation, have spit in the face of God and are begging for judgment.  Israel had kings, we have presidents.  We have chosen our poison.  Our president has flaunted his support of sodomy in our armed forces and in every sector of the nation.  He, as many homosexuals, show no shame in boasting in sin.  ’To the devil with God’s Word’ is an attitude we see in the world.  We sacrifice our children (unborn) to the god of “choice”- Molech would be envious of the blood our nation has shed through unborn lives.  Evil.  We have called evil good and good evil.  Can the United States really expect to survive under these circumstances?  Not without a revived church!  The church, like the prophet Ezekiel, is called to bring forth God’s message whether the rebellious nation listens or not.
Individually, we have been blessed to live in such a nation of freedom, but now the nation needs to receive God’s message.  He has called on us to be witnesses.  He has called on us to live for Him and to proclaim His Gospel to the nation.  Will we be like Ezekiel?  God emphatically demonstrated Israel’s rebelliousness, but when Ezekiel was told to eat what was put before him- a scroll, not a steak, fried chicken or ribs,- he obeyed.  No questions asked.  
The contrast between the rebellious house and Ezekiel are black and white.  Is the contrast between the church and society the same way?  Is the contrast between us, individually, and the society the same?  Pray about it.  Then follow God’s lead (He will only answer one way- He has commissioned us already-Matthew 28.18-20).

Pete Garbacki is a minister with Time for Truth Ministries and Mission.Brasil. Follow him on Twitter @mission_brasil or FaceBook at http://www.facebook.com/pete.garbacki.

Fried Chicken and Traditional Marriage?

I love Chick Fil A.

To be honest, the reasons I enjoy eating there have nothing to do with the personal views of their CEO or any management staff. I love Chick Fil A because I love their chicken and they have great service. But unless you've been hiding under a rock somewhere, you've heard almost every politico or cultural commentator  celebrating or snubbing the recent comments by CEO Dan Cathy that he supports marriage as between one man and one woman.

The Mayors of Chicago and Boston have reacted and promised to keep this business from opening in their city because of the personal views of their CEO. Of course I am biased (everyone is!) , but if you take a step back and consider  the reality of a government official promising to regulate commerce because of one person's  personal views , it is revealing and striking to say the least. The Jim Henson Company has notified Chick Fil A that it will no longer partner with them on future projects. Facebook had a "snafu" when Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee invited hundreds of thousands of subscribers to Chick Fil A appreciation day, and the invitation mysteriously disappeared for hours. Needless to say, this topic has exploded and generated strong opinions and comments on both sides.

As a minister I am both encouraged and convicted. I am encouraged anytime someone in our culture who is a leader in their community, or contributes in a sphere of influence, stands up for biblical values. But I am also convicted that as a culture, we exist in such an environment where behavior can become so normalized that to question it is to invite a firestorm.

While affirming my commitment that the practice of homosexuality is sin, nonetheless I can't help feel  the church has failed in reaching out to those in the homosexual community. Heterosexual sex outside of marriage is just as sinful, and yet our Christian sub-culture makes allowances for certain taboos and respectable sins (If you haven't read Jerry Bridges' "Respectable Sins" first repent, then go read it :) We in the church need to speak the truth in love, and unfortunately we have proven the culture right at times when they have claimed that those in the conservative Christian world (of which I am an unashamed member) are bigoted or hateful. We need to repent, just as we are calling homosexuals to repent and those who support "gay marriage" to repent. Homosexuals don't need to "get straight"...they need Jesus, just like you and I do. And once we are transformed, our desires and affections are changed that we want to live in the sweet spot of life; loving and delighting in the law of God.

(For more on this topic, click here to read "The Bible, Homosexuality, and Shellfish") 

The Apostle Paul (inspired by the Holy Spirit)  sums up the problem with his usual poise and grace when he wrote to the Corinthians, "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." (1 Corinthians 1:18) Let us never forget, that our only banner is the crucified and risen Christ;  not any enterprise or fast food chain (as tasty as it may be). We should not be surprised when the world rejects our message, for it is folly to a self-centered and individualistic culture. Yet it is nothing less than the very power of God to those who are refined and refreshed by its healing grace. So on August 1, if you want to eat at Chick Fil A to support their CEO, by all means go ahead! But don't forget, that taking a stand for Christ involves daily dying to our own agendas, and remembering that our life is hidden with Him (Colossians 3:3)

It has been said that some things are as American as Apple Pie and Baseball. Maybe we our entering an era (good and bad)  where something is as traditional as fried chicken and marriage.

Lee Hutchings is an Assistant Pastor at Highlands Presbyterian Church in Ridgeland, Mississippi

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Happens to Those Who Never Hear the Gospel?

One perennial question lingers that plagues the redeemed believer. If it does not bother us deeply—cause us to lose sleep even—we have every reason to suspect the validity of our own conversion. The question is this: what happens to those tribes who do not hear the gospel? 

Let’s answer this question two ways, first logically and then directly with Scripture. 

Suppose that God saves those who have not heard the gospel on the pretense of their being isolated from the announcement of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. What premises would this conclusion demand? It would require one of two premises (possibly both) to be true; (a) that the taint of the sin-plague did not cause this tribe’s ultimate bodily and spiritual death or else (b) that God saves some other way than through the announcement of the gospel. Neither of these premises fit the data of Scripture. 

In fact, if such a tribe’s salvation had been guaranteed through their NOT having heard the gospel, the most dangerous and reckless thing would be for a Christian to preach it to them! At that moment, their soul would then be put in jeopardy after having heard the good news. This would make missions a danger to unengaged tribes by bringing knowledge that, if rejected, could condemn them. 

Let’s allow the Apostle Paul to answer the question in Scripture. In fact he addresses this question head-on in Romans 10:13-17, 

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. 

In this passage, Paul marches through a logical progression which reaches the same conclusion to the one I gave above. Paul enumerates the following points, 

  • The Gospel saves all who call upon the Lord (quoting Joel 2:32).
  • One calls upon the Lord by believing The Gospel (defined in Romans 10:9-10).
  • We must know the gospel in order to believe it.
  • The Gospel must be preached in order to be made known.
  • In order to be preached, the gospel requires preachers (missionaries) to those place where it is yet unheard.

In conclusion then, Paul answers the question of the fate of the unreached, not with fire and brimstone (although I believe he had full Scriptural warrant to do so), but rather by pleading with the Roman Christians to march outward with the global gospel proceeding joyfully from their lips. 

(This blog post has been excerpted from Pastor Matthew's book Un-Precious: An Invitation to the Joy of Christian Missions). 

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

Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Review: Francis Schaeffer. "The God Who is There."

Francis Schaeffer was one of the more important apologists and evangelists in the twentieth century. Almost thirty years after his death, his works seem to many to be prophetic. It becomes all thoughtful Christians to be familiar with his works at some basic level. For many, this volume may be the place to begin.

Full disclosure: readers should know that his "The Great Evangelical Disaster" would be a much easier read for those less conversant in philosophy.

This particular volume is bound with all three of Schaeffer's primary works in his essential trilogy; "The God Who is There," "Escape from Reason," and "He is There and He is Not Silent." Here, I will be reviewing only the first book, "The God Who is There," as it is foundational to its sequels. 

Schaeffer's overall goal is to trace the flow of history to the modern era where the idea of absolute truth ("true truth" as he often calls it) has been abandoned. Schaeffer traces this loss of absolutes at critical junctures in the arenas of philosophy, art, music, and language before moving on to theology. Schaeffer sees the abandonment of absolutes as the death knell to the individual man and the entirety of our culture.

In this work, Schaeffer coins the important term "the line of despair," viz. the threshold at which humanity must abandon rationality and reason in order to also abdicate absolutes. Once a man abandons antithesis (the idea that some things are true and their opposites necessarily untrue; some actions moral and their opposites evil) man begins to live in a realm in which all meaning and truth are compromised. Among the losses most precious, ironically, is man's own understanding of his own life and purpose.

In the realm of theology, Schaeffer diagnoses the problem and deception of liberalism, namely, that it makes a leap into obscurity by removing the traditional meaning of words and replacing them with nebulous undefinable ideas. For instance, the very word "god" can be imputed with virtually any meaning (or lack of meaning) that the speaker desires. While one has the ability to continue the use of religious language (and thus to reap a sentimental benefit) he may simultaneously forgo any real foundational relationship with living God who entered time/space/history in the person of Jesus Christ.

From there, Schaeffer helps Christians to begin to speak to this dreadful existentialism by addressing modern man at the point of his own absurdity. While pointing out the hopelessness of existentialism (what we would now call "post-modernism"; Schaeffer called it modernism), he acknowledges that the weight of the despair of the modern worldview has the potential to crush its adherents if they were intellectually honest enough to live consistently with their own beliefs.

Thus, in the latter half of the book, Schaeffer calls for an intelligent, compassionate defense of the rational, historic Christian faith through a combination of apologetic approaches. Throughout "The God Who Is There," Schaeffer's love for and pity upon unbelieving modern men comes through strongly. Of course, listening and responding to the questions and objections of skeptics was part of his lifeblood, and integral to his intellectual rescue mission in L'Abri in Switzerland.

Ultimately, Schaeffer cries out for three things: (1) an uncompromising defense of doctrinal, systematic Christianity (2) a compassionate approach to men who have fallen below the line of despair and (3) and an integrated all-encompassing worldview founded upon the absolute truth of the God who is (truly) there!

If you are ready for an intellectual challenge, read this book. 

Matthew Everhard is the senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Clinging to Hope

It’s funny how we remember the picture books our parents read to us when we were children. I remember one entitled “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.” It begins,

I went to sleep with gum in my mouth, and now there’s gum in my hair, and when I got out of bed this morning I tripped on the skateboard and by mistake I dropped my sweater in the sink while the water was running and I could tell it was going to be a terrible horrible no good very bad day.

When I became an adult, I quickly realized that terrible horrible no good very bad days still happen--they just get a lot more expensive!

In Acts 27, we see a Christian believer, namely the Apostle Paul, do several things well during severe duress: (a) remain transfixed on the sovereignty of God, (b) praise God during the peak of a calamitous storm, and (c) rise from obscurity to lead a contingent of the most ungodly passengers.

Storms, Shipwrecks, and Snakebites
Acts chapters 27 and 28 read like a fast-paced novella. First Paul, Luke, Julius the Roman Centurion, and the prisoners were driven far off their path by a furious storm (27:27). Second, the sailors attempt to escape the doomed ship, leaving the others to die (27:30-32). Third, the ship struck a reef, was run aground, and was destroyed by the surf (27:41). Fourth, there is a murder plot by the soldiers to kill Paul and his fellow prisoners (27:42). And finally as if that wasn’t enough—Paul is bitten by a poisonous viper (28:1-10). This series of events is enough to fray the nerves and destroy the composure of any grown man.

Here are two factors outside your control: the sovereignty of God and the depravity of sinful men. Try as you might to labor, manipulate, finagle, and coax God and others—we are very much at the mercy of these two forces. However this is not to say that your life is like that Alexandrian grain ship in Acts 27, smashed between the surf of destiny and the rocks of fate. There is one factor that you can control in the midst of the life's hurricanes: your response.

I believe it is possible to discern the difference between a mature and immature Christian by what questions they ask during storms, shipwrecks, and snakebites.
  • Unbelievers and immature Christians ask “What is God doing TO me?”
  • But the mature Christian—who knows both the power of God and the decadence of man-- asks a different question entirely, “What is God doing THROUGH me?”
The thing I like most about Acts 27:33-38 is the absurdity of this scene. Picture this: the ship is three verses away from being smashed to pieces. By the time the sun rises in the sky, every man on that boat will be clinging to boards and paddling for shore. And yet the Apostle Paul—a prisoner himself—decides to host a picnic! And who are the guests? All 276 men aboard including sailors, soldiers, and prisoners. I cannot think of a more ungodly list of dinner guests.

Yet in the midst of the hurricane, with both natural and human evil tearing the ship apart, we see the Apostle Paul--with chains on his wrists--speaking the words of Jesus (“not a hair on your head will perish,” cf. Matthew 10:30 and Luke 21:18), and imitating the compassionate deeds of Jesus (taking bread, thanking God, breaking and eating the bread; cf. Matthew 15:36). With this simple gesture with bread, Paul is pointing to Christ as his supreme joy in the midst of the storm.

Just a simple loaf of bread! That’s all Paul had in his hands for which to give thanks while the ship sinks! It’s not even toasted bread! No jam to slab on it. No coffee in which to dip it. Not a daub of butter on deck anywhere to be found! Just month-old bread. Did anyone see a “Panera” restaurant anywhere in this passage? It’s probably even a bit wet from the sea and the storm. Possibly a bit green with mold. Likely it was stored fore weeks in a barrel or cargo hold somewhere. Just three Christians, Paul, Luke, and Aristarchus and a hoard of pagans, in one of the most unlikely worship services on the biblical record.

And in the midst of the storm, for just a few moments, there is a wonderful, worshipful, thankful, silence. Just 276 men silently chewing their sea-nasty bread. "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). 

I love how chapter 27 ends with these words: “And so it was that all were brought safely to land.” Safely? Is that a bit of an overstatement? I don’t think so.

It seems that, despite the storm, God carried out His merciful plan and honored His promises after all. It turns out God is a good and merciful God. He really does work all things according to the council of His perfect will. If you are in Christ, there is no safer place in the universe then in the center of His plan.

At some point in your life, like Alexander in the children’s book my mother read to me, you may find yourself having a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” You may find yourself drifting in the open water clinging to a splintered board. But if you are in Christ, there is no safer place in the world.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

I Want Answers

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” - Matthew 7:7-8 ESV

This text dies the death of a thousand qualifications. When we hear the straightforward way that Jesus assures us of the certainty of answered prayer, we are immediately moved to begin qualifying his statements in order to explain the many reasons we do not see this as a reality in our lives. Of course there are qualifications. We must pray according to God’s will and it is only in the name of Jesus Christ that such certainty can be expected. However, when the biblical qualifications have been met, we should have a life full of clearly and specifically answered prayers. The text promises, “it will be given…you will find…it will be opened…everyone who asks receives…the one who seeks finds…to the one who knocks it will be opened.” The clear interpretation of this text should give the believer great optimism in their prayer lives. Yet Andrew Murray is exactly accurate when he writes of Christians, “One of the terrible marks of the diseased state of Christian life these days is that there are so many who are content without the distinct experience of answer to prayer. They pray daily, they ask many things, and they trust that some of them will be heard. But they know little of direct definite answer to prayer as the rule of daily life.”  This is true in our day as well. I have experienced three things in my own journey that have caused my own uncertainty over the years.
                1. My inadequate understanding of God’s sovereignty created paralysis in much of my spiritual life, including my prayer life. When I came to see the reformed/scriptural view of God’s sovereignty and providence over all things I went through a time of uncertainty about my role and responsibility in God’s plan. I was unsure how my activities affected the plan of God. I didn’t want to work in my own strength or contrary to God’s will, so I found myself subconsciously doing nothing. In my prayer life, I found myself qualifying every request with the statement, “If it be your will.” Obviously, we shouldn’t expect God to answer any request that is contrary to his will. However, we should be able to discern his will and pray accordingly, expecting an answer. As I’ve grown in my understanding of the mystery of the relationship between my work and God’s sovereignty or providence, as well as learning that God has ordained the means as well as the ends, I’ve grown in my expectancy in prayer.
               2.  My spirit is willing, but my flesh is weak. Quite simply, discerning the will of God and praying accordingly is hard work. In order to pray effectually the way the Bible teaches us, we must discipline ourselves for godliness. The transformation of our minds and wills does not come easily. We cannot pray according to the will of God without knowing the mind of God. Therefore, we must have a strong conviction that Bible study and prayer are two sides of the coin of communion with God. Much of what we say in our prayers is unbiblical and therefore contrary to the will of God. We must be educated prayers. Take the time to study the Word of God until you become convinced of the biblical validity of your prayers and then pray until they are answered. A word of warning. This is hard work.
               3. Finally, I’m not always absolutely surrendered to the will of God. This is a major battle. George Muller was perhaps the greatest example of effectual prayer the world has ever known. His autobiography is filled with answers to prayer in almost mythical proportions. He teaches us that ninety nine percent of the battle in our prayer lives is to get our wills into such a state that we have no will of our own so can wait on the Lord to fill us with his will. As it is, our hearts are so full of the desires we have for our lives that there is little room for God to fill us with any of his. Everyone that reads Muller, admires him and longs to pray like him. Few long to live like him. Completely yielded to the will of God, often depending on him for his next meal.
We must learn to believe God’s Word and not disqualify his promises with our fleshly excuses. It is his will that we learn to pray and not give up, expecting our prayer lives to be a testimony to the faithfulness of God to his promises.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Oh, I'm Running to Your Arms...

I am by no means a musical expert. In middle school, as a sort of joke, I played clarinet in band class as a school elective credit (It was bad). However, the band Hillsong United has a song called "Forever Reign" that I highly recommend. The main chorus states "I'm running into your arms, the riches of your love will always be enough. Nothing compares to your embrace, light of the world forever reign!" Truer lyrics have never been spoken. The link is listed below...

When I think of Paul's imperative exhortation to the Philippian believers to "Rejoice in the Lord!" in Philippians 3:1, I imagine running. This image became real to me over the 4th of July week when I went up to Birmingham, Alabama, and upon arriving at my destination witnessed two boys, 5 and 3, upon exiting the car, run into the arms of their aunt and tackle her out of their excitement. As I witnessed this unabashed happiness, I felt myself experiencing the feeling of joy that comes from the Lord when we are resting in him and are able to see something truly beautiful occur.

Unfortunately joyful moments are surrounded by many painful ones. Difficult circumstances arise in our lives that cause the joy we have received in Christ to be difficult to see. For the Philippians, their difficult circumstances came from the spiritual opposition of the Judaizers. The Judaizers were men who claimed to know God through their outward signs of religious practice, but were communicating doctrine or teachings that were untrue in regards to how to know God. A clear example of this would have been the physical act of circumcision, which these teachers claimed had to be performed in order to assure a person's salvation. Today, we face opposition from numerous sources. Any teaching that commands that we must add to the work of Jesus Christ in order to be saved is false doctrine and is untrue!

Paul speaks strongly to this point when he urges the Philippians in 3:2 to look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. These were strong words against those false teachers, words that incriminated the teachers as dogs or irreverent to the true holiness of God’s character. Paul uses the description of dogs to communicate the idea that these men’s attempts at religious obedience were filthy in the sight of a holy God, similar to how dogs will often role around in their own filth. Paul also claimed that those false teachers were evil or wicked, purposefully trying to confuse and manipulate people’s minds in order to justify their own actions. Essentially, the Philippian church faced a difficult set of circumstances by these false teachers that made the joy found in Christ difficult to see. What circumstances in your life have made you unsure if God was really true, really present, really worth worshipping?
Just as the Philippian Christians would have had trouble seeing the joy they had received due to the Judaizers false teachings pressing upon them, you are reminded to rejoice in the Lord and dwell on the joy you are given while dealing with difficult circumstances. I would challenge you to think about what it would look like to not be dependent on yourself and immediately rush to fix your circumstances. Rather, allow God to be the God who is worthy of rejoicing, allow him to take control and fight your battles and your circumstances.
The two little boys that ran with unbridled adoration and complete passion into the arms of their aunt that they had learned to unequivocally trust. Likewise, I challenge you to run into the arms of Jesus! To unashamedly run into his arms, knowing he loves us and calls us to trust in him. It is only in the arms of Jesus, that true joy can be found.

Drew Taylor
3rd Year MDiv Student RTS Orlando

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Almost a Christian!

I confess that I stole the title of this blog from John Wesley the founder of Methodism who preached a sermon by the same name in 1741. Fortunately, I felt much better once I realized that Wesley also stole this title from his friend and evangelist George Whitefield. Both men based their messages on Acts 26:28, which in the Authorized King James Version reads, “Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian!”

The word “almost” is without a doubt one of the saddest and most tragic words in the English language. It designates the potentiality of what COULD have been. We use the word “almost” to describe what MIGHT have been had one or two factors been altered just slightly.

Athletes retire into the shadows of the comfort of the word “almost.” If one or two yards had been played differently, or if the ball had bounced just slightly in a different trajectory, we might have won. Lovers suffer the agony of what could have bloomed, had one moment been relived. I almost asked her to marry me! Investors incessantly count the bills that they could have had if they had just moved a stock a day or two earlier. How many lay on their beds lamenting, Almost! Almost!

Only Two Categories
Let us be clear. There are really only two classes of human beings, not three. There are those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ, and those who are lost. There is no third category. There is no special class of persons in-between that are half-saved, half-atoned, half-way adopted by God. No one is half-way justified by faith.

Distinguishing Marks
Let’s discuss some of the defining marks of the Almost Christian. What exactly did George Whitefield (a staunch Calvinist) and John Wesley (an unabashed Arminian) mean by “Almost a Christian?”  More importantly, could that be you?

  1. He is moral and religious. If you were to ask the “almost Christian” whether or not he is a “good man,” he will unhesitatingly say yes. It will annoy him slightly that you even had to ask. In fact he is in his own mind the “quintessential good man.” He views himself as intelligent, wise, and stately. He shows up for duty, and volunteers for service. A model citizen, he wears medals of honor, both real and imagined, on his chest. Ask him if the world would be a better place if more people were like him. He will respond “of course” (and he really believes it!).
  1. He fears not for his soul.  Ask him if he is going to heaven, and again he will give an unqualified yes. His self-righteousness and confidence in his own nature yields little doubt that he will stand unassailable on the Day of Judgment. Anything that God might have against him is clearly nothing but a misunderstanding on God’s part. A few words of clarification and God would soon reckon aright. If he should be summoned to the Great Judgment Seat at all, he believes it will be as a standard by which God might judge other men. In fact, like Festus and Agrippa, he believes it is often HIS duty to do the judging even in this life!
  1. He has heard the gospel. He knows Christian theology well. He can never use “I didn’t know” as an excuse for his unconverted state. Some of the greatest Bible debates relate to the fate of the un-evangelized people groups. What will God do with that tribe that never gets a missionary? Never has the Bible translated into their tongue? Has no church? But as interesting as that debate is—it is completely immaterial to the “Almost Christian.” Both Festus and Agrippa cannot use ignorance as any excuse for their state of rebellion.
  1. Has a noble view of Jesus. Throughout the ages, philosophers, ethicists, historians, politicians and free-thinkers alike have had a noble view of Jesus. They have admired His teaching, life, purity, pacificism, His love and compassion.  Pontius Pilate himself said, “I find no guilt in this man!” (John 18:38).
  1. But He is NOT a Christian.  But despite his “goodness,” and “rectitude”; despite his self-assurance and his high view of his own achievements, and even his high view of Jesus, there is one thing he most certainly is not—a Christian. He has never repented. Never begged for mercy. Never sought shelter in the blood of Christ. Never made Christ his deepest joy and highest prize. He might be but one millimeter from grace, and yet he might as well be a thousand miles away separated by the highest mountains and deepest oceans.
Bill Buckner
You probably remember the 1986 World Series between the Mets and Red Sox. It was the first series I remember well from childhood. Boston was winning three games to two.  Game six went into extra innings.  The Sox had two outs--one away from a title--but with a couple of hits and a wild pitch, the Mets rallied again to tie. Mookie Wilson was next at bat. After a number of foul balls, Wilson hit a bouncer to first base. Bill Buckner stooped to scoop up the ball. Just tag the base and the Sox would be champs. Instead the baseball went between his legs. For the rest of his life, he would live with that terrible word “almost.”

King Agrippa
King Agrippa had the opportunity of a lifetime, to hear the Apostle Paul preach in person; the author of 13 books of the New Testament. Paul was a man who had seen the Resurrected Lord Jesus. The Apostle Paul preached the gospel right to King Agrippa’s heart. Believe it and repent, and Agrippa’s sins could be forgiven. But instead Agrippa let the Gospel go right by him.


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

Friday, July 13, 2012

How does Mercy Ministry fit into the church?

The next issue of 9Marks is out and discusses how mercy ministry fits into the church. 

Quote to get you started: "Bottom line: the local church, institutionally speaking, is called to teach. That is its job. Lose that, you lose everything. But that institution is made up of human beings who must go and do. And where institutional resources (staff time, budget monies, etc.) are available for something more than teaching, they might be wisely and wonderfully stewarded in helping church members to pursue the good deeds that Jesus commands them to do."

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Psalm 23, Can You Say It in Earnest?, Part 2

Psalm 23. Can you say it in earnest? That is the question that I introduced in my last entry. How could David possibly have said this Psalm in earnest? Well, let’s take a brief look at David’s life (some of us may be a little sketchy on the narrative). He was a shepherd as a young man. Thus, David knew the role of the shepherd and the nature of sheep that are portrayed in Psalm 23 very well. At this time, in an odd ceremony, David is anointed King by the priest Samuel, which is made all the more awkward by the fact that there was already an anointed king, King Saul, on the throne. While visiting his brothers who were in King Saul’s army he kills the giant Goliath who daily came out and defied God’s army. David eventually is accepted into the King Saul’s house, is loved by many, and becomes renowned for his bravery and fighting skills. He actually gets more fame and praise than Saul. A jealous Saul tries to kill David; and ultimately Jonathan, Saul’s son, tells David to flee. David’s family comes to him. Saul pursues David and his men on and off for years (Imagine being forced into exile and on top of that being pursued by your fellow countrymen!!!). Eventually, Saul and Jonathan die in a battle with the Philistines. David is made king of Judah and then soon after king of all Israel after his lengthy absence. 

Some believe that the entire first book of the Psalms, of which Psalm 23 is the middle, pertains to the years of David being pursued by Saul or are at least reflective of that time. Others believe that Psalm 23 is a Psalm by David once he had become king. Regardless of which one is correct, David had lengthy periods of trials and knew God’s provision for him. 

There are at least two things that David did persistently that are evident from this Psalm (and his life) that factored into his earnestness in speaking Psalm 23: 1) he recognized His sovereignty and thanked God for his provision and protection; and 2) he worked hard at knowing Him better (of course the Holy Spirit was at work too). These two things are important to know because I am going to pose a series of questions that force you to compare yourself with David in later entries. When you find yourself paling in comparison to David it is typically because he did one or both of these more frequently and more rigorously than we do.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Is Your God Able to Fight His Own Battles?

Gideon is a great person in the history presented in the Bible.  He was from a family that was the weakest in Manasseh, and he was the least in his family.  However, the angel of the Lord called him "mighty man of valor".  Gideon was instructed to pull down the idols made to the false gods in his area.  He followed the command at night.  

When the followers of the false gods saw what had been done, they were irate.  They demanded Gideon be executed for what they saw as his crime.  Here is that exchange as recorded in Judges 6:
When the men of the town rose early in the morning, behold, the altar of Baal was broken down, and the Asherah beside it was cut down, and the second bull was offered on the altar that had been built. 29 And they said to one another, “Who has done this thing?” And after they had searched and inquired, they said, “Gideon the son of Joash has done this thing.” 30 Then the men of the town said to Joash, “Bring out your son, that he may die, for he has broken down the altar of Baal and cut down the Asherah beside it.” 31 But Joash said to all who stood against him, “Will you contend for Baal? Or will you save him? Whoever contends for him shall be put to death by morning. If he is a god, let him contend for himself, because his altar has been broken down.” 32 Therefore on that day Gideon was called Jerubbaal, that is to say, “Let Baal contend against him,” because he broke down his altar. (Judges 6.28-32 ESV)
This is a great passage of Scripture.  It is a challenge only the One true God would be able to satisfy, because only He is real.  All other gods are false.

Sometimes I feel like going into battle for God when someone disrespects Him.  When someone opposes God it seems like we should fight for Him.  Let's have a crusade!  Not like Billy Graham, but like the crusaders of old!  Conquer and pillage, rape and murder.  Make them pay for dishonoring our God!  However, that is not what we are called to do.  What I described is Islam, not Biblical Christianity.  When popes ordered people to be killed they showed the evil of their hearts and the lack of true spiritual authority in their office.

If you think about it, the Gospel is most effective in places where there is persecution.  The saying goes, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."  The Gospel prospers not when we conquer, but when we allow God to conquer us and surrender our will to His.  When we do that we can realize that we do not need to fight His battles for Him, we just need to do His will.  The followers of Baal and Asherah (as well as those who follow allah and the papacy) have to fight on their gods' behalf.  That is because their gods are powerless.  The God of the Bible is all-powerful.  He does not need our defense.  If we stand bold, it is not to protect God, but to honor Him and to be a witness of His greatness.  

Surely, our God is able to fight His own battles; we, Christians, are the only ones who can truthfully say that.

Pete Garbacki is a minister with Time for Truth Ministries and Mission.Brasil.  Follow him on Twitter @mission_brasil or FaceBook at http://www.facebook.com/pete.garbacki.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

In Defense of Connectional Polity

By Matthew Everhard

With the close of another large General Assembly this week, the world of Presbyterianism begins to wind down what has been a very active summer of business meetings. Many of these meetings have been heated. Some have even been vitriolic. Each has spawned thousands of blog articles and Twitter posts. 

The gavels have been busy. The podiums, once polished, have since been worn dull. The overtures—both ascending and descending—have been, well, ascending and descending for most of June and July.  Most of the microphones have now been unplugged. 

Let’s look at what has been accomplished…

One assembly (PCA) dissected the theological ramifications of intinction, taking communion by dipping the bread in the cup rather than receiving the elements in two sacramental acts. Another (ARP) spent their energy debating their relationship to an academic institution’s governing board. A third (EPC) made a political statement on a few clauses in the “Obamacare” act. A fourth (PCUSA) voted on whether to invest or divest in corporations doing business in Israel. 

A brief survey of some of these more “interesting” matters debated may cause the uninitiated to ask: What is the point in all this? Indeed. What is the point? 

I freely admit that my role as a Teaching Elder in the EPC comes with far more desirable responsibilities than reviewing sub-committee minutes. I would rather preach or baptize a baby any day. For that matter, I’d even prefer a church disciplinary hearing! 

Nevertheless, I’d like to state a few reasons that all of these organizational structures are still part of the work of the Kingdom of God. 

First, the Body of Christ by definition is an organic living connection of various parts, all in submission together to our Head, Jesus Christ. Paul makes this argument in 1 Corinthian 12. Of course, one of the best ways that we show our unity in Christ is by actually meeting together to worship. At each assembly, worship is an integral part. All the assemblies that I know of received communion as a major focus of the event. The worship and sacraments tend not to get much press, but are central to our summer meetings.
Second, meeting together as believers on a regional (presbytery) national (assembly) or even global scale is a biblical act. Acts 15 is the account of the Jerusalem council where one of the most pressing theological questions of the day was settled, that of the inclusion of the gentiles. This meeting took place by way of gathering the apostles and elders of a number of first century churches. By meeting to discuss the relevant theological controversies of our day, we are carrying on that biblical process of discernment, even though the councils of men do sometimes fail (WCF 1.10 and 31.3). 

Ironically, these meetings that often display our disagreements are intended by God to show our unity. Anyone who says that the church of Jesus Christ shouldn’t have serious disagreements about weighty issues simply hasn’t read Paul’s epistles carefully. Don’t forget that another metaphor for the church is a family. Do you know any families that never argue? 

Third, is there really any alternative? Sure, a church could refuse to participate or even to choose independence. Non-denominational churches have the advantage of pointing out the foolish decisions of other believers’ councils. But what does that communicate to the unbelieving world? That non-denominational local churches can’t get along with anyone at all?
I am not sure that independence or non-participation better communicate “unity” to the unbelieving world than rowdy business sessions on a late Friday afternoon. 

The Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 31 details the full theological underpinnings of our reasons for meeting together. There we read these wise lines: 

It belongs to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same; which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in His Word.
Call me a glutton for punishment. Sentence me to death by long boring meetings. But I still believe these words in our confession. I am still Presbyterian despite some of our lengthy debates and bone-headed decisions. 

I will see you next year in Denver!

Matthew Everhard is the pastor of Faith EvangelicalPresbyterian Church (EPC) in Brooksville, Florida. Follow him on Twitter @matt_everhard or friend him on facebook at www.facebook.com/pastor.everhard

Monday, July 9, 2012

First Love

First Love
By: Drew Taylor

Darkness. That is the best description of what I felt as I walked through the seven-story mall in downtown Bangkok, Thailand on a Saturday afternoon in mid-June. Off for the afternoon while serving on a mission trip, our team headed to the mall to experience big-city life in the Far East. In the MBK Center, hundreds of people crammed the walkways, millions of lights flickered across stores that advertised cellphones, videogames, clothes, candy, and much more. Despite all the business, all I felt was an overwhelming sense of darkness. Half-way across the world, in one of the most prominent cities in the eastern-half of planet earth, I encountered many, many people who did not have a first love. David, in 2nd Samuel 22:29 acknowledges God with the praise, “You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.” In a spiritually dark place like Thailand, the feeling of darkness will pursue you aggressively. In America, the same darkness creeps in much more subtly.

We are living in a spiritually dark time in a spiritually dark country. The “already” of Jesus Christ’s inauguration of God’s kingdom through his life, death, and resurrection is over-shadowed by the “not-yet” of God’s kingdom on Earth failing to be fully present until Christ’s return. I am consistently guilty of falling on both sides of this pendulum. I’m either not accepting God’s grace while trying to righteously work for a righteous status with God through “ministry,” or I accept his grace cheaply, viewing it as license to sin and violate God’s holy law. Lately, it has been much of the former. While I have accepted the grace Paul talks about in Ephesians 2:8-9, I fail to accept the second half of the verse “not by works so that no man can boast.” Failing to live out of this grace and falling back into works based righteousness, I cheapen the work of Christ while attempting to increase my own feeble efforts. Maybe this is you… If so, you are not alone, you are merely hiding amongst the shadows of your own darkness rather than in the truth of God’s light provided by his daily grace. Jesus’ disciple, John, paints this picture beautifully in 1st John 1:5-6, when he states that “This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.”

For me, it’s about failing to hold on to my first love. By loving myself first rather than God, I worship the idol of self, much like the Israelites loved the idols they had created to worship instead of God. This is communicated in Hosea 2:7, which compares the Israelites to a cheating wife. The verse states- “She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them.  Then she will say, I will go back to my husband as at first, for then I was better off than now.”

Those people in the mega-mall in Bangkok did not have the Lord as a lamp, and despite being surrounded by people, wealth, and entertainment, lived dependent on themselves and thus in utter darkness. Sadly, many of us who know Christ and have experienced his light will often revert back to the darkness of worshipping an idol, worshipping self. When living as dependent children of God, we live as we were created to live… In the light. Fully alive. In love with our first love.
Drew Taylor
RTS Orlando MDiv Student (3rd year)
Pastoral Intern at Willow Creek Church (PCA)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Review of the 32nd General Assembly of the Evangelical Presbyterian church

By Matthew Everhard

Last month, Faith EPC of Brooksville sent ruling elder Gwynn Blair and I as delegates to the 32nd annual General Assembly of our denomination, the EPC, in Baton Rouge Louisiana.  Delightfully, this was the first time that I also took my wife and children to the Assembly.

As an event, the G.A. was very well done. Worship times were Christ-honoring and reverent. The preaching was outstanding this year. Nothing compares to elders and their families singing gloriously to our Risen Lord and sharing the Lord’s Table as an entire denomination.

Credit here goes to our Stated Clerk and Executive Pastor, Jeff Jeremiah, and host pastor Gerrit Dawson and their staffs for spearheading the event!

Our host church, First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge, did an amazing job in hosting. We were fed “southern style.” I was particularly impressed with the way that the host church and the EPC headquarters prepared events for the children. It was wonderful to see my three kids enjoy fellowship with other “P.K’s” (pastors’ kids).

Growing Pains
The EPC is growing quickly. In the past five years we have doubled in size from 182 churches when I was ordained to our current 364 churches. This shows the fact that being a part of the EPC, a denomination that is solidly Reformed in theology and amicable in spirit, is attractive to a larger and larger number of churches.

Although a bit of our growth is attributable to church planting (we pray for far more!) the majority of our growth has come through disaffected churches departing from the increasingly liberal PCUSA. The theology of the old mainline is regarded by many as a sinking Titanic of sorts, rent asunder and foundering.

While this may seem as unqualified good news, the “other side of the coin” is that the EPC is receiving many new churches that are likely not as conservative as our own congregation. Almost all of these churches, for instance, have women elders and quite a few have women pastors (teaching elders) as well.

In our own Presbytery of Florida, for instance, we have—in just two short years—abdicated our former position of complementarianism (men elders only) in favor of accepting women elders and pastors. This change is happening rapidly, and to the chagrin of the elders of this particular local church. 

How dramatically this shift impacts the EPC, only time will tell. Having said that, let me point out a few other highlights of the 32nd Assembly…

The EPC maintains a strong missionary passion. As a denomination we send missionaries into the 10/40 window regularly—regarded as the most dangerous places on earth. Our focus as a denomination is on reaching and converting the Muslim world. While a daunting task, “someone has to do it.” Let it be us!

We prayed for 37 of our missionaries in the GA. This was a wonderful moment. I strongly encourage all members of Faith to obtain one of our World Outreach missionary prayer flip-charts. My family regularly prays for all of our missionaries in a year, and many of them are in “sensitive areas” that cannot be disclosed. Our denomination has a plan called “Engage2025” to challenge each presbytery to plant a church in an unreached people group within fifteen years.

More on Church Growth
The EPC has officially closed the New Wineskins and National Non-Geographic Presbyteries that were formerly used to bring in new churches under transition. Now, churches must come directly into established geographic presbyteries. Anywhere between dozens and hundreds of churches will be seeking to enter the EPC in the coming months, as the PCUSA continues its pernicious slide into heresy. Only the Lord knows how many churches will enter the EPC, and how many will enter a brand new denomination, just opened, called ECO (Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians).

In my view, the formation of ECO is a good thing—it will serve as a “middleman” between the EPC and the liberal PCUSA. Hopefully, the more conservative churches will come here and those less so will go to ECO happily.  

Church Planting
The EPC maintains a focus on being “missional” by intending to plant dozens of new churches here in the US. During the Assembly, many of our church planters were invited to pray to open and close business meeting sessions. This brought church planting to the fore of our denomination’s attention. As expected, each of the church planters had a miraculous story of how God is moving in their midst! This was stirring to listen to, as many pastors reported on growth with humility and tears. No church planting story is ever the same. Hearing about these great moves of the Lord’s hand only encouraged me to continue to press on as Faith Church plants Providence Church in Spring Hill.

Statement on Religious Freedom
The EPC took a rather unprecedented move in making a somewhat “political” statement during the assembly. The EPC rarely talks politics (this is a nice feature of our denomination) but this time, the relevant issues touched on abortion. We have always stood against abortion as an evil in our culture. This year, we took a stand for religious freedom by officially opposing some of the clauses in the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as “Obamacare”). This document passed unanimously states in part:

It is the position of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church that these regulations [mandates to cover abortifacent drugs, abortion related procedures and services] constitute an unprecedented overreach by the federal government and an infringement upon religious liberty and rights of conscience guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

To wrap up, though I continue to have some misgivings about the quick growth of the EPC through transfer churches from a much more liberal body, I am optimistic that the EPC remains a solid--if imperfect--denomination. Our historical moorings to the Reformed faith, and specifically the authority of Scripture, will see us through many storms of changing times, if we continue to “hold fast the faith” by building on the foundation of Jesus Christ. God help us.

Pastor Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Brooksville. Follow him on Twitter @matt_everhard or "friend" him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pastor.everhard