Friday, February 27, 2015

Breaking Your Addiction To Coveting

     My favorite baseball player, Josh Hamilton, recently made the news because he relapsed into cocaine and alcohol use. He’s facing a lengthy suspension that could likely cost him about 4 million dollars a month in lost salary. Criticism has begun to swirl and judgments are plentiful. It is hard for many to understand how someone who makes mega millions playing baseball would take a chance on blowing it because he can’t control his addiction. It’s sad to watch someone struggle so hard with a sin that they can’t seem to overcome. I pray that he will, by God’s grace, be delivered from his addiction. However, his addiction happens to be a socially unacceptable addiction. Funny how people’s struggles with these types of sins are so much more difficult to understand than people’s addictions to socially acceptable sins. It’s true that the use of mind altering drugs, legal or not, is a sin, but it’s equally true that covetousness is an equally damnable sin and very few people seem to be as troubled about the epidemic of it in our culture. Consider Paul’s words,

“For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.” Ephesians 5:5

     You can be absolutely sure that God is every bit as offended by the sin of covetousness as he is with the sin of drug use. In our culture you can be completely consumed with this sin and no one will raise an eyebrow. If you wake up tomorrow tempted to give in to this addiction, you can go out and buy a new boat to feed it. No one will judge you. The next day you can struggle with it again and go purchase the hottest car on the market to satisfy your lust. Your friends will rejoice with you. Day after day you can feed the flesh like a glutton and no one will notice or care because they will share your addiction. In our culture, this wicked sin disguises itself as the American dream.

     The Apostle Paul had an entirely different perspective on this sin. When he read, “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:17) it killed him. That is to say, he was brought under the conviction of his profound sinfulness and became aware of his personal spiritual death. Sin is any violation of God’s law (1 John 3:4) and that law brought Paul to the realization that his heart was filled with the sin of covetousness, making him an idolater (Romans 7). This realization is essential to the work of grace that leads to salvation. You cannot be redeemed by the grace of God until you’ve been condemned by the law of God. Jonathan Edwards once said, “It’s easier to scream down a thousand sins of others than it is to mortify one sin in yourself.” Similarly, it’s easier to scream down the sin of a drug addict than it is to mortify the sin of covetousness in yourself. That’s why “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24). Do not let our culture’s tolerance of covetousness lull you into thinking that your addiction is any more tolerable to God than a cocaine addict’s. Do you think that you are any less a sinner than someone else? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3)

Keep Your Opinions to Yourself and Speak with Authority

     Frankly, your opinion doesn’t matter. Not if you are a Christian and your goal is to speak authoritatively to our culture on the myriad of social issues facing the world around us. Whether it’s gay marriage, legalizing drugs, the war on terror, or whatever issue is most likely to move you to engagement in the battle, the last thing we need is yet another opinion. Opinions carry no authority. Whether you are a Christian or not, your opinion is no more valuable than the next person's. What is vitally needed is someone to speak with authority. We need someone who can lay down an objective standard of right and wrong for us to measure the validity of every opinion on every issue. That someone is God, and he has spoken.

“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,…” Hebrews 1:1-2a

     The prophets of the Old Covenant foretold of the coming Son and he came and “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the Word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3a) At his first coming he communicated to his Apostles the glory of the New Covenant and filled them with his Spirit to write it down in the New Testament. The close of the New Testament canon finalized God’s Word to man on every issue required of us to fulfill his will in our lives and in society (2 Timothy 3:16-17). God has spoken and his Word is final. Therefore, as Christians we are not called to share our opinion, but rather to proclaim his Word. When we proclaim his Word on an issue then we, like Titus, are to “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority.” And “Let no one disregard you.” (Titus 2:15). Where the scriptures are silent, we have no authority, where the scriptures speak, we can speak with absolute authority. Learn the Word of God well enough to make a clear and accurate case based on the scriptures, and you will speak with godly authority instead of sharing another irrelevant opinion.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Reflections on Finishing Up the King James Version (For the First Time).

Last September, I wrote about beginning my venture into the King James Bible for the first time in my 37 years of life (now 38). As I mentioned in that article, I was embarrassed to admit that having been a Christian for nearly 25 years, I had never poured much time into the Authorized Version before. And this for a pastor!

Embarrassing indeed.

Mind you, I'm no slacker. I've read the Bible nearly every day since my conversion. Just never the KJV. From ages 12 to 28, my translation of choice was the NIV84. I almost never use it now. Political correctness and the gender neutral controversy has damaged it for me, and the NIV11 is just not same book to me anymore.

From the ages of 28 to 38 I have used the ESV almost exclusively. My friend Pete Garbacki and I joke about being ESVO (English Standard Version Only).

But this past year, I threw myself into the KJV hardcore. I was motivated by both a desire to engage myself with the same Bible of Spurgeon, Edwards, Hodge and others as well as to increase my knowledge of one of the most timeless treasures of the Christian faith. (At least in the Western World).

Beginning in September and finishing sometime this month (I have a few short books in the latter half of the NT still to complete), I read the KJV with reckless abandon. At times (especially on my vacation) I read for hours. Morning, noon, and night, I had an Authorized text with me.

Some vital stats about my journey: I will have completed the KJV Bible in about 24 weeks, assuming I stay on course for the next 7 days or so. This averages about 7 chapters a day. That's a pretty good clip for most folks, and probably faster than I would recommend for others. I used three different physical copies of the Bible (see below). This completes the third translation in which I have read Scripture in its entirety. 

Moreover, here are a few of my gleanings from this venture:

1. Regret. If I could live my life over, I would not have waited this long to throw myself into the King James. This should have been done long ago. For those who have never tried this, do it now. The AV is a treasure that has been passed down to us from many stalwart Christians and we owe ourselves the favor of reading the English-speaking world's only truly dominant translation.

2. Beauty. I was often struck by the sheer majesty of the text. Many complain about the ubiquitous "Thee's and Thou's." Get over it. It's not that hard. Reading the text with these ancient pronouns does seem to have a positive affect on the reader's awareness of the divine, especially as he reads the Psalms and prayers of Scripture. Calling God by a pronoun that is no longer in common use (such as Thou) does seem to me to have the affect of setting Him apart, in the same way as capitalizing "Him" or "His" does when I refer to God in writing.

3. Challenge. I started off reading the KJV like a ball shot out of a canon. Much of my 7 chapters per day average came in the beginning as a I read eagerly and voraciously. I did begin to struggle mightily in some of the places that you might expect: kings, name lists, sacrifices, and temple descriptions. I feel that I glossed over too quickly on quite a bit, in the minor prophets especially, that I should try again to recover sometime.

By the time I got to the latter stages of the OT, I literally couldn't wait to get to the New Testament.   I was frustrated that the King James Version made many passages obscure to me, and made them seem as if I had not read them before. Not in a "fresh" way, but in a disappointed-in-myself way. I should have slowed down and focused more on comprehension.

At the same time, I was so excited to meet Jesus again in the words of the KJV! So yeah, getting through the whole OT was a challenge.

4. Joy.  By the time that I finally got to the New Testament, I was again reinvigorated for the project. In fact, when I got to the NT, it slowly became less and less obvious that I was reading a translation that was "foreign" to my experience. It did not seem foreign to me at all anymore. I often completely forgot that I was even reading the KJV, as it all felt very comfortable, familiar, and enjoyable to me. The Gospel narratives were particularly familiar and the story line of redemption history carried me right to the cross.

As I finish out the KJV in the coming days with the prison epistles and writings of Peter and John, I can't help but thank God that He commended such a translation into the hands of the English speaking world. The KJV is timeless, beautiful, and accurate. If you would like to take this journey too, I urge you to begin on your own time and do so on your own pace.

Tangibles - A Good Bible. 

I think a good Bible is a necessity, and I have written on this topic before.

For this project, I actually acquired three new KJV's for usage. (I didn't even own a good copy before. *Blushing*). I kept these three Bibles in various places (office, home, travel) so that I always had one about me within arm's length. I can recommend a couple of good ones that are well made and durable.

  1. Local Church Bible Publishers makes some of the best leather, sewn AV's you can find. They are a KJVO company, so don't expect to get an ESV there! I ordered the Cowhide #355 and loved it. It was only $35. This is an incredible KJV for the price.
  2. Cambridge too makes many good editions. The should! They are the oldest continuous Bible publisher in the world. I used their Split Calf Concord reference model which was given to me free for the "price" of simply doing a review of their books. Being a blogger and product reviewer doesn't hurt!
  3. Finally, I kept a Trinitarian Bible Society Windsor in my office and read it at least twice a day during my office hours. That too was around $35 and paid for itself in devotional sweetness.

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

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Mom, I'm a good kid. Really!


A few weeks ago, I was teaching a lesson in our Children's Worship service on Matthew 6:19-21. This is the passage on "treasure," where Jesus urges his disciples to not set your heart on earthly treasure, but lay up "treasures in heaven, where nothing will destroy them and where theives do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

As we spoke about what our hearts desire most, the conversation shifted to how God desires to be our treasure, how he wants our attention and energy to be on him, and by loving a created thing more than the creator, we make that thing an "idol" and sin against God.

In that moment, 1 of my kindergarteners raised his hand and said 'Mr. Drew, I  have not committed 1 sin this entire week. I'm a good kid!'

In our heart of hearts, many of us think in very similar terms to that precious kindergartener. We either: 1. Shrink our own sin in an attempt to make ourselves more righteous than we really are... OR 2. We make ourselves low and think that we are nothing and that our lives are meaningless.

Let's consider what God says about both statements.

1. We shrink our own sin in an attempt to make ourselves more righteous than we really are.

In Matthew chapter 5, the chapter before Jesus talks about our what our hearts treasure, Jesus tells the disciples that "Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." The Pharisees were known for being the "most religious" people anywhere. These men were the religious leaders of the day, teaching God's law, studying God's law, making additional rules in order to make sure everyone kept God's law. These men, in comparison to every other human being including us, were better. These men would have to be viewed as most "like God," since they knew what God commanded better than anyone else and attempted to live out His commands better than anyone else.

However, in many different passages, Jesus denounces them for being "white-washed tombs," "a brood of vipers," and "not knowing the Father." If the men who we on Earth consider to be the best do not measure up to God, what makes us think that we possibly measure up to God? 1 Peter 1:16 says, "Be Holy, because I am Holy declares the Lord." We are not holy (aka perfect.) We don't measure up to God's standard, and we cannot make ourselves righteous (more right in God's view) by trying harder or comparing ourselves to others.

2. We make ourselves low and think that we are nothing and that our lives are meaningless.

Shame. Guilt. Unfair blame. Despair. Sadness. These words and others speak to how many of us feel, that we have done things or things have been done to us in which we are not worthy to even look other people in the eye, much less have our lives mean anything to God.

John chapter 4 sees Jesus in Sychar, a town in Samaria, which was a region that "religous people" would have surely stayed away from. In that place, Jesus encounters a woman whose name is not mentioned, who is at a well gathering water at noon. This woman is there in the heat of the day because she feels great shame, having been married and divorced 5 times and currently living with a man she is not married to. No one to love her, the woman lurks in the outskirts of society, feeling meaningless.

In her brokeness, Jesus tells her, "I am the Messiah, the one you can worship in spirit and truth." The woman leaves that place experiencing love, establishing a relationship with the only person who was without sin and who did not have to hide. Out of that love Jesus has for her, she goes and tells all the people in her town the good news of Jesus Christ and how he alone is worthy to be worshipped.

What is the answer?

To view ourselves as good and not need God, is to remain blind to the depths of our sinfulness. To consider ourselves without value, is to take away the huge victory that Jesus Christ accomplished on our behalf.

Ephesians 2:10, Paul writes, "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

The answer then is to live this life with purpose and passion, to do good works, and to love other people well because we have been made right with God through Jesus.

Yes little kindergartener, you are a good kid! But you're not a good kid through your own efforts at being good. You are a good kid when you know the great love that Jesus has for you. Now go, tell others where they can find the only one who was truly "good."

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Tempest in a Teapot

Isn't it interesting how the enemy persuades us to turn aside from the larger and more significant issues to those that are petty and of very little importance? It is rarely the majors that divide the church. They are seldom discussed at length and sometimes are reduced to the level of the inconsequential. But let some small error or omission take place, or let someone feel left out, or passed over, or not listened to, and the tempest rises and turbulence ensues.

See how this influences our behavior. We carefully tiptoe around the minors so that we can be sure that no one will be upset with us. For those of us who are Pastors, how quickly we allow the temptation of circumstance to distract us from the major task that is always before us, the feeding of the flock of God, and the guardianship of truth.

Have you ever, in your preparation, thought "I can't say that because ...?" It may be very clear what the text is saying and you have a firm grasp of its importance but if you preach it as you should, that certain someone will get upset. So we must find a way to soft-pedal the message so that no possible offense may be given. But don't we already understand that to begin defensively in any work of Christ, is to project failure from the start?

As Elders in the pursuit of duty must we always do a triple pass? The first pass is to determine the rightness or wrongness of a situation and to prepare for the execution of it. That might appear to be reasonably simple, until we make the second pass ... if we do what we have decided, and thus what we ought to do as God's court, the court of primary jurisdiction no less, a certain group or a person will not like it. That forces, in effect, a third pass in which compromise prevails, the teeth of the issue are extracted, and there is no gravitas in our deliberations. We began by asking the Holy Spirit to lead us to just and wise decisions but in the end expediency rules the day.

Why do we fear the tempest in a teacup. It is small and incidental. It is never mainstream. The church of the ages has not done battle over the minors nor have the martyrs laid down their lives for the trivial and inconsequential. So why is it that we find the minors so compelling? I believe it is that we are people of the now, people of the quick-fix, purveyors of niceness, men and women who believe that the peace of God is best found in the status quo. The label on the door says:"Do Not Disturb!"

Let us hear what the Lord said to Joshua: "Be strong and very courageous!" We can't take the battle to the enemy when we are ill-prepared. Prayer and study are still paramount to Christian effectiveness. Strength is found in the deliberate pursuit of truth. The Word of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, lifts us out of pettiness and leads us "into all truth," strengthening us "with might in the inner man." Then the courage to tell it forth or to act upon it must happen without hesitation. It doesn't matter what men may say, or how they may respond to faithful teaching or preaching. The compulsion of the majors is sufficient.

Wilfred A. Bellamy, Ph.D.

The Tyranny of Busyness

It was many years ago that I first became aware of the tyranny of busyness. I was a missionary sitting at lunch in Mission HQ in Jos, Nigeria. Several other missionaries were in the room. Before very long I noticed a theme had settled among us.  Everyone seemed to want everyone else to know just how busy they were and how they were engaged in a multitude of tasks.

This is not to criticize their ministry nor the value of their work. They were all faithful Christian servants. Many of them put me to shame by their zeal. But it was the focus of their lives that perturbed me. Their work was important to them but it was also a badge of honor which they felt compelled to display for all to see.

Some years later, in a Presbytery meeting, once again the tyranny of business reared its ugly head, as I listened attentively to a catalog of just how busy my fellow ministers at the table were. Everyone seemed compelled to make sure that their lives were so full of things, of duties, and activities, that there was little room for leisure, for family, or for spiritual devotion and development. Life had become a whirlwind and they were being swept off their feet, or so it seemed.

I remember how the tyranny of busyness has entrapped me at different periods of my life. Often I have found prayer and the study of the Word squeezed out as I have rushed from duty to duty, always believing that my “doing” was more important than my “being.”

It was when I came to grips with the truth that the Lord would have me “be still and know that I am God,” that I returned to reality. I was no use to Him if I could not dwell deeply in Him, if He was not my primary focus. I was consumed in serving Him, when He was calling me, gently, to be consumed with Him – to seek first His Kingdom, and allow Him to add all the other things to me in His own way and in His own time.

Pilkington of Uganda was an ineffective missionary in his early days. He worked like a slave, learning a difficult language, relating to a resistant people, tiring himself endlessly and endangering his health almost to the point at which he would need repatriation to Britain if he continued on. An older and wiser missionary suggested that he take a few days off, go to an island on Lake Victoria, live alone, and be shut in with God.

It was there that he finally understood that he served the living God. Before anything else was allowed to take first place, this truth must be paramount. There he entered into a transaction with God that never left him. He wrote in his diary “no longer I but Christ.” He returned to the mainland refreshed and resolved that Jesus would be the focus of his life, “the Author and Finisher of his faith.”

And so it was that Pilkington, whose biography reveals an amazing life of service, became probably the most effective individual missionary in Uganda in his day. The tyranny of busyness was set aside. He continued to work hard but he knew where his priorities lay. Best of all, he knew joy in the service of the King!

Wilfred A. Bellamy, Ph.D.,