Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"Treat" your neighborhood this October 31st! 3 simple ways to live missionally this Halloween.

For many of us, October 31st is the most awkward day of the year. Each year we must face the reality that on one hand there is a pious, religious side of ourselves which scoffs at this evening of debauchery in which scantily clad or scarily clad people roam the streets, monsters rule, and chaos abounds! However, there is  another side of ourselves which enjoys seeing family and friends gather together, creative costumes worn, all in an epic search for candy!

So what are we the church called to do on this day marked Halloween? Here are 3 simple tips designed to encourage you and your family to be missional this Thursday night:

1. Embrace your neighbors. We are called by God to love our neighbors. Namely, we are called to love those who we come into contact with. What better way to love those around us than to be personable with the many that we will come into contact with over the course of Halloween night. Sit out on the lawn, offer water to parents as well as candy to kids, smile, ask questions, just embrace those in your neighborhood!

2. Be "that" house. Every neighborhood has a house that gives full size candy bars when half-size would suffice. “That” house has front lawn decorations that attract the eye of wandering trick-or-treaters. “That” house gets talked about by children and parents at the end of the evening. Love radically, give generously, be “that house.

3. Invite. Over the course of the evening, you’ll have many opportunities to meet people in your community that you otherwise would not speak to. What an amazing opportunity to tell people about a place where they can find real community, the local church! Get to know people, ask about them, and encourage them to come with you to church on Sunday. Even offer to take them to lunch afterwards. Seek opportunities to share the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. Be inviters.

Hope ya’ll have a great October 31st, remembering that you are always on mission; and that you are greatly loved by our Lord Jesus Christ, who lavishes you with a grace that is infinitely sweeter than any piece of Halloween candy.

When Elephants Fight

Common in the fables of African culture is the concept that “when elephants fight the grass gets hurt.” The ferocity of the beasts as they defend their right to territory or property renders them insensitive to their surroundings and thus considerable damage is done. They hurt themselves while other entities suffer.

It must be obvious where this is leading. How frequently today we hear of conflicting schools of thought within the Christian community – even the Reformed and Evangelical. We fret over whether Piper picked a peck of pickled Packer, or follow the Gresham Machen road to Gerstner and Sproul. We have champions whom we are tempted to follow and who sometimes let us down by their Driscoll/MacArthur interlocutions. And what may we say of Biologos and its adherents, “masters of theological confusion and compromise?” In fact it appears that the Christian community is more hindered than helped by a multitude of alignments that easily divert us from the simple faith that adheres us to the sticking place of Scripture; “... the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.”

When elephants fight it matters more to them that they be proved correct, than that the Body of Christ is enriched by them. They must win. Consider the appalling altercations that are passed back and forth between six-day creationists and all the other “ists” who find that trusting “thus saith the Lord” is evidence of intellectual ineptitude. It isn't so much that brethren disagree, but they must castigate one another in order to persuasively develop camp followers who will comfortably argue opinions that they may not have completely understood themselves, but they do have a champion who does.

When the “grass gets hurt” the Church of Jesus Christ suffers. The “unity of the Body in the bond of peace” becomes fragmented, and love for the brethren is replaced by harsh and unyielding criticism.

But imagine now the one who has no elephant in the fight and is content to let the animals destroy one another. After all is said and done, when the giants have exhausted their repertoire, the damage is done, the grass has been decimated, and the territory is available for the “strong man” to help himself to the spoils.

Wilfred A. Bellamy, Ph.D.
October 27, 2013

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Family Book Recommendation: One Year of Dinner Table Devotions

I've had several encounters with parents who are frustrated with their inability to foster good
conversation with their children or are unable to have a consistent family devotion time...

Is that you? Then I've got THE solution for you. I joke of course, but honestly, these candid conversations with children can be awkward, uncomfortable, and difficult to cultivate.

One resource that might be helpful for you is the One Year of Dinner Table Devotions & Discussion Starters by Nancy Guthrie.

This book offers a simple, daily, one-half page of text, followed by discussion starter questions for fit for the entire family. Additionally, each day has scripture verses that connect the discussion back to God's word.

While discussions with children can be difficult, I encourage you to have these conversations. Be vulnerable, foster an environment of sharing, and seek to be gracious. God is so gracious with us and desires a relationship with his children; may we model that grace and love in pursuing relationships with our children.

You can purchase One Year of Dinner Table Devotions & Discussion Starters  here.

-Drew Taylor

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Updated: The Best (FREE) Christian Apps for Your Device

Any list like this is going to be controversial. Nevertheless, having been an iPhone owner now for a number of years, here is my list of the best (free!) applications that I have put on my device.

As a pastor, my list will probably error on the side of being useful to the minister. In any regard, here we go...

1. The ESV Bible. I praise God that the publishers of the ESV Bible at Crossway  want to give away the Word of God for free! Unlike some of the other major translations (ahem! NIV), the folks at Crossway will give away the ESV Bible app absolutely free for any device. Easily to use. Best Bible; best app. Great search and cross-reference features.  

2. Twitter. Of course, this is not a specifically Christian application. Yet the usefulness for me here is huge. I "follow" around 100 other reformed pastors and ministries that I am inclined to admire. By following someone on Twitter, I can read their newest blog posts and articles that are relevant to me and keep up to date on the great articles and debates of the day.

I can follow everyone from The Aquila Report, to R.C. Sproul, to John Piper, to Mark Driscoll. Twitter also helps me to distribute info on my own articles and books to those who "follow" me.

3. Kindle.  I've been a Kindle user for more than a year now and love it. There are literally thousands of free (or very cheap) books for Kindle devices but get this: you don't need a Kindle device to get them now! You can download the Kindle "app" (Kindle Reader) to your phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop and be reading Luther, Calvin, Bunyan and others for zero dollars! If you already own a Kindle, having the app will put all of your previously loaded content onto your phone too, so you can read your books on multiple devices. The Kindle App also syncs the page you are on to all your devices! By the way, you can get a couple of my books too (just saying!).

4. Reformed Forum. This app is really exciting for theology geeks! The Reformed Forum is a series of pod-cast radio shows that discuss very deep topics in theology and related fields.  Promulgated by two young Reformed pastors Camden Bucey (OPC) and Nick Batzig (PCA), the discussion centers around new and old works in theology, Biblical studies, and church history. I especially appreciate the show "East of Eden" which discusses the writings of Jonathan Edwards. 

5. Zite. This application is a personally tailored e-magazine based upon the topics you select. Each day, Zite searches the internet for articles, blogs, and pages devoted to the topics you customize. I have mine set to pick up articles on "world news," "theology," "Christianity," "health," and "social networking." I can even make it much more specific, such as "Olympic wrestling" (rather than just sports) if I want. Also, if I want it to pick up articles from any particular blog, I can have it do that too.

6. Christian Creeds and Reformed Confessions. This application has the full texts of all of the major creeds and confessions of Christian history. For me, having the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Heidelberg Catechism on my phone is a great luxury. But I can also compare them instantly to the other confessions of note such as: The Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordt just to name a few. Devised by the kind folks at Westminster Theological Seminary. 

7. WSC in 90 Days. Speaking of the confessions, let me also mention the "Westminster Shorter Catechism in 90 Days" app. Learn Puritan theology a few minutes a day! This is especially helpful in those odd minutes that often go wasted: sitting in line to pick up children from school, for instance. Thanks to the guys at Reformed Theological Seminary for this one. Brilliant. 

8. Evernote. This is a simple note-taking and categorization application. It lets me file my random thoughts, sermon ideas, Scripture notes, and photographs. It helps me to sift them into topical "notebooks" (sermons, staff meetings, elders, strategic planning etc.). Especially helpful is the ability to use a photo as a note. Rather than jotting down a quotation or paragraph I want to use in a sermon or essay, I can simply take a picture of it and file the whole things as a note.

9. Mars Hill.  The Mars Hill app gives me immediate access to the worship music and remixed hymns created by the dozens of Mars Hill Church worship bands. Much of this music is to be commended highly for its originality and theological depth. In addition to this, I also get one-touch access to Pastor Mark Driscoll's stirring (and often controversial) sermons. If you don't like Driscoll, skip this one. 

10. The Gospel Coalition.  Readers of Kevin DeYoung, D.A. Carson and others in the Gospel Coalition will like to pick up this easy app. As one might guess, this application gives you push button access to the day's moving blog articles related to Christianity, theology, and local church ministry. A lot of good writers post here.  

11. RefNet. Reformation Network is a decent app. It is essentially "one touch" listening to streaming audio content. As an EPC pastor, I find the speakers on this super-easy application to be the main guys I want listen to anyways: Piper, Sproul, Mohler, etc. Perfect for the treadmill. I don't have to download anything or transfer files to a device. Just one touch, and I'm already listening. This is great for those moments you don't want to have to pick a specific podcast, you just flip it on to what is "on" at the moment. 

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

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Why Christian History?

Later this fall, our church is hosting an annual event called Reformation Sunday. Taking place on the Lord's Day closest to October 31st (the day in 1517 when Luther posted his 95 Theses), it will be a day filled with preaching, feasting, and enjoying the company of others.

We plan to have an ethnic meal filled with potluck dishes from various nations: England, Scotland (haggis!), Switzerland, and of course Germany (kraut please...). After that, we will put on a spirited version of the Scottish 'Highland Games' led by our youth department in the courtyard.

Since most modern Evangelical churches don't see the relevance of celebrating Reformation Sunday, it got me wondering: what is the value of studying much less celebrating Christian history at all?

What follows are a three brief thoughts on the value of Christian history.

First, Christian history yields great heroes of the faith whom we may emulate. Granted, Christ alone is the highest and greatest hero upon which to model our lives (Hebrews 12:2),  Having said that, there are others too who have led notable (if imperfect) lives, filled with astonishing grace.

William Tyndale, for one, is a man who has literally changed my life. Why? Because I wouldn't have the Bible on my desk without him; he selflessly devoted his whole life to translating the Scriptures into English. Condemned as a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church, he was burned at the stake as a "reward" for his undying courage.

Christian history warns us of the many pitfalls of false teaching. Many of the doctrines that we take for granted (such as salvation by faith alone) have been defended  in the face of tremendous heresy and apostasy. Luther and others defended the great truths of the Reformation, often at great expense. Many gave their lives--for the truths we take for granted--in order to refute heresy.

It is grievous to see how the modern church has fallen into same heresies our ancestors have already overcome. Legalism and its equally wicked opposite, antinomianism, come to mind in this regard.

Finally, Christian history encourages us to reflect on the slow, but sure advance of the Kingdom of God. How great it is to realize that we are proclaiming the same doctrines that our forefathers upheld! That we are the heirs of such men as Edwards, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Calvin, Luther, and Augustine!

Slowly and steadily, the Gospel is advancing around the globe as every tribe and nation is saturated with the good news. Still, there is much work to be done. Much ground to cover. 

Yet, whenever I read the works of these men listed above, I am evermore encouraged to see that I believe and confess the same truths as these brothers from other centuries and nations around the globe. By looking back to their footprints, I am also encouraged to look forward to those who fill follow one day in ours.

Yes, Christ will come to redeem His elect remnant! Shall we be numbered among them? I hope so.

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

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Existence of God Amidst Evil

For many the problem of evil prevents a belief in God. Many phrase it like this: :"If God is all powerful and truly good, then why would he allow evil to exist?" A theodicy seeks to work out an answer to this question. Many simply decide that their theodicy is to disbelieve in God, that therefore God cannot exist, because if He was good and all powerful evil would not exist.

However Tim Keller in his latest must-own book Walking With God Through Pain And Suffering argues poignantly that this inconsistency between the reality of an all powerful and good God and the problem of evil are not ultimately at odds:
If God has good reasons for allowing suffering and evil, then there is no contradiction between his existence and that of evil. So in order for his case not to faith, the skeptic would have to reply that God could not possibly have any such reasons. But it is very hard to prove that.
To show the skeptic that his premise is untrue, the believer could point out that we ourselves often allow suffering in someone's life in order to bring about some greater good. Doctors often inflict painful procedures and treatments on people, all for the purpose of the greater good of better health and longer life. Parents who punish bad behavior with the loss of toys or privileges are causing pain, but the alternative is that the child will grow into an adult with no self-control and would therefore experience far greater suffering...Many can point to adversity in their lives that, however excruciating, taught them lessons that helped them avoid greater suffering later. So the principle of allowing pain for the good reason of bringing about a greater happiness is valid and one we understand ourselves. That means there is no automatic inconsistency between God and the existence of evil and suffering. (97)
Keller, like usual, knocks this topic out of the park. I would invite you to read his text. We all face evil and suffering in this world and Keller provides arrows in our quiver for us to deal with them when they come.

JT Holderman is Assistant Pastor of Bellevue Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Gap, PA.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Thelogy, Culture, and the Kingdom of God." By Dr. Wilfred A. Bellamy.

In consideration of the role of the Church of Jesus Christ as it engages the various cultures in which it is planted, the following perspective is presented.

Let us first give consideration to the church as the Kingdom of God. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph.5:25). Therefore all matters pertaining to the church reflect not so much the things that we do, as the people that we are in Christ. We are the people of His Kingdom, known and loved from before the foundation of the world.

While we agree, and understand, that there is a “then and there” dimension of Kingdom, let us also agree that there is a “here and now” Kingdom reality in which we are called to walk (2 Cor 5:17).

Living as Kingdom people is not a matter of strategic intent, nor is it methodological, nor is it a matter of cultural relevance, but it means “walking in the light as He is in the light,” all the while demonstrating that “we have fellowship with one another” (I John 1:5-7). We are the called people of God, the company of the redeemed, a diverse body uniquely joined – a Kingdom of citizens, (Rev. 5:9-10), no less.

John Calvin described the church as a “just redeeming community.” Thus, in living for Christ in a fallen world, we are to live redemptively, modeling before others our likeness to Christ, as the Holy Spirit enables us to grow up into Him. Calvin also finds it virtually impossible to speak of salvation without first speaking of the Kingdom e.g. he recites Mark 1:15 “… the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel.” Thus Calvin’s eschatology precedes his soteriology (Institutes 3.3.19).  As Kuyper so clearly expressed, “as is your eschatology so is your theology.”

The church of the 20th century became the church of missiology, where outreach was concerned. Much has been written about the “science of missions” from a methodological perspective, as if means and method were the lodestone of effectiveness. But lest we forget that eschatology supercedes missiology, and lose sight of the call to obedience that is the hallmark of the Kingdom of God, let us be reminded that the sceptre of God, as it is extended to the lost, is to understand and believe that God reigns, that He is Lord, that He is first and foremost authoritative, and that we are “enjoined to pray that He would subdue all minds and hearts to voluntary obedience" (Institutes 3.20.42).

The Gospel of Christ, the “power of God unto salvation” (1 Cor. 1:18), is essentially relational. It requires inter-personal connection for its proper transmission, interpretation and comprehension. The Gospel is not an impersonal statement of truth. It is always more “euangellion” than it is “kerugma.” It is first lived and is thus recognizably different from life without or before Gospel. Then it is spoken, by way of pronouncement or proclamation, in the normal course of a day’s events as well as on other occasions of proclamation. As has been stated elsewhere, “the question of evangelical cultural engagement begins not with a ‘how’ but with a ‘who’” (Andy Crouch, in a persuasive argument for evangelical Christianity as a counter-culture, not an attempt at cultural engagement, CT 2006).

The conveyance of Biblical truth as it is revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if that truth is to escape the mask of mystery and become reality to those who meet the believer and hear what he or she has to say, must be clearly visible – not by guise or stylistic affectation, but in Christlikeness – “let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me!”

The truth is therefore essentially incarnational. Our likeness to Christ is not an acquired affectation, but a life lived within the bounds of a culture. We become recognizable in that culture either because we are of it, or because we have become a part of it by an act of the will. Our participation in Kingdom extension is therefore not a brief peremptory intrusion in the lives of other people but an identification with them in daily living. Thus the Lord Jesus Himself “took upon Him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of man.” So very God became very man because He purposed so to be (Philippians 2: 5-11).

Incarnation removes the possibility of mistaking witness to Jesus Christ as some sort of trained-for event. Being a witness to Jesus Christ is being like Him, and revealing Him to those with whom we come into contact. This is the eschatological imperative.

-Rev. Dr. Wilfred A. Bellamy PH.D. is an ordained pastor in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, a former missionary to Nigeria, and the former Coordinator of the General Synod of the ARP. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October is Reformation Month! Why Bible Loving Christians Should Care about the Past.

October is the time of year in which the Protestant Church has traditionally celebrated one of the greatest revivals in post-biblical history. The "Reformation" (or re-forming of the church) is generally viewed as that great outpouring of God's grace, centering in the century of the 1500's, that transformed most of Europe and stood as a turning point in the history of western civilization.

Martin Luther and the 95 Theses: Oct 31, 1517.
What happened?
Briefly, the Roman Catholic Church and its Eastern Orthodox twin-cousin had become deluged in medieval theology. As the institutional church claimed for itself more and more authority--eventually regarding itself as having equal with Scripture--the dogmas of the church moved further and further away from biblical moorings. Such doctrines as purgatory, the selling of indulgences, the re-sacrifice of Christ at the mass, and the adoration of Mary--none of which are found in Scripture--gained prominence.

On October 31st 1517, Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, unsettled the status quo by challenging the powers-that-be to a debate regarding the abhorrent doctrine of indulgences. On this day, Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church. This marked the formal beginning of the Reformation, although some men who came before him helped to set the stage (John Wycliffe and John Huss for instance). 

Originally, Martin Luther had no intentions of starting a new branch of Christianity. He had no desire to form a "Lutheran" contingent of followers. He certainly did not foresee the proliferation of Protestant denominations that would be spawned shortly. He merely wanted to spark an "in-house" debate to reform the existing church, which he loved deeply.

However, Luther's ideas regarding the ultimate authority of Scripture were considered too radical, and were seen as a "slap in the face" to papal authority. Eventually, Luther was summoned to recant his writings at the Diet of Worms (1521). He did not.

The Reformation fires quickly spread to other nations outside of Germany. Ulrich Zwingli seemingly uncovered the doctrine of "justification by faith alone" simultaneously, or even before Luther (as he himself claimed). A half-generation later, John Calvin stormed onto the worldwide scene with his small book the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536) which meant to clarify and defend Reformed doctrine to the King of France. His own work brought revival to Geneva, Swizerland, which became a new center of evangelical theology and training.

William Tyndale (England), John Knox (Scotland), Heinrick Bullinger (Switzerland) and others fanned the flames of revival all over Europe. The Netherlands, Belgium and other further reaching lands were likewise impacted as the throngs of laypersons were revived by a fresh preaching of God's word, especially as it pertains to salvation by free grace in Jesus Christ.

During this time, Protestants (as they were called) began writing vibrant new confessions of faith; the Augsburg Confession of 1530 and the Heidelberg Confession of 1563, for instance, defined Lutheran and Reformed theology respectively. Many stood strong for their convictions despite heavy persecution and a Counter-Reformation attempted by Rome. 

Lasting Effects
As a movement, the ramifications of the Reformation are difficult to quantify because they are so deep and long-lasting. Some would say the Reformation is still not over in some regards. In our own land here in America, our forefathers, the Puritans, considered themselves to be the direct heirs of Reformation teaching and theology. Our own founding as a nation was deeply impacted by Reformed beliefs and convictions as it regards God's holy Law and saving Gospel.

As we celebrate this month of October, let us pray that God would bless our land with passionate preachers of revival who lift up such glorious Biblical doctrines as those which came to be known as the Five Solas:
  • Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone)
  • Sola Fide (Faith alone)
  • Solus Christus (Christ alone)
  • Sola Gratia (Grace alone) and
  • Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone Glory)
Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. Follow on Twitter @matt_everhard.