Friday, August 31, 2012

Book Review. J. Oswald Sanders: Spiritual Leadership

J. Oswald Sanders' book Spiritual Leadership is one of the best leadership books now available. Originally written in 1967, the later versions have been updated and thoroughly annotated by Moody Press.

In the past couple of weeks, I have been reading as much on Christian leadership as I can and I have continually found this work to be a deep well of fresh cool water.

Sanders, the former director of Overseas Missionary Fellowship, has plenty of experience from his own life to share to a new generation of pastors and leaders, but it is the way the author defers to the experiences of literally dozens of other historic personages that continually intrigued me.

As a history lover, my heart thrills with the anecdotal mini-stories of men like Luther, Spurgeon, Carey, Tyndale, Mueller, Whitefield, McCheyne and more. Reading this work was like taking a walk down the corridors of time and having multiple generations whisper timeless truths into our modern ears.

Relentlessly biblical, Sanders does not spill much ink on the frivolities that transfix most modern leadership books. Readers scanning for the cheap content of entertainment-focused, seat-filling gimmicks will be deeply disappointed. Instead the author drives the book like a spear straight for the leader's heart. In a word, the book is what the title claims to be "spiritual."

Sanders, I have come to believe, is utterly unconcerned with how many numerical followers one might accumulate. Instead, he is deeply concerned what kind of men his readers might become.

Although the work is at times a bit pithy, and the anecdotes could be filled out a bit with more description of the men he quotes and their historical settings, Sanders cannot be deterred from his goal of helping to produce men and women in leadership who are conformed more and more to the likeness of Christ.

Chapter headings include: prayer, time management, reading, improving one's skill set, and delegation. Personally, however, I found the chapters on "the cost of leadership" and "the perils of leadership" to be most profound.

Readers from every sphere of Christian leadership--the pastorate, mission field, administrator's desk, or Sunday School classroom--will all benefit from this devotional work.

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

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Book Review: Leaders Who Last. By Dave Kraft.

Leaders Who Last by Dave Kraft is a short, helpful book on leadership skills and strategies in a ministry context.

The author serves on the staff of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, under lead pastor Mark Driscoll. According to the foreword, Dave Kraft was able to help Driscoll significantly at certain points of his ministry, serving as his personal "ministry coach." Accordingly, I think his book will also help others who lead in ministry, although probably to a limited extent.

Regardless of what you think of the controversial Mark Driscoll (I happen to admire his ministry) the fact that Kraft served as one of his mentors is impressive: Mars Hill is an world-class behemoth of multi-site church campuses, outreach, mission, church planting, and contemporary strategy.

I approached this book thinking, "If Kraft could help Driscoll during a near burn-out phase, I am sure that he will be able to help me in my small 380-member congregation." He did. To a marginal degree.

While it will probably not become one of the enduring textbooks on leadership any time soon, Leaders Who Last does bring several of the primary facets of leadership to the fore: i.e. power, purpose, passion, priorities, and pacing. In this first major section, Kraft focuses on one's relationship with the Lord, time management (a constant challenge to all in leadership positions)and workday planning. Nothing completely original here, though.

Some of Kraft's guide-points in the latter half of the work are more valuable. For instance, his section on spending time developing future leaders and core staff rather than "draining people" (chapter 11) was helpful to me. Too, Kraft has a wise section on the importance of the pastor communicating his vision for the church (chapter 10) although Kraft does not at any point define what a "vision for the future" might look like, or provide an example of what he means by the term.

The book is filled with helpful nuggets and quotations throughout ("I have never heard of a statue in a park dedicated to a committee," p. 122. "It has been said that if you don't plan your life, someone will plan it for you," p. 136). But somehow I ended the book thinking I would rather have spent time with Dave Kraft the man, rather than Dave Kraft the author.

I am sure his wisdom would have a more profound effect on my own ministry context if I was able take the discussion out of generalities, and into more specifics!

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

There's Something About Mary

Mary was chosen to be the mother of the Messiah.  In my youth I was taught to pray to her and ask for her favor.  I was told that Mary could bring my requests to Jesus for me.  We were taught a prayer to Mary: "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.  Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."

As I grew and eventually surrendered my life to Christ, by His grace, I understood this elevation of Mary was sinful.  I saw the devotion to Mary and "the saints" as idolatry. Roman Catholicism is wrong to teach people to pray to any other beside God. 

In my zeal, in my quest for purer doctrine, I turned against Mary.  Hear me clearly, I turned against Mary.  Recently, I heard someone else mention a virtual disgust for Mary as a result of their Roman Catholic upbringing (this person is now a Christian).  However, I realized in short order that Mary was not the problem.  The teaching of a perverted devotion was the problem.

Mary was a woman of God.  Joseph was blessed to have her as a wife; women have a great role model in the faith in Mary.  God picked a fallen woman, as all have sinned and fall short of God's glory, to carry His Son in order that salvation could come to undeserving man.  Mary was obedient even though it would cost her ridicule and harassment.  She would be viewed in very unflattering ways.  Mary put God's will above her own comfort, honor and reputation.

God chose Mary and she was an awesome choice. She is not to be resented because of Roman Catholic heresy.  There was something wonderful about Mary- she was a woman of God.

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

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Most Dangerous Book in America: It's Not What You Might Think

The Aquila Report recently shared the incredible story of a seminary professor at a liberal theological institution who was fired for merely being in the same room when a student was given a particular book. The fact that the professor, Jamal-Dominique Hopkins, allowed the book in his classroom--and did nothing to stop it's contents from actually being read--showed tacit approval of the book's contents, the "powers that be" determined.

So they axed him. Fired him. Cut him. Terminated him.

Hopkins did not give the student the book. He didn't teach from it. He just allowed the book to be present in the liberal-leaning Interdenominational Theological Center (Atlanta).  Apparently administration would have had him to burn it on the spot.

What kind of a book could be so dangerous that its mere presence in an academic classroom would warrant a professor's termination? A book about bomb-making perhaps? Maybe a maniacal manifesto to wreak violence on campus? Child pornography?


The book was Robert A.J. Gagnon's scholarly work, The Bible and Homosexual Practice.

Conservative scholars deem this academic work to be the definitive book on the topic of the Old and New Testament's treatment of homosexual behavior. In the book, Gagnon, a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, argues from a historical, linguistic, textual, and hermeneutical basis that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament agree that homosexuality is out of step with the complimentary design of the two human genders (male and female) and is therefore sinful.

Therein lies the great unacceptable offense: a scholar (Gagnon) has concluded--on the evidence of a plethora of Biblical research--that homosexuality is a sin.

(Also on this topic: The Bible, Homosexuality, and Shellfish). 

For many, the book may actually be a rather boring treatise. It is a technical work on the usage of ancient Greek and Hebrew words, interpretive methodology, and contextual issues in Romans 1 and other passages.

But it is the conclusion of this academic work that is so unacceptable: Gagnon concludes that homosexuality is forbidden as a sin, as a simple reading of the relevant Scriptural texts that he exegetes make clear enough.

It cost Hopkins his job for allowing this book to exist in his classroom. Apparently he should have cut it up on the spot or put it through the shredder.

And soon enough, this kind of view-point discrimination might cost you yours.

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

Friday, August 24, 2012

Why We Think Differently from "Them." Noetic Effects of the Fall

Ever wonder why your neighbor thinks differently than you do? Especially unbelievers? Ever wonder why so many people "just don't get it"?

Here are Albert Mohler's noetic (epistemological) effects of the Fall. To say it another way, here's where our mental faculties break down.
  • The reason is hostile to God. We are bent away from the holy.
  • Ignorance of facts--we don't know what we don't know!
  • Forgetfulness--we lose information we once held.
  • Prejudices (tribalism, etc.)
  • Limited perspective--we can be only one place; we can only be one person.
  • Distractedness--we are quickly knocked off course mentally.
  • Intellectual pride--we are "puffed up" in what we think we know.
  • Dogmatism--we hold too strongly to constructs we ought to abandon.
  • Intellectual fatigue--we can't think hard enough, long enough.
  • Illogical conclusions--inconsistencies in logic and worldview (formal and informal fallacies).
  • Willful denial of data, also called "invincible ignorance."
  • Intellectual apathy--we aren't passionate enough to pursue the truth ardently.
  • Vain imagination--we create concepts that do not exist.
  • Miscommunication--we fail to hear accurately and learn from others.
  • Partial knowledge--we hold to incomplete sets of facts.
  • Emotional reasoning--the mind is ruled by the emotions instead of the other way around.
Cited from Albert Mohler, The Way the World Thinks: Meeting the Natural Mind in the Mirror and in the Marketplace.  Desiring Gop 2010 National Conference. Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. (10.2.2010).

Complementarianism: An Overview in Outline Form

Eight Reasons We Hold to a Biblical View of Gender Distinction

1.   God created men and women equal in value (neither gender is superior, per the hierarchical and hyper-feminist views). This is made explicit in the Creation account where Scripture says in Genesis 1:27,

So God created man in his own image,
       in the image of God he created him;
       male and female he created them.

This declaration is repeated in 5:2. It is important to note that 1:27 occurs before the Fall, whereas 5:2 is repeated after the Fall. In other words, the Fall did not change the equality of value between male and female.

2.   Nevertheless, males and females are consistently given different roles to play in the home and the Church;[1] specifically, the male is given headship (or primacy of initiative) in both Church and home. The account of Creation in Genesis 2 makes this explicit, where Adam is given the primary charge (Genesis 2:15).  We note Eve’s God-designated role as helpmate to Adam. This assumes Adam is on a mission of obedience already! Eve would not have anything for which to “help” Adam if he were not a man-on-fire for obedience to God!

3.   It is NOT undesirable or oppressive to submit to one who is being obedient to God already! This is true of course, assuming that the “helpmate” has already determined to follow Christ in her own life as well. Assuming both marriage partners are Christ-followers, they ought to be walking in the same direction and with the same conviction. If the husband is being obedient to God, a wife’s submission is therefore an extension of her obedience to God.

4.   The husband/wife covenant is to be modeled after the Christ/Church covenant as Ephesians 5:22-33 shows. If male headship and female support are compromised, the covenant of marriage fails to do what it was originally designed by God to do, viz. illustrate the authority of Christ over His grateful and joyfully obedient bride, the elect.

5.   Biblically, “submission” not at all a bad word as our culture suggests, but is rather a beautiful picture of honor. The Greek word hypotasso (submit, cf. Ephesians 5:22) is used several times to describe the wife’s obligation to her husband, but we must not forget that hypotasso is a verb that is used to describe the disposition of Christ as well. For instance Jesus was said to hypotasso to Joseph and Mary in Luke 2:51. Christ is also said to hypotasso the Father in 1 Corinthians 15:28. Obviously, this verb does not imply any sort of inferiority (as Christ is fully divine and worthy of all praise) but rather a loving inclination towards honor.

6.   Submission for the wife ought not to be a burden, but rather a joy. After all, the man is told to love his wife “as Christ loves the Church,” which means he ought to be ready to bleed, suffer, and die for her! We note that in Ephesians 5, after Paul counsels women to submit to their husbands, he does not tell the men “therefore subjugate your wives.” On the contrary, the parallel command is not to oppress them but to love them. He even says to do this “as Christ loved the Church,” that is, unto His own death by crucifixion. For this reason, a man ought to love his own wife, even if doing so should result in his own torture or death.

7.   Egalitarianism is in error because it robs BOTH genders of their God-given uniqueness. By minimizing the differences between genders, our culture is headed towards becoming an increasingly androgynous (asexual) society. Consider this example. The Navy has just changed its longstanding policy regarding women serving aboard submarines. While gender roles are obviously complicated within the Church, how much more complicated is social policy outside the Church! Christian sociologists are beginning to notice how the very idea of gender is being stripped down to nothing. Current trends such as homosexual marriages, same-sex couples adopting children, and the epidemic of the fatherlessness of American children further underscore an almost incessant urge to strip both genders of all intelligible giftedness and meaning, rendering one (or both) utterly inconsequential.
8.   On the other hand, complementarianism is written into our very DNA. For instance, if a criminal or wild animal breaks into the home of a married couple in the middle of the night, the course of nature suggests that a man should automatically rise to defend his wife and children, not push his wife into the way. This comes instinctively as he is created to lead and defend. On the other hand, women are uniquely gifted in other categories of life experience. For instance, a wife may be much better at tending to a child with an inconsolable earache, and may possess special gifts of tenderness, compassion, and mercy. This comes instinctively, as she is created to care and nurture. Obviously, while women can fight off intruders and men can tend to hurting children, nature itself dictates that each gender has unique and special properties given by God that cannot be extinguished without harming the human race in general.

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

[1] See also 1 Corinthians 14:33-35; Colossians 3:18-21; 1 Timothy 2:9-15; Titus 2:1-5; 1 Peter 3:1-7.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What's Old is New

Being in seminary, I am constantly being "introduced" to a bunch of old dead dudes. Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Owen, Luther, and Edwards are merely a few of the men who faithfully preached God's word and were used to advance His kingdom. While the verbiage in these men's writings is often dense, their message is not.

The Gospel message has not changed despite the changing of nearly everything else in this world. We are sinners. We need to be saved from ourselves. God intervened. God came down as a man, Jesus. Through the life, death, and ressurrection of Jesus his elect people are redeemed to himself. Basic... I know.

So why bring this up?

Well... we Christians have distorted the truth and pushed the emphasis away from God and onto ourselves. Tullian Tchividjian, Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, spoke this week at our seminary orientation. Tullian, the grandson of renown preacher Billy Graham, had a very basic message for us future ministry leaders. "We have made the Christian faith about the LIFE of the Christian rather than the Christ of Christianity."

Let that previous quote sink in... Now think about how much of your life is dedicated to how you perform? How well you are doing in the process of your sanctification? How much are you doing for the kingdom? We have actually made Christianity about us! Does the New Testament have passages about how to live a life of holiness? Yes! Does it talk about sanctification? Yes! However, this is not the primary function of God's word. The primary function of God's word is to glorify God!

This is not a new concept. 16th century theologian Martin Luther stated that "Good seed cannot flourish when constantly dug up for examination." He was essentially urging us to not merely look inward but to instead look outward. To allow the work of Christ to continue to become more a part of who we are.

Let's look at the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:13- For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. As believers in Christ, we are given freedom from selfishness and self-reliance. Therefore, as Luther and many others before and after him have done, I also exhort you to live out of your freedom in Christ and tell others of what Christ has done and is doing in your life. Do not merely say Jesus you saved me, now I'll take it from here. Rather, tell those in your life how Jesus has saved you and that you are realizing your need for him more and more every day.

I close with Paul's words in II Corinthians 5:17- Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. Amen.

Drew Taylor
3rd Year MDiv Student
Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Biblically Responding to Those in Sin...

First of all, we must begin with our own propensities toward sin. God’s Word tells us that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23) and that includes you and me. That knowledge of ourselves should create a sense of humility in how we respond to others. You see, if I realize my own struggles with sin and am broken by that fact, I will tend to be much more compassionate in how I respond to others in sin. I will find it easier to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) because I am all too aware that I am also flawed.

However, should a knowledge of our own sinfulness cause us to remain indifferent to sin and sinners? Since we are flawed, should we sit back and allow sin to run amok? Of course not. If so, what did Jesus mean when He told us to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16)? To be salt and light means that we are to hold back sinful decay and expose it wherever it may be. There is no room for indifference.

So, as we are salt and light, do we treat saved people who are engaged in open, known sin the same as we do lost people who are engaging in the same exact sins? No.

Look at 1 Corinthians 5:9-13:

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you.’”

If someone who claims to be a believer is engaged in sexual immorality, is greedy, has a lifestyle that shows he worships anything other than God, slanders others, is an alcoholic, isn’t honest in his financial dealings, or any number of other known, open sins, I’m not supposed to even eat with him. However, if someone who is unsaved does those same things, I can absolutely spend time with him as I seek to tell him the message of the Gospel.

Quite simply, unsaved people are going to act like unsaved people. How else should we expect them to act? They need the Gospel. So spend time with them!

But someone who claims to be a follower of Christ? Now, that’s a different story. He should know better. He claims to already have the Gospel. There’s nothing else besides what he already claims to have. So, measures are to be taken. Out of love for him and a concern for his eternal destination, we are to remove him from the protective blessings of the church (1 Corinthians 5:2) and avoid any interaction that would show acceptance of his behavior (1 Corinthians 5:11).

Why is this loving? Because in being removed from the protection and blessings of a church fellowship, he may come to the end of himself and come back to Jesus! “You are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 5:5). The desired end result is not negative. It’s restoration!

Can it truly be said that we are compassionate Christians if we don’t lovingly confront our brothers and sisters-in-Christ, when they are in sin, in the biblically appropriate way? Can it truly be said that we are compassionate Christians if we ostracize unbelievers who so desperately need the Gospel that we can share with them?
Matt Ellis is the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Brooksville, Florida.

Lawful Hobbies That Have An Idolatrous Place In Your Heart

There is so much to praise God about regarding the Young Restless and Reformed movement.  (Not sure if it's still called that anymore.  Though, I would call myself a member).  However, one area that has always seemed to be a struggle for this passionate and growing group is Christian freedom.  Citing the vices of Christians of old and claiming a passion to reach the lost by entering into their culture, many young reformed believers have taken hold of certain worldly hobbies.  Or perhaps those hobbies have taken hold of them.  Don Johnson gives his testimony addressing that very problem, reminding us that while all things are permissible, not all things are beneficial.

Link Below ...

Don Johnson - Lawful Hobbies That Have An Idolatrous Place In Your Heart

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Wisdom on Steroids: Conversations with J. I. Packer (Video)

This is a rare treat.  Seasoned writer, theologian and professor, J.I. Packer answers questions covering the topics of sanctification, the mortification of sin, preaching and even gives advice to writers.  Sit for a while and glean what you can.

Wisdom on Steroids: Conversations with J. I. Packer

Sunday, August 19, 2012

One Fang for the Family, Another for the Church: Why Satan Rages Against God's Created Institutions

Satan may be overtly wicked, heinous, and wretchedly decrepit, but he is no fool. He may be the most depraved, sinister, blasphemous, and impious of all of God’s creatures but he is not unintelligent. He knows how to destroy cultures. He knows how to dismantle entire civilizations. He has been destroying civilizations since the very beginning.

In the thousands of years that he has been implementing his destructive methodology his record has become quite impressive. Experience has taught him a thing or two about dismantling entire cultures. He just needs time to apply his craft.   

Listen to the full sermon audio of this blog post here. 

One Fang for the Family; the Other for the Church
Wherever the wicked one crawls on his serpentine belly, you can be sure that he is going to aim one poisonous fang at the family, and the other at the Christian church. Destroying these two things is critical to his assault on the glory of God.  

Why does Satan rage so violently against the family and the church? Why is it that Satan puts so much of his demonic energy into destroying marriages and churches? Why does he stop at nothing to destroy our God-ordained gender roles, and undo vows of fidelity and faithfulness?

I think it is because the enemy is a lot smarter than we give him credit for. He knows that above all things, marriage points to Christ and His love for the elect. In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul writes an extended analogy to compare a husband’s love for his wife with Christ’s love for the Church. In the pinnacle of his comparison, Paul says in Ephesians 5:32, “This mystery” (in context, marriage itself as described in vs. 31) “is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

This is shocking what Paul says here if we grasp his meaning: Christ didn’t just come to illustrate marriage; marriage was created to illustrate Christ! Or to say it another way: the highest possible meaning of Christ’s death was NOT as an illustration for marriage (although it is that too) but rather that the highest possible meaning of marriage is to point illustrate Christ’s love for the elect.

The enemy knows this better than we do. That’s why he will stop at nothing to destroy your marriage and your church. He knows that a good marriage and a strong church inextricably point to the glory of Jesus. Therefore he hates them both. 

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

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Perhaps it's not about David Barton


Swirling about the Internet the last couple of weeks is the recent shelving of David Barton's book on Thomas Jefferson, removed from circulation by Thomas Nelson, the publisher. Charges and counter charges are all over the place at who is wrong, who is controlled by the liberal media, who is a patriot, and other predictable charges. 

While I encourage you to read the article linked above, the comments to this World Magazine announcement are better than the article. The insightful comments from people of other nations, who question our zeal to promote America as a "special" nation--they make a good point. Spending all this energy to prove that America is special, and the rest of the nations of the world are only average, doesn't seem right to me. The British-Israelism movement failed to make a Scriptural argument for American being a modern extension of ancient Israel, the Mormons fail to make the argument from their false history of Jesus, so now we have Barton and company, sifting through our national documents, trying to prove that we are a special nation in the eyes of God. I would rather we spent our energy making it clear how special Christ is to the nations, rather than how special America is. David Barton and his fans, right or wrong, need to look at this fundamental issue carefully. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fuel for the Fire

Have you ever tried to start a fire with limited supplies?  Probably you haven’t.  It’s common today for lighters and paper to be readily accessible, and if you’re truly brazen (or a little crazy) you can always throw in a little gasoline or lighter fluid.  But, remember that scene in the movie “Cast Away”?  Tom Hanks is stranded on an island and his limited survival skills tell him he needs a fire.  Like a desperate boy scout, he tries twisting a stick between his palms till they blister.  He rubs splintered wood till he cuts his hand.  The frustration mounts as he begins throwing things and yelling.  Eventually Tom makes the fire, and he pours on it every branch and twig he can find.  It’s even comical as he begins dancing around the fire like a boy, caught up in the wonder and power of it all.

Now, take notice, before the fire could be marveled at there had to be supplies to make it and fuel to keep it going.  In the Christian walk is it possible that we lose our sense of wonder, not because we have heard it all, but because we have not heard it enough?

The famous apologist, Ravi Zacharias, was asked in Q&A time about his personal devotion routine.  He described it simply as daily morning scripture reading and prayer, adding with his typical sophisticated insightfulness, "You will never have a sense of wonder until you have an input of ideas that exceeds the outflow of words."

As a minister this struck me hard.  It is easy and even tempting at times to lose sight of personal growth in the Lord as we focus on the growth of those to whom we minister.  However, with time, the wonder fades.  The joy seeps away, and it becomes more and more difficult to find the right text or illustration, to plan ahead, dream big, or even care about the flock given to us.  Essentially, we start to run on empty.  

George Müller, a preacher in the 1800‘s who established 117 schools, understood this well ...

I saw more clearly than ever that the first great primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord . . . not how much I might serve the Lord, . . . but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers . . . and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit. Before this time my practice had been . . . to give myself to prayer after having dressed myself in the morning. Now, I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the Word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord.  -  “The Life of Trust” George Müller

What fuel are you giving your soul?  Before you meet that coworker who needs the gospel, before you wrestle with the difficult task of showing Jesus to your kids, before you endure the temptations of the day is your soul prepared with the Spirit?  Is your soul happy in the Lord?  Is your soul filled with wonder at the life of Christ?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why Take a Stand on Marriage?

Martin Luther once wrote that if we are not defending the gospel at the very point that it is being attacked in our own generation, we are not defending it at all. It is for this reason that our 380-member church in the small, rural town of Brooksville, Florida decided to act. 

While we are immensely proud of a recent chicken-sandwich chain whose founder boldly stated his convictions regarding traditional marriage, the elders of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church feel that it is primarily the church’s calling  to defend biblical orthodoxy. Our elders and I could not stand idly by while an attack on marriage—a thinly veiled attack on the creation order and the Creator—rages before our very eyes. 

The Brooksville Statement on Marriage is a 600-word declaration of conscience that attempts to do three things. (1) First, we hope to clearly define marriage in a generation in which the word “marriage” itself has lost all semblance of meaning. (2) Second, we hoped to positively state our convictions regarding the delineations of human sexuality, rather than make a polemical attack on those lifestyles with which we ardently disagree. (3) Third, we hoped to speak a timely word of compassion and grace in a world of “bumper sticker” one-liners and alleged hate-speech.  

Our hope is that this small town church declaration would inspire like-minded evangelical churches across the globe to adopt this (or a similar) statement, in order to provide a desperately needed prophetic voice in veritable wilderness of confusion.  

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is an author and signer of The Brooksville Statement on Marriage. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

The War Perspective

‎"We're surrounded? Good, now we can kill the bastards in any direction."
— Col. Chesty Puller | Korean War

Can the church have the same attitude about living today? Can we take heart that in this world, we can bring life and hope and peace in any direction? And can we stop focusing on one economic or political movement or the other as a problem, when these issues are the God-appointed means of pointing out the crumbling idols of this world and the incomparable risen Christ?  

Book Review: The Hobbit. By J.R.R. Tolkien

I must preface this review by saying that I do not usually like fiction. I am primarily a pastor. But I loved The Hobbit.

When I heard the announcement that Tolkien's great prequel to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy was soon be made into a movie trilogy of its own right--and indeed the film adventure begins in theaters today--I thought it was time to delve into this classic adventure myself. I am so glad that I did.

Let's start with character development. Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf the Wizard are two of the best characters Tolkien has ever created. (And he has created hundreds!) In The Hobbit, we learn to trust each of them. Bilbo emerges as a reluctant yet heroic protagonist. He is hesitant, traditional, mannered, quick-witted, and yet shockingly courageous. This despite his diminutive stature! Drawn into an adventure larger than life--to recapture dwarvish treasure held captive by a murderous dragon--Biblo shows himself over and over again to be the most reliable compatriot of the band.

Gandalf on the other hand is Biblo's perfect compliment. He is strong, indomitable, larger than life, and yet flighty and preoccupied. He swoops in at just the right moments to rescue the would-be treasure hunters. In chapter five (revised in later editions) we also meet the grotesque Gollum, bent helplessly inward by the ring's debilitating powers. The repartee between Bilbo and Gollum while the ring's fate stands on the line is deeply memorable. We only learn later that all of Middle Earth hangs also in the balance of this test of wits between the deformed Gollum and the sharp-tongued hobbit.

In terms of visual drama and setting, Tolkien in unmatched. He is able to create vast worlds that seem both familiar and impossible to the reader. Throughout his works, the Shire, the Misty Mountains, the Mines of Moria, Esgaroth, and Mirwood are described with vivid imagery. Tolkien creates a world that can both enrapture and repulse his readers. Few fictional writers can create and balance such elaborate settings as Tolkien does. (Thankfully, the movies have not let us down in portraying these stunning worlds).

Most readers will be not surprised to note that The Hobbit (much like The Lord of the Rings series) contains a substantial amount of poetry. In Tolkien, this functions to create a timeless quality, blending Middle Earth's mythic age into current bends in the plot. The poetry often emerges in the form of dwarvish songs, assuring the reader that the characters themselves are captivated by myths and legends of their own. These poetic songs and tales are sometimes warning, and sometimes consoling the heroes along their path of destiny.

The plot itself, primarily a dragon-slaying tale, never lags. In each successive chapter, Bilbo finds himself entrapped in another web (once literally!) that seems at first inescapable. Once Biblo and the dwarves--led by the overly confident Thorin Oakenshield--actually meet the dragon Smaug, the reader stands convinced that their gold-snatching feat will at last be impossible. Only the heroic resolve of a certain halfling will prove otherwise! But I won't spoil the tale for you here.

The Hobbit ends exactly where the reader hopes it will all along: with a cataclysmic battle scene featuring all the forces of Middle Earth present. Men, elves, dwarves, wargs, gobblins, eagles, and one particularly irrepressible wizard all arm themselves for battle to the death for fame and fortune.

No wonder this work is timeless!

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

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Why We Wrote What We Wrote: The Brooksville Statement on Marriage

 By Matthew Everhard.

Martin Luther once wrote that if we are not defending the gospel at the very point that it is being attacked in our own generation, we are not defending it at all. It is for this reason that our 380-member church in the small, rural town of Brooksville, Florida decided to act.

While we are immensely proud of a recent chicken-sandwich chain whose founder boldly stated his convictions regarding traditional marriage, the elders of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church feel that it is primarily the church’s calling  to defend biblical orthodoxy. Our elders and I could not stand idly by while an attack on marriage—a thinly veiled attack on the creation order and the Creator—rages before our very eyes. 

The Brooksville Statement on Marriage is a 600-word declaration of conscience that attempts to do three things. (1) First, we hope to clearly define marriage in a generation in which the word “marriage” itself has lost all semblance of meaning. (2) Second, we hoped to positively state our convictions regarding the delineations of human sexuality, rather than make a polemical attack on those lifestyles with which we ardently disagree. (3) Third, we hoped to speak a timely word of compassion and grace in a world of “bumper sticker” one-liners and alleged hate-speech.  

Our hope is that this small town church declaration would inspire like-minded evangelical churches across the globe to adopt this (or a similar) statement, in order to provide a desperately needed prophetic voice in veritable wilderness of confusion. 

The Brooksville Statement on Marriage

Marriage is beautiful because God is glorious. God, in His infinite Trinitarian wisdom, created and ordained marriage to display the mysterious union of Christ and His Church (Ephesians 5:22-25). As the creator and author of marriage, God alone has the authority to define it. This He did in the second chapter of Genesis where God, having created both groom and bride, brought them together personally (2:22) and a benediction was pronounced over the couple;  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife and they shall become one flesh” (2:24, ESV). For this reason, Christian believers do now hold—and have always held—that marriage is between one man and one woman; that it is sealed by the exchange of covenant vows; and that it is intended for the whole of natural life, until death.

On the Interpretation of Scripture
We Christian believers regard the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired, inerrant, and infallible authority under which we live. We regard the clarity of Scripture to be sufficient for us to interpret the Bible accurately on matters of both faith and practice, using straightforward grammatical and historical principles. For this reason, we reject all attempts to obscure or “reread” Biblical passages which abundantly state the parameters of human sexuality. Sexual relations are to be enjoyed as a gift, and exclusively, between a married man and his own wife alone (Exodus 20:14; Hebrews 13:4). Any alternate readings of Scripture that intentionally or unintentionally obscure this foundational Biblical presupposition are to be rejected.

On Sin and Grace                                              
While it is true that Christians are called to hate transgression and iniquity, we find the sin within our own hearts—and not the sin of our neighbors—to be the most egregious of all. We lament and repent of our own sin first; be it in thought, word, or deed. We welcome those of all races, genders, ethnicities, and sexual inclinations to repent and believe in Jesus Christ and to worship in our churches. We sympathize with all who struggle in temptation, and exhort them to pursue “the obedience of faith” and embrace the new life given to the Redeemed by the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, we continue to reject any and every sin that degrades God’s glorious creation of marriage, including: adultery, fornication, rape, incest, homosexuality, polygamy, lust, pornography, coercive abstinence while in the state of marriage, and all forms of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Christians are called to love—and not hate—our enemies and those who persecute us (Matt 5:44). Thus, we utterly disregard any attempt to mischaracterize our convictions on the above matters as “hate speech,” for to tell the truth on these matters is indeed a most loving and gracious act. 

On Human Laws and Ordinances
Moreover, mankind can pass no law that redefines marriage any more than mortal man can pass a law that declares the light of the sun to be dark, or the gravity of the earth to be ceased. Though various laws may be passed by the agency of human pen and ink; or judgments rendered from human courts (higher or lower); yet human beings have not the prerogative, now or ever, to alter, change, or redefine marriage.

On Civil Disobedience
Finally, then, we the undersigned stand firm in our convictions on these matters and refuse to take any such actions as would compel us to violate either Scripture or conscience--even if so compelled by civil law--for “to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.” Amen.

Teaching Elders: Rev. Matthew Everhard. Rev. David Franklin. Ruling Elders: David Peeler. David Field, Scott Knight, Doug Dempsey, Gwynn Blair, and Dr. George Boring (clerk). 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Call to Worship

Picture yourself standing next to a small farm house, a few miles outside of a small town, where a small, neatly cut grass field plays host to a group of young children. In the field, boys and girls from the town run and play feverishly in the Summer heat, creating games from their imaginations as well as playing standard games such as softball or tag. As the sun begins to hide behind the trees, a bell from the front porch begins to ring as a woman's voice cries "dinner!"

While this may be an old-fashioned idea of family dynamics, there is a beautiful picture in the above illustration of a son or daughter being called to the home, to the place that they belong. Similarly, 2nd Chronicles chapter 30 provides a call for God's people, the Israelites, to return to their home. In context, 2nd Chronicles 30 explains life during the exile, when the Assyrians had been allowed by God to conquer the Israelites. King Hezekiah, the leader of the southern part of the "promised land," Judah, was calling the remnant of those Israelite exiles back to Jerusalem, to celebrate the Passover Feast, which had not been celebrated for many years. Rampant disobedience, idol worship, and Assyrian takeover had caused God's people to move away from the practice of keeping the Passover.

2nd Chronicles 30:6-9 is Hezekiah's letter to the remnant of Israel to return to the place that they belong... O people of Israel, return to the Lord, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hands of the kings of Assyria... Do not be like your fathers and your brothers, who were faithless to the Lord... Do not be stiff-necked as your fathers were, but yield yourselves to the Lord and come to his sanctuary... and serve the Lord your God, that his fierce anger may turn away from you. For if you return to the Lord, your brothers and your children will find compassion with their captors and return to this land. For the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.

What a direct, pointed message! The narrative continues in verses 10-11 that some laughed, scorned, and mocked this call but that some humbled themselves and came to Jerusalem. This can be seen today. We are called to gather together in community to worship the God of the universe. In the text, "return" also means "repent." The Israelites were called to come worship, and this was most directly done through repentance of sin. Likewise, we are called today to return to the Lord by repenting of sin. Very simply, take a moment to reflect on how you have sinned against God. For the Israelites, they followed after idols. Do we not similarly follow after idols such as money, sexual satisfaction, self-interest, comforts, and many more?

In verse 15, the assembly gathered together slaughtered the Passover lamb. Gathering together to worship, they recalled God's faithfulness, prayed for repentance, and physically removed their idols. The Passover lamb was merely a foreshadowing to the ultimate sacrifice to satisfy God's wrath, namely Jesus Christ the Son of God. Paul states in 1 Corinthians 5:7- For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.

My challenge for you Christian is to return to where you belong. Worship with your local church body, remember to engage with other believers, repent of your sin before God, reflect on what Christ sacrificed on your behalf, and serve him in your community upon leaving worship. As the text states in verse 9, The Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him. Go back to where you belong, go in peace and worship our Lord. Amen.

Drew Taylor
MDiv Student 3rd Year
RTS Orlando

Monday, August 6, 2012

Christianity: "Everywhere Spoken Against"

When the Apostle Paul finally made it to the city of Rome in Acts 28:14, it probably wasn't what he had imagined. He came in the chains of a prisoner.

At Rome, Paul and Luke found a small enclave of Christians. But it was the Jews, to whom Paul always brought the Gospel first, who had an unusual report: "We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect [i.e. Christianity] we know that everywhere it is spoken against" (Acts 28:21-22, emphasis added).

Why is this true? Why is Christianity "everywhere spoken against"? How is it possible that a message consisting of  (1) a loving God (2) who sent His son to die for our sins (3) and forgives us by grace, while (4) giving us His Holy Spirit to live lives of love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness--can be the subject of such sustained, organized, and vitriolic resistance?

At least three factors explain this ubiquitous resistance to the Gospel.

First we remember that the Gospel is an attack, a direct assault really, against the spiritual forces of evil. Every sinner that is freed from sin by the Gospel is a slave freed from the clutches of the enemy. As it happens, most masters don't let their slaves go easily. Satan kicks and screams against every one of his captives who are loosed.

Secondly, remember the very nature of the Gospel itself. The Gospel is only good news when the "bad news" is first heeded. The "bad news" of course is that we are totally depraved sinners, hopeless to save ourselves outside of the grace of Christ (cf. Romans 3:10-18). As it turns out, many people don't like to be told that they are sinners! The Gospel itself begins with the offense of declaring the truth about our own human nature.

Finally, our lives of committed obedience are also offensive. Sure, we cannot live perfect this side of Heaven, even in the redemptive grace of Christ. Our opponents are quick to remind us of our many failures. But the very fact that we even pursue holiness is a stick-poke in the eye to those who have no such motive as grace. Our desire to live as holy persons, pursuing the life of our Master, will always be an offense to those still captive to sin.

As long as these three factors are still true--and they will be until Christ returns--we can expect that "everywhere Christianity will be spoken against."

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

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Word from our Namesake

‎"Take care of your life and the Lord will take care of your death."
~ George Whitefield

Thursday, August 2, 2012

As Debate Season Arrives, Don't Lose Your Mind

We are about to find ourselves in the throes of the political debate season. This is the time where our local and national politicians grapple for positions like Olympic Greco-Roman wrestlers. The only difference is that there are no logical referees to flag and penalize formal and informal fallacies during debates. Wrestlers, on the other hand, must compete according to the rules of the mat.

I would contend that Christian believers are to be among the clearest thinkers in the political arena. As proponents of absolute truth in a world of relativity, followers of Christ ought to have the sturdiest grip on the logic of rational persuasion among all who grapple on the mat of political discourse. At the same time, we ought to be impervious to the techniques of our opponents who often break the rules of logic in order to toss us on our cognitive shoulders.

With that in mind, let me re-introduce some of the rules of Aristotelian logic, long lost among most political aficionados today.

First, let’s consider the difference between a formal and informal fallacy.

Logical arguments should be inferred from a persuasive set of premises and a clearly deduced conclusion (a) All men are mortal (b) Socrates is a man (c) therefore Socrates is a mortal. This completes a classical syllogism.

Formal logical fallacies draw conclusions that are not warranted or supported by the premises. If the premises are shown to be false or the conclusion is not derived from the premises, we ought to reject the argument as logically persuasive.

Informal fallacies however, are much less apparent. Often they are tied to the manner of presentation or the tact of the speaker. Although often emotionally very compelling, they are nonetheless to be regarded as non-persuasive rationally. Here is where we must be very careful. This is, after all, what logic is about: rational persuasive power, not emotive power.

With that being said, here are some of the top informal fallacies likely to be present in most political debates:

(1) Ad Hominem Fallacy: This is an attack against the man. While it may tell us about his character, personal attacks do not compel us rationally against a man’s position. Example: John is a Cretan. We cannot trust his tax policy. He may be the worst dirt-bag alive; but that has nothing to do with the logical consistency of this tax plan.

(2) Guilt by Association Fallacy: This is an attack against a man’s known associates or relationships. Again, while it may speak about his character, it says nothing about his argument per se. Example: John has been photographed with Hitler at a recent campaign rally; therefore we cannot trust his environmental protection policy. Notice that the emotional power of this correlation (John and Hitler) has nothing to do with his actual position on the environment.

(3) Ad Populum Fallacy: This is an appeal to the opinion of the majority of the audience. Here the candidate attempts to cast himself as a ‘man of the people’ and his opponent as an extremist. Notice how often this is done every day in ads. Again, the opinion of the majority can be and often is wrong and should not be rationally persuasive. Example: Most people accept homosexual marriage today; since John is in favor of traditional marriage, he is an extremist and should be regarded with skepticism. 

(4) False Alternatives Fallacy: This one is very subtle. Here the argument seems to suggest that there are only two possible alternatives that can be taken in any decision. It forces the opponent to choose between options as a false dichotomy. In reality, there may be dozens of other possible options and solutions. Example: We must either raise taxes or reduce our armed forces. So which is it, Joe? Are you for raising our tax burden, or weakening our national defense? 

(5) Straw Man Fallacy: Again, this is present in almost every debate you will watch this season. Here the candidate intentionally reduces the force and strength of his opponent’s position in order to knock it down more easily. He argues against a much lesser position than his opponent actually holds. By making a man’s position sound stupid, he evades actually having to take him to task on specifics. Example: Since my opponent stands for lesser government, he probably won’t even fund a police or fire department to protect our homes! 

(6) Invincible Ignorance Fallacy: In this fallacy, an individual refuses to accept proven facts no matter how persuasive they may be. His predispositions simply refuse him the latitude to change positions no matter how rationally compelling the actual data. Example: I don’t care what psychological affects a post-abortive woman suffers; I believe in a woman’s right to choose. 

(7) Circular Reasoning Fallacy: These are often a bit more complex to discern. Here, the debater assumes as a premise the very conclusion he is trying to prove. His conclusion is based on accepting a priori the very thing at which he hopes to arrive. Example: This tax will be good for local business. We all want businesses to thrive in this economy. Therefore we must write tax laws that will promote economic growth, such as the one I am presenting.

(8) Tu Quoque (You too) Fallacy: This fallacy alienates a man from affirming a position that he once denied by his actions. It exposes a man when he moves from a lesser position to a stronger one. Often we call this “flip flopping.” But, in some cases, changing positions is actually the best thing a man can do! Example: Jones says he is for reducing taxes. But he himself voted to increase taxes four years ago. Of course, times and situations do change. If a man realizes the error of his ways and changes, this cannot be logically held against the cogency of current position now.

As you watch the debates on television or perhaps in person this fall, see how many formal and informal fallacies you hear during argumentation. Once you notice how often our candidates argue emotively rather than rationally, you may wish you lived in a different generation completely.

Perhaps the Greco-Roman era?

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

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Falling Leaves and Other Mysteries

‎"If you’ve got an infinite God big enough to be mad at for the suffering in the world, then you also have an infinite God big enough to have reasons for it that you can’t think of." - Tim Keller