Thursday, May 29, 2014

Bible Stories: An 1814 Edition of the Scott's Reference King James Bible

1814 Scott's Reference Bible (KJV)
In a previous post on the aesthetic beauty of Scripture, I reviewed one of the most excellent, high-end Bibles on the market today, an R.L. Allan. Here, I want to share about an edition of the Word of God that has come into my possession that is of an entirely different sort, the 1814 Scott's Reference King James Bible.

It is an appropriate time to write this piece, as this heirloom in my personal collection is now in its bicentennial year. At 200 years old, it is the grandfather of the many and various Bibles that I possess on my shelf.

This grand book came to my possession as marvelous gift. A couple of years ago, an elder at my church, Karl Baldner, gave me an unexpected gift. In the box was a typed note which read,
To Matthew Everhard, Christmas, 2010
This Scott's Reference Bible, was given to me in 1953 upon my ordination to ministry, by the last person ordained in my local church, Morris Ikenberry. Morris was a lay preacher, who taught, or tried to teach me in Sunday School when I was a kid, and about as ancient as I am now, 76. He received this book from his grandfather who also had been a lay preacher. It, as you will notice, was printed in 1814, making it 196 years old. For a number of years I have been looking for someone I loved and respected, whose ministry showed great love, caring and humbleness for his flock; whose spiritual gifts were many, and from God, including the gift of opening the church front door and welcoming in the sheep and goats. You are the one I have chosen to give this book to. I hope it reminds you of the eternal gift of the Gospel, that has existed all these years, and will continue to exist after you and I, and this book return to dust. May God continue to bless you, your family, and your ministry. -Elder Karl Baldner
(I should say that if you don't know Karl Baldner, you might not have picked up on his subtle sense of humor. He often reminds me that opening the church door is the ONLY real spiritual gift I have. Karl is a Mennonite-turned-Presbyterian who was a pastor and church planter long before church planting became "cool.").

Inside the Bible, there is another inscription, more haunting still,  from an unknown hand which reads in beautiful cartography,
Within this awful volume lies  
The mystery of mysteries 
To read, to hear, to watch, to pray 
To raise the latch and force the way 
But better they had ne'er been born 
Who reads to doubt or reads to scorn (1)
It certainly gives the reader pause and bids him to consider the eternal weight of the contents inside, doesn't it? Now, a bit about the construction of the Bible itself.

Hand-written inscription in the 1814 Scott's Reference Bible
First, it's exterior. It is bound in leather on board. The spine boasts four raised ribs and the placard reads "Scott's Reference Bible" in gold embossed on black.

For those of you who may be Bible Design Blog fans, this is one of the beautiful antiquated styles that is often replicated by quality book rebinders such as Leonard's Books, who is now emulating these older fabrications with great beauty.

The Scott's Reference Bible with much younger companions. 
As cited above, the version is an 1814 printing of the study Bible edited by Rev. Thomas Scott, D.D. whom the title page denotes as the "Rector of Aston Sanford, Bucks, and Chaplain to the Lock Hospital." The volume was printed in Philadelphia by William W. Woodward, by Griggs & Dickinsons, Printers. A quick Google search revealed that Rev. Thomas Scott was a dear friend of John Newton (the author of the great hymnn Amazing Grace). Scott was a pastor ordained in the Anglican tradition, as well as a hospital chaplain who ministered primarily to syphilis patients. His Commentary on the Whole Bible as well as his The Force of Truth gained him international recognition.

Its dimensions are quite large. It's not a full "Family Bible" size, but it is clearly not a pocket reference edition either. It's dimensions are 9.5 X 6 inches with a spine girth of 3.75 inches meaning that it probably resided on the study desk of the four generations of pastors (at least) that have owned it.

1814 Scott's Reference Bible title page and publisher info.
Inside, the text itself, the Authorized Version, is printed in two columns with both center and edge references. With both the gutter and edge margin filled with Scriptural references, the text block is stocked with useful information, perfect for a pastor laboring in the days!

As often as is feasible, the column references attempt an estimation of the date of the context of the Scripture text. For instance, Genesis 1 is noted as pertaining to 4004BC, events surrounding the exile are thusly noted, and the events of the New Testament are given a corresponding date, anno domini. Not only is each book of the Bible given a rather sturdy introduction considering it is really a reference edition (in minuscule print), but each chapter too contains a brief introduction of at least a good, full paragraph. For this reason, this edition might be considered a very old predecessor to the ESV Study Bible to which it is comparable in size.
Scott's Reference Bible, double column, dual margin references.

The pages retain the aged musty smell of a book that has soaked up the fragrances of many and varied homes and bookshelves. Perhaps a cigar-smoker or two once owned this book, although it wouldn't be from its later Mennonite owners! One red blot on the spine says that at some point it had a close encounter with a can of paint. The squared pages are now so stained by the natural elements and aging properties of paper that they are nearly as dark as the chocolate leather.

One day, if the Lord should tarry, I hope to give this Bible to the next pastor down the line who endeavors to carry the enduring Gospel in his own generation.

-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is the author of several books and many articles, as well as an acknowledged bibliophile. 

(1) A version of Sir Walter Scott's poem. The unknown penman omitted verses 3 and 4 which read, "O happiest they of human race/to whom our God has given grace."  

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Flags in the Church Sanctuary? Why We Do What We Do, and Don't Do What We Don't Do

Some time ago,
the elders and I were asked to consider placing the American flag in the sanctuary of Faith Church. It was explained to me that in prior years Faith Church had used the flag as a decoration and symbol of national pride in the sanctuary, but that in more recent years it was removed. The question is, Why? Some members come from religious traditions where the flag is prominently placed next to the cross. For others, the flag and cross must never be confused.

As I reflected on this question, I realized that I was potentially stepping on a theological landmine. On one hand, if we place the flag in the same context as the cross, we risk making a statement that the two symbols are of equal weight in our Christian faith. On the other hand, to neglect the flag altogether could be seen as almost treasonous in the eyes of some.

In this brief article, I will argue for placing the flag next to the doors of the sanctuary but not inside of it. Let me explain my reasoning.

I come from a long line of military veterans in my family and for this reason, I highly value the religious freedom for which my own family has fought. My father was a Marine in the Vietnam War, and both of my grandfathers fought in World War II. My paternal grandfather was an MP and my maternal grandfather was an anti-aircraft artillery gunman—present at both the Normandy invasion and the Battle of the Bulge. Now in my thirties, I can hardly restrain the tears that well up in my eyes when I sing the National Anthem or attend a parade honoring our veterans. Nevertheless, as important as these factors are in my heart, my reasoning needs to be deeper than mere sentimentality; it must be biblical.

When Moses received the Law from God in Exodus 20 the first two commandments were given to prevent the covenant people of God from valuing anything, ANYTHING, in higher esteem than the God of the Universe. For this reason, God warned the people against the treasuring of anything composed of mere matter (an idol) over against their Lord and Savior. While the Old Testament allows for the usage of sacred objects in worship (i.e. the Ark of the Covenant, the beautifully crafted Tabernacle, ephods, staffs etc.) the express intent of all sacred objects is to point to God alone who accomplishes our salvation and reigns over all history.

In the New Testament, religious symbols are relegated almost completely to the past. The sacrificial system with its pomp and circumstance having been abrogated, the former symbols of religious devotion have found their completion in Jesus Christ alone. (See the book of Hebrews for a greater discussion on these matters). In other words, the objects of religious devotion such as the lamp stand, the table, altar of incense and other things exclusively pointed forward to Jesus Christ and His sacrifice. This having been fulfilled at Calvary, their purpose has now been completed; we no longer need these sacred objects. By means of the New Covenant, God still allows for the usage of some symbols (primarily the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Table) but by and large, objects themselves are no longer of use unless they directly point to the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Hence, the primary decorative symbol that we use at Faith Church is the cross.

Historically, Presbyterians and our immediate forefathers in the faith, the Puritans, were very hesitant to use ANY outward pictographic symbols or artwork. The puritan meetinghouses of early New England were sparsely decorated and were essentially white-walled rooms with a pulpit in the center indicating the authority of Biblical preaching—and of course, furnished with pews. Had one of the puritans walked into our sanctuary, he might have thought that we were avant-garde for even having stained-glass windows! While we may not go quite that far in the scarcity of our decorum, nevertheless, our theological heritage is one of caution as regards outward symbols in order that the first and second commandments not be broken either explicitly or implicitly. 

While Romans 13:1 and other passages tell us that we are to “submit ourselves to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established,” the obvious exception is that we must not honor these authorities OVER God Himself. Jesus Christ said to “render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). What is due to Caesar is respect, submission, and honor, but what is due to God alone is respect, submission, honor AND worship. The last of these, worship, is the primary expression of our praise and thanksgiving to God. This cannot be shared with any other person, place, or thing for God Himself says, “I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isaiah 42:8).

The danger of idolatry in our age is not that many of us will go out and find a piece of wood or stone, carve an idol out of it, and call it “god.” The danger is that we will take what is already “good” and make it “great” yielding to it an honor higher than it deserves. For this reason, I suggest that we keep the flags near the doors in the narthex in order to remind us of our freedom to enter the sanctuary in the first place, but to be separated from the divine worship of God. As we exit after the service is over, we are again reminded by the flags at the door of the special blessing that God has conferred on this country as a place of freedom, culminating in our unique gospel witness to the world.

There is no doubt that the flag reminds us of those men and women who valiantly died to gain and protect our freedom to worship; but in the Sanctuary itself, there is but one death that commands our praise—the death of Jesus Christ.

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

Saturday, May 24, 2014

“I Just Gave Up Heart!”

By Dr. Wilfred A. Bellamy

They told me in the village that a man who lived just a short distance away had once been an elder in the church. I was puzzled by this and went to see him. We talked at length until I asked him why he no longer attended church. He replied: “I just gave up heart.” While this is not a perfect translation of his language it captures the gist of what he said.

Then, years later, a former elder no longer attended the church I was serving so I went to see him. After much discussion he finally said; “I just gave up heart.”

In both these cases their quitting was related to an incident that had caused them to no longer want to be associated with the congregation. Both were excuses, but both were real to the individuals.

Then I remembered 2 Kings 6. A young man, no doubt zealous for the Lord, worked hard with his brothers to cut down timber for the extension of his Bible School. Then his axe-head worked loose and fell into the water. He cries in his distress to Elisha who asks him the key-question, not “why” or “how” but “where did it fall?” It was only when the young man was able to say where he lost his “cutting edge” that the man of God was able to lead him to his solution.

So to John Mark. In Acts 15 he quits the first missionary journey of Paul. Somewhere, perhaps in Cyprus, he “just gave up heart.” When they reached Pamphylia he took off, ran away, quit the ministry.

Now to Barnabas. The “son of encouragement” is not content to let Mark go. He perseveres with him. But, most important, he takes him back to where he lost heart, to where he gave up on the challenge of the ministry. Could it be that Barnabas asked him; “where did it fall?” That may be fanciful but it is no mistake that Barnabas said, in effect, “let’s try again.”

The rest of the story is one of the great usefulness of this man John Mark, writer of the Gospel of Mark, missionary and assistant to missionaries, a man of stellar proportion in the history of the church. He might have been dubbed a “quitter” and lost to the cause of Christ. But someone saw that he was worth more than that, and held on to the Lord for him, and rejoiced to see him restored.

May God give us the grace to persevere, to stay with the “quitter” even when there is little joy in it, to pray and seek the Lord for him or her, and to hold fast in faith (Galatians 6:1-2). The quitter’s cords may have weakened and his ties to the Body of Christ become strained, but ours have not, so for those of us to whom much grace has been given, much is yet required.

-Dr. Wilfred A. Bellamy is an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church (ARP). 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Remember Your Leaders: Charles Spurgeon

Soul-winning is the chief business of every Christian minister; 
indeed it should be the main pursuit of every true believer.
 -Charles Spurgeon

A Biographical Sketch[1]

Charles Haddon Spurgeon stands today as one of the greatest preachers and evangelists this world has seen. His gospel-influence in the 19th century still thunders today through his influence. He preached the central truth of God’s free grace for sinners in Jesus Christ for decades and did so with a burden and fire in his soul not for intellectual pursuit but for the salvation of the lost. Hughes Oliphant Old famously stated “There was no voice in the Victorian pulpit as resonant, no preacher as beloved by the people, no orator as prodigious as Charles Haddon Spurgeon.”[2] He is perhaps known most famously as the “Prince of Preachers.”[3] He found himself bitten by the gracious and unwarranted love of God and did all in his power to make it known by his life. We would do well to learn from this leader in the Christian faith.

Spurgeon was born on June 19, 1834 in Essex, England. He grew up in a devout Christian home with his father as a minister. He was the oldest of seventeen children. However he found himself growing up as one unconverted, even as he was exposed his entire childhood to the truths of the Christian faith growing up with his father as a minister. He stated later in life, “The light was there, but I was blind.”[4]

However God has a way of giving sight to the blind. At fifteen years of Age, on January 6, 1850, Spurgeon found his life utterly transformed. It was a Sunday morning and Spurgeon found himself walking in the midst of a raging snowstorm. To get out of the driving cold, Spurgeon took shelter in a local church in Colchester which was currently holding their Sabbath worship service. He sat in the pew and listened to the lay-preacher expound on Isaiah 45:22, “Look unto Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth.”

“Fixing his eyes on young Spurgeon, he urged: ‘Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothing to do but to look and live.’ Like an arrow from heaven’s bow, the gospel hit its intended target. Spurgeon wrote: ‘I saw at once the way of salvation. Like as a brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me.’ Gazing by faith on Christ, he was dramatically converted.”[5]

A year later, age sixteen, Spurgeon preached his first sermon and at age seventeen he was called as minister to a Baptist church in Waterbeach. It was here in Spurgeon’s early life that his tremendous gift of preaching was recognized. At age nineteen Spurgeon was called again, this time to pastor New Park Street Chapel in London, a historic church, once of profound prominence. He would shepherd these individuals for the remainder of his life.

Spurgeon’s preaching here transformed the lives of thousands. The attendance went from 200 to 1,500 just after a year which in turn forced the sanctuary to be enlarged. The continued increase of those coming to hear the master preacher forced them to leave the restricted space of New Park Street Chapel and worship in Exeter Hall which would hold near 5,000. However even this new space could not keep up with the growing crowd. They were forced to build a new place for worship that would accommodate the growing crowds, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which was “the largest Protestant house of worship in the world.”[6] In 1861 the Metropolitan Tabernacle was opened and could sit more than 6,000.

Throughout Spurgeon’s adult life he was vehemently zealous for the truth of the Gospel and the preservation of its essential doctrines. This embattled him in many controversies, similar to Luther in his zeal for the Gospel. One such controversy near the end of his life forced his resignation as pastor. Fed up with the growing devaluation of the Scriptures in his time, particularly in the Baptist Union, Spurgeon passionately pled for a return to a posture of reverence toward the Scriptures as God’s word. However others did not share his opinion and he resigned and in the ensuing turmoil passed away prematurely, on January 31, 1892, at fifty-seven years old.

“During his thirty-eight year London ministry, Spurgeon witnessed his congregation grow from two hundred to almost six thousand members. Over this time, he took 14,692 new members into the church…it has been estimated that Spurgeon personally addressed nearly ten million people.”[7]

Spurgeon was a faithful evangelist, preacher, theologian, and leader of the church in England. His wake can be felt today. Here are three examples of his faith for us to take to heart and incorporate into our lives:

The Primacy of the Scriptures

It was the end of Spurgeon’s vocation as Pastor that was defined by his defense of the primacy of the Scriptures as the authoritative revealed will of God for the life of the believer, though he never failed to preach this throughout his years as a minister. Upon the Scriptures rested all of Spurgeon’s efforts:

“For Spurgeon, the Bible was just that, the very Word of God to break the heart and bring the soul before the throne of God, thus bringing them to a redemptive knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Upon this foundation Spurgeon built his entire theology and ministry.”[8]

The Gospel was central to Spurgeon’s ministry; he was a herald of the good news, and central to the Gospel is its revelation in the Scriptures. They were to Spurgeon an invaluable gift.

And so Spurgeon’s call on his audience was to truly trust and believe in the word of God. As a preacher, he knew that “No man [would] preach the gospel aright who does not wholly believe it.”[9] His aim therefore was to so order the minds of his listeners to see and believe in the capital-A Authorship of the Scriptures.

“This volume is the writing of the living God; each letter was penned with an Almighty finger; each word in it dropped from the everlasting lips…Albeit, that Moses was employed to write his histories with fiery pen, God guided that pen…if I turn to the smooth page of John…the fiery chapters of Peter…if I turn to Jude, who launches forth anathemas upon the foes of God, everywhere I find God speaking; it is god’s voice, not man’s.”[10]

Spurgeon’s resolve for the primacy of the Scriptures in our lives is a call for us to see them as the very word of God and therefore as the greatest instruction, the greatest exhortation, the greatest balm, the greatest knowledge of love that we could ever know. It is worthy then of our time and study. Or in the famous words of Spurgeon himself: “It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, your blood is bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you.”[11]

The Call to Evangelism

The second thing we ought to have impressed upon us from the life of Spurgeon is his obedience to the Scriptures in his resolve to show lost souls that their only hope was in the free grace of Jesus; Spurgeon was a gifted evangelist. He stated that, “Soul-winning is the chief business of the Christian minister; indeed, it should be the main pursuit of every true believer.”[12]

Spurgeon therefore included an appeal to the hope of the Gospel in every sermon he preached. The lost soul was his target as he spoke from the pulpit, the Gospel the arrow, and his voice the bow. He longed for those who did not know Christ to know the joy that he experienced in that Methodist church in Colchester, when the darkness dissipated and light of God’s love in Christ was shed in his heart. His appeal sprang both from a passionate desire for the lost to know Christ and his peace and from a desire to be faithful to God’s call on his life—to proclaim the fullness of the Gospel without reservation.

Spurgeon then “felt that preaching that did not lead to conversions was pointless.”[13] His resolve as an evangelist should lay heavy on our hearts, in a day where evangelism can be avoided and the lost disregarded. Spurgeon’s own conscience spurs us to value those who do not know Christ, to save them from eternal peril.

“I should be destitute of all humanity if I should see a person about to poison himself, and did not dash away the cup; or if I saw another about to plunge from the London bridge, if I did not assist in preventing him from doing so; and I should be worse than a fiend if I did not now, with all love, and kindness, and earnestness, beseech you to lay hold on eternal life.”[14]

The Christian’s Witness

Lastly, Spurgeon’s example would impress upon us the importance of our witness to each other and the world as we represent the name of Christ in our life. We are all—whether pastor, accountant, student, athlete, librarian, teacher, chef, mom—ambassadors for the Gospel if we claim the name Christian. We act not on our own behalf, but upon and for Another.

In Spurgeon’s lasting Lectures to My Students, he addresses those who are discerning and being equipped for pastoral ministry. He says at the outgo that this is their beginning, “True and genuine piety is necessary as the first indispensable requisite; whatever ‘call’ a man may pretend to have, if he has not been called to holiness, he certainly has not been called to the ministry.”[15] While he is addressing students, this foundational exhortation ought to be given to any who claims the name of Christ for all of the Christian’s life is that of ministry. When a Christian opens a door for someone, they do so in the love of Christ. When a Christian serves the poor and homeless, they do so in the name of Christ. But so too when a Christian exhibits road rage, is caught in a lie, or sleeps around, they do so in the name of Christ.

“Take heed, therefore, to yourselves first, that you be that which you persuade others to be, and believe that which you persuade them daily to believe, and have heartily entertained that Christ and Spirit which you offer unto others.”[16]

And so from Spurgeon’s own example as one faithful to the word of God, as one faithful to the call to share the good news with the lost, and as one faithful in living a life above reproach, we have much to remember and imitate from this great man of God.

*     *     *

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

[1] The bulk of Spurgeon’s “A Biographical Sketch” has been referenced from Steven J. Lawson, The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon (Sanford, FL.: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012).
[2] Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, Vol. 6: The Modern Age (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 422.
[3] Lewis Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1992), 277.
[4] Charles H. Spurgeon, C.H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Vol. I:1834-1854 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1899), 98.
[5] Steven J. Lawson, The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon, 5.
[6] Ibid., 8.
[7] Ibid., 17.
[8] Drummond, Spurgeon: Prince of Preachers, 624.
[9] Ian H. Murray, Heroes (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2009), 282.
[10] Charles H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. I (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1981), 110.
[11] Charles H. Spurgeon, C.H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, Vol. IV:1878-1892 (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1900), 268.
[12] Charles Spurgeon, The Soul-Winner: How to Lead Sinners to the Savior (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963), 15.
[13] Steven J. Lawson, The Gospel Focus of Charles Spurgeon, 84.
[14] Charles H. Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, Vol. V (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1981), 21-22.
[15] Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 9.
[16] Ibid., 13.

Friday, May 16, 2014

How to Leave Your Home Church (Without Losing Your Soul or Denying the Faith)

"They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us."
 (1 John 2:19). 

Alright. I admit that the title I gave this post is a bit provocative.

"Losing your soul?" Isn't that a bit much?

Yes. It certainly sounds serious, doesn't it? But so does the quotation from the Apostle John above. After all, the teaching of the Apostle is that leaving the visible Body of Christ can often reveal those who have made false professions of faith. Try as I might, I can't soften up the Apostolic teaching. So I won't.

Clearly leaving the Body of Christ--as it is expressed in the local church--is a very serious matter indeed.

And no, I don't believe that we can lose our salvation. But many make false professions to be sure (Matthew 7:21-22).

Is Leaving Right? 

There may be some times when leaving your home church is absolutely the right thing to do. When a local church or denomination has committed apostasy to the extent that the Gospel is utterly compromised, and the visible institution no longer exhibits the Reformation's three "marks" of a true church (the preaching of the Word, the right administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of godly discipline) it may very well be time to go.

Sometimes it may be necessary to leave one's home church due to major theological differences that cannot be reconciled easily (Calvinism vs. Arminianism; cessationism vs. Pentecostalism etc.).

Of course, some people change jobs or relocate from time to time. That's not in question here.

But before you bolt and head down the street to the next church (or even quit going to church altogether!) ask yourself some serious questions:

1. Am I just being petty? Am I leaving because of preferences or because of foundational issues? Is mere worship style a factor? Am I going somewhere else because of something as superficial as song choices? Is it because I don't like the pastor's clothes? Or his wife? Or the color of the pews? If so, repentance is probably the better course.

2. Am I leaving behind damaged relationships that need to be reconciled? Fleeing one's home church is a dangerous thing. One such danger is that I may be leaving because I am avoiding the hard work of reconciling relationships.

Sure, its easier to say "Goodbye!" than "I'm sorry!" or even "I forgive you!" Does anyone read Matthew 18:15-20 and think it sounds easy to carry out? Living in light of Jesus' teaching in Scripture is always hard. That's why He called it "carrying your cross" and following Him (Matthew 16:24). And yet His way is always right.

Before you leave, take the time to restore as many broken personal relationships as possible. Go back one more time and try to repair what has been broken. If you cannot, at least you will have the personal peace of knowing that you tried. In our congregation, we ask new members to sign a form that says that they have tried to do their best to restore broken relationships before joining our church. I wish others would do the same.

Let me be clear: If you are running away from the difficult work of reconciliation, you are running away from your own sanctification.

3. Did I even let my (former) leadership know of my decision? It used to be that the common courtesy was to send a transfer letter of membership to one's former congregation letting them know that one had moved or changed direction. But today, I can't even tell you when the last time is that I have received such a letter.

I suppose it is because we have a totally corrupt view of local church membership. The idea of the "covenant community" seems to have been obliterated. Most just bolt without even saying farewell. In my own experience, a few have used their departure as an opportunity to "stick it to the man."

But let me ask you, when is the last time you've seen the old I'll-show-them-how-much-they-miss-me trick bear any Gospel fruit?

4. Am I a religious consumer? Many people leave churches without so much as a wave or salute because they do not believe in church membership at all (see above). For these folks, the church is nothing more than an ecclesiastical Wal-Mart; a retail supply chain from which to consume religious goods and services. I'll take some of this praise music here; some of that youth group there. I'll listen to this preacher's podcast here, and keep my membership on the rolls there. All of this reflects a sub-Christian understanding of the role of the local church.

5. What am I leaving to? If you are leaving your church to join another congregation, alright then. At least it is better to be in a different local church than no church at all. But have you read it's doctrinal statement? Do you know where it aligns on matters of first importance (Biblical authority, the Trinity, the atonement)? How about secondary issues (marriage, charismatic gifts, women in ministry, baptism)? Have you thought through this at all, or are you just leaving because the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence?

6. Am I even a Christian at all?  If you are in the habit of changing churches regularly, or have given up on the Biblical idea of the local church altogether--over which Jesus Christ is Lord and Head--it may be time to seriously reflect on whether you are a Christian at all.

As scary as it sounds, 1 John 2:19 may be referring to you.

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

Monday, May 12, 2014

'Help Me Mama': An Encouragement to the Christian Mother

Having grown up in the church my entire life, I know what a typical "church kid" feels when they are squirming around in the pew.

Squirms: I heard a story about a little boy, while sitting with his family in a church pew one particular Sunday, began to irritate those around him. Eventually, the boy's father asked him if he needed to go outside. 'Yes' the boy exclaimed exclaimed, 'This service is boring!'
Immediately, the little boy and father, with the mother's permission, went outside so the little boy might be taught a lesson. After the lesson was taught, the father, with tears in his eyes, hugged the little boy and told him that what was going on inside the church was the most important thing in life and that he and his mother loved him so much, that they wanted the little boy to hear what was happening inside!

That little boy may or may not be the author of this post...

Bible TimesGod's word speaks of how ALL God's people would gather together for worship. Old men and women, parents, children, and everyone in between.

Deuteronomy 6:4b-7 "The Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and might. These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. Teach them diligently to your children, talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise.

What do we teach our kids?: "The Lord is one. Love him with our whole heart, soul and might."

We live in a world with MANY opposing views on everything. Christianity gets mixed in with a lot of other competing worldviews.
-You really believe in creation?
-It doesn't matter who you choose to love. Just don't tell me what I'm doing is wrong.
-You believe in ONE way to heaven after death? How can you be so narrow minded?

How do we teach that the Lord is one? This is super overwhelming!

Good News: We don't talk about some distant god who doesn't know us. We get the privilege to share with our children the good news of the Gospel, the God who became man and experienced suffering and persecution.

Philippians 2:6-8 "Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Christ became nothing. For you. We can teach our children that we have a God who is with us, whom we can love with our whole heart, soul, and might.

How do we teach our kids?: "You shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise."

Moms, the best way for you to communicate these truths to your children about who God is, is by living out your faith.
Admit your faults.
Love deeply.
Be available.

Christian mother: We love you. We thank God for you. We encourage you to love and teach your kids about the God who loves you and loves your children.

Be blessed.

-Drew Taylor
WCC Director of Children's Ministry

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Ask Pastor Matt: How Do I Love the Unlovable?

Dear Pastor Matt,

Your sermon last week (click here to watch) is haunting me. How do you love someone that you simply just don't love? Due to an abusive childhood, I am struggling with this issue. Please help! 


Thanks for writing such a deep and provocative question. I am sure that you are not the only person that is asking this question. 

Usually for every time someone asks me a question like this, there are ten others who wanted to ask the same thing but held back for one reason or another.

Since Jesus told us to love "one another" (John 13:34-35), love "our neighbors" (Matthew 22:39), and even love "our enemies," (Matthew 5:44) it does seem inescapable that He is commanding us to love even the most difficult people in our lives. This would include those that have hurt us in the past. 

But here is where we need a good, solid, Biblical definition of love. Certainly we can't find such a definition in our culture which seems to confuse love with either sex (certainly not the same thing!), warm fuzzies (nope!), or unquestioning acceptance and tolerance (not that either!). We are going to have to press on in our sermon series on 1 Corinthians 13 to articulate a more Biblically moored definition of love. 

For that reason, I say: Hold on! We're getting there! 

But until we get to some of those later verses (like 1 Corinthians 13:6 for instance) let me try to jump ahead and make a few things clear about loving the unlovable. 

1). To love them does NOT mean that we necessarily even like them. I am separating feelings from actions here. There are certainly people that we feel a fondness for, like to be around, and genuinely enjoy their company. Others, not so much! Some people we can't even stand to be around. But I still think it's true that it is possible that I can love someone that I genuinely don't enjoy being around. (See #'s 4 & 5 below). But also, 

2) To love them does NOT mean that I need to trust them. I would never, ever, put myself or my loved ones in the same room with someone who would or could possibly hurt another person again if they have done so in the past.  Even if they've apologized. Even if they've done jail time and "paid their dues to society." To love them does not mean that I must give them another chance to hurt me, or anyone else for that matter. 

3) To love them does NOT mean I approve of their behavior. Certainly this is true of the way that God loves us. He loves us, and yet that does not mean that He gives us carte blanche approval of our behavior and actions. If I owned a "logic-hammer," I would beat this point into the heads of everyone in our culture. Where in the world did we get the idea that if I "love" someone I must approve without qualification of their lifestyle, actions, behaviors, predispositions, and inclinations? Worse yet is the idea that if I don't tolerate their behavior unquestioningly, I therefore "hate" them!

4) To love them DOES mean that I pray for them. I may never want to be around certain people again (such as former abusers, molesters etc.) but I can certainly pray for them. I may even pray the impreccatory (cursing) Psalms against them if they are yet unrepentant! There are many Psalms in the Bible which are to be used to call down God's justice and judgment upon the wicked. Ultimately, loving is doing what is right or doing that which accords with the truth. I may have to pray that those that have hurt me in the past have an encounter with what the Puritans used to call God's "severe mercy," meaning His rod of rebuke that corrects and hastens repentance.

5) To love them DOES mean that I pray for their salvation and sanctification in Christ, and work, as much as it is humanly possible, towards those ends. Here, I believe, we arrive at the highest and purest form of love. We love them by praying that God would transform their lives, cause them to repent, experience grace, and grow in the faith. This is a prayer that I can pray even for my worst enemy: The drunk that killed the innocent pedestrian. The terrorist who would detonate a suicide bomb. The gossiper who slanders my name. The abuser who hurt me as a child. I think we can (and should) genuinely love people by praying for their conversion, new  life in Christ, and sanctification by the Holy Spirit.

Do that, and you have truly loved the unlovable.

Yours, Pastor Matthew

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A Review of the R.L. Allan ESV Personal Study Bible: A Technical Analysis of One of the World's Finest Bibles

R.L. Allan ESV Personal Study Bible. Review by Rev. Matthew Everhard.

What would happen if the most accurate, literal, contemporary English translation of the Holy Bible was surrounded with some of the most excellent evangelical scholarship and study notes, and then bound together by hand in Europe's premiere book bindery--all with the highest quality of materials possible?

You would have in your possession the R.L. Allan ESV Personal Study Bible.

Recently I received my own review copy of the Allan ESV Personal Study Bible courtesy of R.L. Allan and Son Publishers Ltd. in Tolworth, Surrey, England. What follows will be a technical review of this hand-crafted masterpiece.

The classical Greeks considered three aspects of ontology or being: the good, the beautiful, and the true. If the truth of this Bible corresponds to the accuracy of the English Standard Version (ESV), and the goodness corresponds to the edifying study notes that Crossway has put together, then the beauty of this Bible corresponds to its physical materials and composition by R.L. Allan.

Since many others have written at length on the ESV translation, and others still have commented on the outstanding collection of scholarship and commentary in Crossway's stellar ESV Study Bible, I will focus this article on what R.L. Allan has contributed to make this book into a veritable piece of art.

The Allan ESV Study Bible is unlike anything I have held in my own hands before. The cover is made of black highland goatskin. (It also comes in a rich, deep brown). If you have never owned a goatskin Bible before, there is really nothing to which it can be compared.
The R.L. Allan ESV Study Bible in black highland goatskin. 

Not only is goatskin durable and flexible, but it almost tends to mold into the reader's hand as it is held aright. The goatskin itself is textured uniquely; it is not pressed or molded by machine but contains the very natural grain of the animal itself.

Though some wonder about unusual markings on highland goatskin, rest assured that these are not scuff marks. They are the idiosyncratic attributes of the animal's hide itself. For this reason, no two Allan Bibles are ever alike.

R.L. Allan's binding is incomparable.
As for the binding, the Allan Study Bible opens flat right out of the box. Machine-manufactured binding can never replace the handiwork of human skill crafting. This Bible is Smyth sewn, meaning that the page signatures (groups of pages stitched together) are sewn together in a symmetrical design holding the whole together as a single unit. Thus, the ESVSB will never fall apart in chunks as glue-bound books inevitably do as they harden and dry.

There is no breaking in process necessary for an Allan goatskin binding. Unlike most leather covers that need to be worked quite a bit (remember that stout, new baseball glove you had as a kid?) the Allan goatskin cover comes out of the box both limp and limber. I was able to open the ESVSB to Genesis 1:1 and have it lie nearly flat on the table without much coaxing at all. Open the Bible to the middle, and it practically melts in the palm of your hand or sprawls out on the table.

R.L. Allan ESV Study Bible: 0.5 inch semi-yapp and ribbons.
If you have only owned a Bible with a cover made from lesser materials, a goatskin Bible will feel sophisticated, even luxurious. Bonded leather (essentially the "particleboard" of faux-leathers, made from leather dust and glue) can last for only a few years at best. Genuine leather (usually pigskin) tends to be more stout, stubborn, and often even unfriendly for its life span. Tru-tone or other synthetic covers featured on many Crossway Bibles are good: inexpensive and comfortably functional in my opinion, but lacking aesthetic beauty.

But highland goatskin is in another category altogether.

A semi-yapp of about 1/2 inch allows the cover to extend over the book block on three sides. (Obviously, not the spine). This antique look actually has an important function. Not only does it provide the Bible with a classy, timeless look, but it also protects the pages from damage while being held, while in use, or during transport.
R.L. Allan Binding with gild-lined cover.

Upon opening the cover, one can notice a subtle but pretty gilding line around the inside of the cover. This little extra has the affect of framing the pages of the Bible against the black cover when opened. You may not notice it at first, but it's the kind of special touch a hand-crafted binding would contain that a machine-born Bible would skip to save a few bucks.

Art Gilding
The next feature that is pure beauty to the eye of the beholder is the art gilding of the pages (variously spelled as "art gilting"). Art gilding is the process of dying the pages red (or another color) with a metallic gold or silver overlain on top. You've probably seen some older Bibles with red pages. Many others, even quite cheap Bibles, have golden or silver edges. But you may not have seen many with true art gilding. Here, the pages appear golden-toned and shimmery from the profile view, but when opened, the red comes alive underneath the gold.

R.L. Allan ESV Study Bible. Art gilded page edges. 
When opened to any place in the Bible, the Allan Study Bible page edges appear a beautiful light red, or salmon color. This will make the pages stand out demonstrably, as well as function to protect the edges of the paper from moisture and age-related staining. The art gilding is both functional and protective as well as gorgeous to look at.

Book Block: A Mystery to Solve
The book block contained in the Allan bound book is the same as the ESV Study Bible, Personal Size by Crossway. As far as I can tell, there is no difference here. Allan regularly sources their book blocks from other publishers. They don't actually create any new formats themselves, in house.

But wait, there's a mystery here.

The colophon on page 2543 of the Allan Study Bible states that the paper is Primalux paper, rated at 30 GSM's, produced by Papeteries du Leman, Thonon-les-Bains Cedex, in France. But I have to be honest, I don't think that is true. I think that editors forgot to change the colophon materials in the back (right before the maps) when they reduced the size to print Crossway's Personal Size Bible.

My clue is that the copyright page on the smaller Allan version and the smaller Crossway version state that the Bible was printed in China. Ouch. A careful comparison between this Bible and the ESV regular size by Crossway shows me that they are definitely not the same paper. In fact, this is a disappointment in the Allan Bible.

The slightest amount of hand perspiration or moisture on the Allan leaves the page with a wrinkly affect that the ESV Study Bible by Crossway does not sustain. The regular size ESV Study Bible by Crossway has paper that feels, better. Feels stronger. It seems to have a very light wax to prevent moisture from seeping in. The Allan soaks it up. Not great for preachers.

I also tested to see if I can see through more pages in the Allan by holding it up to the light. It turns out that I can. I conclude that it is not 30 GSM and that the colophon retained an error uncorrected by Crossway's editors. I believe Allan used the same paper as the reduced size Personal Size Study Bible by Crossway, printed in China. Certainly not the better paper used in the Crossway full size Study Bible.

Remember--there is no perfect Bible paper.  Some show-through or "ghosting" is a reality in all Bibles with the technology that we have available today. If you want to jam 2.2 million words (20,000 study notes) into 2,500 pages, at a trim size of 5.35 X 8.0 inches, the pages will have to be thin.

R.L. Allan ESV Study Bible: book block and print clarity.
As for the printing quality itself, the Allan Bible is gorgeous. Maps, charts, and graphs are all set in full color and are easy on the eyes. I have seen some Crossway products that have uneven printing before. For instance, my regular size ESV Study Bible contains several pages that appear as though the printer got stuck on bold mode, or was slightly misaligned. I am not sure if that error carried through on many other editions or not. It could have just been my particular copy. Having said that, I can see no errors whatever in text printing (neither too dark or too light) anywhere on the Allan Study Bible.

R.L. Allan ESV Study Bible: ribbons and page layout. 
The Allan Study Bible comes with three deep-blue ribbons glued onto the spine. (The deep brown goatskin has golden ribbons). While most Bibles contain only one ribbon for cost savings reasons, the Allan allows the reader to mark three separate spots in the Scriptures. Those who read through the Bible using multiple reading locations will appreciate this featurette. Those who use their Bibles for ministry or church leadership will likely also enjoy being able to mark an OT passage, a NT passage and a third passage as well if desired.

Some may wonder if this is the best Bible for their own personal needs. I can't really answer that question. While we each have our own preferences in terms of a Bible's translation, size, font, notes, and references, I can recommend this Bible as the best overall on the market that I have owned.

If you want a Bible to take on a mission trip deep into an Amazon rain forest, get yourself a much less expensive Bible. If you want an edition that your child can take to Vacation Bible School this summer, go another route. This isn't the one. If you are going backpacking through the Appalachian mountains this summer, move on to more economical options. There are dozens of cheap Bibles on the market.

But if you want a Bible that you can use for years with supreme confidence--not only in terms of translation and study notes but also its material quality--a Bible that you want to pass down to your children's children, then this is the one you have been looking for.

I believe that this Bible will be well-suited for use in one's personal study, devotions, preaching, and teaching ministry. For my part, I intend to use this Allan ESV Study Bible myself for decades to come.

A Few Small Concerns
R.L. Allan ESV Study Bible: Review by Rev. Matthew Everhard.
I love this Bible, but I do have a few concerns. The 7.7 point font of the main text will be difficult for some to read. How much more the 6.3 font of the study notes!

Fortunately, this Bible is printed so well that it may not matter much. The modern Lexicon typeface stands off of the nearly white pages with crisp clarity. I happen to be nearsighted (praise God!) but for those with aging eyes, it may be harder to read.

This edition unfortunately does not use line-matching, the technique that matches precisely the text on both sides of the page in order to minimize ghosting. Some lines do not match due to the half-space return between sections with sub-headings. Other pages do not match from the very top line. I'm not sure why that would be.

As for the font size, Crossway makes a larger and even an extra large print ESV Study Bible, but alas, R.L. Allan has not committed to producing either of those versions. This means you will have to settle for the Crossway bindings. Not too shabby there either, though. Crossway products are almost always well made.

The price tag, too, on the Allan under consideration is steep. Invest wisely. The Allan Study Bible retails in the neighborhood of $225. (You can buy it here). Some may wonder why one ought to spend that much on a Bible when other versions are available for $30.

That is a good question.

I, for one, wanted to own at least one Bible that (A) will last for my own lifetime and not fall apart as glued binding and bonded leather or synthetic covers inevitably do and, (B) a Bible that can be passed down through my family line as an heirloom for generations to come.

I am a pastor, author, and scholar. The Bible is the tool of my trade. I read it relentlessly, multiple times everyday. Why not own a few superior tools for my trade?

Many people will not want to spend more than a few bucks on a good study Bible. I get that. I understand.

I however would rather invest my money here than in fancy rims for my car, "bling" jewelry around my neck, or fancy watches. I suppose we all have a few particulars in which we insist on having "the best." For me, I am an admitted Bibliophile. I think owning a quality Bible says more about a man than a quality wristwatch.

For all of these reasons, the Allan ESV Personal Study Bible makes an incomparable possession to own and to behold.

This is the Bible I have been waiting for my entire life.

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is the author of several books, and a doctoral student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida.