Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christmas Devotion: Mary's Real Treasure

What do you treasure above all things?

What person, place, or thing holds the position of supremacy in your affections in such a way that nothing rivals its prominence? What do you hold so dearly that nothing, NOTHING rivals its position on the throne of your heart?

In some ways Christmas Eve may be one of the most dangerous times of the year to come to a worship service. Our hearts are distracted: there are travel plans, turkeys in the oven, trinkets to be opened, and family to be received. Materialism and gluttony are just hours away.

If you find your heart being divided today, I would like to commend to you Mary’s treasure. "Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19). The old KJV translates that “Mary kept these things,” but all the modern translations have rightly rendered it “treasured.” The Greek word means to safeguard, to defend, to lock tight, to cherish, to protect!

We might ask, WHAT THINGS did Mary treasure? What specifically does Luke 2:19 mean when it says that “all these things” she both treasured and pondered in her heart? 

Ironically, Mary did receive literal treasure in Matthew’s birth narrative. You recall, the Magi brought to Christ three gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And what was Mary’s response to these gifts in Matthew 2:11,
"And going into the house [the Magi] saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh."

Mary’s response? Nothing. Silence. I’m sure she said ‘thank you,’ but Scripture does not say she treasured the treasure!! In fact, if there is an emphasis at all on materialism, it’s on poverty not riches. Three times (vs. 7, 12, 16) Luke reminds us that the baby is in a manger, a crude box where donkey drool.

Do not be deceived by ‘treasure’ that looks like treasure, but is not infinitely valuable! What good is mere gold when eternal riches are before you? A block of gold and a lump of coal are both equally ineffective in purchasing joy, forgiveness, peace, or eternal life!

So what did Mary treasure? A good Sunday School answer would be that Mary treasured her son. It would make sense, and I don’t think any of us would complain if verse 19 told us that Mary treasured her baby. Luke could have written, "Mary treasured her child and pondered her family in her heart."

But Luke didn't write that.

There is no doubt that Mary ‘treasured’ Jesus as her natural born son. She was the one family member of Jesus who truly believed and followed Him all the way to the cross, watching the Romans beat and pierce His flesh to the cross (John 19:25).

There is no doubt that Mary loved her baby as a mother should. But that’s not the point of verse 19. Every mother—except for the deranged—treasures their own child in the familial sense.

We know what Mary treasured: she treasured “all these things” (2:19) which refers directly back two verses to verse 17, "[The Shepherds] made known the saying that had been told them concerning the child" (Luke 2:17). And what the shepherds heard goes back to vs. 10-11,
"And the angel said to them, 'Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.' 
Aha! Here’s the real treasure! Here is what made Mary’s heart glad!

It's not just that she had a baby, but rather the identity and destiny of the baby: a joy not just for her own heart, but joy to all people! A Savior not just to her personally, but to all who repent and believe. 

A multitude of angels attended the coronation of an infant and to exult in this divine decree. The night sky burst into a full panoply of radiant color as holy warrior-spirits beamed upon the Prince of Peace! Singing in unison “Glory! Glory! Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”(Luke 2:14).

Here is my definition of “treasuring": To treasure something means that you would gladly give the whole world to get it, and to joyfully refuse the whole world to keep it!

I suggest that today you and I treasure what Mary treasured: the announcement of the One who is the glory of God and the peaceful joy of men.

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

'I See Dead People.' The Scary Truth about Christian Ghostwriting

I see dead people.

Who can forget that memorable line from M. Night Shyamalan's best movie, The Sixth Sense? In the film, an emotionally disturbed child confesses to his psychologist that he sees ghosts. The movie turns dramatically at this shocking moment. Here, the film gives its strongest hint yet that the lead character, played by Bruce Willis, is not what he seems. He is actually dead.  

Perhaps we are now at such a juncture in the world of Christian publishing.

In the last few weeks, the evangelical and Reformed world was given an inside glimpse of the process of “ghostwriting” when a massive plagiarism scandal broke out in full public view.

For the sake of Christian charity, I will omit the names of the key players and the publishing house(s) involved. Astute readers will already be aware of the circumstances, and they need not be repeated here.  

In full disclosure, I am personally acquainted with one of the men in the center of the controversy. This makes what I am about to say even harder. 

This article is not about the errant citations that fell through the cracks somewhere in the editing process. I regard the term "plagiarism" to be unnecessarily hyperbolic and even inflammatory.

The books attributed to this well known author are generally footnoted extensively. I have several of them on my shelf. In some, literally hundreds of academic citations are provided. But there is a far more significant problem lurking below. We must now say "the books attributed to..." the writer.

Perhaps I should define the term. 'Ghostwriters' are usually relatively unknown writers, researchers, and scholars who write substantial portions--or even all--of the books that are actually credited to better known leaders.

So far as I can tell ghostwriting, which has been called "the standard practice of the industry" by the publishers,  might possibly be supported by any of five possible reasons.

However, none of them seems morally justifiable to me. They are:

1. The person to whom the book is attributed is not a competent writer. Response: All writers need substantial editing. Unfortunately, none of us can see all of our own errors in print. But no one pretends that writing and editing are actually the same thing. Hiring another person to do the actual work of writing and composing while taking the credit oneself on the cover seems to me to be the moral equivalent of singing a solo with the vocal track of another performer playing on the sound system. In both cases, the clear intent is to deceive the audience. If one cannot write well, he ought not pretend that he can.

2. The person to whom the book is attributed does not have the time to write the work himself. Response: Writing requires a great amount of time and work; far more than most realize. However, when a known leader employs others do this work--and yet signs his own name to one or more books every year--he creates an illusion of his own superhuman abilities. He is putting on a show and expects others to buy tickets. When a Christian leader gets to this point, he is actually just selling his own fame. If one has not the time to write, he ought not pretend that he has.

3. The person to whom the book is attributed is not thoroughly knowledgeable about the subject matter on which he writes. Response: None of us are omniscient. All who aspire to write well must do a significant amount of research. Often experts must be consulted. However, having a team of researchers (or a research assistant) do the bulk of the study creates the illusion that the named author is far more knowledgeable about the subject matter than he really is. As with 1 & 2 above, he is creating an illusion about himself that he hopes (and expects) his audience will believe. If one has not the expertise to write, he ought not pretend that he does.

4. Publishers, seeking greater sales revenue, prefer better known leaders to lesser known writers for obvious marketing reasons. Response: Doing business with a view towards making money is not intrinsically wrong in itself. Certainly Christian ethics does not require a business to lose money in order to be considered moral. On the other hand, selling a product--any product--that purports to be something it is not is deceiving to the consumer at best and morally fraudulent at worst.

5. The ghostwriter is not well known and cannot garner an audience of his own at this time; he needs to "get his foot in the door" somehow. Response: Everyone must begin somewhere. Many careers must begin in the "mailroom." Nevertheless, allowing one's own work to be usurped by a more popular Christian celebrity seems to compromise the very integrity of the craft of writing. For this reason, it would seem better not to write at all than to participate in someone else's self-promotion or a corporation’s greed.

Since none of the above rationale seems morally persuasive to me, I am inclined to see a spiritual "deadness" in the entire enterprise of ghostwriting.

I see dead people.

The fact that most Christians (myself included) simply don't know how widespread this practice really is seems more frightening than a horror flick.  

My guess is that there are dozens of well-known pastors and Christian celebrities who have availed themselves to ghostwriters that now dread the possibility that they too may be exposed as frauds. Likely, their audiences would be horrified to learn that they write little to nothing of the books that they hawk under their own names.

When I wrote Hold Fast the Faith, my devotional commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith, it took me nearly five years to bring it to completion. As an unknown author, almost half of that time was spent convincing a reputable publisher to take on the project. Finally, one did.  

I wrote every word, often late at night after my kids went to bed, or very early morning before the coffee pot even finished brewing. I was working full-time in the ministry, pastoring a church of 400 people, while trying to be a responsible father to my children and husband to my wife.

I know what it takes to write a book and pastor a church at the same time. Believe me, I can imagine how great the temptation would be to cut corners if I was ever offered the opportunity to cheat. It would be so easy!

But writing is an arduous task. One pours out his soul with his words. He shapes his sentences as a sculptor shapes marble. Slowly. Arduously. Good books are not stamped out in a plastic mold by "research teams," they are handcrafted.

Can anyone really imagine C.S. Lewis using a ghostwriter? Or Augustine? Or Calvin?

In other words, I would rather grind out even one book that contained my own spiritual DNA—my blood, sweat, and tears--than publish volumes by passing off some other writer's work under my own name.

One’s conscience would have to die before he would be able to participate in such a sham.

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Advent Prayer for Those Who Pray

Advent, (Latin: adventus): the season of the ecclesiastical calendar, immediately preceding Christmas, when the Christian church has traditionally celebrated the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as anticipating His second advent at His return.

Lord Jesus, my Master, help me to bring to mind the significance of your coming.

It isn’t that I have forgotten the essentials of knowledge, but I need to be reminded of the deep truths associated with that knowledge, that in remembering the one I may not overlook the other.

You left the Father’s throne, you did not try to hold on to it, but made yourself to be as one who is without reputation. Lord of Glory, you became a nobody that I might become a somebody! – you took upon yourself servanthood so that instead of being served, as you deserved, you served others, and gave your life for them.

Baby of Bethlehem you became the exalted one, lifted up, and glorified. You were given a Name that is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus (your Name) every knee would bow. It was you Lord, abased for me, whom the Father raised to glory. It was all so personal. The angels were correct from the beginning – Glory to God in the Highest!

I cannot fully grasp the reasoning but I marvel and rejoice that you became my Savior and that all the fullness of the Godhead lived in you. Crucified, raised, and ascended, it is by your grace that you brought truth to me, not my search, nor my want. It was you who brought light to my heart and filled me with hope of eternity.

And so today it isn’t so much an event that happened two thousand years ago that stirs my soul, marvelous though it is to recall, but it is the Advent promise that this same Lord Jesus will come a second time, “in power and great glory,” and gather me together with Him and all the saints in the clouds of Heaven. “So shall we ever be with the Lord.”

In this season of anticipation help me to keep my eye fixed to the horizon. Help me always to be ready, to live ready. Lift me above present circumstance to look for the Son of Man who will come when I least expect Him, and who will gloriously and suddenly appear – my Great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

May the Holy Spirit set my heart to longing for that day, that I may not waste my life on trivia but seek first the Kingdom of God. Release me from the distractions that preoccupy me, and grant that I may serve you in holiness and righteousness all my days. That’s my prayer.

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

-Dr. Wilfred Bellamy. Pastor, missionary, and former coordinator of the General Synod, Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Boy Named Van

"I like to help people." That was the simple, straightforward answer I received when I asked one of our children how they felt about giving an offering to the Lord. With that statement, our ministry began to pray about how we at Willow Creek Church's Children's Ministry should use our offering to bring God glory and also "help people."

We at WCC believe that it is important to teach our children very young the importance of offering our time, talent, and treasure to the Lord.

It is commanded: Psalm 96:8- Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts!

God promises to bless those who do: Malachi 3:10- Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

God uses our tithe and loves those who give: 2nd Corinthians 9:7- Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

But most importantly, we are to give as our act of worship because we have received so much from the Lord! So we decided to do for one what we wish we could do for all.

"One Child," a ministry of Mission to the World, is designed to bring church's or individuals together to sponsor a child from across the world, supplying finances so a child may go to school, wear proper clothing, eat daily meals, and study the Bible.

Van Nun Lian Charang, or "Van" is our sponsored child. Van is 6 years old, the same age as many of our children. Van loves to play football, his favorite subject is Bible, and is one of 6 children. Van is just like us. Van is loved by God.

Van also lives in Bangladesh, a country east of India, and education in Bangladesh is not free. If not for the "One Child" ministry, Van would be working in a field rather than attending school. Again, a child, just like ours, loved by God, needing to experience our Savior's love.

Our children may right now only give because they want to "help people." But regardless of the motivation, we at WCC Children's Ministry are committed to honoring God with our time, talent, and treasure. It is because God has loved us, that we are able to love others. Won't you consider doing for one what you wish you could do for all?

-Drew Taylor
WCC Director of Children's Ministry