Forgiving and Forgiveness Linked: A Lesson from the Diary of Ronald Reagan

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Reagan shot

On this date in 1981, President Ronald Reagan was shot by would-be assassin, John Hinckley. Several years ago when I read the then newly released The Reagan Diaries (HarperCollins, 2007)—the edited personal daily entries of President Reagan which he maintained during his eight year presidency—I remember being struck by Reagan’s entry for March 30, 1981.

Getting shot hurts. Still my fear was growing because no matter how hard I tried to breathe it seemed I was getting less & less air. I focused on that tiled ceiling and prayed. But I realized I couldn’t ask for Gods help while at the same time I felt hatred for the mixed up young man who had shot me. Isn’t that the meaning of the lost sheep? We are all God’s children & therefore equally beloved by him. I began to pray for his soul and that he would find his way back to the fold. (12)

In some sense President Reagan understood that his ability to pray for himself was linked to his forgiveness of others. This is a link which Jesus clearly makes in Matthew 6:14-15. “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (ESV)

These verses form an important postscript to Jesus’ teaching on prayer in verses 13 and 14 (the Lord’s Prayer). A postscript is the P. S. placed at the bottom of a letter which adds a note to the end of the letter after the signature. Sometimes these postscripts are trivial in our letters, but not this one. Jesus is adding an important word regarding the fifth petition in the Lord’s Prayer, the petition regarding forgiveness. Jesus had said that we should pray for forgiveness of our debts “as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Obviously there is some link between the forgiveness that we wish to experience and the forgiveness which we show to others. Jesus explains further in verses 14 and 15 (see above).

Frankly, Jesus’ explanation does not make the text any easier. In fact, it is now much harder. Jesus says that if we forgive others, we will be forgiven by our heavenly Father. But if we fail to forgive others, we will not be forgiven.

What does this mean? Well, it certainly means no less than to say that forgiving people areforgiven people and unforgiving people are unforgiven people. I believe that Jesus is saying that the one who has truly experienced forgiveness has experienced such a work of God’s grace in their own life that they will be a forgiving person. They will understand that they have been forgiven an infinite debt which they owed to a holy God, and therefore they will be willing to forgive the small debt in comparison which others owe them.

But those who will not forgive others give evidence that they have not truly experienced the forgiveness which God gives. They have never come to understand their sinfulness and need of grace, for if they had they would not be so reluctant to forgive the weaknesses of others.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Steve Weaver serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 4 and 15. You can read more from Steve at Thoughts of a Pastor-Historian. Follow Steve on Twitter or on Facebook.

Stop Doing “Devotions” and Start Studying Your Bible

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

For some, this may come as a shocker. I am actually going to tell you to stop “doing your devotions.”

I don’t mean quit praying. Or stop having quiet time. Or stop resting on the Lord’s Day. By all means, please carry on.

Studying the Bible is a lifetime course enrollment for the student of Scripture.

 

I am however suggesting that we move beyond the simplistic Christian literature that bombards our Christian bookstores, promising us intimacy with Jesus in just a few minutes a day. You know the kind of devotional that I mean, right? There is one single Bible verse at the top of the page (taken out of context), a quick two-paragraph story about a cute puppy lost and found. Next there’s an encouraging thought for the day, trite and airy: “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” (Gag me please). The devotion ends as quickly as it began, usually with two lines from a poem or a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“There. I met with God.” Well, maybe.

The problems with this method are obvious:

  1. The Scriptures quoted are necessarily taken out of context. These materials rarely show how these Bible “snippets” interact with the rest of the paragraph, chapter, or book from which they are drawn.
  2. These types of devotional books often veer toward the practical rather than the doctrinal. Unavoidably, though, the Bible is a highly doctrinal book. Application is great; but what exactly is it that we are applying?
  3. If these simple devotional tools become our mainstay, we will never move through entire chapters, and books of the Bible to encounter the whole council of God’s Word. We will get a much smaller “canon within the canon” of Biblical literature.
  4. Finally, the brief Biblical quotations utilized in popular devotionals almost never work through the perplexing, deep, agonizing, or mysterious passages of Scripture. How can they? Some doctrines like election, justification, the natures of Christ, or the wrath of God cannot possibly be summed up in just two paragraphs.

I would argue that instead of this type of simplistic encounter with God’s Word, we begin to move towards becoming a lifetime student of God’s Word. Being a student involves reading (obviously), taking notes, and making connections between larger ideas.

Here’s what I did.

First, I bought a wide margin Bible. One with plenty or room to take notes, jot down thoughts, prayers, or insights into the text. The version that I use does not have “study notes,” devotional clips, or practical application sections. That’s gonna be my job as an active student. I have other references works  and study Bibles for that if needed. My main Bible is just a large, double-column Cambridge reference edition with big cushy margins.

(At the bottom of this article, I will recommend a couple of good wide margin editions in a variety of price ranges).

Next, I divided the Bible into seven tabbed sections which I correspond to the times of the day: one in Genesis, another in the historical books, a third in the Psalms, a fourth in the Prophets, and three sections of the New Testament. I try to read the Bible for just ten minutes at a time (just one page per sitting!) for up to seven periods of the day. Add it up, and depending on my schedule I am in the Scriptures for anywhere between 30 to 70 minutes a day. For some people, an hour in the Bible per day is completely unreasonable. For others, it’s not as hard as you might think. As a pastor of a 400-member church, working on my doctorate, with three children at home I will tell you: if I can do it, so can you.

Here you can see the seven tabbed sections. This one is marked “morning #2.” It’s my second cup of coffee chapter!

 

Depending on the time of the day, I read from one of my designated portions of the Bible. For example, at 6:45 am, I read Genesis. I spend some time with my kids, and pray with the family and send them all off to school in the carpool. Then I read my next section. My lunch break reading is usually my fourth reading of the day from the prophets. In the evening I read through the Gospels and the epistles etc. If I miss a section, no problem. It’s all about grace, baby.

But here comes the study part (read: the fun part).

As I read, I studiously underline, and jot notes in the margins. Some of my thoughts are of a devotional nature; things to pray about for instance. Many of my jottings are doctrinal. I love to observe themes related to the covenants and the Trinity for instance. I got into the habit a while back of drawing a tulip next to any references to the so called “five points of Calvinism.” Over time, I developed other little symbols and cues to alert me to doctrinal themes that keep popping up. I invented my own footnotes system to continue a thought on the bottom margin if necessary. Of course, I also make my own cross-references to other places in Scripture that speak on the same themes in addition to the ones that are provided for me in my Bible already.

Here, my wide margin collects thoughts and insights into the Lord’s Prayer.

 

I collect quotations, sermon illustrations, and record notes from commentaries or quips from men like Spurgeon, Calvin, or Luther as I encounter them. If I’m reading a good book that refers to Scripture frequently (as all good books do!) I may note the author, title, and page number. As a pastor, I also jot down a brief outline of my sermons in the margins as well, so I can preach extemporaneously and walk away from my manuscript in the pulpit. If you are not a pastor, take your Bible to church with you anyways and jot down the outline of your pastor’s sermon. Imagine how much you would gain from being an active listener and employing this process over weeks and years instead of just using the pew Bible or reading the big screen or your ipad. Making notes improves recollection and comprehension.

This is an example of a simple sermon outline from the parable of the lost sheep. My sermon that Lord’s Day had three easy points: 1) Christ is Gracious 2) Christ is Persistent and 3) Christ is Joyous.

 

Here’s the point: Over a lifetime, I am creating my own study Bible.

Think about that: your own study Bible made up of a lifetime of observations about God’s Word as you move through the Scriptures over and over again.

If you are interested in going deeper into God’s Word and using a wide margin edition, consider one of the following editions.

Happy studying!

Here is an example of a devotional thought: “The ultimate question: Who is Jesus” Also, an example of a symbol from the system of visual cues I created. This one alerts me to one of the doctrines of grace, namely effectual calling.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brookville, Florida. He is a graduate of Malone University (BA, Bible and Theology); Ashland Theological Seminary (MA, Practical Theology), and a doctoral student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. His is the author of several books including Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647.

Huckabee: clergy/laity dichotomy is unfortunate and unbiblical

Huckabee vocatio horizontalfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Before Mike Huckabee served as the Governor of Arkansas, he served as the pastor of Baptist churches in the state. And, from 1989-1991 he served as the President of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention–a position which a pastor undertakes for a year or two, alongside the work of their local church ministry.

As President, Huckabee wrote a column in the Convention’s statewide newspaper. Near the end of his two years of service as President, Huckabee wrote a column wherein he talks about the false dichotomy between clergy/laity that exists–at least within Baptist churches.

Here’s an excerpt:

Pastors get a lot of credit for a church’s seeming success when it is on the grow. (They also tend to get the blame when the church is on the skids!) As important as the leadership of the pastor is, we in the Baptist life often overlook the strategic role of the layman.

…The dichotomy of clergy/laity that we have developed is not only unfortunate, it’s not biblical! Some pastors feel that a call to preach an infallible Bible is a confirmation of an infallible life. And some laypersons feel that only the “preacher” is capable of making a hospital visit, witness to a lost man, or even lead in prayer at a church banquet! God has called each of us to different roles within the church but not to a different Gospel or standards of behavior.

…The most important issue is not whether we are employed full-time by the church, but whether we are confident that we are where we are by divine destiny.”

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Scott Lamb serves as the President of Reformation Press and the Executive Director of the Presbyterian Lay Committee in Nashville, Tennessee. Scott and his wife Pearl are the parents of six children. He is a Baptist pastor who has shepherded churches in Alabama, Missouri, and Kentucky, and the author of Pujols: More than the Game (2011, Thomas Nelson), Whatever the Cost: Facing Your Fears, Dying to Your Dreams, and Living Powerfully (2015, Thomas Nelson), and Mike Huckabee: The Authorized Biography (fall 2015, Thomas Nelson)

What to expect out of Justice Harry Blackmun

Blackmunfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

I read today an archived May 13, 1970 newspaper article, reporting on Judge Harry A. Blackmun’s 94-0 confirmation by the U.S. Senate: “Blackmun Likely Bends U.S. Court a Little More to the Right.”

You read that correctly–Blackmun was going to bend the Court to the right.

The article said that Nixon and Chief Justice Warren Burger wanted to find a justice who would “slow down the court’s drive for social reform.” Burger said stated, “the law is not geared for giant leaps forward” and that the high court is “hardly the body to be entrusted with the destinies of a free people. …Judges should not confuse their jobs with those of legislators.”

During his confirmation, Blackmun assured the senators he would try to keep his personal ideas and philosophies out of his decisions.”

The story closed with this bit of prophecy: “Unless Blackmun changes radically, however, this adds up, over-all, to a hesitant, but decided conservatism.”

Less than 1,000 days later, Blackmun wrote the majority opinion in Roe. v. Wade. He would go on to become one of the most liberal and activist judges on the bench—and intensified his support for abortion rights with every decision he made throughout his twenty-four years on the Court.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Scott Lamb serves as the President of Reformation Press and the Executive Director of the Presbyterian Lay Committee in Nashville, Tennessee. Scott and his wife Pearl are the parents of six children. He is a Baptist pastor who has shepherded churches in Alabama, Missouri, and Kentucky, and the author of Pujols: More than the Game (2011, Thomas Nelson), Whatever the Cost: Facing Your Fears, Dying to Your Dreams, and Living Powerfully (2015, Thomas Nelson), and Mike Huckabee: The Authorized Biography (fall 2015, Thomas Nelson)

Saved by beauty

Augustine Confessionsfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

“Come O Lord, and stir our hearts. Call us back to yourself. Kindle your fire in us and carry us away. Let us scent your fragrance and taste your sweetness. Let us love you and hasten to your side.” – St. Augustine, Confessions

As a young man, Augustine had believed that his problem was intellectual. If he could only find ultimate truth, his behavior would adjust to match it overnight. But as Augustine returned to the Christian faith in which he was raised, he discovered that he was like a man who has worked late nights for years to get hired for his dream job, only to find that he can’t kick his “recreational” coke habit long enough to pass the drug test.

Augustine found that he could live without Christ but not without his mistress; he knew this, deplored it, and yet could not change. The prayer quoted above is thus not a piece of superfluous piety, but the cry of a man begging for salvation. God must reveal himself in Christ as more desirable than “all the vain things that charm us most,” or we will continue to doff our hats respectfully to him and even argue for his existence, all the while clinging to the sin that rots us away.

MiltonA believer botches up a presentation at work, and an aggressively competent colleague sharpens the humiliation with a well-crafted insult afterward. It’s a little after one o’clock, he forgot to bring lunch and he has nothing to look forward to that afternoon except a particularly monotonous round of proofreading technical documents. Abstract moral exhortations are not going to save him from succumbing to despair or from comforting himself by fantasies of verbal ripostes that would reduce his coworker to a quivering mass of self-loathing.

What might save him is beauty. Or, specifically, what could save him is the longing for communion with the Beautiful One unobstructed by bitterness (or greed or lust). He is certainly not going to experience mystical rapture in his cubicle peering at spreadsheets. He is not going to be happy, exactly. But if his desire for the presence of Christ cuts deeper than all the other impulses crowding his consciousness, then even that afternoon he will progress towards conformity to the image of Christ, and, therefore, perfect joy.

We cannot love God supremely by an act of sheer willpower–this is pretty close to the thesis of Confessions. In his prayer, Augustine recognizes that God is the pursuer and we are the pursued. We are not, however, thoroughly passive in nurturing communion with God. And to that end, in addition to the traditional spiritual disciplines (which are vital), let’s deepen our capacity to appreciate beauty. You don’t have to be skilled in the arts–I certainly am not–but consistent attention to beauty grows affection for the One who is the source of all beautiful things. Listen to Tchaikovsky or Coltrane; try to grow flowers; get a reasonably priced telescope and go outside on warm, clear nights. Think of the One who called these things into existence. He is the One calling you away from your various lusts and resentments, into the joy of knowing him as he truly is.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

I'm an aspiring Baptist preacher with a deep affinity for Hebrew and a thoroughgoing inability to navigate. I believe in the power of the Holy Spirit to transform individuals and communities, and I seek to help people see the beauty of living in life in vibrant fellowship with Christ.

Jesus Loves Me, This I Feel: Why Do I Need Theology When I Can Follow My Heart?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A while back, I attempted a social media experiment.

I posted a simple question: If you saw two groups of theologians playing dodge-ball, which team would you rather be on, and why?

I listed the “RED TEAM” as consisting of men like Saint Augustine, John Calvin, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, John Owen, and living team captain R.C. Sproul. I listed the “BLUE TEAM” as consisting of men like: John Bunyan, William Carey, Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham, Jim Elliot,  and living captain John Piper.

Well as you can imagine, the post lit up quickly.

Some were passionate about their selections. Others seemed torn and genuinely liked men on both sides. Some correctly noted that the Red Team consisted of men who believed in paedobaptism, while the blue team was composed of credobaptists. Not too hard really. Some suggested different inclinations in the groupings, whether based on ecclesiology, missiology, or eschatology.

Actually, it was a really fun and interesting post for a while as people grabbed their jerseys and snatched up a red playground ball.

Then the “Jesus Jukes” came. First one, then another. If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s when someone gets especially holy and takes down the entire conversation by making everyone feel bad for even being a part of it in the first place.

First, came the implication that I was unfairly dividing the Body of Christ. How dare I try to rend a schism in the Church Invisible. Was I actually attempting to sort out sheep and goats myself? Was I on a heretical witch hunt, toting torch and pitchfork?

Finally, the real problem was identified: “theology.” (Sadly, I had to take the post down. It got too negative).

Question: Why do I need theology, when my feelings will do just fine? 

Or to put it another way, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Isn’t that a sufficient enough doctrinal statement for anyone and everyone? Really, do confessions of faith and doctrinal delimitations need to be any more sophisticated than that?

Actually they do. Here’s why.

1. First, theology is inevitable. “Jesus loves me” is a truth claim. But suppose I go further and ask, “How do I know that Jesus loves me, and where does the Bible tell me so?” Well, now we are doing theology.

Theology is nothing more than an attempt on our part to “love the Lord with all of our…mind” as Jesus told us to do in Matthew 22:37. Our beliefs about God, Jesus, mankind, and redemption, must be in accord with sound teaching, and sound teaching is comprised of right assertions drawn from and about the Scriptures.

So, the question is not, “shall we do theology?” The question is rather “shall we do GOOD theology rather than bad?”

2. Theology is necessary in worship. The Bible says we must worship in Spirit and truth (John 4:23). When we downgrade theology as optional – or even worse – make it appear irrelevant unless we can find “five simple steps of application” we are inadvertently attacking our very means of knowing God and making Him known. We are undercutting worship itself.

How else can God be worshiped but by the making and affirming truth statements about Him from His word? Worship is at it’s most basic element the affirming and celebrating truths about God’s nature and works. Consider for instance the worship songs that we will sing together one day in Revelation 4 and 5. They are unabashedly doctrinal in nature.

If you don’t like theology, you will be bored in Heaven.

3. Third, doctrine is necessary to draw lines between heretics and true believers. Okay, here is the ugly part, and I know this will make some angry. But this is exactly what Paul does in the book of Galatians. He says, “Here’s the line on justification: which side are you on?”

By the way, Jesus also attacks the theology of Pharisees as well. Yes, Jesus was a theologian too. We also need to draw lines and determine what is correct thinking and believing about God and what is not. Thankfully, most of the hard work has been done for us in our historic Creeds and Confessions.

4. Finally, my feelings are notorious liars. I cannot trust feelings alone. I cannot leave what I believe about God alone in the realm of the subjective. What happens if I don’t feel like Jesus loves me? What happens if I don’t feel like praising today? What happens if my pride tells me I am too good, too smart, too spiritual for all this? Well, if all I have left is my feelings, I am going to be an empty man indeed. I need more than that. I need doctrine. I need truth.

And so I love theology. And I won’t settle for just “following my heart.”

(And in case you wanted to know: I’ll take a red jersey for the scrimmage please!)

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brookville, Florida. He is a graduate of Malone University (BA, Bible and Theology); Ashland Theological Seminary (MA, Practical Theology), and a doctoral student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. His is the author of several books including Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647.

Further reflections on the martyrdom of Coptic Christians

Still image from video shows men purported to be Egyptian Christians held captive by the Islamic State kneeling in front of armed men along a beach said to be near Tripolifacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Much of what I have read of the twenty-one Coptic Christians murdered by ISIS has been largely focused on the testimony of several of these men who, in the final moments of their earthly lives, cried out in faith to their Lord Jesus Christ. A brother of two of those killed actually thanked the terrorist organization for leaving their last words in the video, which has served to strengthen the faith of many Egyptian believers. “Since the Roman era, Christians have been martyred and have learned to handle everything that comes our way,” he said. “This only makes us stronger in our faith because the Bible told us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us.”

The Arabic “N” for Nazarene became something of a social media icon of solidarity with the persecuted Church. Likewise “21” has emerged as the newest persecution avatar used to honor these fallen brethren. Similar to the martyrs of the early church, their martyrdom is bringing a sense of strength among persecuted Christians worldwide. We praise God for their testimony and for His faithfulness.

But I wonder about Christians who are living in other parts of the world where persecution is not as palpable, or at least not as bloody? Without taking anything away from the sacrificial witness of these Egyptian believers – and countless others like them – how can we Western Christians show true solidarity beyond the simple uploading of a Twitter avatar? Is there a sense in which our testimonies are simply not as organic, because we have never suffered in this way?

While these men are being lauded for their sacrifice, there is a part of their life story – the part that led them to leave their families and travel to Lebanon to begin with – that has drawn little attention beyond a passing reference and yet, I believe, is something we can all identify with. It is the reality that these men were modest Christians who were seeking to be faithful in what God had given them. In this case they were simply looking for work to support their families. Unassuming enough to be overlooked as relatively unimportant in the larger scheme of Christian work.

I remember when I was 13 years old my dad had to leave home to find work. He would be gone all week long and come home on the weekends. This went on for some time till a steady job was found and he secured a place for us to live. While we missed him, we knew why he was doing it.

I bring that up because my dad, besides having strong faith the Lord Jesus Christ, worked hard to take care of us. He humbly served the church as a layman and served King Jesus by caring for his family. That was his calling, and he was faithful to it. While he never faced persecution he faced cancer with a resolve that God does all things well (Mark 7:37). Last October he went home to be with the Lord. He was faithful till his time came, as our good God foreordained.

These twenty-one men were like that. It seems to me that they were ordinary Christians who loved Jesus and their families. They left because they had to find work and care for the ones they loved. They went to Lebanon aware of the dangers; yet they were probably equally aware of the fact that they needed to be faithful to the life they had been called – not as missionaries, pastors or priests – but as husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons.

We are to be faithful in what God has called us to do (1 Cor. 4:2). God has called us to be faithful even unto death (Rev. 2:10). Whether we are looking for work in a war-torn country, or operating a bakery, flower shop or photography business in the United States, we are first and foremost children of God and followers of Christ. And if, in pursuit of the vocation God has called us to, we find ourselves faced with a with the threat of death, imprisonment, fines, or any other form or persecution or oppression, we should pray that we be found faithful at that time. While the twenty-one died as martyrs, we are all called to live as martyrs.

The word martyr comes from a Greek word meaning “witness.” It is used in Acts 1:8 to describe the mission of the Church: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses (emphasis mine) in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” While it eventually became associated with those who bore the ultimate witness to Christ with their lives (see Rev. 6:9), in its most basic understanding it means to be a witness. Our twenty-one brothers were martyrs before they were martyred. They were living the life of one who is a follower of Jesus Christ before they died for being a follower of Jesus Christ.

Those of us who live in the West, particularly in the United States, may never face a knife-wielding terrorist or a barrel of a gun demanding we recant our faith. But the likelihood is great that each of us, especially those who labor in the public workplace, will be called on to give an answer to where we stand on issues such as gay marriage, the homosexual lifestyle, and transgender issues. We will have co-workers or bosses who will expect us not just to tolerate these things, but celebrate them as well, lest we be considered a bigot or a hate-filled extremist.

It may be that in the course of your vocation, your belief in the Word of God and your commitment to follow the Lord Jesus Christ will cost you. It may not cost you your life, but it may cost you your career. You may not lose your head, but you may lose your business. You may still be alive, but dead to friends and family members.

It is difficult for us to relate to those twenty-one brothers whose blood was mixed with the salt from Mediterranean Sea. It is hard for us to understand what brothers and sisters incarcerated in Iran, China, North Korea and other countries hostile to the Lamb of God and His bride truly endure. But we should not think that the severity of their sacrifices lessen the authenticity of our own. We celebrate their faith, just like we celebrate the faith of bakery and flower shop owners, who refuse to violate their faith in Christ in order to escape the threat of punishment. What unites every Christian is that we are called to live the martyr’s life whether or not we die a martyr’s death.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Brian serves as Associate Pastor at Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. He is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity in Christian Ministry from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He and his wife, Melinda, are the parents of four sons, ages 4 to 15.

Why Inerrancy Matters

Francis Schaefferfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

On May 15, 1984, the theologian Francis Schaeffer died. His widow and partner in ministry, Edith, would later write about the comfort that she received in those lonely moments. Her confidence rested in the inerrant Bible that her husband had defended throughout his ministry.

It was 4 A.M. precisely that a soft last breath was taken…and he was absent. That absence was so sharp and precise! Absent. Now I only observed the absence. I can vouch for the absence being precisely at 4 A.M. As for his presence with the Lord, I had to turn to my Bible to know that. I only know that a person is present with the Lord because the Bible tells us so. I did not have a mystical experience. I want to tell you hear and now that the inerrant Bible became more important to me than ever before. I want to tell you very seriously and solemnly—the Bible is more precious than ever to me. My husband fought for truth and fought for the truth of the inspiration of the Bible—the inerrancy of the Bible—all the 52 years that I knew him. But never have I been more impressed with the wonder of having a trustworthy message from God, an unshakable word from God than right then! I did not have to have, nor pretend to have, some mystical experience to prove that Fran had left to go somewhere, that he had gone to the prepared place for him, and that he was indeed OK. I could know that by turning to my precious Bible, and to his precious Bible (and we each have had several), and read again that absent from the body is present with the Lord—and that it is far better. It is far better for the one who is thus present, but not for those left behind. God knows all about the pain of separation and is preparing that separation will be over forever one future day. I also know that because the Bible tells me so. I feel very sorry for the people who have to be “hoping without any assurance”…because they don’t know what portion of the Bible is myth and what portion might possibly be trusted. (1)

This is what is at stake when we talk about the inerrancy of Scripture. The inerrant Word of God is the Christian’s only sure basis for hope. Based on Scripture’s truthfulness and authority, we can have hope—confident assurance in a future reality—that our bodies will be redeemed, the curse on this earth will be removed, Christ will establish His eternal kingdom on a new earth where sin and its effects are finally removed!


(1) Edith Schaeffer, Dear Family: The L’Abri Family Letters, 1961-1986 (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 388-389.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Steve Weaver serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 4 and 15. You can read more from Steve at Thoughts of a Pastor-Historian. Follow Steve on Twitter or on Facebook.

Jesus, the center of all truth

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Lloyd Jones

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Scott Lamb serves as the President of Reformation Press and the Executive Director of the Presbyterian Lay Committee in Nashville, Tennessee. Scott and his wife Pearl are the parents of six children. He is a Baptist pastor who has shepherded churches in Alabama, Missouri, and Kentucky, and the author of Pujols: More than the Game (2011, Thomas Nelson), Whatever the Cost: Facing Your Fears, Dying to Your Dreams, and Living Powerfully (2015, Thomas Nelson), and Mike Huckabee: The Authorized Biography (fall 2015, Thomas Nelson)

Broken (part 3): Blind Faith?

penguin jumpingfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Editor’s Note: This is the 2nd of a 3 part series. Find the first post HERE and the second post HERE. Clay is working on a book which integrates his deep love of theology (study of God) with his medical doctor’s reservoir of knowledge about science and the created world. 

 

Blind Faith?
Believing that God is good when we look around at the world is no easy feat.  Currently the threat of a radical Islamic jihadist group that slowly cuts off the heads of infidels is looming over the Middle East.  Ebola is killing thousands in West Africa.  Each time I go to work, I see people in terrible pain from diseases they acquired through no fault of their own.  I also see children deformed and severely handicapped.  Some have congenital heart disease, resulting in the need for multiple painful heart surgeries.  I think of a precious 13-year-old girl I know with osteosarcoma who has reached the end of her treatment options who always greets me with a smile.  I see patients who are the victims of drunk driving accidents or the victims of sexual violence.  Their lives are forever changed and scarred.  Many asked, “Where is God?” on September 11, 2001.  But most don’t consider the parade of carnage that rolls through the average emergency department every single day.  Where is God?  How could a good God allow this?  Why doesn’t he stop it?  Many conclude that either God is not good, not powerful, or doesn’t exist when they stare in the face of pain and suffering.  This series of posts would not be complete if it simply extolled the greatness of God as Creator, although he is worthy to be praised as such.  We must look at the world unflinchingly, as it is, and reckon with what we see.  This place is a wreck, and its inhabitants are weak and broken.

Something to Hold On To
We need some biblical truth to hold onto when we think about this.  But believing what is true about God in the face of apparent evidence to the contrary is not easy.  In fact, it is not possible but by faith.  But this is not a blind faith in a God who may actually turn out to be sinister in the end.  The God in whom we believe has gone out of his way to show us he cares, which will be the focus of the next chapter.  With that preamble, here are truths about God that are firmly fixed pegs we can hold on to in the face of tragedy, disease, and suffering.

  • God is good.
  • God made things good.
  • God does not sin.
  • God does not make people sin.
  • God’s actions are always right.
  • God cares about us.
  • God cares about his own glory.
  • Because God cares about us, he wants us to have what is best; what is best is God himself.
  • God spares no expense to give us himself.
  • God created the universe and orchestrates all human events (bad and good, from our perspective) to maximize his glory.
  • Our highest goal is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

We will look at each point and a representative passage that undergirds it.

God is good.  “You are good and do good…” (Psalm 119:68a).  Sometimes this simple point is easy to forget and hard to hold on to.  God is good.

God made things good.  “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:31)  God’s creation of the universe and mankind was very good.

God does not sin.  “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)  “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” (James 1:13)

God does not make people sin.  “See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” (Ecclesiastes 7:29).

God’s actions are always right.  “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.” (Psalm 145:17)

God cares about us.  “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

God cares about his own glory.  “I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols.” (Isaiah 42:8)

Because God cares about us, he wants us to have what is best; what is best is God himself.  “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

God spares no expense to give us himself.  “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31–32)

God created the universe and orchestrates all human events (bad and good, from our perspective) to maximize his glory.  “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

Our highest goal is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.              “All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name. For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.” (Psalm 86:9-10) “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:4–7)  We exist, not for ourselves, but for God’s glory.  And we were made to find our greatest happiness in enjoying God.

In a future series, will can discuss how God did not abandon us to muddle through the pain and suffering alone.  He is not detached.  Not only does he care from afar, he cares enough to join us in our pain, our sorrow, our disease, and our suffering.  God loved you enough to personally show up to help.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Dr. Smith did his undergraduate training at Union University in Jackson, TN, where he met his incredible wife Joy. He went to the University of Tennessee in Memphis for medical school training, and there became a connoisseur of fine sweet teas. He then completed the Internal Medicine-Pediatrics combined residency followed by an Emergency Medicine residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Outside the hospital he enjoys spending time with his wife and seven children and taking them boating, water skiing, and backpacking. He also enjoys reading about the Reformation, reading the Puritans, and being actively involved with his church.

Our Historical Anomaly: Is the 300+ Year Bubble of Christian Safety and Security in North America about to Pop?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Bubbles are beautiful.

They seem to defy gravity, are resplendent in light, and entertain children endlessly. The only problem is…eventually they pop.

As Christians, we have enjoyed a 300+ year historical anomaly; for most believers around the world and throughout history, being a Christian has been a very dangerous proposition. In this unusually sober message from Luke 21, I consider whether our “bubble” of security and persecution-free living as American Christians is about to pop.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brookville, Florida. He is a graduate of Malone University (BA, Bible and Theology); Ashland Theological Seminary (MA, Practical Theology), and a doctoral student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. His is the author of several books including Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647.

Presbyterians and the evolving definition of marriage

ERLC Carmenfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Note: the following is an excerpt of an article I wrote for our friends at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. The entire article can be found here, along with many helpful resources on a wide range of issues Christians are facing today.


The headlines since March 17 have been crystal clear: Presbyterians approve same-sex marriage. By a majority vote of its presbyteries (regional bodies), the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) ratified an amendment to its constitution sent down last summer by its General Assembly that allows ministers to perform and churches to be used for same-sex weddings. In immediate response, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) affirmed its support for traditional marriage in hopes of avoiding the kind of confusion that often results when people hear the word “Presbyterian.”

Which Presbyterians did what?

The Presbyterian Church USA, based in Louisville, Ky., considers itself the “true” church when it comes to Presbyterians. They see all other Presbyterians as imposters and wannabes. If it sounds arrogant, it is. It is the PCUSA that boasts seminaries in Princeton, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Atlanta (Columbia), Louisville, San Francisco, Austin and Dubuque. Candidates who attend seminaries like Reformed (RTS) are often barred from ordination in the PCUSA until they do at least a year at an “official” seminary.

It is the PCUSA that boasts a multi-billion dollar endowment, the income from which funds much of its social witness agenda at the United Nations, in Washington DC and at the World and National Council of Churches. It is the PCUSA that is often in the news for its left-leading political advocacy. It is the PCUSA that considers the ordination of women an essential, allows for the ordination of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people, and now allows for same-sex marriages by its pastors and in its churches.

Parsing out the Presbyterians from one another is a little bit like parsing out Baptists. There are no longer “Southern” Presbyterians (although some remember the PCUS) but in addition to the PCUSA there are the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), Reformed Presbyterians (RP), Associate Reformed Presbyterians (ARP), Cumberland Presbyterians. The list goes on and on. Each follows a Presbyterian (elder based) form of government, and each claims to follow Reformed theology. But that’s where the dividing lines are drawn.

The vast majority of Presbyterian denominations worldwide use The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) as their primary confessional document. The WCF helps define the doctrine of “Reformed” theology.

The PCUSA, however, has a catalogue called The Book of Confessions—eleven different confessional documents that will be supplemented this year by a twelfth, Belhar. With so many confessions it’s hard to know what to believe, which is precisely the point. When the PCUSA adopted a catalogue of confessions, it did away with a mutually agreed upon list of essential tenets of the Reformed faith. So, whatever an individual embraces as essential is essential for them. That is the standard of theology for ordination in the PCUSA.

“Reformed and always being reformed, according to the Word of God” has morphed into “reformed and always reforming.” Reformed theology as an identifiable corpus of doctrine becomes a self-determined evolution of thought and practice that is subject to every wind of doctrine, people’s trickery and their deceitful scheming.

Always reforming

Reformation of thought and deed according to the Word of God has yielded to a spirit of reforming the church to conformity with the felt needs and desires of people. A perverted theology of “justice” and “love” literally out-voted the call to holiness, righteousness, submission and obedience to the revealed will of God.

The passage of the amendment also creates a clear conflict between the way marriage is consistently defined throughout the Confessions (“one man and one woman”) and the other part of the denomination’s constitution called The Book of Order (“two people”). The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, Gradye Parsons, has noted the tension and said that “the tension will exist until it doesn’t.” People in the PCUSA are just going to have to learn to live with the shades of grey now present in their constitution.

So what?

The decision to repudiate the Word of God will have percussive effects for the PCUSA.

Click HERE to read the entire article at ERLC.com.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Celebrated as a trusted voice in many of America’s Christian leadership circles, Carmen Fowler LaBerge speaks with authority on issues related to the intersection of culture and the Biblical worldview. Carmen is now in her sixth year as President of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and Executive Editor of its digital publications. She is viewed as a trusted leader across a range of Presbyterian and historic mainline denominations.

Carmen chairs the Common Ground Christian Network and is a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals.

In 2011, Carmen married Jim LaBerge. They reside just outside of Nashville in Kingston Springs, Tennessee where they seek to live simply and sustainably.

Scripture Verses that the PC(USA) Bible Apparently Lacks

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

With the recent announcement that the PC(USA) has voted to redefine the institution of marriage, many people are asking a whole lot of questions. One good one is simply, “Gosh, do they have the authority to do this?” The obvious answer is, no. No they don’t. God defined and ordained the institution of marriage in Genesis 2:18-25, and human beings might as well attempt “redefine” gravity as ‘the mutual attraction between any two or more adult, consenting objects with mass’ for all I care.

Another good question people are asking is “Do these guys even read the same Bible as the rest of us, or have they cut out a few key verses.”

One wonders.

Cutting Book

Sure, it is true that the PC(USA) has the first part of of John 3:16, “For God so loves the world.” They fancy their progressive views as the most loving around. But do they have the rest of that verse in their Bible; do they understand that the phrase “that He gave His only begotten son” implies Jesus’s bloody, atoning death and the sacrifice necessary to atone for the sins of His people? Do they understand that the phrase “shall not perish” is a warning of the fires of judgment to come?

Sure the PC(USA) Bible contains “judge not” in Matthew 7:1 in their thinner, sleeker volumes: but do they have the rest of the context of the Sermon on the Mount in the same book where Jesus emphatically reaffirms and underscores the Old Testament law’s view of gender, marriage, and sexuality (see Matthew 5:27-32), even going so far as to say that “not an iota, not a dot” of the Law can be erased by man’s volition and will?

One of the more common assaults against the conservative “one man, one woman” definition of marriage is to make the Biblical position affirmed in our Scriptures to appear outlandish, strange, and untenable to modern minds. The strategy to make the traditional view of marriage seem obsolete runs as follows (with some slight variations): Yes, the Bible technically forbids the practice of homosexuality in Leviticus 18:22, but it also forbids eating shellfish (Leviticus 11:9-11), and commends the stoning of blasphemers (Leviticus 24:16). Since the latter two are ridiculous, so is the former. This argument might appear credible, if it weren’t such terrible exegesis of the book of Leviticus.

It is ironic that those arguing such a progressive position would choose these three elements of Levitical law as examples of their “ridiculous by association,” argument. As you will see, these given examples perfectly illustrate the three distinct strands of laws given by God in the Old Testament.

A redemptive-historical approach to Biblical interpretation demands that we interpret passages of the Bible with their historical context–as regards God’s saving acts of redemption–in full view. During the giving of the Mosaic Law at the covenant of Sinai, God imposed three braided strands of laws upon Israel: (1) First, God imposed moral laws that are binding and timeless. These relate to holiness, ethical purity, and the natural law written on the hearts of men. Absolute in their application, violations of moral law are always sinful. (2) Second, God imposed ceremonial laws given to distinguish national Israel (the people of the covenant) from their unsanctified neighbors. These dietary and cultural restrictions, along with tabernacle/temple sacrificial regulations, were intended to make clear the distinction between God’s people and the surrounding pagan nations. (3) Third, God mandated civil laws imposed upon Israel as a nation-state, much the same as we have federal law here in the U.S. today. These laws pertained to the application and enforcement of the Sinaitic code, under the jurisdiction of Israel as a national government.  As long as national Israel existed by standing in the Sinai covenant with God, all three types of laws (moral, ceremonial, and civil) governed the hearts and lives of the people.

Nevertheless, the Mosaic/Sinai covenant was a conditional covenant, contingent on national Israel’s fidelity with Jehovah God as Lord (Deut. 28). Two major historical events radically changed the standing of Israel forever. First, the nation of Israel abdicated its role as the divine representative to the pagan nations by her overt and incessant covenant infidelity. This persistent covenant infidelity ultimately resulted in the Northern Kingdom being destroyed by the Assyrian in 722BC and the Southern Kingdom being sent into exile in Babylon, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586BC. This is the dire message of Isaiah, Jeremiah and most of the OT the prophets. Israel, as a nation-state, ordained by God as a chosen people, ceased to exist. The civil law was neither possible nor necessary to enforce (see WCF 19.4).

The other major event is of course the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, the pinnacle event of all of redemption history. By dying a sacrificial death for the sin of His people, Christ fulfilled the ceremonial laws in a way that National Israel never could. His perfect obedience and complete fidelity to God fulfilled and abrogated the ceremonial law. Because of His atoning death, no sacrifice and tabernacle/temple offerings are any longer required. We no longer need to offer bulls, goats, or sheep. This is the whole point of the book of Hebrews (see also WCF 19.3). Moreover, Christ fulfilled and abrogated all civil and ceremonial laws initiating a new Kingdom that transcends national Israel in every way.

At this point, I hope interpreting Leviticus on the other side of the cross and empty tomb is becoming easier. Laws prohibiting shellfish (ceremonial law) and mandating the stoning blasphemers (civil law) seem outmoded and ancient because they are. Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ is raised again. We live on the near side of the cross.

The moral law (summarized by the Ten Commandments), however, is the timeless law of God revealed in the Sinai covenant for which mankind is still responsible. These are the inviolable moral laws written indelibly on the consciences of all mankind (Romans 2:15), and the standards by which human kind will all be judged. Murder, lying, idolatry and theft will always be sinful no matter where or when they are committed. As homosexuality is a gross violation of the creation order in general (Genesis 2:18-24), and the seventh commandment in particular (Exodus 20:14; Deuteronomy 5:18), the fact that this practice transgresses God’s standards of purity is beyond dispute. This is why the New Testament agrees with and reinforces the Old Testament’s prohibitions of this practice (Romans 1:26-27; Colossians 3:5; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10).

Simply stated, the “homosexuality and shellfish” argument falls apart entirely when read as the Scriptures are meant to be read—with a redemptive-historical approach in view.

(Portions of this article were previously published as “The Bible, Homosexuality, and Shellfish” by the Aquila Report, June 8, 2012).

-Matthew Everhard

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brookville, Florida. He is a graduate of Malone University (BA, Bible and Theology); Ashland Theological Seminary (MA, Practical Theology), and a doctoral student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. His is the author of several books including Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647.

Broken (part 2)

decaying car in beautiful surroundingsfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

This is the 2nd of a 3 part series. Find the first post HERE.

Groaning
So far we have looked at the marvels of the human body, how ingeniously designed it is.  But in the back of our mind, we know the body breaks down.  Blood clots when it’s not supposed to and sometimes doesn’t clot when it should.  DNA mutates, and the next generation bears the scars.  Brains become demented, have strokes, hemorrhages, tumors, and degenerative diseases that cause a slow, relentless decline to death.  Eyes lose vision; retinas detach; corneas cloud.  Lungs fill with fluid causing people to cough, struggle, and suffocate.  Hearts fail, weaken, infarct, and stop beating.  Intestines develop tumors, become obstructed, inflamed, and cause life-degrading nausea, diarrhea, and pain.  Kidneys fail, and patients spend half a day, three days a week in dialysis, feeling fatigued and weak from accumulated toxins the machines can’t clear as well as the kidney.  Bacteria in the body that are supposed to help, become enemies and attack the host.  Infections ravage individuals, even populations, sickening, weakening, and killing indiscriminately.  Diabetic patients fight a life long battle with glucose and have to pay constant attention to avoid life threatening highs and lows, always trying to stay ahead of dialysis, heart disease, eye problems, and nerve pain.  Bones break causing some to never take a step without pain, and they crumble with age in many.  Some couples are plagued with infertility, or when a couple does conceive, the baby is born with debilitating congenital disease.  Something is wrong!  Yes, without question, something is terribly wrong.  Every beautifully, ingeniously designed organ, organ system, and person is going to fall in death and turn to dust.  “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:22) This resonates, doesn’t it?  There is a lot of groaning right now.

A New Way of Thinking
Here is where biology fails and revelation must inform us.  What happened to wreak such havoc, death, and destruction?  “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—” (Romans 5:12)  When Adam made the choice to mistrust God, believe the lie, and take matters into his own hands, he plunged all his offspring into death.  One of my dearest friends in medical school was a Muslim.  Islam does not acknowledge original sin, that is, that we are born sinful and are not born a clean slate.  But even he had to acknowledge that it certainly seems odd that we don’t have to teach children to lie, to hide what they’ve done, to steal, to be selfish, and to misbehave.  They seem to do it…naturally.  True, it’s woven into the fabric of who we are as humans.  No matter your theological persuasion, even if you’re Muslim, no one argues that something is wrong in this universe.  We are all broken.  As Christians, we embrace that this brokenness has come about through the Fall of mankind into sin, represented by Adam.  And the consequence of sin is death.  Death could have been instantaneous, but it wasn’t.  In God’s patience, he allowed Adam, Eve, and all of us time to change our mind about him.  This is what defines repentance: changing our minds and going the opposite direction.  But now we are faced with a slow and often painful death from the day we are born.  It is both beautiful and tragic at the same time.

This is how it happened that the world we live in is broken.  But why did this happen?  This requires nothing short of a Copernican revolution in our thinking.  It was formerly thought the earth was the center of the universe.  Galileo and later Copernicus changed all that and gave us a new paradigm of understanding.  We are, in fact, not the center of the universe.  Our solar system is a parable of humanity.  We the people, are not the center of the universe, God is.  God is the highest good.  God is the goal.  God is the reason all things exist.  Valuing the worth of God is why we and all things exist.  God’s glory, that is the valuing and enjoying of his excellence and worth, is the goal of all creation.

Hamlet

Six Year Olds Ask the Hardest Questions
One night, I was putting my oldest daughter to bed when she was about 6 or 7 years old, and she asked a profound question, “Dad, if God knew Adam would sin and lead to all these problems, why did He allow that?”  I said, “That’s a tough question.  Ask your mom.”  Just kidding.  Thankfully, I had recently been listening to some music taken from Puritan poetry in Valley of Vision, and one of the lyrics says –

In the daytime there are stars in the heavens
But they only shine at night
And the deeper that I go into darkness
The more I see their radiant light.
So let me learn that my losses are my gain
To be broken is to heal
That the valley’s where Your power is revealed.

So I explained, “Emma, we don’t know all of God’s reasons for allowing the Fall and the terrible things that have happened since.  But we know that God is telling a story about himself, and the darkness of sin makes his character shine more brightly.  Like his mercy, his love, his terrible justice…we wouldn’t understand these parts of God’s character apart from sin and him sending his Son to die in our place on the cross.”

What if there is more God wants us to know about himself, and the only way we can see it is through sin and suffering?  Somehow, our brokenness, our sin is the dark backdrop upon which God puts his glory as Redeemer and Savior on display.  Even our physical and emotional weakness serves to set his strength on display.  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7, ESV)  In a recent post, my pastor Scott Patty wrote, “Receive the metaphor as a statement of your humanity and the weakness and ordinariness that comes with it. It is in jars of clay (ordinary, weak humans) that God has entrusted the gospel. The reason he has done so is to show his power.”

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Dr. Smith did his undergraduate training at Union University in Jackson, TN, where he met his incredible wife Joy. He went to the University of Tennessee in Memphis for medical school training, and there became a connoisseur of fine sweet teas. He then completed the Internal Medicine-Pediatrics combined residency followed by an Emergency Medicine residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Outside the hospital he enjoys spending time with his wife and seven children and taking them boating, water skiing, and backpacking. He also enjoys reading about the Reformation, reading the Puritans, and being actively involved with his church.

Doing the opposite of what’s right

Spur One Anotherfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Anyone who has been touched by suicide knows the depths of despair and suffering which surround the taking of a life.  We have also heard and read accounts of those who stopped short of suicide because of the intervention of just one person who took notice, offered hope, and valued life.

The story from Shropshire, England in the UK will break your heart and lead you to wonder what kind of world we’re now living in.  A clearly distressed man stood atop a tall building, planning to take his own life. The police gathered to talk him down but they were drowned out by others who chanted “Jump, jump” from the street below. They poised their phones to record the man’s final moments and their bloodlust was satisfied when he succumbed to their taunts.

Nothing could be further from the Biblical mandate to spur one another on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24).

We are called to encourage, not discourage, one another.

We are called to assist, not cripple, those who are distressed.

We are to bear light, not darkness, to those who are depressed.

We are to cover people with compassion, not insults.

The man who was teetering atop the building was a child of God and he is precious in God’s sight. Christ died for that man. The minions on the street served not as ambassadors of Christ – the good shepherd who came that we might have life and have it abundantly. No, they served as agents of the thief who comes to steal and kill and destroy (John 10:10).

Today, as you walk in the world, seek out the lonely person, walk with one who struggles, open a door, carry a load, be present and kind and listen. Do not miss the opportunity today to spurn another person on to love and good deeds.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Celebrated as a trusted voice in many of America’s Christian leadership circles, Carmen Fowler LaBerge speaks with authority on issues related to the intersection of culture and the Biblical worldview. Carmen is now in her sixth year as President of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and Executive Editor of its digital publications. She is viewed as a trusted leader across a range of Presbyterian and historic mainline denominations.

Carmen chairs the Common Ground Christian Network and is a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals.

In 2011, Carmen married Jim LaBerge. They reside just outside of Nashville in Kingston Springs, Tennessee where they seek to live simply and sustainably.

The Hermeneutic of Love

book love heartfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

As I read and study the Bible, I am convinced that the two most important verses in all the Bible are found in Matthew 22.

In this chapter, the religious leaders of the day were continuously trying to trap Jesus in order that they might have Him arrested. The Pharisees and the Sadducees took turns trying to trick Jesus by offering seemingly unresolvable moral and ethical dilemmas that would pit God’s rule against the rule of man. It is in this context, after failing once already, and having “heard that he had silenced the Sadducees” a lawyer from within the ranks of the Pharisees asked the following question: “Which is the great commandment in the Law?”

The Law of Love in the Old Testament

Jesus responds by quoting Deuteronomy 6:5. He states, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He then adds, “A second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” He concludes, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22: 34-40).

Do you realize what Jesus just stated? He claimed that the entire Hebrew Bible, what we refer to as the Old Testament, is summed up in these two commandments. In other words, all thirty-nine books found in the Hebrew Bible, and all the commandments of God are were packed into these two commands. Keep in mind that the religious leaders added over six hundred “laws” to keep from breaking the actual Laws of God. That is incredible.

The Law of Love in the New Testament

You will recall in Matt. 5:17-18, Jesus states, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (emphasis added).

In other words, Jesus is saying that His first coming was to fulfill all of the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament. He did this because He loved the Father (John 14:31), and as our example of a humble servant (John 13:1-20), Jesus points us directly to this hermeneutic of love.

As we read the Bible, understanding that the Old Testament anticipates Christ’s coming and the New Testament reflects on the first coming of Christ, we find that every passage points us to our need to love God and to love man. Furthermore, we see that we are unable to do this apart from God. This is why Proverbs 28:9 is so shocking to us, “If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.” Also, John 9:31 tells us explicitly that “God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.”

Proclaiming the Love of God

For the unbeliever, Isaiah 64:6 reminds us that “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Understood through the hermeneutic of love, this is true because everything we do apart from a love for God is sin. We can do much “good” because of our love for man, but without a love for God, our deeds are simply humanistic, which is to say, not Christian.

This is why we proclaim the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. There is a hurting world who does not understand their need to love God and love man in light of God’s love for man. As you read through your Bible, see if you cannot see this hermeneutic of love in every passage. In so doing, I believe you will be challenged to trust more fully in Christ because He alone perfectly loved and obeyed the Father. And through your trust in Christ, you will find that your love of God overflows to the point that you cannot help but share the message of hope in Christ alone as an act of love and obedience to a world lost in a selfish and sinful love.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Terry has been married to his wife Christa, since 2002. They have five children. He pastors Union Baptist Church in Mexico, Missouri and has been writing book reviews since 2007.

The summer of ’69: Bill Bright, Hillary Clinton and the soul which longs

Revolution Nowfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Bill Bright founded Campus Crusade for Christ in 1951 on the campus of UCLA, as an organization for Christian evangelism and discipleship. In 1952, he wrote an evangelistic tract called “The 4 Spiritual Laws” which aided Christians in their communication of simple Gospel truths. Bright knew that tracts could help strip away the fear Christians expressed when thinking about sharing their faith with others. The student protests and drug culture of the 1960s concerned Bright. Even so, church leaders with a heart for the students—Bright, Graham, and Francis Schaeffer to name just a few—recognized that the younger generation were calling for an answer to the existentialist question of life: does my life have meaning or purpose?

Concern for how to solve the new problems of the day abounded. Simply coming to an agreement about the root causes of our national problems would have been reason for celebration. At the 1969 commencement exercises of Wellesley College, U.S. Senator Edward Brooke (R-Mass) spoke on “Progress in the Uptight Society: Real Problems and Wrong Procedures.” He closed his speech with what seems, upon reading it nearly fifty years later, to be boilerplate commencement words of challenge to young people:

This country has profound and pressing social problems on its agenda. It needs the best energies of all its citizens, especially Its gifted young people, to remedy these ills. (source)

But to the speaker who followed Senator Brooke, words like his were part of the problem, not the solution. Brooke’s words needed to be challenged, immediately. So, as Hillary Rodham stood to give the student commencement address, she opened with a rebuttal to Brooke. The remarks may have been planned in advance (Brooke’s political positions were well known), or perhaps the remarks were impromptu. Either way, Clinton said (emphasis mine):

I am very glad that Miss Adams made it clear that what I am speaking for today is all of us—the 400 of us—and I find myself in a familiar position, that of reacting, something that our generation has been doing for quite a while now. We’re not in the positions yet of leadership and power, but we do have that indispensable task of criticizing and constructive protest and I find myself reacting just briefly to some of the things that Senator Brooke said. This has to be brief because I do have a little speech to give.

Part of the problem with empathy with professed goals is that empathy doesn’t do us anything. We’ve had lots of empathy; we’ve had lots of sympathy, but we feel that for too long our leaders have used politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible.

Rodham went on to state the zeitgeist of her generation. She said:

We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us even understands and attempting to create within that uncertainty. But there are some things we feel, feelings that our prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life, including tragically the universities, is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living. And so our questions, our questions about our institutions, about our colleges, about our churches, about our government continue. The questions about those institutions are familiar to all of us. We have seen heralded across the newspapers. Senator Brooke has suggested some of them this morning. But along with using these words—integrity, trust, and respect—in regard to institutions and leaders we’re perhaps harshest with them in regard to ourselves. (source)

Having worked alongside college students for two decades at that point, Bill Bright had heard similar expressions of desire from students all across the United States. Bright began to formulate a new approach—not without controversy in the established church.

Bright recognized that genuine revival needed to take place within the church, but that the youth culture—with its longer hair and rock music—was not finding a home within the institutional church. As historian John Turner relates, “Mr. Bright’s son Zachary remembers telling his father: “You can have a conservative view of music and keep what worked for you, or you can win [young people to Christ].” “I’d rather win,” Campus Crusade’s president responded.”(source)

Bright chose to shift focus away from the amoral expressions of the rock-and-roll culture, and to instead focus on giving them Jesus without middle-class preconditions. Of course, the “amoral” part was the point of contention for many, but Bright persisted. No need for hippies to get a haircut to come to Jesus. Just come.

In 1969, Bright published a book titled Revolution Now! as a challenge for students to ground their desires for “penetrating modes of living” in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He wrote:

We live in the most revolutionary period of human history. Campus disorders have assumed epidemic proportions! …What does the future hold? Is there a hope for a solution? …Social band-aids and reform antiseptics give little hope for a cure or even an improvement. A revolution is needed.

I have seen men and women from all walks of life commit themselves to this Revolutionary. The result? A complete transformation, resulting in true freedom, happiness and purpose. The greatest Revolutionary gives release from the guilt and frustrations of the past. He offers a challenge and a cause worth living for. He provides the only hope for the mortal ills of our society.

The world needs a revolution—the right kind of a revolution. One that will build, not destroy. One that will propagate love, not hatred. A revolution that will bring equality, not suppression. One that will restore man to God’s image, rather than debase him to a bestial level.

You can experience this revolution. In fact, you can help bring it to pass.

Bright chose to risk, and so showed the youth of America that Christianity had a future, not just a past—and that the youth could be a vital force of energy for revival and renewal of the church.

The heart’s longing for a “more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living”– can find satisfaction in Jesus Christ.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Scott Lamb serves as the President of Reformation Press and the Executive Director of the Presbyterian Lay Committee in Nashville, Tennessee. Scott and his wife Pearl are the parents of six children. He is a Baptist pastor who has shepherded churches in Alabama, Missouri, and Kentucky, and the author of Pujols: More than the Game (2011, Thomas Nelson), Whatever the Cost: Facing Your Fears, Dying to Your Dreams, and Living Powerfully (2015, Thomas Nelson), and Mike Huckabee: The Authorized Biography (fall 2015, Thomas Nelson)

Zacchaeus & how to be a missionary right here at home

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 1.39.27 PMfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

When I was in college, I started writing a short play based on the Zacchaeus story. There was a man in our church named Bill who stood at an awesome 6’10” and I thought it would be ironic to cast him as Zacchaeus. “A wee little man was he.” Not.

The wee man who said, “Oui,” to Jesus has always been a favorite Sunday school story (Luke 19:1-10). Little kids connect with the little man. It even has tree-climbing and going over to a friend’s house to play or something like that. But our community has found that this story usually relegated to kids is an essential one for us as disciples/followers of Jesus — people who don’t just follow the teachings of Jesus, but who follow Jesus in the way he did things.

The first thing we see about Jesus is that he isn’t hidden away from people. He’s in a crowd. That doesn’t mean Jesus was an extrovert. He needed his quiet time, his alone time. People exhausted him, but he loved them so much that he spent a lot of time with them. So, we do the same, putting ourselves close to people so we can love them.

Next, we see that Zacchaeus was interested in Jesus. That’s the tree part of the story, where Zac climbs a sycamore tree to get a better view of Jesus. Jesus sees Zac’s interest and makes the first move, the one that initiates a relationship. Similarly, we look for interest in others, but we don’t wait for them to make the first relational move. We are the sent people of God. Jesus said, “Go,” so we go, making the first move.

For most of us, that first move is an invitation for dinner or coffee or something else. Generally, we invite people into our own space or a neutral space that we feel comfortable in.

But here’s the big thing: Our goal is not to get people into our space. Our goal is to get into their space.

So, once Jesus has made a connection with Zacchaeus, he invites himself over to Zac’s house. It’s the key moment in the story. It’s also the kind of action that determines whether we are missionaries or not. Do we make the move from our space to their space?

Getting Zac to synagogue wasn’t Jesus’ goal. The people in the synagogue hated Zac. It’s the last place he wanted to be. Similarly, it’s not our goal to get people to go to church with us. They feel the same way about church as Zac did about synagogue, the same way dudes feel when going to Victoria’s Secret with their wives.

What Jesus did was get into Zac’s space, into Zac’s world, the place where Zac was most at home because it was his home. It’s there as the guest that Jesus stops talking and Zac takes over. And the same goes for us.

Our goal is to enter into the places where others feel most comfortable and then to listen to them. Really listen. That’s when we listen to not just the subjects that people talk about, but the exact wording they use. The language people use reveals all kinds of things about how they view the world and God and themselves. We miss all that when we replace their words with our own vocabulary. And if we miss that, we’ll miss our opportunities to speak gospel when they signal us that they’re ready to hear it.

For too long, I’ve filtered conversations through my interests. When other guys talk about golf, for instance, I tend to zone out, not being a golfer. But I’ve recently discovered that the things that others are interested in which I’m not skilled at are some of my most missional opportunities. I recently asked a new acquaintance who brews beer if I can join him as he brews, learning how to do it from him while helping out as much as I can without ruining things.

Entering others’ space. Engaging in others’ interests. Learning others’ language. This is what missionaries do. And only when we do these first are we able to speak gospel in ways that they are able to hear it.

These are skills and practices we’re learning together as we take seriously the reality that the United States is now the third largest mission field in the world. If we are to reach the Zacchaeus’s in each of our lives, they’re skills and practices we all need.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Pete was a journalist and magazine editor before becoming a pastor — he can’t get enough of words or the Word. He loves getting to know people and talking about our creating, saving, loving God. He and his wife Charlene have four kids and call their home the Santucci Circus. Together with several missional communities, they are gathering together a church called The Table, where meals and lives are shared, the hungry are fed, and all taste and see that the Lord is good. See www.TheTableInBend.com for more.

The Presbyterians Did What?! Rogue Group Besmirches Our Name Once Again

beautiful-church-atlantafacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

I hate when this happens.

The “Presbyterians” made another statement that flies in the face of biblical orthodoxy, usually in the form of some vote, amendment, or overture. This week the PC(USA) once again  (I’ve lost track of how many times this has happened) did or said something related to approving and supporting gay marriage. They voted on something, ratified a thing, or passed a whatchamacallit related to homosexuality. Isn’t this like the seventeenth time? The press will adore it.

How can this be? My brothers and sisters in Christ ask me.

First, some explanation. There are several groups that use the word “Presbyterian” in their title. (The word literally means elders in the Greek), and we trace our history to the Reformation in Europe, particularly Scotland.  The largest and by far the most liberal group is the PC(USA) which is the one that always embarrasses the rest of us. They tend to do and say unconscionable things that shock and horrify us all. They are provocateurs in clergy vestments. This denomination, although the largest in size and number, unfortunately has a very loud voice and for obvious reasons, is the media darling. They’ve been doing and saying ridiculous thing related to gender, sexuality, marriage, Israel, the exclusivity of the Gospel and more for decades. Unfortunately many in the PC(USA) wouldn’t know a Reformed Confession if it hit them in the head.

Frankly, it disgusts me.

I am happy to say that our churches, the EPC (or Evangelical Presbyterian Church) has nothing to do with the PC(USA) in any formal capacity whatsoever. Our denomination has a very solid stand on marriage, as does our local church. Our local church here in Brooksville Florida, is even leading the way, with our own “Brooksville Statement on Marriage” (written by my elders and I) becoming something of an important document for local churches, as many adopt it into their own by-laws to protect themselves from aggressive legal suits.

There are also several other Presbyterian denominations that are conservative and faithful, as is our own. They are the PCA (Presbyterian Church in America), the OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian church), and the oldest linear group the ARP (Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church). I apologize for the alphabet soup. Our churches, are strong, biblical, evangelical, and committed to the Scripture. By and large, we get along just fine together and cooperate amicably on a number of important issues. It’s a tragedy, however, that the liberal group gets all the press.

Many people don’t even know that the rest of us – the faithful remnant – even exist.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brookville, Florida. He is a graduate of Malone University (BA, Bible and Theology); Ashland Theological Seminary (MA, Practical Theology), and a doctoral student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. His is the author of several books including Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647.

C.S. Lewis, on the reading of old books

Lewis in chairfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

C. S. Lewis, in his Introduction to a translation of Athanasius’ On the Incarnation, warned that: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones.”

Lewis went on to explain:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?”—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

My friend David Schrock has posted “Twelve ‘Old Books’ Every Christian Should Read”, inspired, in part, by Lewis’ admonition quoted above. It is a great list that will get you started on your quest to read old books!

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Steve Weaver serves as senior pastor of Farmdale Baptist Church in Frankfort, KY. Steve and his wife Gretta have six children between the ages of 4 and 15. You can read more from Steve at Thoughts of a Pastor-Historian. Follow Steve on Twitter or on Facebook.

The Local Church Pastor as Resident Theologian

linus-lucy-rain-theology-2facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

It is practically impossible to be a pastor today.

At once, it is expected of a man to be a preacher, a psychologist, a marriage and family therapist, a community organizer, and a church activities coordinator. Added to those titles we might suggest also: social media expert, financial administrator, organizational manager, and head of staff.

Among all those just listed, the role of preacher is the only one I can defend aptly in Scripture (2 Timothy 4:1-2). The other duties, while seemingly necessary from time to time, (and certainly expected from our people) are tangential at best to our calling as local church pastors.

It’s time we return to our biblical mandate.

Nevertheless, I want to add an important duty to those given above to the job description of the pastor. One often neglected by evangelical church leadership today: that of resident theologian. The Apostles of the New Testament–and especially Paul in the Pastoral Epistles–are jealous to see local church pastors (or elders) steeped in the richness of Biblical doctrine, functioning in their local churches as healthy and robust theologians.

Consider some words of exhortation from Paul,

If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed (1 Timothy 4:6).

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9).

 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine (Titus 2:1).

Notice Paul’s emphasis on doctrine. Never more than today should the weighty role of “resident theologian” be necessarily placed back upon the shoulders of local church pastors. Never more than today is it incumbent upon us to return our people to the depths of truth contained in Christian orthodoxy!

I see at least three reasons for this:

1) We live in an age of biblical illiteracy. Like it our not, many of our people (not all) are simply not drinking deeply enough from the Scriptures anymore. If some of the folks in the pews today are even doing daily devotions at all, it likely comes from the “self-help” or self-esteem oriented formats so dreadfully common among Christian publishers today.

Most devotional material is presented as “life application” or “principles for better living.” Rarely are the laity mining the Bible for the richer truths of the Christian faith. Christology, pneumatology, soteriology–these are foreign concepts to most of the popular devotional materials in today’s Christian literature.

2) Many of our people today (again, not all) are largely disconnected from the theological treasures of the Christian heritage that we have inherited from our forefathers. Not only are many Christians not reading their Bibles, but they struggle mightily to comb through even a page of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, or Edwards.

Although the refreshing waters of biblical theology from previous generations are more available today through electronic, digital, and other means, they are unfortunately more neglected than ever before as well. The pastor serves–functionally speaking–as the local church’s sole bridge to the abundant blessings of Christian history.

(I don’t mean to be unnecessarily negative about all lay people; many are more diligent in their studies than their pastors! I am, however, concerned with the general direction of the evangelical church today).

3) Finally, the questions that our people are asking are not going away. The people in our pews are still asking deep questions regarding the purpose of our existence, the mysteries of God’s being, and the meaning in our sin and suffering. These perplexities have not dissipated.

The nature of mankind, the inner disturbances of the soul, our wranglings about guilt (especially in the area of sexual ethics) are not easily answered apart from a robust biblical doctrine. Our people will eventually go somewhere when the deeper questions of the human experience arise. Let us hope that they can come to us rather than to the secular culture to have those questions answered.

Pastors, we have an incredible job description before us. Humanly speaking, the expectations upon us are massively unrealistic. We will simply never be able to accomplish all that is expected from us. To be all that people want us to be.

But please–don’t neglect your role–as resident theologian.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brookville, Florida. He is a graduate of Malone University (BA, Bible and Theology); Ashland Theological Seminary (MA, Practical Theology), and a doctoral student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. His is the author of several books including Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647.

Worship that misses … on purpose

Pete Santucci bannerfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

If every song and scripture connects with you in worship, it might be time to try another church. If what is included in worship is only as wide as your current experience, there’s a real problem. Our God is bigger. Our human experience is bigger. Our worship should be bigger as well. Let me explain.

Musician Michael Gungor has been quoted as saying, “Approximately 70% of the Psalms are laments. Approximately 0% of the top 150 CCLI songs [songs most sung in churches] are laments.”

That’s a problem, even if he overstates he case. If we avoid lament in our worship, we’re not engaging in biblical worship. And we’ve narrowed the range of our worship dangerously.

If we were to keep record of our prayer lives and of our expressions of worship in church gatherings, we’d find the range of topics touched on and the feelings expressed would be fairly narrow. We tend to pray the same things over and over again. And we tend to go back to the same scriptures and songs over and over again in worship.

Knowing this about ourselves, we at The Table have made a conscious decision to take the time to read aloud and pray an entire psalm each time we gather for worship. And not just the short ones. And not just the nice ones.

Because of that, we encounter all kinds of gnarly topics and emotions that most of us avoid in our praying and definitely avoid in polite conversation, much less worship. But there they are. Blatant. Honest. Uncomfortable. But prayed.

This is both worship and school at the same time.

It’s worship, because it offers up to God every corner of who we are, especially the neglected dark corners of who we are. And every offering to God is an act of worship.

It’s school, because we’re stretching ourselves and learning new ways of praying, ways that feel as uncomfortable as just about every yoga position is to me. We learn new language to pray old feelings. And we discover that all of that stuff going on inside of us actually has to do with God.

So, it was certainly the wisdom of God that put that 150-song book of Psalms in the middle of our Bibles. It’s the biggest collection of writings in all the Scriptures, and for good reason. May our praying, worshiping hearts be shaped by them. And my songwriters follow suit.

Worship must miss where we are at right now so that it can teach us how to worship in those spaces we will be down the road.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Pete was a journalist and magazine editor before becoming a pastor — he can’t get enough of words or the Word. He loves getting to know people and talking about our creating, saving, loving God. He and his wife Charlene have four kids and call their home the Santucci Circus. Together with several missional communities, they are gathering together a church called The Table, where meals and lives are shared, the hungry are fed, and all taste and see that the Lord is good. See www.TheTableInBend.com for more.

Always Pray; Never Lose Heart. (Luke 18:1-8).

never lose heartfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

 

We Give Up Way Too Easily…

By and large we give up way to easily. Let’s admit it. We are a generation of quitters. Have you ever tried to get the lid off of a soda bottle and thought, “Well, I guess I’m not THAT thirsty.” Have you ever quit a job because the boss actually expected you to show up every time you’re on the schedule? “What does he think I am, an employee?” Have you ever given up learning a musical instrument because there’s way too many keys, notes, or strings, on that thing? “Six strings? This is ridiculous. I only have five fingers on my left hand!” How many of us have quit an exercise regime that we started? Experts calculate that if you counted up all the pieces of exercise equipment purchased and never used…you’d have a lot of exercise equipment.

 A certain amount of quitting in life is understandable. We are mortals. Sometimes “life” forces our hand and just stands in our way of our goals. Events. Weddings. New babies. Opportunities. Funerals. Sickness. Injuries. Sudden job changes. They can force our hand and keep us from obtaining our goals. There are certain things that it’s okay to quit: A book, a movie, a particular diet, French class, cello lessons… Other things we should only quit with great caution and serious reflection. But there are still other things that we must never, ever, quit no matter what. Prayer is just such a thing.

There are no possible conditions under which quitting prayer is an option. In this message, I share why we must always pray and never give up.

If you enjoyed this message, please subscribe to our YouTube channel at Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church. 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brookville, Florida. He is a graduate of Malone University (BA, Bible and Theology); Ashland Theological Seminary (MA, Practical Theology), and a doctoral student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. His is the author of several books including Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647.

Broken (part 1)

clay-smith3facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

An Atypical Night

It had been an unusually easy night in the Pediatric Emergency Department (PED). My fellow physician Donna and I were talking, sipping coffee, and yawning. Most nights in the PED weren’t like that at all. They were most often somewhere between frantic and frenzied, but tonight was different. Of course, it was too good to be true.

Just then, Nashville Fire and EMS called over the radio that there had been a house fire, and they were bringing in two little girls. One was minimally responsive; the other had arrested and had no pulse, and they were doing CPR. This was not good. A child with no heartbeat, in asystole (no electrical activity in the heart), is seldom able to be resuscitated. Asystole in a child is the caboose of a very long train, usually indicating a long period of low oxygen levels and no blood flow to the brain. Donna took one trauma resuscitation bay, and I took the other.

trauma-signMy patient arrived first, the one who was pulseless. She was a cute little 4 year old, and she wasn’t burned, just covered in gray soot. She smelled like most burn patients, like a campfire into which someone has thrown a plastic bottle. The smell is an acrid mixture of burnt wood, plastic, and chemicals. The prehospital crew was still doing chest compressions and had been doing them nonstop for the last ten minutes. The EMT, paramedic, and firemen looked tired and defeated. They had gotten her out of the burning house, but she never had a pulse and never had any electrical activity on the cardiac monitor. This was not going to go well.

We quickly moved her onto our stretcher, continued CPR, applied our monitors, and performed standard Pediatric Advanced Life Support. But we saw the same thing the paramedic reported – no electrical activity on the heart monitor. She was still in asystole. I grabbed the bedside ultrasound and took a look at the heart, hoping to see a flicker of activity. None…it was still as a stone. We continued CPR for a while longer, but nothing changed. She was dead when they pulled her out, and she was still dead now. And there was nothing we could do to make her better, nothing we could do to bring her back, nothing we could do to avoid giving the horrific news once her family arrived. We stopped the resuscitation, and I called out the time of death. It was about 4 o’clock in the morning.

grandma weepingAfter a short time, her grandma, the primary guardian arrived. I have been trained to not use unclear terminology when telling family members a loved one has died. All they have is hope that they are still alive, and words like, “they passed,” or, “they are no longer with us,” are too vague. So I did the usual and explained how the firemen and paramedics found her with no heartbeat, how they tried to get her back with medicines and CPR, and how we did the same. I went on and said, “Despite everything we did to try to bring her back, her heart would not restart. She died.” When the words, “She died,” left my mouth, it looked like I had stabbed her. It physically shook her body. She looked at me, tears filling her eyes, and she sobbed and said, “No! No! It’s not supposed to be this way! Why wasn’t it me?”

I couldn’t shake what she said. It haunted me for a long time. It haunts me to this day. I knew what she meant. There is just something wrong with a dead little four year old lying on a stretcher covered in soot. Something inside recoils and cries out that it is not supposed to be this way. Something is wrong with the world, with this universe. Something is broken. This world is broken. We are broken. Little girls are not supposed to die. Loved ones are not supposed to die. It’s not meant to be this way.


This 3-part series will be continued on Thursday and Saturday

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Dr. Smith did his undergraduate training at Union University in Jackson, TN, where he met his incredible wife Joy. He went to the University of Tennessee in Memphis for medical school training, and there became a connoisseur of fine sweet teas. He then completed the Internal Medicine-Pediatrics combined residency followed by an Emergency Medicine residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Outside the hospital he enjoys spending time with his wife and seven children and taking them boating, water skiing, and backpacking. He also enjoys reading about the Reformation, reading the Puritans, and being actively involved with his church.

Real Life Disconnect: 4 leaf clovers are good luck while extra chromosomes are cause for abortion?

four leaf cloverfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

4 leaf clovers are prized. My Grandmother was great at spotting them and I collected several as a child.

The extra leaf makes a clover more valuable, treasured, and cherished. Why, then, I cannot help but wonder, is an extra chromosome in a human being—rather than being perceived as a rare gift—considered by 75-90% of parents as cause for abortion?

Wikipedia says this about 4 leaf clovers:

The four-leaf clover is an uncommon variation of the common, three-leaved clover. According to tradition, such leaves bring good luck to their finders, especially if found accidentally. In addition, each leaf is believed to represent something: the first is for faith, the second is for hope, the third is for love, and the fourth is for luck.[1]

It has been estimated that there are approximately 10,000[2] three-leaf clovers for every four-leaf clover;[2

The National Down Syndrome Society says this about Down syndrome:

In 1959, the French physician Jérôme Lejeune identified Down syndrome as a chromosomal condition. Instead of the usual 46 chromosomes present in each cell, Lejeune observed 47 in the cells of individuals with Down syndrome. It was later determined that an extra partial or whole copy of chromosome 21 results in the characteristics associated with Down syndrome.

According to The NDSS and The National Association for Down syndrome (NADS) one in 691 babies is born with Down syndrome.

Often babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in utero are aborted even though screening tests for Down syndrome are notoriously inaccurate, giving both false negatives and false positives. Amniocentesis (12-20 weeks) is a more accurate for diagnosis but is more invasive, involving risk to both mother and baby. Sadly, when Down syndrome is diagnosed by any method, doctors often suggest abortion. Some medical providers believe it is their duty to present abortion as one option, but others apply pressure to influence the parents toward an abortion decision.

One woman recently shared her story with me. When she resisted the doctor’s suggestion that she abort her child after a Down syndrome diagnosis he grew angry and told her it would be “irresponsible to have this child.” She found another doctor. Her baby was born without Down syndrome. There are many such stories, but tragically many women interpret a doctor’s advice to abort (especially if pressure is applied) as a medical necessity or the “responsible” decision.

Dig a little deeper. Most of us, if we are honest with ourselves, view a diagnosis of Down syndrome as something to grieve, a hardship, a tragedy. A child with Down syndrome does bring unexpected challenges, perhaps health issues, a more extended period of care, a certain death of our own dreams for our child. On the other hand, if you have ever known a child with Down syndrome, you also know the incredible gifts they offer of generous love, childish delight, ready acceptance, and wholehearted forgiveness.

Back to my opening question – Why is rarity “good luck” when it is a clover and a “tragedy” when it is a person? Both are created by God. The beautiful poetry of Psalm 139 is unmistakably clear:

For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!

DonnahsmGod forms each human being in the womb. It seems pretty clear that when an extra chromosome is present it is God that has “knit” that chromosome into a unique pattern creating a special human being. It is surely cause for celebration.

You and I are fearfully and wonderfully made. We are not accidents and neither is the baby with Down syndrome. God has seen every day of your life, my life, and the life of every baby. Every human life ought to be received with joy. Those whose formation is more rare should be considered most precious of all!

Dedicated to Donnah Bowen, a wonderful lady, a gift from God in my life, my sister-in-law, who has Down syndrome by God’s design. Her beautiful rich voice singing “Amazing Grace” as she grieved the loss of her father a few years ago, touched my soul and left me changed. She will be 65 on March 20.\

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Marie Bowen began her involvement with Presbyterians Pro-Life as a volunteer in 1988 and became the Executive Director of PPL in 2005. A former public school music teacher, Marie continues to be active as a church musician. She is an Elder at Elfinwild Presbyterian Church in Glenshaw, PA. Marie and her husband Roland are parents to three grown men and grandparents to two wonderful little boys. She is the author of a Bible Study, Pregnant With Promise, published in 2010.

Why Biblical Christians Should Stand Together

IMG_4907facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

I interviewed for a position at the American Anglican Council in 2007. When I saw the job posting I immediately Googled “Anglican.” Images of old cathedrals, coats of arms and British royalty were among the top hits. When I came to the AAC’s page I read their statement of faith. It was lengthy and a bit arcane to me at the time but I didn’t have any major problems with it. Everything I read seemed consistent with what I believed. Sure there was lots of flowery language and some old-school churchy words but I essentially didn’t have any problems. So when I actually got the job I didn’t think there would be a conflict between my convictions as a life-long Southern Baptist and the Anglican Communion’s teaching.

As I continued working, I encountered some things that gave me pause. Number one, this Southern Baptist was a little wary when the Anglicans drank alcohol. Not as upsetting but equally foreign to me were the positions of priest, bishop and archbishop. In the Baptist church the leader is the pastor and the deacons (and the choir sometimes but that’s an unofficial leadership role). When you add in the clothes they wear; collars, cassocks, cinctures, stoles, surplices, mitres (oh, the mitres!), albs all the way to the occasional zucchetto, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

IMG_4907

I remember one time we were reciting the Apostles Creed at morning prayers. This was right after I was hired, I left out that part in the creed about the “the holy catholic church.” At the time I thought the Anglicans were somehow pledging allegiance to the Pope or something. Looking back now, I should have asked instead of just keeping quiet. One of the priests who worked with me eventually pulled me aside and asked why I didn’t say it. When I told him why he smiled and told me how they were talking about the unity of the church in Christ and that it was small “c” catholic.

Since those early days I’ve come to appreciate many things about Anglicans. The way they worship on Sundays and in the daily office has a built-in mechanism that guarantees the worshiper will hear the gospel and have an appropriate description of God before them in the Eucharist as well as the words of the liturgy. I appreciate the God-ordained advantages of being under authority. Provided the bishop and priest are acting in step with a true Christian walk, there is a lot to be said for being under authority and having leaders who are themselves under authority.

Now I still don’t agree with every aspect of Anglicanism but those areas where I am in disagreement are secondary and not ones of primary or communion-breaking importance. Don’t get me wrong, there are some Anglican leaders that espouse a false doctrine. That’s a big reason the AAC exists – to renew orthodox Anglicanism in the face of false teaching. But those false teachers in no way speak for the majority of Anglicans and in no way reflect the roots of Anglicanism.

Early this week I was in Washington D.C. for a meeting of the Common Ground Christian Network (pictured above). The network was established by the AAC and other groups like the Presbyterian Lay Committee to foster cooperation among Bible-believing denominations. Our meeting this week was on the subject of religious liberty. We heard truly gut-wrenching accounts of Christian men, women and children being slaughtered in the Middle East as they refused to renounce the name of Christ. I was convicted about my public and prayer silence regarding the hell on earth our brothers and sisters in Iraq, Iran, China, Nigeria and elsewhere are experiencing. I was also concerned to hear about what seems to be a concerted effort to curb religious liberties here in the U.S. We’ve been seeing for some time the conflict between religious liberties and the progressive agenda (the Hobby Lobby case, for example). However, when we were briefed on the scope of these conflicts and their legal outcomes around the U.S., it appears like there’s a lot more going on than just naturally occurring conflict.

One of our reasons for working with this cross-denominational gathering is the knowledge that our churches are facing common threats. Threats from within such as un-biblical teaching in churches and seminaries, congregations that are dwindling and depleted resources are common to our denominations. So, too, are external threats like government suppression of public religious expression (i.e. living your faith not just at church/home but at work and elsewhere) and the challenges of a culture increasingly hostile to biblical values and teaching. The mainline denominations (Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, Lutheran and others) have especially suffered from these threats and make up the bulk of the Common Ground Christian Network. However, for the first time, and I hope not the last, we had a few Southern Baptists sitting in on our meeting. It did my heart good to think of the possibilities when I imagined Southern Baptist, Methodist, Anglican and other churches working to some degree in concert. I don’t think this will happen very soon – but who knows. I remember one time I was with an Anglican bishop who grew up in Pakistan and was chased out of country because of his ministry. I was driving him to Hartsfield airport in Atlanta and he remarked about the number of churches we were passing. I said, “I know, bishop, there is a church on almost every corner down here. I wish they would work closer together.” Without pause the bishop said, “a little persecution will cure that.”

It may not be too long before we find out if the bishop was right. If the current stresses on religious liberty in America morph into something more sinister and overt, how important and beneficial would it be for Bible believing denominations to have already begun working together? What would it mean for Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere if the Church in North America prayed and spoke in unison on their behalf? The benefits of cross-denominational cooperation are numerous. Maybe it’s time we stood together on the common ground we all share.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Robert Lundy is the Communications Director for the American Anglican Council, a non-profit that promotes Biblically faithful Anglicanism worldwide. Robert and his wife, Allison, have two daughters and live in suburban Atlanta.

Democratized Justice and Sigma Alpha Epsilon

SAEfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

We live in an age in which justice has been increasingly democratized by the advent of viral technology. Within moments of an act of violence, explosive mob, careless word, hateful tweet, angry post, or a fraternity spouting ignorant and racist songs- the entire world can be made aware of an unwise indiscretion or illegal crime. And with equally as much speed, it can render a verdict.

This week the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity at Oklahoma University (OU) was caught on video chanting an explicitly racist song that was sent into the open airways of the internet, going viral within hours. Almost as quickly the national leader for SAE, Bradley Cohen, renounced the video over twitter just moments before the SAE national headquarters closed the OU chapter and suspended all members. In quick succession OU President, David Boren, joined the outrage by closing the SAE house on campus, demanding that members clean out their belongings by midnight, subsequently expelling two students caught on the film.

In many ways such “real time” justice is appealing. For starters it restricts the longevity of stewing anger that creates the potential for an escalation of retaliation and revenge. It protects victims from a lack of resolve while waiting for an uncertain outcome. And finally, perhaps most important to many, it is communal; allowing each of us an opportunity to feel as if we are playing a role in making the world a better place. Our tweets, blogs, or facebook posts may have had little to nothing to do with the outcome, but it sure feels like they did.

While adjectives such as “quick” and “decisive” are being used to describe the actions of the leadership of OU and SAE, one word that remains elusively silent is “final.” Justice might have been meted out with great speed, but that is not the same thing as suggesting that final justice has been met. So herein lies the potential downfall of such “justice by technology.” While it certainly enables us to establish a case in record time, it may also tempt us to have our desire for justice placated a tad too early.

I am in no way suggesting that the actions taken by the leadership of SAE and OU are not to be applauded, they are. But what I am saying is that we need to guard ourselves from confusing punishments with true justice. While quick actions may temper public outrage, they shouldn’t silence righteous indignation.

Heart issues of racism aren’t expunged by suspensions and expulsions of individuals- no matter how necessary and good those punishments might feel. The powers of darkness lurking behind such systemic evil would always prefer our focus to fall on the outcomes rather than the cause, and our “jury by technology” often falls prey to this precise plan. While rapid responses to wickedness are necessary, they are only temporary stopgaps if we fail to keep the long view in mind.

Indeed, if the recent news that SAE fraternity members are now moving forward with a lawsuit against OU for calling them “racist” is any indicator, the distance we have left to travel together towards genuine justice, just got a whole lot longer.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Steve Woodworth is ordained in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and has worked out his calling through church planting, teaching, writing, and global missions. He currently serves as the Associate Coordinator for the International Theological Education Network establishing sites for theological education and leadership development among unreached people groups.

Do you have a (really good) Bible?

Photo of Biblesfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

I am going to begin a series here at A Christian Manifesto called “The Reformed Book Shelf: Essentials.” Here, in addition to my regular articles and reviews, I am going to occasionally feature some of the primary tools that a pastor or Bible student needs for discipleship and ministry. We will look at theology texts, historical works, and other study tools.

So lets start with the basics: A (really good) Bible. Can’t get much more basic than that.

When I say a “really good” Bible, I mean one that will last a lifetime. One that will endure for the course of your whole ministry. One that you can pass on to your children after using for years in the pews, classroom, pulpit, street, or study.

This means among, other things, that you choose a few premium options from the get-go, even if you have to pay more in advance. Trust me, a real leather Bible with a sewn binding will last ten times as long as a cheap cover, glued together.

Here are the key factors in the decision process:

  1. Translation. I recommend a good, literal translation fit for study, preaching, and teaching. The KJV is great, but if you want a modern translation, I argue strenuously for the ESV as the best available here.
  2. Format. Will you need a reference Bible? Do you prefer double-column? Single? Wide margin? Study Bible? Although I have a little of everything, I believe a wide-margin Bible is best for those in ministry. It has been called by some “the thinking man’s Bible.” I like that title, and my wide-margin is my g0-to tool for everyday usage. If however, you want a Study Bible, the ESV Study Bible is the most complete Bible on the market.
  3. Cover materials. Do NOT get a Bible with “bonded leather!” It is the particle board of covers. They fail within years. Opt for real leather. Get one with goatskin, calfskin, or cowhide – even if you have to pay more in advance.
  4. Binding. Key: do not buy a Bible with a glued spine! Get one with a real Smyth sewn binding. If you don’t know what that means, check out some of the work my boys are doing over at the Bible Exchange on terminology.

For me, all of these factors lead me to one place: Cambridge Bibles. Let me explain.

This Cambridge made goatskin wide-margin is my go-to Bible for almost everything: a wide margin is a "thinking man's Bible" for a lifetime of collected thoughts and notes, as well as sermon illustrations and textual insights.

This Cambridge made goatskin wide-margin is my go-to Bible for almost everything: a wide margin is a “thinking man’s Bible” for a lifetime of collected thoughts and notes, as well as sermon illustrations and textual insights.

Why a Cambridge Bible?

I am a history nut.

My family traces its German lineage back to 1265, and my Church comes from a branch of the Christian family tree that joyfully embraces our heritage, rooting back to the times of the Reformation (1500’s) and beyond.

So yeah, I like old stuff.

The Cambridge Clarion ESV in Brown Calf Split Leather

The Cambridge Clarion ESV in Brown Calf Split Leather

This is one of the reasons that I met and fell in love with Bibles published by Cambridge. Besides being on the front lines of the world’s highest quality Bibles today, Cambridge also has the distinction of being the world’s oldest continuous Bible producer, having begun in the year 1591. It is a delight to my hands and heart to hold a Bible made by a press house that predates the King James Bible of 1611.

Think about that!

When you purchase a Cambridge Bible today, you receive a small certification that reads as follows,

“Cambridge University Press is the oldest Printer and Publisher in the world. The Press’s first Bible, printed in 1591, was an edition of the Geneva Bible – the translation that crossed to America with the Pilgrim Fathers. This established an unbroken four-hundred year tradition of printing and publishing the Bible” (emphasis added).

Wow.

When the Authorized Version supplanted the Geneva Bible, the Tyndale, the Bishop’s Bible, and the Coverdale in the early 17th century as the most dominant English translation the world has ever known, Cambridge began producing the time-honored KJV and never looked back. To this day, the Authorized Version has never been out of print at Cambridge. It’s an unbroken chain.

Today, the Bibles being put out by Cambridge are much more advanced than ever, standing among the highest quality in the world. No longer are they printed with movable type on a Gutenberg, but many of the processes are still done by hand. Cambridge commonly swaths their Bibles with gloriously supple leathers: goatskin, calfskin, and the like.

Among the editions being made today, Cambridge has three titans of publishing glory (in my opinion). They are the Pitt Minion, a very small print double-column handheld reference edition; the Clarion, a perfectly formatted single column reference edition, and the Wide Margin, a larger sized Bible with ample space for note-taking with exactly the same pagination and layout as the Pitt Minion (except bigger font).

The purpose of a good wide margin reference Bible like this one is to study actively, with the mind, not lazily and passively.

The purpose of a good wide margin reference Bible like this one is to study actively, with the mind, not lazily and passively.

If you consider purchasing one, there may be a bit of a sticker shock. They commonly cost between $100 and $200 USD. But remember, you are buying European quality, a Reformation-era legacy item, and an enduring heirloom. The leather is gorgeous, the bindings are smyth sewn, and the paper is the best available today. In most Cambridge editions, “line matching” prints the text exactly in line on both sides of the paper to reduce ghosting.

The Cambridge ESV and NASB Pitt Minion in Brown and Black Calf Split Leather.

The Cambridge ESV and NASB Pitt Minion in Brown and Black Calf Split Leather.

These Bibles aren’t glued, folks. They aren’t held together by polymers (rubber) or the so-called “bonded leather” (the “particle board” glue-smoosh of Bible covers). And they don’t come on copy machine paper.

Honestly, they are works of art.

If you own a Cambridge Bible, you own a piece of history. You have something to pass down to your heirs. You have a Bible meant to be read, treasured, and passed down to the next generation.

Other Premium Options

In addition to Cambridge, here are a few other high quality Bible manufacturers that are putting out great products today:

1) Schuyler. Although they are undoubtedly the most expensive Bibles on the market, Schuyler is making some extremely premium Bibles. They use the best paper, sewn bindings, and leather covers and liners. Their Quentel line is without peer.

2) R.L. Allan. Out of England (formerly Scotland) R.L. Allan Bibles typically take book blocks printed by other companies (Crossway etc.) and cover them in their luxurious Highland Goatskin. Here’s an article I did on their re-covering of the ESV Study Bible. Amazing!

3). Crossway. The new Heirloom series by Crossway is a big step towards premium quality. In additon to their much more affordable options (like their respectable synthetic TruTone covers), they are now producing Bibles with high quality paper, and full leather covers, including goatskin and calfskin. Check out some of their products here.

Top to Bottom: Cambridge Pitt Minion, Cambridge Clarion, Schuyler Quentel, Cambridge Wide Margin, Crossway ESV Study Bible rebound by Leonard’s Books and Bibles.

Top to Bottom: Cambridge Pitt Minion, Cambridge Clarion, Schuyler Quentel, Cambridge Wide Margin, Crossway ESV Study Bible rebound by Leonard’s Books and Bibles.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brookville, Florida. He is a graduate of Malone University (BA, Bible and Theology); Ashland Theological Seminary (MA, Practical Theology), and a doctoral student at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. His is the author of several books including Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647.

Give it all you’ve got … but stop trying so hard!

Pete Santucci bannerfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Soccer practice had just ended and I was ready to head for home. But the coach had a different idea. As the other boys trickled off to their cars and awaiting dinners, the coach pulled Matthias aside. The coach wanted to work on something with him one-on-one.

I love to compete. The word compete has my name in it. (Com – Pete. Get it?) But in our family, the fiercest competitor of all is Matthias. But where I enjoy winning, he hates losing. For him, the pain of losing is greater than the thrill of winning. So, even though he can be an aggressive goal-scorer, he is far more defensive in his playing. And the ultimate defensive position in soccer is goalkeeper.

So, Matthias’ coach was working with him on playing keeper. And they were working on one particular aspect — the drop-kick after the keeper collects the ball. Matthias could kick the ball fairly far, but he wasn’t very consistent or accurate. But after just one single minute with the coach, he was kicking it 50% further and far more accurately than he’d done before. What had changed? What had the coach told him? He’d told him to not kick it so hard.

Trying too hard is the enemy in all sports. It ruins a golf swing. It ruins the toss of a bowling ball. It ruins the swing of a baseball bat, the throw of a football, the spike of a volleyball. When I learned to waterski, it took me longer than others to get up for the first time, because I tried too hard. Instead of letting the boat pull me up, I tried to pull myself up (which usually meant I had to pull my shorts up after getting dragged through the water behind the boat).

I’ve been told that when we try too hard, our bodies tense up and are not able to react quickly or smoothly when we need them to. When we were talking about this, my friend Greg Verbeck mentioned that a baserunner in baseball will never be able to dive back to first base or kick off to steal second base unless his upper body is relaxed. A tense, stiff baserunner is a sitting duck for a pick off. And how many quarterbacks throw interceptions in the beginning of football games because they are so amped up and tense?

Excellence requires two seemingly contradictory things. A passionate, give-it-all-you’ve-got attention and a relaxed leisureliness. Having the intensity without the relaxation leads to tensed-up trying too hard. Having leisureliness without giving it all you’ve got leads to dropping out of the game completely.

soccer

All of the greatest athletes make it look easy. When he was in his prime, Michael Jordan would blast past three guys on the court, but he was so relaxed as he did it that he almost seemed slow. This is true of all of life and especially in the life of following Jesus.

There are some who get so intent that they get tense and wound-up. They’re simply trying too hard. And when it doesn’t work out for them, they just try harder still, with diminishing results. They’re so focused on what they’re doing, so overly self-aware that there’s no way that they’re going to do things well.

If you’re one of these folks, take a chill pill. Really. Settle down. Stop taking yourself so seriously. In fact, just stop thinking about yourself at all for a bit. Not only will it be nicer for you, but it’ll be nicer for everyone else, too. You’re so tense that you’re making everyone else around you tense, too.

In Isaiah 30:15, we read — This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.” 

The people of God were so wound up in their attempts to protect and preserve themselves that they ceased trusting in God. The Lord wanted them to stop trying so hard, to take a deep breath, to turn to him, to trust in him, to rest in him. That’s what would save them — that’s Who would save them — not their political maneuverings. But they had none of it. Is that a passage you need to heed?

On the other hand, there are some who look like they’re resting because, well, they’re sitting on the bench or in the bleachers or in front of the TV at home. They’re not in the game because they haven’t given themselves to it.

If Michael Jordan hadn’t given himself to the game of basketball after being cut from the team early in his high school years, we wouldn’t know his name today. The relaxedness of his technique is an aspect of his passion for the game, not the opposite of it. It’s only by going all in and giving yourself over to it that you are able to relax into it.  Again, it seems like a contradiction, but it’s the only way it works.

It’s only when we give our lives over to Jesus completely that we are able to rest in him. It’s only when we immerse ourselves fully in him, are baptized into him, are clothed in him (to use a few of the Bible’s favorite images) that we are able to stop our frantic self-saving and self-securing, our trying to get it right and be right. It’s only then that we find our peace. If that’s you, maybe it’s time to go all in with God.

The only way is to go all the way. And then to stop trying so hard.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Pete was a journalist and magazine editor before becoming a pastor — he can’t get enough of words or the Word. He loves getting to know people and talking about our creating, saving, loving God. He and his wife Charlene have four kids and call their home the Santucci Circus. Together with several missional communities, they are gathering together a church called The Table, where meals and lives are shared, the hungry are fed, and all taste and see that the Lord is good. See www.TheTableInBend.com for more.

The twisted world of Garfield Minus Garfield…and life in the Spirit

Garfield minus garfieldfacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

What would the world be like without Garfield the cat?

Personally, I’ve never liked the Garfield comic strip, so I’ve always thought the world would be MUCH better off without him. At least, I thought that until I came across the Garfield Minus Garfield website.

The site offers a wonderfully twisted take on the Garfield comic strip. (My 13-year-old son, Josiah, has spent way too much time laughing at the remixed comic.) The twist is that Garfield has been removed from the panels of the comic. He’s just gone. No trace. What that leaves us with is John Arbuckle (his “owner”) by himself. And without Garfield, John starts taking on a fairly freaky personality. Without Garfield’s image and thought bubbles, John comes across as desperately lonely as he talks aloud to himself and as depressingly hopeless about life.

As I looked through the images, it made me think of the Christian “life” without the presence of the Holy Spirit.

I won’t say that Garfield is the Holy Spirit. Heaven forbid! But those comics don’t make sense without Garfield. They are grim and empty.

Garfield is the spark, the life, the power without which John Arbuckle lives a meaningless, hopeless, purposeless life — a shadow life. But when Garfield is in the picture, John’s life is a wild adventure, never lacking in energy and motion. You never know what’s going to happen. You may not like what goes on all the time, but there’s never a dull moment.

Now, the Holy Spirit is a far cry better than a fat, selfish, lazy, mean-spirited cat. He is the one who causes us to bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. His is the one who gives us the mind of God and the power of God and the joy of God. He is the one who makes it possible for us to live the Jesus kind of life, the real life that Jesus has opened up for us by saving us from our sins, the life God intended us to live when creating us.

Our sins are what we’re saved from. But life in the Spirit is what we’re saved to.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Pete was a journalist and magazine editor before becoming a pastor — he can’t get enough of words or the Word. He loves getting to know people and talking about our creating, saving, loving God. He and his wife Charlene have four kids and call their home the Santucci Circus. Together with several missional communities, they are gathering together a church called The Table, where meals and lives are shared, the hungry are fed, and all taste and see that the Lord is good. See www.TheTableInBend.com for more.