Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Review: Zac Hicks, "Without Our Aid"

I recently acquired the 2011 album by Zac Hicks and the Cherry Creek Worship team, and I could not be more thrilled to have finally obtained it!

Zac (an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church) is an incredible worship leader--not only for his musical abilities--but also for the level of theological reflection and depth evident in his music.

I first met Zac at the General Assembly of the EPC in Denver Colorado a couple of years ago, at his then home church, Cherry Creek EPC. (Since that time, Zac has become the worship pastor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida with Tullian Tchividjian). I was highly impressed with Zac's ability to lead a traditional, robed choir one night and follow it up with face-melting guitar leads the next night.

In everything he does, his love for Reformed theology and the deep heritage of Christian history shows through. This particular album, "Without Our Aid" shows this kind of richness. The stylistically varied worship songs progress through the album like a liturgical worship service: from the call to worship (Sola; All People That on Earth Do Dwell), through the "preaching" of the Gospel (Hail, the Once Despised Jesus; Jesus Christ is Risen Today), to the Lord's Table (Lord, I Believe) and ultimately to a benedictory send off into the missio dei (O Splendor of God's Glory Bright). But make no mistake: nothing in this collection is staid or boring.

On this album, both lovers of tradition hymns and modern instrumental settings will be truly pleased. Zac has an incredible ability to take the time-honored and Christ-exalting lyrics of our most beloved music and re-cast them into indisputably relevant manifestations.

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

Friday, June 14, 2013

Some Additional Resources on Israel

On Tuesday morning, I wrote an article on Israel entitled "Will All Israel Be Saved?" knowing that we would not have much time to talk about this important topic during our Romans sermon series due to time considerations.

Since that seemed to garner some bit of interest, I thought I'd post some other helpful online resources on this interesting topic. Check out these links.
-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, FL.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Will "All Israel Be Saved"? Some Help on Romans Eleven Regarding Jews and Gentiles

Will All Israel Be Saved? 
As we preach through the book of Romans at Faith Church (click here for audio), some may cry afoul at my decision this week to skip over a major section on Israel in Romans 11:1-35, in favor of Paul's glorious doxology of praise in 11:33-36.

Please understand that I am not doing this because I want to avoid talking about Israel (a complex subject to be sure!), but rather because as a worshiper I am drawn to Paul's outcry of praise in vs. 33-36, and I long to exalt Christ with such words!

From the very outset, I have admitted that I will by necessity have to skip over some sections of Romans and merely "point down the halls" like a tour guide leading us through a great mansion. Nevertheless, let me give some thoughts that I think are helpful in interpreting this difficult passage. I will try to keep them short.

1. In this section, like other places in chapters 9-11, Paul is addressing a growing crisis in his own day: namely, Why are the Gentiles seemingly being converted at a faster rate than ethnic Jews? Isn't Jesus the Jewish Messiah? Is the Gospel failing (9:6)? Everything in this difficult section must be interpreted in the context of this pressing question. 

2. Paul's contention in these chapters is that the Word of God has NOT in fact failed (9:6). On the contrary, God's divine decrees are unfolding exactly as His plan in the mystery of election would have it (9:14-18; 11:1-6). 

3. Given that God's plan of election is a mystery to the mind of man (9:20; 11:7, 25, 33-36) God's own wisdom in choosing a "remnant of grace," (11:5-6) must prevail, and we must trust His goodness. God will NOT lose any of the elect (8:28-30; 37-39), nor is He making any grave mistakes.

4. Paul gives an extended analogy of the Gentiles being grafted in to the entire "olive tree" that comprises the Elect (11:11-24). Although God began by calling His people primarily (although never exclusively) through the covenant nation of Israel, He is now pleased to "graft in" a major branch of Gentile believers (11:17) into His church. It is God's prerogative to do so, as He is a God of grace who bestows His mercy on anyone He pleases (9:10-12; 11:32).

5. Although Paul does say that "all Israel will be saved," we should NOT read this to suggest that all people of an ethnic Jewish (Abrahamic) heritage will be saved individually. This would not square with what Paul has said throughout this letter about salvation coming only through personal faith in Christ (10:10-12). No, we must be discerning here, as Scripture often uses the word "Israel" in various ways:

Sometimes "Israel" refers to Jacob the patriarch, sometimes to the nation of Israel, sometimes to the ethnic heritage of the Jew (11:1), and critically here in this controversial verse to the total of all the elect people (11:26), both Jew and Gentile. Otherwise, what would we make of his words,  "AND IN THIS WAY all Israel will be saved" (11:26, emphasis added) coming directly after "until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in"?

We conclude that chapters 9-11 could be summarized something like this:  

Although in this time in history it seems that more Gentiles than Jews are being saved through faith in Christ, this should not be viewed as the Gospel message failing. No! God has not violated His covenant and never will.  God as a sovereign, merciful Savior is doing a gracious act by collecting sinners even from the Gentile nations. He is incorporating them into the body of His Elect, alongside those who are the linear and ancient heirs of the covenant. When all converted, believing Jews and Gentiles stand side-by-side in Christ--together we are the Elect, the "true" Israel, a remnant of humanity saved by grace. 

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

Friday, June 7, 2013

Book Review: Lessons from Life, by Dave Franklin.

I have known Pastor Dave for years now, and I am so excited that his first book has finally been made available!

Let me say a few words about the author, and then I will offer some reflections on Lessons from Life.

Pastor Dave is an interesting character! If you do not know him well, begin by picturing a guy who would fit right in on an episode of Duck Dynasty--long gray beard, camo pants, round-rimmed shades. Take that character, and educate him with several academic degrees (including two masters degrees; one from Reformed Theological Seminary). Give him ten lifetimes of experience both as a criminal investigator for the state of Florida, and as a local church pastor. Mix in years on a tree-stand in the woods. Put him on a motorcycle with a Bible under his arm, and you've got Dave.

Lessons from Life, is his magnum opus--365 daily devotions from the richness of his experiences, and the breadth of his Biblical knowledge. Each devotion takes about 5-minutes to read and comes with carefully selected Scripture references. Each reading focuses on the "real-life" aspects of the Christian walk: topics such as forgiveness, obedience, trusting, and stepping out in faith. As such, this is not a book on theology; it is a journey through the Christian life (as the title suggests).

Each devotion comes with three reflection questions to carry the reader further into the Scriptures and their own faith journey. Actually, this book reads just as smoothly aloud with a small group as it does while alone in one's room with God.

Personally, I could see its best application being used as a family devotional book. After dinner, families might read one passage per setting, grappling with the discussion questions together aloud. For fathers (or mothers) who would like to lead such devotions with their family--but perhaps don't know where to start--this book would be ideal.

The style, wording, and language are all very simple. Nothing here to bog the reader down--even if the reader is a teen or child. This work will probably stand the test of time, and remain a useful favorite for the families of our church and others for a long time to come.

Currently, Lessons from Life is available as an e-book from Amazon for $7.99.  For the size of this book (well over 350 pages), that is a bargain. Print copies are also available upon request at Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

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