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.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Lessons From September 11

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate?  I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
~Luke 13:1-5

Today thousands in the nation take time out of their busy schedules to commemorate and remember those who lost their lives in the horrible tragedy which occurred the morning of this day fourteen years ago.  Many of us remember how that day changed the way we thought about the country, our loved ones, and even our lives.  Many still are struggling with what they have seen, or with those they have lost in the tragedy.  Some lives may never be the same again.  While not belittling the victims of the tragedy, I want to look at what those who are still living can learn from this event.

The days following the 9/11 attacks brought several questions.  Several of these questions concerned God and His role in the event.  People struggled with trying to grasp any reasons God may have allowed or permitted this to happen.  Some wondered if the people who went for what they thought would have been a normal day at work deserved to play the victims of such a horrible scenario.

Clearly God was in control of that day and is still in control of our world today.  Scripture tells us that God works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).  Through Amos God communicates, If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it? (Amos 3:6) and Jesus says that a sparrow does not fall to the ground apart from your Father (Matthew 10:29).  Even Satan himself is under the sovereignty of God.  Jesus acknowledged to Peter that Satan could not test the disciples' faith without God's allowance.  Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat (Luke 22:31).  Likewise, Satan could not tamper with Job without God's permission and He set clear boundaries where Satan would not be able to trend.  In the first meeting with Satan, God agreed to let him test Job but would not allow him to put forth your hand on him (Job 1:12) and the second time God gave Job into his control but would not permit him to kill His righteous servant.  Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life (Job 2:6).  This is a very comforting truth.  Our lives may seem like they are spirling out of control, but the truth is that we are still in God's hands and He is working to bring things to His ultimate purpose.  You may be down at your lowest, but we have hope that God IS in control and causing all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  Even in the worst of times, we have comfort knowing there is a loving and good God in control who has a purpose in the suffering.  God was there that day on 9/11 and, even amist the sorrow, several testimonies to His goodness have been proclaimed.  His sovereign hand never left the situation!

The second major question the World Trade Center attacks spawned is one which is a common response to every huge natural disaster or catastrophe:  "What did this group do to deserve this?"  This was seen after the tsunami in India as well as New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina.  In fact, Jesus was asked a similar question about 2000 years ago.  While speaking to a large crowd, a group informs Jesus about an atrocity which Pilate had committed.  The exact situation is unknown to us today but we can infer that it had something to do with a slaughter of Jews during their sacrifices.  Not only was this a terrible occurrence, but it took place during worship which made it even more horrendous.  Jesus realized right away the question that they had concerning this issue.  They thought that this plight was the result of them being greater sinners than all others.  However, Jesus sought to turn their perspective completely around.

Instead of agreeing with their assumption, Jesus took the focus off the victims and placed it on the questioners.  The reason this group was slaughtered was not because they were greater sinners.  The ones who were killed were no more sinners than the ones commenting concerning them.  (Note: This does not necessarily mean that the events God permits to occur are punishment for specific sins.  John 9 makes it clear that, while a result of the curse of sin, not all infirmities and incidents are due to specific sins.)  Those who died in the tsunami, in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and with Hurricane Katrina were no more sinners than those of you reading this note as well as the one writing it.  We deserved the same!  I will never forget a powerful sermon my pastor preached right after the tsunami a few years ago.  He told us that the question is not "why them?" but should be "why not us?"  We didn't deserve God's mercy to not have the tsunami happen in America, or to not have been in the Pentagon or World Trade Center on that day, as well as having the hurricane wreck havoc on the NorthEast or MidWest.  As Scripture tells us, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  We get so used to God's mercy we have problems when He shows us His wrath.

Jesus actually warns the crowd of an even greater fate, much worse than what happened with Pilate and the later example of the falling of the tower of Siloam.  Unless they repent of their sins, they will perish (Luke 13:3,5).  This is Jesus' urgent plea to those who are lost in sin.  Repentance means a turning from sin.  It is the flip side of faith.  One turns from sin in repentance and then turns toward Christ by placing their faith in Him.  The likewise may refer to the sudden and unexpected death of those in the Temple and at Siloam.  Those who went to the Temple that day to offer their sacrifices did not realize that they would not be returning home.  The possibility of the tower falling on the group in Siloam probably never occurred to them.  Likewise, if the crowd does not turn from their sins and turn to Christ they will suddenly and unexpectedly (to them) experience the punishment for their sins.  The author of Hebrews tells us that it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

No one is guaranteed of their next heartbeat or breath.  If we should learn something from modern headlines, it is that death is no respecter of age.  If you have not turned from your sins and placed your faith in the Lord Jesus, then Jesus' plea for repentance is for you.  Like those in the Temple and at Siloam, you do not know when the day will come and it will be too late.   Many who left for work that morning of 9/11 did not know that they would not leave the building.  Several wives did not know that they would not see their husbands again.  I am not attempting to scare anyone, I just want to point out reality.   For us who are Christians, this is a reminder that life is too short to waste!  Let us give out Jesus' plea to those who need to hear it in our families, schools, and at our places of employment!

Praying for those involved with the attacks in any way as well as us who can learn from God's mercy,
Lee Smith
Soli Deo Gloria!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

True Love For Christ

An essential characteristic of a true Christian is that they have a love for the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, the Apostle Paul goes so far as to state that “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22). The Greek word here for “accursed” conveys the idea of being “devoted to destruction.” So, if someone has no genuine love for the Lord Jesus Christ, he or she has no right to even call themselves a Christian. Having a love for Jesus is something that is not natural for any one of us as Scripture states we are all born hating Him. “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19-20). We by default have a hatred towards Jesus but a love for our sin. That hatred may be masked as indifference but it is there. It takes a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to give us a hatred for our sin and a genuine love for Christ. Without being born again, we will not have a true love for Christ. We will remain desiring our sin over and above Him.

Now, how do we know whether we actually love Christ or if we just think that we do when really we don’t? Keep in mind that the Bible tells us that our hearts are very deceptive and it is quite possible for us to be deceived into thinking that we have a love for Jesus when in reality we do not. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). This means that we need to examine how Jesus Himself defines what love for Him looks like for us to see whether we can honestly say that we love Him.

According to Jesus, love for Him is displayed through obedience to His commands. He stated, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). And again, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). So, what does it indicate about someone’s love for Jesus if they have no concern in being obedient to His teachings and commandments? If they desire to live their own way and do whatever they want, regardless of what Scripture says? If the times where they are disobedient to what He has said never bothers them? Clearly, it shows that they don’t really love Him, no matter how much they may claim to.
In fact, Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words” (John 14:24). Jesus defines love for Himself in terms of obedience.

He also defines love for Himself in terms of priority. Having a genuine love for Christ is to have Him as the greatest treasure in one’s life. Placing Him first and at the center of their life. Jesus actually states that “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). His point here is that He must be greater in the Christian’s life than their family and themselves. Anything and anyone else that they love must be loved less than Him. He serves as the top priority. And when it is pointed out to someone that they have placed something or someone above Him, the person who has a true love for Jesus will grieve this news and desire to have Him again as their number one.

What are some other things that reveal a person’s love for someone that should be expected to be seen in the man or woman who really loves Jesus in action not just in word? J. C. Ryle provides a helpful list in his book, Holiness: It’s Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014) 328-332. If we love someone, “we like to think about him,” “we like to hear about him,” “we like to read about him,” “we like to please him,” “we like his friends,” “we are jealous about his name and honour,” “we like to talk to him,” and “we like to be always with him.” Are these true about you in regard to Jesus? It certainly should be if you really love Him. This is more than a mere reference to Him in a small prayer before a meal. It is looking to Him and having Him in your mind throughout the day. It is spending quality time with Him that develops from quantity time in His Word and in communion with Him in prayer.

While no one can say that they have a perfect love for Jesus, can you say that you are falling more in love with Him the more you come to know about Him? The more that you read His Word and spend time with Him in prayer? (And if you are not doing these two disciplines on a daily basis, you need to ask yourself why. Why is it that you don’t want to spend time with Him? What has taken His place in your life that you would rather make time for instead? Or to put it another way; what is robbing you of the joy that can ultimately be found only in Him?) And if you are really struggling with loving Him, just take time to meditate on His great love for you demonstrated at the cross. That itself should motivate you to love Him more!

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Clash of Worldviews

According to Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey, a “worldview” “is simply the sum total of our beliefs about the world, the ‘big picture’ that directs our daily decisions and actions” (How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999) 14). It is the lens in which we view and understand the world around us and which influences how we conduct ourselves. Imagine that you put on “rose colored” glasses. Everything that you saw would be tinted red. We could say that this is a good illustration of what a “worldview” is; a set of beliefs (those “rose colored” glasses) that determine how we see and interpret the world around us. There are basically only two worldviews in existence today: what we could refer to as a secular humanist view and on the other hand a biblical one. The former is a faulty way of viewing the world with the latter being the true perspective.

The secular humanist view has man as its standard. It claims that “man is the measure of all things.” Thus, humanity determines what is right and wrong and what one should and should not do. This leads to a denial of God and any concept of His design. Instead, man is said to be god and calls the shots. He can determine what marriage is, his gender, when life begins, and do whatever he thinks feels right. He can decide about what to believe and live his life accordingly. The reason why today the teaching of evolution is so predominant, marriage is redefined, dissolved, and avoided, abortion remains rampant, the transgender movement continues to grow, and sexual immorality is at a high all stems from the world operating from this secular humanist worldview. It is because they view man as being the determining factor in all of their decisions. This in essence is the view of fallen man. The view originating with Satan’s temptation in the Garden of Eden. You will be like God (Genesis 3:4).

However, with the biblical worldview, God serves as the standard for all things. He is recognized for the Creator that He is with the implication being that His creation must bow down to Him as Lord over their lives. He determines what is right and wrong and commands what one should and should not do. He designs marriage and creates someone to be male or female (and the mutilating of their body can’t change that). He is in charge of giving and taking life so that it is His choice for a child to live or not, not the choice of the mother of the child. For man to go against what God has said is nothing short of rebellion. He makes demands of man and judges him. This is the worldview of the Christian and the Church. The true view of reality that God opens our eyes to see when we have been born again. The view of Genesis 1:1. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

We need to realize that these two worldviews are in direct opposition to one another and continually clash in our world today. Christians cannot be in agreement with several things practiced in our culture today because they go against God’s intention and commands. As believers, we must be working to further develop having a biblical worldview; seeking to view the world according to the way that God has defined it, not the way we think or feel that it is. The best way to do this is to be studying our Bibles. You can’t know how the Bible describes the world in which we live unless you are reading your Bible. You can’t know how to handle certain situations according to God’s standard if you are not opening His standard daily.

The next time that we listen to the news reports of what is occurring in the world, we should ask: What does the Bible say about this? What does the Bible state that caused someone to do this? How am I to understand this according to Scripture? How does the gospel message speak to this issue? What does Scripture direct me to do in this instance? Let’s put on our “Bible colored” glasses and see the world the way that God has defined it and strive, by His grace, to live according to His Word.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Friday, July 31, 2015

Dealing With Deborah: The Judge and The Role of Women in Ministry

On Wednesday nights I have been teaching through the book of Judges. Just last week we came to the prophetess Deborah and the important role that she plays in the narrative. I hear about Deborah a lot in discussions pertaining to the proper roles of women in ministry. Often times, and unfairly as I hope that you will see, she is used in an attempt to skirt around the clear teaching of Scripture that God created men and women in His image both equal in status (Galatians 3:28) but with different roles that compliment each other in the home (1 Corinthians 11:2-16; Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7) and in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-15). I have spoken with some people who support women serving as pastors or as other head leaders in the church who have treated Deborah as THE case that proves the point that a woman can and should be behind the pulpit preaching the Word of God to a mixed audience. (Just a note, there is no problem according to God's Word for a woman to be teaching or preaching to a group of all women or to be teaching children. Just look at Titus 2:3-5. I will go on the record to say that we need more women serving in these areas. But God has limited the office of elder or pastor to that of a man just as He has designed for men to lead their homes.) However, does Deborah really solve the issue? Does her very presence in the book of Judges lead to the clear conclusion that people like me who hold that God has not intended for a woman to serve as a pastor or elder are certainly in the wrong? Or, and I really hate to type this, that this would trump Paul's teaching in his letters? Actually, a closer examination into what goes on with Deborah shows no such thing. Let's together look at Deborah's Role, Deborah's Presence, and Deborah's Purpose.

Deborah's Role
The first thing that we must recognize about Deborah is that she is identified as a prophetess and not a pastor. We are told when we are first introduced to her that she is a prophetess. In fact, this serves as her predominant role in the narrative itself. Unlike the other judges that we read about in the book, she is not a military leader. The author stresses her role as settling disputes (v. 5) and prophesying (vv. 6-7, 9), mediating a direct word from God to His people. It should be noted that there is a difference between the role of a prophesying and that of an elder or pastor in the New Testament. According to 1 Corinthians 11, women could indeed prophesy in the assembly of a local congregation but she still was not granted the authority to teach a mixed group (1 Corinthians 14:34-36). So to use Deborah as a means to support the argument that God has granted the authority for women to play a major leading role in the life of a congregation doesn't hold water. It would be the equivalent of comparing apples to oranges. We are talking about two different roles here. A prophetess is not the same thing as a pastor or an elder. Be careful not to confuse what God has determined to be distinct.

Deborah's Presence
We also have to consider Deborah's very presence being a leader during the time of the judges. The author actually goes out of his way to emphasize the fact that she is a woman. Literally in Hebrew he says concerning her in Judges 4:4, And Deborah, a WOMAN PROPHETESS, the WIFE of Lappidoth, SHE, she was judging Israel at that time (emphasis mine). He certainly wants it to be clear to everyone who reads this account that she is a female. Now, why is this? Notice as well the contrast between her and Barak. She actually sends for Barak and commissions him to go out and deliver the people (vv. 6-7). However, he refuses unless she goes with him (v. 8). And the ramification for this would be that the victory would be at the hands of a woman instead of Barak himself (v. 9). That would have been a humiliation to Barak in this culture. It may also be significant that nowhere does the author ever explicitly state that God raised up Deborah to serve as a judge. Just that she was judging Israel at that time (v. 4). Could it be that the writer of this historical account wants to highlight for us a specific problem during this time? That the people lacked strong male leadership? We have a woman in leadership which certainly is rare and sticks out among all the other judges and also the man that is called to lead refuses to step up and go at it alone. Contextually, Deborah should not have been serving as this leader of the people.

Let's explore this deeper in the overall structure of the entire book. The author chooses to organize the events of this time in a way that demonstrates a continual downward spiral. That as time goes on, we have the further degradation of the nation of Israel as they become more and more mixed with the world. As they resemble the pagan Canaanites more than being God's very holy people. (A very much needed contemporary lesson for the Church today as the visible church, instead of being a ship sailing on the sea of the world, in many ways has begun to let the water of the world in and in many cases no longer can be seen as distinct from the world itself.) The author even states in the introduction of the book that every time a judge that God raised up to save them died, that they would turn back and act MORE CORRUPTLY than their fathers (2:19; emphasis mine). Not only is this degradation seen with the people themselves but also with their leaders. Everyone just becomes more and more corrupt as we move through the book. Compare the first judge, Othniel (1:11-15; 3:9-11), with the last one in the book, Samson (13:1-16:31). Othniel really is presented to us as a model judge. There is not any mention of any corruption caused by him. He is a courageous godly leader. However, on the flip side, nothing positive can really be said about Samson. He was a womanizer who broke every vow that he ever made. He was far more concerned with chasing women than he ever was about chasing after God's prescribed will. After Othniel, pretty much every judge has some sort of blemish on them. Take Ehud who was left-handed and certainly used a very questionable method to deliver Israel at the time (3:15-30). Or Gideon with his doubts and the idolatry that he encourages with the ephod that he built (6:1-8:32). Or Jephthah's rash vow leading him to sacrifice his very own daughter (10:6-12:7)! (I know some will attempt to argue that Jephthah didn't really sacrifice his daughter as a burnt offering but it was a case of her being dedicated to the temple in perpetual virginity. However, I will just point out in passing that the Hebrew word for "burnt offering," "olah," always, in every case that we find it in Scripture, refers to a literal "burnt offering.") And then we have Samson, the worst of the worst. What each of the judges did mirrored something that the ungodly pagans practiced, not what God commanded His people to do. So, following this pattern, we should expect to see something negative about Deborah that represents the people of the time. In light of the author drawing great attention to her gender and pointing out Barak's cowardice to lead, it seems reasonable to conclude that Deborah as a judge reflects the lack of strong male leadership at this time. Perhaps it should be mentioned that part of God's chastisement of the leaders in Israel years later by the prophet Isaiah was that children and women ruled over them (Isaiah 3:12). In other words, they lacked strong male leadership. A problem certainly true in many households today and within the church itself.

Deborah's Purpose
We need to remember that the events recorded in the book of Judges are descriptive, not prescriptive. There is a difference in what the Bible reports and what it recommends. What it says and what it supports. (I am indebted to Dale Ralph Davis for this valuable insight.) Just because the Bible reports several kings having more than one wife at a time does not mean that the Bible recommends that for people today. It is just telling us what happened during the time of the kings and even recording for us the sins of the people in that day. Just because the Bible records that Deborah served as a leader in the time of the judges does not necessary follow that it recommends that women should serve in main leadership roles in the church or as head in their families today. No more than the fact that Gideon laid out a fleece in a lack of trust in God's word or that Jephthah literally sacrificed his daughter indicates that we should do likewise. The whole purpose of this book is to show us how bad things got in those days when there was no king in Israel and man did what was right in his own eyes (21:25). Things that "were right in their own eyes" also regarding leadership. Not following God's design for leadership but creating their own way instead. As Dean R. Ulrich has put it, "Deborah was not so much a picture of the way things ought to be as she was a testimony to the way things were, and in the days of the judges, things were definitely not the way they were supposed to be" (From Famine to Fullness: The Gospel According to Ruth (The Gospel According to the Old Testament; Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2007) 8). Rather than seeing the case of Deborah as justification for disobedience against what God has established, we should instead view it as a warning. We as a church should not desire to resemble the ungodly world and culture in which we live as the nation of Israel did in the book of Judges but to remain faithful to God's Word which always is counter cultural and makes us stand out in contrast to the world.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Happy 506th Birthday John Calvin!

I will bow down toward your holy temple
and I will praise your name
for your love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.

~Psalm 138:2

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

Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the word of God. . . . Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and to obey the divine majesty of this word. Let them enjoin everyone by it, from the highest to the lowest. Let them edify the body of Christ. Let them devastate Satan's reign. Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious. Let them bind and loose thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the word of God
~John Calvin

Today marks the 506th birthday of John Calvin, one of the instruments God used to spread the Reformation throughout Europe. One could easily argue that he is one of the most influential theologians in history next to the apostle Paul and possibly Augustine. Personally, he is one of the "Johns" whom God has used to greatly impact my life and aid in teaching me His Word. (The other three being John MacArthur, John Piper, and John Charles (J.C.) Ryle). Regardless of whether you agree with him theologically or not (while through my study of Scripture I wholeheartedly affirm, embrace, and cherish the doctrines of grace he purported, I differ with him on his understanding of infant baptism and church order), there are things we all can learn from his life and ministry which had at its heart the glory of God. A fresh look at Calvin teaches us several things:

1) The Importance of the Word of God
The backbone of Calvin's ministry was the Word of God. This was central to his work in Geneva. In fact, upon seeing the many problems which existed in the church at Geneva, Calvin concluded that the only remedy to the problem would be to preach God's Word and let God straighten the people out through it. Calvin labored at teaching the flock that God had entrusted to him what God had communicated to them through His written Word. He preached ten sermons every two weeks at the same time writing several commentaries which he has blessed the church with today. His belief on the centrality of God's Word led him to preach through the Scriptures verse by verse. Such a commitment is shown in his return to Geneva after his banishment to start preaching from the exact verse he left off at his last sermon three years prior. He is known as the "prince of expositors." Every minister would do well in making the Word of God the foundation of his ministry. Every born again believer would do well in making the Word of God the foundation of their life and work; whatever God has called them to do.

2) The Importance of Embracing, Proclaiming, and Sharing the Glory of God
Calvin had one thing which drove his actions. This was his zeal for the glory of God to be made manifest and shared. The impetus for the strong commitment of teaching God's Word just discussed came from Calvin's perspective that to honor the Word of God would be to honor the God of the Word. He felt that the best way to display God's glory to the people was to preach God's Word which revealed His glorious work of redemption throughout history. He even stated at the end of his life that "I have written nothing out of hatred to any one, but I have always faithfully propounded what I esteemed to be for the glory of God."1 Such a commitment to living for the glory of God should be one which envelopes our lives as well. Paul tells us that Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Nothing should be a higher priority for the Christian than seeking to bring glory to God in everything that he or she does.

3) The Importance of Scholarship
Calvin was a pastor-theologian; something many claim today can't exist. In one moment he could write a treatise explaining what Scripture actually says about "free will" and then in another minister to one who was grieving the loss of a loved one. In fact, Calvin at first could not see how the two went together. He desired to be a scholar and write books concerning the faith. His whole purpose in writing The Institutes of the Christian Religion, his "magnum opus" respectfully, was to teach the pastors who were suffering persecution in France the faith that they were dying for. However, God continued to direct the Reformer to the pastorate where he used his scholarship in his teaching. He was not only a pastor shepherding his flock but a scholar seeking to teach God's Word as thoroughly and clearly as possible. It is interesting that for many decades historical scholars were perplexed with what translation of the Bible Calvin used in his teaching. It was not until recently they realized the reason for their mystery. Calvin did not use a translation but translated the original Hebrew and Greek on the spot from the pulpit without ever mentioning a Hebrew or Greek word! Such scholarship is usually laughed at today with ministers who desire to accurately handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15) and pine over what God originally spoke in the original languages with them being accused of wasting their time on frivolous matters. I actually think the church would benefit more from scholarly pastors such as Calvin as well as Jonathon Edwards and John Piper which have followed him.

4)The Importance of Dedication
Calvin's hard work in ministry is enough to make the busiest pastor today in 21st century America appear lazy. Not only did he keep up with his extensive preaching schedule and strive relentlessly to write his commentaries, he also visited people in their homes and managed his administrative responsibilities at his church. He also had a wife and kids to minister to, some kids which I believe he took in. He never would have had time to waste hours in front of a TV or playing video games (not saying that these are wrong but we do need to be careful how we spend our time-Ephesians 5:15-16). These would have slowed him down from the work of ministry. Upon his latter years in poor health, people begged him to take a break. He was even preaching in his bedroom when bedfast. The Reformer's answer was "What? Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?"2 Unfortunately, and not admirable, he occupied himself so much with the work of the church that he did not take care of his health. (Something the current commentator as well as others would be wise to take heed about.) Calvin's dedication to what God called him to do reminds me that no matter how overwhelmed I feel with what God has on my plate, I can accomplish what He would have me to do if I rely on His strength in His grace.

5) How God Uses Men Despite Their Many Flaws
Calvin is another reminder of how God uses the most flawed men to do His perfect work. The Bible is full of those who had several weaknesses which would have hindered their effectiveness if it had not been for God's supernatural work both in and through them. Abraham had wavering faith, Jacob was a trickster, Moses couldn't speak and clearly had a problem with his anger, Jeremiah was too young, Gideon was unsure, David committed adultery and murder, Samson was a womanizer, and Peter denied his Lord. Yet, inspite of all of these, and possibly because of them, God chose to use such weak vessels so that He might get the glory. Calvin is no different. He had his flaws. Just the mention of the name "Michael Servetus" brings the sober reminder of Calvin's role in his execution and no discussion of the church's role with the state is complete without a reference to Calvin's Geneva and how the merging of the two entities was disastrous. This birthday is not a celebration of Calvin. He was a mere man who was nothing. Instead it's a celebration of a great God who sovereignly chose to work through such a weak vessel to bring reform to His church for His glory as He had purposed. Calvin was just an ordinary man who was used by an extraordinary God. Just as we also are. Praise God for John Calvin and the work that He accomplished with his life and ministry. May God use us, as insignificant as we are, to further His Kingdom for His glory as He sees fit.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

1 John Dillenberger, John Calvin, Selections from His Writings (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1975) 110.
2Preface to John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2009) xiv.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Marriage Matters!

In a matter of days the United States Supreme Court will announce their decision over a landmark case concerning marriage. Specifically, whether marriage should be redefined to include a covenant relationship of two men or two women. This really has been an ongoing debate the past several years as different states wrestled with the issue. Some added amendments to their state constitutions to explicitly protect the definition of marriage, others voted to redefine marriage, and in some cases, while the people of the state voted to uphold the definition of marriage, the courts overturned their decision. Why is this such a big deal? Why is marriage so important? My goal in this blogpost is to look at just a few reasons why marriage matters. Know that there are several more reasons that could be added but like a good preacher, I'll just do three points for now.

Marriage matters because God designed and instituted it (Genesis 2:24). When He created the woman out of the man He intended for the two to join together in a one flesh union to serve Him together in their work on the earth and seek to produce godly offspring (Genesis 1:28). God's standard for marriage clearly is one man and one woman united together in a covenant relationship with death being the only thing that shall ever part them (Romans 7:2-3). To alter this standard is to go against God's design.

Marriage matters because it communicates something important to us about God. In the coming together of two distinct individuals to be recognized as one flesh, we are given a picture of God's existence as a trinity. Though not a perfect picture, it appears that God has given us a shadow of Himself in the marriage relationship. As God is one being and three distinct persons, a husband and wife are viewed by God as being one entity though the two are distinct. (Some may say that this sounds like a stretch but consider the interesting fact that the word for "one" used in Genesis 2:24 to describe the married couple is the same Hebrew word used for "one" in Deuteronomy 6:4 to describe God. The word conveys a "plural unity" such as a singular company of different people or a singular cluster of distinct grapes. Another word for "one" exists in Hebrew which does not indicate any union of a plural diversity but Moses chose not to use that for either verse.)

Marriage matters because it serves as a reflection of the gospel (Ephesians 5:22-33). We could even say that marriage is a living parable of Christ's great love for His Church. Every time that a husband shows love to his wife by sacrificing of himself for her well-being, he reflects the love of the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated in the great substitionary sacrifice of His life for the Church so that she would be holy (vv. 25-27). Whenever a wife respects her husband's leadership and submits to his authority, we have the Church willing submittance to Christ's lordship put on display for all to see. To alter God's design of marriage in any way is to profane the beautiful portrait of the gospel.

We, as God's creatures, have no right to redefine what our Creator has established as marriage, to ignore it by living with someone without the commitment of marriage, or to break it for any reason other than death. We either accept and obey what God has said in His Word (and what He continues to say in His Word) or we stand in rebellion before our Creator and Judge. Marriage matters!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Why Membership Matters

What does it mean to be a member of a local church? Does it carry any great significance? Is it simply having your name on a roll? Are there any expectations for those who become a member of a local congregation? What does the Bible indicate that membership actually entails?

Membership Evidence
Perhaps the first issue we need to deal with is whether Scripture supports the idea of having official membership in a local congregation. While it is true that there is no explicit statement in God's Word concerning the need to be a member of a local congregation, we certainly find evidence throughout the New Testament that the congregations kept a record of who belonged to them and were no longer part of the world. They formally or officially recognized who had joined the fellowship. For instance, Luke reports that the company of believers right before Pentecost numbered around 120 (Acts 1:15). One could surmise that this group knew those in the number by name. They obviously had a record of them for it to be recorded. Later, the Lord added 3,000 souls to this number (Acts 2:41). This group remained committed to one another and the cause of Christ as they continued to grow (Acts 2:42-47). So we see a group committed first to Christ and then to one another seeking to be obedient to the Lord's "Great Commission" (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15). A picture of church "membership" even if it wasn't called such at the time.

Also, the fact that the Bible instructs elders, the leaders of local congregations, to "oversee" and "shepherd" the flock that God has called them to indicates that they must know who their "flock" consists of (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2-3). How difficult would it be, without a membership list of who constitutes their flock, for an elder or pastor to recognize who God holds them responsible for? Keep in mind that this is no small issue. Hebrews 13:17 points out that these leaders will have to "give an account" of the souls they are entrusted to watch over. A membership list serves to specify who these ones are and who they aren't. There obviously has to be a way to distinguish between those of this elder's flock and those who do not belong to that flock.

Furthermore, Scripture speaks of removing an unrepentant immoral professor from the fellowship in the practice of church discipline (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:2). For someone to be "kicked out" of the visible church, they must first have been seen as being a part of it. You can't officially "remove" what first officially wasn't "accepted." This points to some sort of membership list or acknowledgement that the early church must have kept in order for them to painfully remove names on it in such cases of unrepentant sin. To designate that they no longer belonged and should be treated as someone outside the fellowship represented in Jesus' words as a "Gentile or tax collector" (Matthew 18:17). Paul also speaks of a difference between "those inside the church" and "those outside" (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). How can one know who are "inside" and "outside" without some formal list or record?

So, as you can hopefully see, the idea of some sort of membership concept indeed has been present since the very beginnings of the church. The Bible not only supports the idea of a believer officially becoming a member of a local congregation, but also specifies what such membership entails. And to the specifics of what that is we now turn.

Membership Entails Affirmation
In Matthew 16:18, we find the first mention of the term church in the New Testament. Right after Peter gives the proper identification of Who Jesus is, that He is the Christ, the Son of the living God (v. 16), Jesus states that He will use him as an instrument to establish the Church. Peter will serve as a rock for this living organism that Jesus will build. The other apostles would also help lay this foundation, with Christ serving as the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Jesus also tells Peter that He will give him the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven (v. 19). This indicates an authority bestowed upon Peter and, probably by extension, the other apostles. It is the authority of heaven itself. In a very real sense here Jesus could be indicating that the church that He will establish through the apostles will be the earthly representation of His heavenly kingdom. That the church will serve as an ambassador of heaven. An ambassador communicates the will and decisions of their king while in a foreign land. Any decision the ambassador makes is only the decisions that the king had already made. Thus, whatever the ambassador binds, will be only that which has already been bound by the king. (The Greek phrase used here is unusual. It is a combination of a future verb with a perfect participle. It appears to indicate a future reality that has already been settled in the past. One could translate it as whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will have been loosed in heaven.) We see this ambassadorial work with the apostles as Jesus goes about the business of building His church throughout the book of Acts. When the first group of Samaritans came to faith in Christ, the apostles, representing this new church that had begun construction, had to come to pray for them, lay hands on them, and a visible manifestation of the Holy Spirit occurred (Acts 8:14-17). The question should be raised as to why a few of the apostles had to come from Jerusalem to do this. Why Philip did not take it upon himself to do it? I think the reason actually goes back to the authority that Jesus gave Peter and the apostles as Christ’s ambassadors. We are seeing here the keys and the binding and loosing at work. Peter and John merely affirmed the faith of these new converts through the prayer and the laying on of hands. God had saved them through their reception of the message but this sought to confirm their profession of faith. Likewise, church membership serves as a way that the church affirms one’s profession of faith based on the evidence of the fruit of a changed life which should be visible if one has truly been born again. It does not save but the church acts as God’s authority on earth, under the authority of Christ and His Word, to basically say with receiving one into membership: “We recognize you as belonging as part of us. You too join us in representing Jesus on earth.” This is why we at Mt. Joy require all membership candidates to have an interview with the pastor and at least one of the deacons. We, as leaders of the congregation, to the extent that we are able, want to make sure to affirm those who exhibit evidence of being "in Christ" as part of the fellowship. In this interview, questions are asked pertaining to how one came to faith in Christ and their understanding of the gospel.

Membership Entails Commitment
God never intended for the Christian life to be lived alone. He does not save anyone individually and expect them to be “free agents,” roaming here and there. His desire is for them to be committed to each other in the context of a local congregation of His followers. How else can one live out all the one another commands in Scripture (Leviticus 19:11; John 13:14, 34, 35; Romans 1:12; 12:10, 16; 13:8; 14:13; 15:7,14; 16:16; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 11:33; 12:25; Galatians 5:13, 15, 26; 6:2; Ephesians 4:2, 16, 32; 5:19, 21; Philippians 2:3-5; Colossians 3:9, 13, 16; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9, 18; 5:11, 13, 15; 2 Thessalonians 1:3; Hebrews 3:13; 10:24, 25; 13:1; James 4:11; 5:9, 16; 1 Peter 3:8; 4:8, 9; 5:5; 1 John 1:7; 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11, 12)? Perhaps the clearest picture we have of this is found in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. In this chapter, Paul describes the church using the imagery of a human body made up of its various parts. God’s Spirit has given each believer a specific gift that should be used for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7). The purpose of any spiritual gift is to edify or build up each other in the faith and to be used to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10). This indicates something that cannot be done at home away from other believers and something that would be difficult to do hopping from one local congregation to the next. Committing to suffer with the members of a local congregation in their suffering and to rejoice with them in their rejoicing can only be done if you have taken the time to, in a sense, live among those members and get to know them (1 Corinthians 12:26). Keep in mind that Paul writes to a local congregation in Corinth when he gives this instruction. Sitting at home and not joining a church really is not an option that the Bible gives (Hebrews 10:24-25). Take a moment to reflect on these words by Benjamin L. Merkle, "A Christian's relationship to the local church should not be like a dating relationship where both sides are constantly guessing how the other views their relationship. Many Christians today want to date the church, making no formal commitment. The biblical picture of our relationship with Christ is not dating but marriage. Therefore, it is appropriate that we have a formal commitment to Christ's visible church" ("The Biblical Basis for Church Membership," Those Who Must Give An Account: A Study of Church Membership and Church Discipline (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2012) 40).

Membership Entails Accountability
In the second mention of the term church in the New Testament, Jesus explains the accountability the church has upon its individual members. As recorded in Matthew 18:15-20, He lays out the steps in the process of what to do if you notice a fellow member in sin. The first step would be to point out their fault to them individually (v. 15). The hope is that this will lead the professing believer to see the error of their way and run back to Christ in repentance. However, if he or she refuses to repent and leave the specific sin, we are told to approach them again, this time with two or more witnesses (v. 16). If this still does not result in their repentance, they are to be called before the church and the entire congregation should reach out to them in love, calling for them to leave such a sin behind. However, if they appear to be so hard-hearted that he or she still refuses the reproach, drastically they are treated as if they were outside the church and thus do not belong to the body of Christ (v. 17). Jesus then mentions the authority that He has given the church in these matters with the statement once again of them binding and loosing on earth what will have been already bound and loosed in heaven (v. 18) and that He stands with them in such a decision (vv. 19-20). (This assumes that the church followed His procedure as He had outlined of course). I must be careful here not to fail to state that the goal of such a process is actually restoration. This can be seen in the fact that Jesus’ teaching follows His parable of the shepherd leaving his 99 sheep to retrieve the one that has gone astray (vv. 12-14) and that it precedes Peter’s question concerning forgiveness (vv. 21-35).

When one becomes a member of a local congregation, they are actually saying that they want that body of believers together to hold them accountable for the way in which they are living. If they have an area of unrepentant sin in their life, they want the church to lovingly point that out. Any true believer who desires to live the holy life that Christ saved them for (2 Corinthians 5:15) would want this. We need each other for our growth in holiness! In a very real sense, our sanctification is a community project. Being a member of a local congregation is to say that I submit to this congregation and want them to hold me accountable for my spiritual growth and discipleship. I submit to their teaching and discipline. And discipleship consists of both teaching and correction. As you can visibly see, disciple and discipline are words closely related to one another.

So membership certainly consists of more than just having one’s name on the roll at such and such church. It involves having a local congregation affirm their profession of faith and recognize them as one of its own. It includes a commitment given to others in the congregation and their work together for the spread of the gospel. It is submitting to the congregation’s authority, which it enacts under the authority of Christ and His Word, to be held accountable for one’s growth and discipline in grace. Mark Dever was right to label this as one of the "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church."

Is this true of you as a member of a local congregation? Have you found a good Bible teaching local church in which to join and labor for our Lord? If you have been attending a local church but never made steps to become a member, what might be holding you back? Let’s be obedient to Christ and become members of His body in the localities in which we live for the glory of His name.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!