Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. ~2 Timothy 2:15

About Me

I am a young man who is following God's call into pastoral ministry. I have been so blessed with the privileges which the Lord has granted me. I am blessed to serve the Mt. Joy congregation in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I am constantly humbled and amazed at what the Lord is doing in my life.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Often Neglected Part of Jesus' Great Commission



            In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gave what we often call “The Great Commission” to His Church. What really serves as the Church’s job description. The very reason that He has left the Church here until His return. Here it is to remind you of it once again: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” 

            Now we talk a lot about the practice of the Church “making disciplesand the need to “baptize” new believers and to make sure that we “teachthose within the congregation the Lord’s commands preserved for us in His Word. However, it appears that we forget the very first component that Jesus gave in relation to this command to “make disciples,” the fact that we need to “go.”

            “Go” is an action word. It requires us to do something. You can’t be faithful to the call to disciple-making without some intentionality about it. I get the impression today that there are some who think that we must wait for unbelievers to just come to a worship service where they will hear the gospel and possibly get saved. (Which absolutely can, and sometimes does, happen. God certainly has brought many through the doors of a church building on a Sunday morning who had never graced such before where His Spirit did a work in their life leading them to come to Him in repentance and faith.) Or, that we need to change things in the worship service to make it more appealing for unbelievers and entice them to come. But, neither concerns us really “going” out to make disciples as the Lord says we should. And the latter actually would be an attempt to make the church more like the world. Unless God brings about a change of heart in an unbeliever’s life, they will not find biblical teaching and preaching interesting and it will seem to them to be a waste of their time.

            Some implications from an illustration that Jesus Himself gives regarding this call to make disciples also communicates to us the need to “go” out and share the gospel to get someone to disciple. He told the first disciples that He called that they were to be “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19; Mark 1:17). Think about the image of a fisherman. He doesn’t sit at the table in his house with the plate in front of him waiting and hoping for a fish to jump up out of the water onto the land and flip flop all the way into the door of the house and onto the plate. No. He gets his fishing pole and heads out to the lake or pond to cast bait into the water in order to catch one. Likewise, we need to go out into the world with the bait of the gospel message and seek to catch some disciples. We can’t just sit in the congregation hoping and waiting for them to arrive.

            How do we do this? Again, it comes down to us being more intentional with telling others about Who Jesus is, what He has done, and calling them to repent of their sins and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for their salvation. I’m sure that each of us have those in our families and among our friends who have yet to be saved. Pray for an opportunity to work Jesus and the gospel into a conversation with them. Part of friendship is sharing with one another what is important to you. If you are in Christ, then Jesus is the most important person in your life. So, naturally you will talk about Him and His Word as part of your daily conversation with others. Make sure to explain why He is so important to you and the reason you submit to Him as Lord over all of your life. That should bring you right to the gospel. 

If you really are struggling with this (and to be fair I think all of us at times do struggle with this), then pray and ask God to give you the boldness needed to bring the gospel up with your unsaved loved ones. That’s what the apostles did when they were facing persecution for their faith and they desired to be obedient to Jesus’ word about being His witnesses to all the world. You can read their prayer in Acts 4:23-30. And guess what happened after they made such a prayer? God answered, giving them the boldness they needed and they went out to spread the gospel throughout the known world in light of the hostility that they faced. God has the ability to take care of any fear that you might have or to give you the right words that you need. Just look to Him and seek to be faithful.

God’s plan for growing His Church is through sending out His people to communicate the life-saving and life-transforming message of the gospel. If we want to see our congregation grow, we need to be participants in that plan. We need to “go” out with the message to bring in people to disciple. Let’s not neglect the first step of our Master’s “Great Commission.”

Laboring With You in Sharing the Gospel,
Pastor Lee

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Lessons For The Church From the Book of Acts

Today I took some much needed time to go through the book of Acts. There is so much confusion over what the church is and does today that I wanted to go back to its start and be reminded of how God designed it. While the culture around us may be changing, the role and work of the Church does not. That is simply because God Himself does not change nor does His Word. While we do need to be careful in taking a historical account that documents God's work in a specific time and place to not make it prescriptive (telling us what we need to do) instead of descriptive (informing us of what has been done), that doesn't mean that there still aren't things that remain the same with the Lord's design and work. I'll just share with you three specific things that jumped out at me in the book of Acts and the lessons from them for the church today.

God Is The One Who Ultimately Does the Work
The book of Acts is actually inaccurately titled. It shouldn't be called "The Acts of the Apostles" but really "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit" as it is His work and not any man's. In fact, Luke seems to go out of his way to emphasize that every major occurrence is a result of the action of God. He is the One indicated who pierces the hearts of the crowd listening to Peter's sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:37). The Greek word for "pierce" indicates that this is something that happens to the people from outside of them. It clearly was the convicting work of the Holy Spirit and not something that originated from them internally. Luke credits the growth of the Church with God and not the apostles or members of it (2:47; 5:14; 9:31; 11:21, 24; 16:5). "And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (2:47). Jesus Himself met Saul also known as Paul on the road to Damascus dramatically turning his life around and changing his course (9:1-9). Paul didn't have a chance to refuse the Lord of glory when confronted with His presence! The Gentiles who believed were those whom God had already appointed to have eternal life (13:48). Lydia didn't open up her own heart to respond to the gospel message that Paul shared but the Lord did (16:14) and God made sure that Paul knew that there were many people in the city of Corinth whom He had sovereignly chosen to be His people (18:9-10).

Throughout the entire movement of the early church, God's Spirit directed, guided, and protected all that happened. The Spirit sent out Barnabas and Saul/Paul (13:2) as well as guided the decision of the Jerusalem Council (15:28), determined Paul, Silas, and Timothy to go to Macedonia to minister as He shut the door to the other directions in which they were heading (16:6-10), and called the ones He desired to serve as elders in the church at Ephesus (20:28). God also worked to remove every stumbling block that Satan tried to mount against the Church. He took care of Ananias and Sapphira's tampering with the truth before the church (5:1-11), released Peter and others from prison (5:17-20); insured that Saul would be received by Ananias (9:10-16) and that Peter would witness to the Gentiles (10:13-16) in light of both of their apprehension, released Peter from prison again (12:6-17), struck down King Herod (12:18-23), and protected Paul in order to bring him to Rome where he could further spread the gospel message (27:1-28:10).

I am certain that there are many more that could be shared that I have missed but as you can see everything that took place all was a work of God. No man could take the credit for what transpired in the life of this church as it was growing and expanding. I think the same is still just as true today. Any work that ever is accomplished in any congregation can only be explained as it being a work of God's Holy Spirit. We could never bring about the same results that God can. So, does that mean that we can sit back and expect God to just take care of everything? Nope. Because we do also see in the book of Acts an important role that the Lord has called His redeemed church to play in His marvelous plan of salvation.

The Means God Uses To Accomplish This Work of Growing His Church is The Church's Prayer and Proclamation
God, in His infinite wisdom, has determined to do this great work of expanding and growing His church through the means of the church itself. Specifically through the church's praying and proclamation. We don't find these new believers lazy by any means. They are busy for the Lord!

First, they are a praying church. And I am not talking about each member simply saying grace before a meal or saying a few words to the Lord as they go to bed. They spent time praying together as a church. The discipline served as part of the regular routine of their gathering together (2:42). Just about everything that they did was preceded in prayer whether it was seeking the Lord's will for the replacement of Judas (1:23-26), commissioning leaders (6:3-6; 13:3; 14:23), and asking for the sending of the Spirit for new believers (8:14-17). God honored their prayers as well. After they prayed for boldness in 4:23-30, we are told that "the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness" (v. 31). Such boldness can be seen with the scattering of the apostles to spread that gospel message as well as with Stephen preaching the gospel unto his death. Also, their earnest prayer for Peter in prison (12:5) resulted with his release, much to the surprise of the church (vv. 12-17). Paul and Silas' praying and praise brought about an earthquake freeing them as well as leading to the conversion of the jailer himself (16:25-34).

This is quite a contrast to the activity of most American churches today. If the congregation has a prayer meeting, and that is a big IF, very few people come out for it or take it seriously. They claim to not have time to come before the Lord with their brothers and sisters, admit their utter dependency upon Him, and request Him to do the work that only He can do. No wonder we don't see God do as much in our congregations today. We aren't petitioning Him to do anything. I am convinced that we could see the same mighty works of God moving today as that church in Acts if we would just follow their lead and get on our knees together.

Second, this church was a proclaiming church. Their main work in addition to praying was proclaiming the gospel of God's grace to those who needed to hear it which is everyone. Luke records not only the church's actions in this (6:7; 8:4-6; 14:1; 16:13; 17:2-3, 13, 17; 18:4, 28) but also even some of their evangelistic encounters or sermons in detail (2:14-36; 3:11-26; 7:1-53; 8:26-40; 9:19-22; 10:34-43; 13:16-41; 17:22-31). The narrative ends with Paul "proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance" (28:31). Without any question this was the church's main goal . . . and of course it should have been as their Lord and Master commanded them to do so (Matthew 28:19-20) and stated that this was His purpose for them (Acts 1:8). Above all else, they were committed to tell others about Jesus and the salvation that can only be found in Him.

If prayer and the proclamation of the Word of God serve as the two means that God uses to bring about His intended purpose in the church, then why would the contemporary church neglect them or attempt to do anything else? Could this be why many congregations today are not seeing much spiritual growth (which is different from just filling the pews with people whose hearts remain far from God)? They have abandoned the only two means that God has ordained for Himself to work through. In fact, in light of this we can refine the proper title of Acts, "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit Through the Prayer and Proclamation of the Apostles."

The Work That the Church Does Is Empowered By the Holy Spirit
One final thing I want to point out to you concerning what we can learn from the book of Acts. You will notice that as you read through this historical account that even this proclamation of the gospel that the church labored at to serve as the means of God's drawing men and women to Himself was not done in their own strength. They did it relying on the power that God provided for them in His Holy Spirit. Many times before someone shared the gospel or had God do a mighty work through them, we read that they were "filled with the Spirit" (4:8, 31; 9:17; 13:9-11). Those who were mature in the faith are also deemed to be "filled with the Spirit" (6:3, 5; 11:24). I think the point communicated with this phrase is that these men operated by the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish their appointed task.

Believers today are no more stronger than these weak ones we read about in this book. Remember that many of these apostles were the timid, confused, stubborn disciples who cowered in fear behind locked doors after Jesus' arrest. The only explanation for the courage we witness in Acts is that they were relying on the power of the Holy Spirit that the Lord had graciously given them to do the means which God worked through to bring about His plan to grow His church. How much more could those in the church accomplish today if they just would rely on the Holy Spirit that dwells within them? To step out in faith and in Him find the confidence to face the uncomfortable? David Platt hit the nail on the head when he said, “Perhaps the greatest hindrance to the spread of the Gospel today is the people of God trying to do the work of God apart from the power and presence of God.”

Putting all of this together we could say that a better name for the book of Acts would be "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit Through the Means of the Praying and Proclamation of the Apostles Empowered By That Spirit." Of course, that would be a rather long title but more substantial in capturing the essence of the book. However, I think the bigger issue is whether what you see in your congregation could be described as "The Acts of God the Holy Spirit Through the Means of the Praying and Proclamation of His People Empowered By His Spirit" or "The Acts of Man Through the Worldly Means of Themselves Relying on Themselves." May God mold us into the model of the church provided for us in the book of Acts instead of allowing us to be molded by the model of the world.

Love in Christ,
Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Jesus' Cry of Forgiveness



You can learn a lot about someone by looking at their last words. Have you ever done a study of the last words of famous people in history before their death? In someone’s last words you can find out what was important to them as well as key insights into their character. This is certainly true concerning the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We receive a marvelous glimpse into His heart when we explore the seven last sayings He uttered with His final breaths while hanging on the cross.

The first of these statements was Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. Take a moment and let this sink in. Jesus here is asking God to forgive the ones who hated Him. Those who mocked Him. Who flogged His back. Who spit upon Him. Who placed the crown of thorns forcefully on His head. Those who nailed Him to the cross. Who were responsible for the agonizing pain that He is experiencing.

The Lord of glory is asking God to do for the greatest act of sin in all of history what we struggle to do for small offenses towards us. We have a hard time letting go of the hurts caused to us by others, don’t we? To forgive those who wrong us. Yet, that is exactly what Jesus prays that God the Father would do for His tormentors here. Jesus is doing what He has called us to do when He instructed us in the Sermon on the Mount to forgive those who wrong us and to pray for our enemies. This should serve as an encouragement for us to follow His leading.

Notice that Jesus states they do not know what they are doing. He is not saying that they were completely ignorant that what they were doing was wrong. Just that they did not understand how great of a crime they were guilty of. That they were murdering the very Son of God. A sinner needs the Holy Spirit to open their blind eyes to recognize the enormity of their sins against God.

At this very moment on the cross, Jesus is ensuring that God will answer this prayer for forgiveness as He experiences the full weight of God’s wrath for the sins of those who will look to Him alone for their salvation. That the holy God will be able to forgive them as Jesus takes the punishment for their sins. He will no longer hold their sins against them as Jesus has turned away God’s wrath their sins brought upon them.

We find Jesus’ prayer answered with the thief on the cross as well as the Roman Centurion I believe that Brother Bob will be speaking about later as both received the forgiveness that Jesus requests here. We see the prayer answered in the book of Acts in the great number who have God’s forgiveness on the day of Pentecost as they respond in repentance to Peter’s sermon. Many among that crowd were held responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion. Who may have called for Him to be crucified. Who joined in the taunts and ridicule that day.

And let me point out to you that this is a limited prayer. It is only for those who are in Christ by God’s grace alone through faith alone. It is not for those who remain in their sins without repentance. We learn in John 17 that Jesus only prays for the ones that the Father gives to Him. Not for those of the world. This is the great High Priest praying for His people as He is offering Himself up as their sacrifice. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 who poured out Himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet Himself bore the sin of many, and interceded for the transgressors.

If you are a sinner who is looking to Jesus alone to reconcile you to God, take heart. You have forgiveness because of Jesus’ prayer for you based on His sacrificial death. It doesn’t matter how great of a sinner you are or what type of a sinner you are. As the hymn rightly says, “Jesus is merciful. Jesus will save.” And if you don’t know Jesus personally as your Lord and Savior, why not come to Him today to experience the forgiveness that He prays for and that He laid down His life for. This prayer can be for you if you just look to Him.

In Christ,
Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Encouragements to Evangelism



It appears today that many Christians in the American church are very lax about sharing the gospel of Christ. As a former pastor of mine put it: so many of us Christians are so excited that we have our place at the table that we just sit there content and do not bother to go out and invite others also. Or as Keith Green sang several years ago, the church is just “asleepin the light” while people are sinking and drowning in their sins. I must confess that I far too often fail to take advantages of the opportunities that the Lord brings my way. I am continuing to work at being more intentional with sharing my faith with others and I want to help you with that as well. So, to help us all with our important role that the Lord has given us, let's look at seven encouragements for us to tell others about Jesus. 

1) CHRIST COMMANDS US TO
Jesus' final words to His disciples were: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20). The very first step in making a disciple is to tell them what God has done for them in Christ if they repent of their sins and place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ ALONE for their salvation. One thing that should motivate us to go out and share the good news is the fact that Christ commanded us to do so. According to Jesus "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15). If we are serious about our love for the Lord, we will want to uphold and live out this important commandment to honor Christ and bring God glory. Making disciples cannot be an option for us but a necessity. In fact, according to Jesus it is our job description. It is the very reason that we are still left on this earth. Think about it. Why doesn’t God immediately take a believer to glory to be with Him for all eternity? Because He desires to use him or her to share the gospel message with others so that they may be saved as well. We have a very important job! Want to fulfill the very purpose that God has for you? Be more intentional in telling others about Jesus and His saving work on the cross.

2) SHARING THE JOY WHICH IS OURS
The joy of having a relationship with Jesus Christ is so great that we should have no problem sharing that joy with others. It should make such a difference in our lives that we would not be able to not share. After all, why would we not want to share about how Christ, while we were still yet sinners and enemies of God due to our sins, took our sins upon Himself, the innocent being viewed as guilty, and suffered God's wrath on the cross, the separation from God which we were due to experience for all eternity? All this so that we would be considered righteous instead of the guilty sinners which we are. Not only that but after having defeated sin,  that Jesus rose three days later to conquer death and give us assurance that all those who place their trust in Him will be raised to eternal life with God as well. This is wonderful news that should be easier to share than who won the last sports event or the latest gossip in the neighborhood. Peter and John are wonderful examples of those who could not keep their joy to themselves. Upon being commanded by the Sanhedrin to no longer teach or preach in the name of Jesus, they respond, "we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). They could not keep quiet about Jesus! Being placed in jail a few times did not damper their zeal to share their joy. The same joy that propelled them to talk so much about Jesus should also lead us to evangelize more.

3) OUR LOVE FOR OTHERS
Take a moment and think about your family members and closest friends who do not know the Lord. Do you realize that without repentance and giving their life to Christ that they will go to hell as punishment for their sins? You will not have the pleasure of seeing them in eternity if they do not accept Christ. Our love for our unsaved family and friends should propel us to pray for God to open up their hearts to receive the gospel and give us opportunities to tell them about Christ. Paul had a great love for his fellow Jews and longed for their salvation. "Brethren, my heart's desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation" (Romans 10:1). In fact, it was this desire and concern for the Jews that led him to increase his ministry to the Gentiles, knowing that God had opened salvation to them in order to spur the Jews to jealousy. "But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them" (Romans 11:13-14). Do you care about your family and friends? Then warn them of the wrath to come and share the good news of what God has done to save them from it if they look away from themselves to His Son and His work.

4) GOD’S MERCY AND GRACE IN EVANGELISM
A big motivation for evangelism should be the simple fact that evangelism is a privilege. We do not deserve to share in any part of God's work. God does not need us to tell others about Him but He chooses to use us. He could easily do the work without us but in His great grace, He includes us in His missionary endeavor. One of the biggest blessings we have as a believer is the ability to serve God in different ways. Out of gratitude to be granted to be the ones whose feet "bring good news of good things" (Romans 10:15), we should go out and gladly do the privilege of our job to evangelize recognizing like Paul that God has considered us faithful, though we were the chief of sinners, to be put into service for Him all because of His mercy (1 Timothy 1:12-16).

5) CHRIST GOES WITH US
One part of the "Great Commission" we usually forget about is Jesus' last statement: "and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). We are not evangelizing on our own but Christ goes with us. If you are nervous about sharing your faith in Christ, don't fear but trust God and seek Him for the words in which you are to say. This is what the apostles did. At the start of the persecution of the early church, they gathered together and prayed that God would "grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence" (Acts 4:29). The Lord answered their prayer as vs. 31 points out and the rest of the narrative in Acts demonstrates. God granted them the boldness to go all over "Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8). God gave them the confidence that they needed to proclaim the word unto death (Stephen) and through more imprisonments (Peter). This is not a task that we have to do alone. We have the great Evangelist Himself alongside of us who will equip us with all that we need to get the job done. We just need to follow Him and do it!
 
6) THE RESULTS ARE UP TO GOD AND NOT US
It is important to understand that we are only responsible for delivering the message of the gospel and not for its reception or rejection. Scripture is clear that God is the One who works in a sinner's heart to "draw" them to Christ (John 6:44). He is the One who shines the "Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" in people's hearts (2 Corinthians 4:6) and makes those dead in their trespasses alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). Paul preached the message in Philippi but the Lord was the one who opened Lydia's heart "to respond to the things spoken by Paul" (Acts 16:14). We are to be those messengers to bring the good news (Romans 10:13-15) to all of those we come in contact with, realizing that the Holy Spirit is the One who uses the message to "pierce" people's hearts (Acts 2:37), draw them to Christ (John 6:44), and bring them to repentance (Romans 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:25). We are like the sower in one of Jesus’ parables who sows seed in the soil and then goes to sleep, resting while the seed sprouts and grows by itself (Mark 4:26-29).

How is this an important motivation? Recognizing this truth lets us know that we do not have to be perfect in our presentation of the message or that we have to manipulate someone to come to Christ. God can use the simplest presentations of the gospel to impact one's heart and change their life. We don't need to worry about how the person responds because that’s God’s job. He is the One who opens their hearts to hear the message and changes their hearts, bringing about their conversion. Realizing the fact that it is not based on our ability, we can focus more on getting the truth of the message right, knowing that the gospel is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). God uses the gospel which we are to preach to penetrate the hard hearts of unbelievers. While we will not be held accountable for the results of our evangelizing, I do believe that God will hold us accountable for those opportunities He gave us to share His good news that we did not take. We just need to be faithful to God by following His leading for the opportunities He provides and to faithfully communicate the message.

7) GOD RECEIVES MORE GLORY AS HIS KINGDOM GROWS
The greatest desire for a Christian is to bring God glory and praise. To see Him exalted and lifted up in worship because He is worthy. When someone responds positively to the gospel message and comes to Christ with an attitude of repentance in faith, another worshiper is added to God’s kingdom. This means that God is receiving more praise by more people. The saints in glory will be rejoicing that those from every nation on earth will be bowing down before God in response to Who He is and what He has done. “And they sang the song of Moses, the bondservant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying, ‘Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and true are Your ways, King of the nations! Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, For Your righteous acts have been revealed’ ” (Revelation 15:3-4). John Piper has put it well when he has said that worship ultimately is the goal of the Church. The very reason that evangelism and missions exist is because worldwide worship doesn’t at the moment (Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005). Our desire is to share the gospel so that God may bring many more into the kingdom and receive more praise from them as His kingdom grows. This should move us to have more of a global perspective, not only to be concerned about our unsaved neighbor right next to us but those across the ocean as well. How can we contribute to the spread of the gospel to them? Are there any missionaries that we can support or even a trip we can take to participate in that work? If we care about God’s glory in the accomplishment of His rescue mission of sinners, then these are questions we need to be asking.

I hope that you will examine your own life to see how well you are doing in sharing your faith in Christ with others as I continue to do so. If you realize that you have been lax in this area, take some time to see which of these motivations might be missing in your life and spend some time meditating on them. Let’s pray that God would work in our hearts to further motivate us to go out and have the privilege to live out His "Great Commission." We have a mission to reach a world lost and dying in sin with the greatest news of all time and no time to waste.

In Christ,
Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!!!