Wednesday, November 28, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, November 23, 2012

Thankful: a Matter of Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 19, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

Reflections on the Reelection of President Obama

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

And then came the result: Obama Wins Reelection.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We press on. 

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Even Meth Heads Need Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Raising Sons of Sarah

From fear to freedom: Freeing our Children from Legalism or Raising Sons of Sarah

An American wouldn’t have written the Bible’s commands to the church the way they are. We don’t see warrior images or anything aggressive at all. It’s not like a football game. We see the Church commanded to do quiet Word and Sacrament ministry that excludes most of the aggressive directions many want the church to go today.

Individuals are told to “aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”   

1 Timothy 2:1-3 says “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior.”

How are we going to do that and change the world? That’s a good question.

In Titus’ church in Crete, we get the answer. Paul tells Titus that life-change takes place along generational lines. Older men set a sound example (2:2) and older women do the same, also teaching (3:3) the next generation of women to love their families. The younger women are to marry and follow their husband’s leadership, and those same young husbands are to be the very model of hard work, dignity, and respectful language (2:6-7). To whom? Husbands model to their families, their wife and children. And that process repeats as the husbands grow older, the wives grow older, and the children grow up into young adults—they are all busy growing the faith in those around them so that in the next generation, there will be more and more faithful and the message of Christ will never be quenched by its enemies and the world will be changed, family by family. That’s in Titus 2.

Pastor, I always thought that the purpose of the church was to do evangelism, and if you heard that, you are partially right, because evangelism is exactly what I’m describing here. But it’s bigger than evangelism, evangelism is never excluded from generational ministry.

Here’s how Paul says it to Timothy, ministering in Ephesus, at the very end of Paul’s life.
Timothy 2:1-2 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

How do we change the world? In Ephesus, where Timothy was ministering, it’s Generational Ministry— Paul (generation 1) teaches it to Timothy (generation 2) who entrust the gospel to other reliable men (generation 3) who will be qualified to teach others (generation 4).

This Biblical norm sets up next section of Galatians we have before us today.

Today we look much earlier in Paul’s ministry, at the very beginning, in his first letter written to the citizens of the region of Galatia, not too far from Ephesus. This is from Galatians 4 starting at verse 21.

Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.”

Paul is saying here, look, one more reason to reject legalism and other additions to the gospel is it will send your family into slavery and we see in the next section, kicked out of the church. If you want your children, if you want your family to live like slaves, under the harsh heavy yoke of legalism, then go ahead, side with Hagar, side with the Judaizers, side with man’s opinions over God’s Word, and have them be sons of the slave woman.

But if you want your children to live like freemen, like sons, like bold men and women of God, then connect them with the covenant God made with Abraham, and they’ll be no one’s slave. They will be stars in Abraham’s sky, more than you can count and free to shine forever!  

Our mission is to pass on the message to faithful men and women, who will in turn pass on that message to children and converts who will then repeat the process by evangelizing and discipling the next generation. That’s how Paul told Titus, Timothy, and all the churches to change their church and promote the message of the Gospel, which can change our world. And we can’t do that if we enslave our families to legalism.  
There are many reasons why I see families fall apart and drift away from church. It’s always sad. It’s never simple. One reason, Paul says, is that we often use rules, really just opinions about what is best, but opinions that are not found in the Bible, and that enslaves churches and families. Instead of the plain truth of Scripture, the gospel and all the orthodox, obvious truths of Scripture, sometimes we make our family run on opinion, and that leads to ruin and slavery.

So parents, how can we, in our modern context, do our best to make sure our children are free from legalism? How do we teach them to be respectful, to be godly young men and women, to understand honoring their father and mother, and yet not become little legalists with hateful hearts who can’t wait to be free from church and from parents and authority?

Let’s make sure we understand legalism first.

Legalism afflicts most religions. Legalism is the adding of new presuppositions and practices to a faith to make that faith more exclusive or less available to "outsiders" who do not think, act, or believe as do the "true" believers. Just as in Paul’s day, it sets up a class of those who do these new rules and those who do not.

Christian legalism is seen in many groups who add rules and regulations and principles to orthodox, simple, Christian practice. When I was growing up, only bad people danced. Only bad people played with regular cards, but you could play Rook because that wasn’t with a regular deck of cards, which represented gambling. And there were rules in the home that didn’t make a lot of sense and certainly weren’t in the Bible.
The best definition of legalism is one from the mouth of Jesus [in Matt. 15:9]: But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men".

With Jesus’ own definition from Matthew 15:9 ringing in our ears, taking the opinions of men and making them into Christian dogma, then what can we do? Two ways:

1) Make certain that the rules and regulations for your home are based firmly in Scripture. You may read a book about fathering or mothering that may recommend spanking your kids three times a day, make sure it’s in the Bible. You may see a youtube video that tells why women should never work outside the home, no matter what. Make sure that if this is going to be a rule in your home, it is based firmly in Scripture, either explicitly or implicitly. If it takes lots of big words and more than 15 minutes to explain, then perhaps you should not make it a major violation of the rules of your home because Biblical or not, your children won’t understand it and will grow bitter because of arbitrary-feeling rules. That will keep you from making simple opinion into the law of God in the eyes of your children. It will keep you from turning them into legalists.

2) Make certain your children understand that your love for them is not conditioned upon their behavior. If they get older and want to turn away from the faith, want to be dishonest and disrespectful, then you can lovingly plan a going away party for them. That’s the loving thing to do for them and your family. But when they are young, make certain they understand that your love for them is a model of Christ’s love for them, and what they do or do not do doesn’t change your committed relationship of covenant-love with them.
Many parents don’t know any other way but to scold and threaten their children. But Ephesians 6:4 says to parents, do not exasperate your children. And Col. 3:21 says to fathers to not embitter children, for it will discourage them from following Jesus. When we place arbitrary rules in place for them to win our love and affection, it confuses and embitters them. Model Jesus’ kind love for your kids and it will be very hard for them to become legalists. Make your love and affection conditional upon their behavior, and almost 100% of the time, they will grow up to be hard-core legalists who feel they have to leave home and church to get free from all bitterness and anger they feel towards parents and a God who disapprove of them every time they fail. I can’t tell you, without tears and sorrow, how it felt to be raised in a home like this.   

3) Parent the child’s heart. Their external behavior is valuable and important because whether good or bad or apathetic, it tells you about the heart, and that’s what God has told us to focus on; promoting godly external behavior is not the first goal of parenting. It’s barely in the top 5. This is why the father, speaking to his son in Proverbs 3 says “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments.” And in chapter 23, he says, “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes observe my ways.”
I can’t talk about this any more because it’s very emotional for me and all I can say is please, please, leave all excuses behind and do not rely on rules to do the hard work of parenting your children. It will not build generational ministry, it will not build a spiritual legacy for your family, it will turn your generations into Hagar’s children and they will flee from you the first chance they get because they needed the Gospel and you gave them arbitrary rules that may have sounded religious, but were not from Scripture. They needed eternal truth and you gave them man’s opinion. They needed to be close to you and you pushed them away when they wouldn’t follow your rules that were not in the Bible. Let's finish up Galatians 4:
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

Here Paul calls on the Galatians to do church discipline, to cast out the legalists from among them because what they are teaching is destructive to the Gospel and the community. Paul had already judged them; they were guilty of destroying the gospel of grace by lifting up the opinions of men about ceremonial laws and feast days and surgeries and adding them to the gospel, by making these traditions and opinions have the same importance, be on the same level, as the Gospel.

But today, we aren’t going to hold church court. We are going to hold heart court. Parents, we know we are a mixed bag. We sometimes parent by grace, turning our children into confident joyful and free people who love Jesus. Sometimes we parent by law, using our authority to make them do what we want, even if it’s just our opinion and not found in Scripture.

How do we repent? We make sure our rules are based on Scripture, our love is unconditional in the sense that it is patterned by God’s covenant love for his people, and we parent the heart first and foremost, using behavior to show us what God needs to do in the heart, and then pray and discipline and disciple based on that information.

I can sum this all up. Follow Paul’s warning today and show your children the freedom of the Gospel, not the slavery of law. Show them Jesus. In all you say and do, from your devotions to your demotions. And by God’s grace and the power of his Holy Spirit, they will love him and be grateful to you for introducing him to their Savior.   

Friday, November 2, 2012

As Providence Church Celebrates its First Communion, We Ask: What is the Lord's Supper?

the Lord's Supper

Sunday night, as usual, we will gather to sing praises to God, pray, and hear teaching from God’s word. However, this Sunday night (11/4), we will do something very special! For the first time, Providence Church will celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

Some call it Communion, the Lord’s Table, or maybe even the Eucharist, depending on your background… but what is the Lord’s Supper? Before we break bread together, let’s make sure that we are all on the same page when it comes to this very special event in the Christian faith.

1. Our Beliefs About the Lord’s Supper are Sumarized in the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 29.

Our church heritage dates back nearly 500 years to the Protestant Reformation. The church in those days had become corrupt, and God moved in the hearts and lives of men to “reform” the church of Jesus Christ and to “protest” against the teachings of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Providence Church is protestant and reformed in our doctrine. This doctrine (or teaching) dates back to the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), written in 1647. We believe this document is an accurate summary of the Bible’s teaching. We live in a culture that changes constantly. We change our minds, and present “new ” ideas that all too often lead to old results. The WCF has been a rock for many churches over for many, many years. When the windsand waves of liberalism and sin beat upon her, she did not move because her foundation was built entirely upon the Word of God. While the WCF is certainly not authoritative or infallible in the way the Bible is believed, we are nevertheless grateful for it’s guidance and precision. Leaders in the EPC (our mother church) have taken vows to this document, myself included. In the same way, military personnel take vows to defend and uphold the Constitution of the United States. We believe the Westminster Confession of Faith. I recommend it to every serious Bible student.

2. It’s Not JUST a Memorial

For the sake of simplicity, we can say that most churches hold one of three different views of the Lord’s Supper. First, and perhaps most popular in our time, is the idea that the Lord’s Supper is most like a memorial. It is done frequently, sometimes casually, and does not impart any extraordinary benefit for the believer outside the physical demonstration and remembrance of the gospel. It’s a popular view, and it avoids much of the superstition that has sometimes accompanied the Lord’s Supper throughout the history of the church.

The second view, and perhaps opposite end of the spectrum, concerning the Church’s understanding of the Lord’s Supper is a position that we will call the Catholic view. While the Lutheran Church holds a variation of this doctrine, it is commonly known to Catholics as Mass. During the Mass, a priest sets apart the elements by incantation, and through a bit of hocus-pocus, the bread and the wine (according to Catholic doctrine) ACTUALLY become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. If the words said by the priest are not exact, the transubstantiation does not occur, and the Mass cannot be taken! Concerning this kind of superstition, I think the WCF says it best, “The teaching that the substance of the bread and wine is changed into the substance of Christ’s body and blood … is objectionable not only to Scripture but even to common sense and reason”. It just doesn’t make sense, but sadly it is the result of hundreds of years of man’s teachings set on the same level as God’s Word.

The third and final position is what we will call the Reformed position. The Reformed position (our position) sees a “real presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper; not the physical presence of the Catholic and Lutheran views, but more than a mere memorial, noted above. Christ is present spiritually, and the believer feeds upon His body and blood in a spiritual, but real way. For the believer, this is what we call a “means of grace”. In other words, we believe that through the participation in the Lord’s Supper, God’s children are spiritually strengthened by the actual presence of Christ. It’s a marvelous teaching, and one that encourages believers to look forward to breaking bread with our Lord and Savior.

3. The Table is Open, but Fenced

At Providence Church, the Lord’s Supper is an “open table." By this, we mean that our table is not closed to other traditions, other denominations, or even visitors from other churches. This is not a Presbyterian table. This is a Jesus table. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, if you have repented and put your faith in Him, if He has become your treasure, then this Lord’s Supper is open to you and offered to any who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. It’s inclusive in the sense that ANY believer may participate. However, there are some important words of warning that must be made.

Have you ever stood in line waiting to ride a roller coaster? Maybe it’s because I’m a sign maker by trade, but do you ever pay attention to all of the warning signs along the way? WARNING: Do not ride this roller-coaster if you are pregnant, have any injuries, lower back pain, high blood pressure, etc, etc. Does it scare you a little? That’s a natural response. The point is, we need to listen carefully to the warnings. They are posted for a reason. In a sense, this is what we mean when we say that The Lord’s Table is “fenced”. The Lord’s Supper is exclusive in the sense that it does have some restrictions to it, but they are for our safety. Here are some of the restrictions based on what scripture teaches…

1. The Lord’s Supper is for believers ONLY.

Regardless of any pressure felt to conform to the group or person you are with, please do not take the elements unless you have truly repented and put your faith in Jesus Christ. Taking the Lord’s Supper as an unrepentant enemy of the cross is a grave offense and sin against Christ. It is for your own sake that we ask you to abstain from the Lord’s Supper. That said, just because you walked into the church as an unbeliever does not mean that you must come to the table as an unbeliever. It is possible that the moments leading up to the Lord’s Supper have driven you to a real and saving faith in Jesus Christ. If this happens, praise God! We rejoice with you, and welcome you for your first Christian sacrament. Please let us know by filling out the communication card or talking to Greg after the service.

2. The Lord’s Supper is for children who have confessed their faith to an elder of the church.

Children of believing adults will eventually share a desire to participate in the Lord’s Supper. This is a good thing! We believe that since they are children of the covenant of God’s grace in Christ, they should be brought to the table and share in the sacrament alongside the rest of their family. That said, it is important that children understand what it is that they are doing when they eat the bread and drink the wine (juice). In other words, it’s not just snack time. They should be able to (in a simple way) confess their need for a savior, their faith in Jesus, and be able to confess personal sin through prayer. If a child can do this, then we welcome them to the table. If you would like to have your child partake of the Lord’s Supper, please see Greg after service.

3. The Lord’s Supper is for REPENTENT believers.

1 Corinthians 11:27-29 states,
Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself" (1 Corinthians 11:27-29 ESV).

These verses make it clear that before we take the Lord’s Supper, we must first “examine ourselves” to be sure that we are taking the bread and drinking the cup in a way that is worthy of the gospel. Now, this can really freak some people out. I am one of them! Sometimes when I heard this early in my Christian walk, I would say to myself, “how could I possibly confess every sin or become worthy enough to come to the table with Christ Himself?” I think I missed the point of the warning. The meaning that the Apostle Paul is trying to convey is one of holiness. God knows that we are sinners and that we are not perfect. He knows that we sinned yesterday, today, and we’re probably going to sin some more tomorrow. Coming to the table in a worthy manner does NOT mean “clean yourself up” and somehow become good enough to eat this meal.

Discernment means that we are humble before the majesty and holiness of God, grateful for the heroic work of Christ on the cross, and dependent upon the grace of God to cleanse us from all sin. We confess our sin, our sin nature, and the sin we cannot remember or even see. Then having our conscience cleansed by the gospel, we are free to enjoy this meal with thankful hearts to and for the glory of Christ.

Are you excited about taking the Lord’s Supper? When you come Sunday, remember that the real presence of Christ is with us.
If Jesus invited us to dinner at His house, would that not be THE highlight of our weekend?

Matt Johnson is an ordained deacon at Faith Church (main campus) and is an integral part of the planting team at Providence Church in Spring Hill, Florida. 

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