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, October 9, 2017

Praising in the Pain

One thing that I often encourage people to do after a loss is to come to worship the Sunday following it. That's because I firmly believe that one of the best ways to heal and work through your time of grief is to be with your faith family where you are called to take your eyes off of yourself and the situations that you are facing and place them on the God of all comfort who loves you so much that He sent His very own Son to live, die, and rise again for your salvation. I don't ever pressure anyone to do this of course and I certainly understand that some are not able to emotionally at the time, especially if the death of the loved one occurred just a few short days before Sunday. It can be very difficult for some people. But I do try to encourage it. And after this past Sunday, when my wife and I personally put my advice into practice, I can even more so attest to the need of being in corporate worship on the Sunday following a loss. On the need of being in corporate worship any week really, but especially when you are facing some sort of pain. And in this fallen world under the curse of sin, really who isn't?

Friday a week ago, we found out the surprising news that we were expecting. Then certain issues arose late last week leading us to the Emergency Room to discover that Laura had lost the baby. This is not the first time that we have had to walk down this road. Back in April, we experienced our first miscarriage. And anyone who has ever gone through this knows that it is a different type of grief. You are not just grieving the loss of a life but the loss of a life that you never knew. A life that you had anticipated to come to know and share so many special memories with. A life that you looked forward to seeing develop and who he or she would become. A life that you never got the chance to hold, kiss, read stories to, bandage wounds, give advice to, teach to drive, or walk down the aisle. I honestly don't know how anyone could make it through such grief without firm confidence in the sovereignty of God; that He is in control of all things and absolutely everything occurs according to His all wise divine plan. I know that we wouldn't!

Laura and I discussed whether or not to attend worship this past Sunday morning. (God certainly has a way of testing us pastors for us to see if we will listen to our own advice and follow our own teaching. I believe that this was one of many moments that the Lord has given me to do this.) The emotions of this loss were more raw than the last one. We found out about the first miscarriage the Tuesday before whereas this one was just two days prior. Along with the shock and disappointment still being processed, we had the painful weight of experiencing two miscarriages now within six months time. That's pretty heavy but not as heavy as some others have been called to bear. However, we followed my advice and we both were glad that we did. God used corporate worship that morning to help our hearts begin to heal and strengthen our faith in His goodness to us in spite of what we were experiencing.

Singing through "Oh, He's a Wonderful Savior" was so needed for me. While our status in a sense changed within a week, Jesus Christ remains our wonderful Savior. That hasn't changed with either one of these two great losses! He still went "to dark Calvary, dying our death on the tree," still "never leaves us alone" and "gently cares for His own." With an uncharacteristic quivering and almost breaking of my voice, I belted out the beautiful truth of "what a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear." All because of God's great grace, Jesus was still my friend and elder brother. We still had Him and He is enough to comfort us in our lowest moments; moments such as we were going through at the time. The message that morning reminded us that God loves us, not because of who we are or anything that we have done but because of Who He is. Oh, how I needed such a reminder that morning! God's giving and taking away was not a sign of the absence of His love for us but of His love for us. While I certainly don't understand or pretend to understand why God chose to allow us to get pregnant twice only to bear each child for about 5-7 weeks, I know that all that He does is in love for those He has both chosen and purchased to be His children in His Son.

You see, what I experienced in worship that morning was a blessed reminder of the very character of the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our affliction (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). I said in a sermon not too terribly long ago that we need to not focus on our trials so much but instead focus more on the God of our trials if we want to handle them well. If we are to "let endurance have it's perfect work" as James commands us in light of the various types of trials God ordains for us to go through (1:4), then we need to think about God's character, His goodness, and mediate on the promises that He has given us in His Word. As the Casting Crowns' song puts it, "If your eyes are on the storm, you'll wonder if I love you still. But if your eyes are on the cross, you'll know that I always have and I always will." Had Laura and I stayed home that morning to grieve, we would have more likely kept our focus mostly on the loss and pain that we were experiencing but everything in the worship service would not let us do that. Instead, it moved us to "turn our eyes upon Jesus and look full into His wonderful face" and that's what helped us begin our healing. Being directed to Him constantly and consistently in corporate worship. Paul David Tripp has said it so well, "Corporate worship is designed to take your eyes off you and have them filled with the beauty of the grace and glory of God" and "Corporate worship is meant to take your eyes off the ugliness of the fallen world and open your eyes to the awesome beauty of your Redeemer."

Oh, and I can't close without mentioning another crucial element in corporate worship that morning that the Lord used to minister to our broken hearts. The love and support of our church family! The hugs, kind words, "I love yous," and prayers of those who really are brothers, sisters, fathers, and mothers to us! Those whose lives we have been blessed to be a part of. Who we knew were grieving with us. That itself was a great encouragement which we would have missed had we just remained at home. We need each other far more than we realize and God has been so wise to place us into the body of His Son, the church. I'll never understand (trust me, I have heard the excuses) how many can neglect one of God's greatest means of grace and growth.

Let me encourage you, the next time that you are tempted to skip out on corporate worship on account of pain that you are going through (whether physical or emotional), to still come. You may not realize just how much you may need that time with God's people praising Him in the midst of your pain. How comforting it is to be directed away from the trial to the Savior. We needed that this past Sunday morning and will need it again next Sunday morning and the one following that and so on. Thank God for our weekly time together with the saints to worship Him. May we not take it for granted but participate fully each and every week!

Love in Christ,
Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Remembering the Reformation

Next month marks a significant anniversary of a crucial turning point in the church’s history. Five hundred years ago, the Protestant Reformation began. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed 95 theses or arguments to the door of the Wittenberg Church in Germany. Disturbed by the false teachings that had crept their way into the church of that day and several superstitious practices which were present, he called the church back to the Word of God to be reformed. Unfortunately, the church had lost sight of many biblical truths, especially ones that involved our salvation. They had added teachings that were not found in the Bible. They even were selling something called an indulgence which claimed to grant the forgiveness of sins and entrance into heaven for those who purchased it. Luther and the other Reformers that followed him sought to recover the truths of the gospel that were lost and expose the additions for what they were; falsehoods that distorted the truth. Their teaching to combat such falsehood can be summarized with five “sola” (latin for “alone”) statements. With this being such a milestone anniversary and such biblical truths just as necessary for us to be careful not to lose today as well, I thought it might be beneficial to look at each of them briefly.

The first of these “sola” statements is known as sola Scriptura (“Scripture alone”). It is the teaching that Scripture ALONE serves as our sole authority for all matters of faith and practice. The Catholic Church at the time had claimed that the teachings of the Pope and the tradition of the Church were on par with Scripture. What the Pope said had equal binding authority as God’s word. The Reformers rightly pointed out that everyone, including the Pope, and the entire church itself, are all under the highest authority of Scripture since it alone can rightly claim to be God’s final word on all matters that it addresses. Being the very words “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) recorded by men “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), they serve as determinative for what we are to believe and how we are to live our lives. There is no one or nothing else we need to look to for finding out what God has said to us.

Sola gratia (“Grace alone”) serves as another one of these “sola” statements which summarize the biblical teachings of the reformers. “Grace” by definition is a gift given that one does not deserve. It has often been described as “unmerited favor.” While the Catholic Church taught that salvation is of grace, they also said that one must work in cooperation with the grace that God supposedly infused in them at their baptism as infants in order to merit or earn salvation. It wasn’t fully of grace but only partially. But according to Scripture, which alone serves as our authority on these matters, our salvation is ALL a result of God’s grace. It is a gift that He has given that cannot be earned by us in any way. The apostle Paul is crystal clear that “He saved us, NOT BECAUSE OF WORKS DONE BY US IN RIGHTEOUSNESS, but according to His own mercy” (Titus 3:5). There is nothing at all we must do to earn our salvation because there is nothing that we CAN DO to earn our salvation. All that we have earned from God is judgment, not favor. We are not righteous in and of ourselves and, as Isaiah reminds us, even the righteous deeds that we think that we do are tainted by our sin (Isaiah 64:6). If it wasn’t a gift of God’s grace, then none of us would be saved.

Along with our salvation being “by grace alone,” it is also “through faith alone,” which leads us to the next of these statements, sola fide (Faith alone). How do we receive the grace that God has shown us in the sacrifice of His Son? Only through placing our trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and that what He has done is enough to reconcile us to God in light of our sins which separate us from Him. The only place that a person’s works have in their justification (being declared righteous before God) is serving as evidence that they have been justified by their faith. If you would like to demonstrate that in a mathematical equation, it would look like this: “faith + nothing = justification → works.” Though the Catholic Church did not deny that faith played an important role in one’s salvation, they also taught that there were certain works that must be done in order to achieve a righteous standing before God. To also put it in the form of an equation, it would be “faith + works = justification.” The position of "works" in such an equation makes all the difference. However, Romans 3:21-4:25 argues that our righteous standing before God cannot in any way be based on our works but only through faith in what God has done for us in the perfect sinless life and substitutionary sacrifice of His Son. Any deeds that we may attempt to do just won’t cut it or can add anything to it. Instead, it has to be looking away from ourselves to what Christ has done.

Whereas the Bible makes clear that there is only “one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5), the Catholic Church at the time added His mother Mary as another mediator. In fact, they began to treat her as if she was an additional person of the Trinity. Eventually, they claimed that she was born sinless herself, had a special ascension to heaven, and should be prayed to in order to get to Jesus. This was the reason for the fourth sola, solus Christus, that “Christ alone” is who we are to look to in order to bring us to God. That He is the only “way” to God and that “no one comes to the Father except through” Him (John 14:6). Furthermore, no priest is needed for us to go to because Jesus Himself serves as our Great High Priest interceding on our behalf before the Father (Hebrews 4:14-5:10). We have direct access to God through Christ and Him alone. No other mediator in addition is necessary.

Since all of our salvation is a complete work of God and, as it has been so well put, “we contribute nothing to it except for the sin which makes it necessary,” all glory for salvation must be given to God. There is no glory that we ourselves can share because we cannot take credit for any part of it. We cannot pat ourselves on the back that we have been saved because it has not been on account of us. It is a great gift of God’s amazing grace alone through our faith alone in His Son alone and what He has accomplished on the cross all according to His Word alone. This is why the final “sola” is soli Deo gloria (“to God alone be the glory”). Something that cannot be claimed with the Catholic view since it adds so much of the effort and will of man with it.

The church during the Middle Ages came to where it was all on account that it had forgotten these precious important truths. We would do well to make sure that the same doesn’t happen to us today. Woody Allen once said, “History repeats itself. It has to-nobody listens the first time around.” However, in many ways these five truth statements need to be heralded just as loudly now as ever before as far too many seem to have forgotten them, thinking that salvation somehow does depend on us, at least a little bit instead of being fully and completely a sovereign work of God Himself. So let’s not forget the Reformation but pray that God would continue to reform His Church until we all come to share and rejoice in these truths. As R. C. Sproul has said, “The Reformation is not over. It cannot be over and must not be over until all who call themselves Christians have one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. The cause of sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus Christus, and soli Deo gloria remains the cause of and for biblical truth.”

In Christ,
Lee Smith

Friday, September 1, 2017

Trekking Through Translations

A question that I often get asked is “what translation should I use?” We live in a day and age where translations of the Bible abound. When you enter a Christian bookstore, you could find up to 15 or more of them. You want to be sure that you are reading and studying the right one. How do you go about mining through all of the translations that are available to ensure that you have the “right one” for you? That will be our focus in this month’s newsletter as I hope to help you “trek through all those translations.”

The reason for these numerous English translations is that, for one thing, none of us speak the languages that the Scriptures were originally written in. (Ancient Hebrew and Aramaic for the Old Testament and Koine Greek in the New.) In fact, those languages are not currently found to be spoken anywhere today. So, if we want to be able to read and understand God’s Word, then we need to have it in the language that we know and use. A Bible in a language that we do not speak will not do us any good. God wants us to know Him and that’s why He has revealed Himself to us in His Word. Men like John Wycliffe, Martin Luther, and William Tyndale realized this when they each risked their lives in order to translate the Bible into the language of the people so that they could read about our great God and His wonderful work of salvation through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. In their cases, the only translation available at the time was in Latin which only the priests knew. We, in particular, owe a great deal of gratitude for the Lord’s work through Tyndale as it is on account of him that we have the Bible translated in English today. It was his life’s passion and work to enable each individual to be able to study the Scriptures so that the plowboy would know more of the Scriptures than the corrupted priests of his day. Much of the King James Bible actually uses Tyndale’s English translation word for word. (76% of Tyndale’s translation of the Old Testament can be found in the King James and 84% of his New Testament translation.)

While all of this explains why we have English translations, it doesn’t address why there are so many of them floating around at the present. Why isn’t just one sufficient? Why didn’t Bible publishers stop with the 1611 Kings James Version? We have to realize that words are constantly changing their meaning throughout history. Take the word “gay” for instance. What it meant in the theme song of the old Flintstones cartoon is not how it is understood today. No longer does it refer to a “state of happiness” but a “sexual preference.” The word has changed its meaning. Though the King James Version is a good and fine translation, several words can be found in its pages that don’t have the same meaning today as they did back in 1611 England. Like “gay,” their meaning has evolved into something else over time. Psalm 47:2 and 66:3 in the King James Version describe God and His works as being “terrible.” A teenager reading those passages today would not view this as a good thing. That’s because the word “terrible” in our modern English conveys a negative idea whereas in the 1500s (much of the English of the King James originates years before from the other English translations in existence previously), “terrible” meant “full of awe,” the equivalent to our word “awesome” which is what can be found used in many modern day translations. Do you see now why the development of modern translations are necessary? Just as the Old and New Testaments were written in the language that was commonly spoken in their day, we want to be sure that we have the Bible in the common language spoken today. Also, through more research, we have discovered older Greek manuscripts and how better to understand some words of ancient Hebrew and Koine Greek, making modern updates necessary in order to have a more accurate translation.

When it comes to modern translations, there are predominantly two different philosophies. What is called “formal equivalent” or “word-for-word” translations and “dynamic equivalent” or “thought-for-thought” translations. “Word-for-word” translations seek to find the English word that specifically corresponds to the original Hebrew or Greek and place them in the same order that they are found in the original. Of course, for some words, a precise equivalent can be very hard to find. The King James (KJV), New King James (NKJV), New American Standard Bible (NASB), and English Standard Version (ESV) are examples of this kind of translation. The “thought-for-thought” translations, on the other hand, seek to convey the thought of the original without necessarily using the exact same words in the same way as the original. This type includes the New Living Translation (NLT), Today’s English Version (TEV), Contemporary English Version (CEV), and the New Century Version (NCV). Then there are some translations that attempt to do a little bit of both in order to be accurate and more readable. The New International Version (NIV), Holman Christian Standard Version (HCSB), the New English Translation (NET), and perhaps the newest translation on the market today, the Christian Standard Version (CSB), all fall into this camp.

What ultimately matters in choosing a translation to read and study is that it is just that; a translation. I would caution to stay away from paraphrases like Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” because they are not as accurate to the original. What you want is a translation that is accurate which you can understand. My personal preference is a formal equivalent or one that seeks to be a balance of both types. Translations such as the NASB, ESV, NIV, KJV, and NKJV. It has often been suggested that much benefit can be found in your personal study in consulting more than one translation to find out how different ones have rendered the text.

One final thing. Don’t stop when you find the translation that you can understand. Make sure to open it up daily and read it! The right translation for you will not profit you siting on the shelf or remaining unopened on the coffee table. The transforming power can be found in the words themselves as they are the living word of God which brings life and growth as we discussed last month. Happy reading!

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Monday, July 31, 2017

Don't Starve Yourself Spiritually

In Deuteronomy 8:3, Moses told the Israelites, “And He humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” Part of the purpose of the Lord providing the manna for His people in the wilderness and giving them strict instructions pertaining to it (such as collecting only enough for the day with the one exception being the day before the Sabbath where they were able to collect enough for two days) was to teach them that not only does their life depend on physical food but also knowing and obeying God’s Word. Just as physical food is necessary for our life, so is the knowledge and practice of God’s Word.

What happens if you go an entire day without eating anything physically? You will be hungry and probably feel weak. And if you skip a whole week of meals, even more so. If God’s Word is compared to physical food, what does that say about what happens to our spiritual lives if we go a day, or even worse, an entire week, without ever opening up the Bible to read and study more about the God who made and saved us? Far too many Christians today are starving themselves spiritually by neglecting to set aside time each day to study God’s Word. This explains why so many are weak spiritually. They are not daily getting nourished by God’s Word that brings life. Why several give into temptation so easily. They aren’t being reminded each day of how much more precious the Lord Jesus Christ is compared to sin. Why some struggle to make decisions. They are not continually having their mind renewed by God’s Word to grow to think their thoughts after His.

Waiting until Sunday morning for Sunday School and to hear the preaching of God’s Word is not enough! That’s like eating a huge breakfast on Sunday morning and then not eating anything again until the next Sunday morning. You would practically be destroying your body and lacking what you need to function fully through the week. Many would never dream of doing that yet that is exactly what they do to themselves spiritually. We need to know God’s Word more than we realize. It is essential for our spiritual walk with the Lord, serving as the water to grow and mature us spiritually.

We need to understand that God’s Word is food for our souls. For those who claim that they are just too busy to actually sit down and really look at what the Lord is saying, recognize that you obviously aren’t too busy to stop and eat each day. Why is that? You know you need food and crave it. Take this as a reminder of just how much you need God. Maybe the reason you are not craving Him so much is due to the lack of time that you spend in His Word daily. If you have been born again, then the Holy Spirit has given you a new nature that desires to know God more. God is the ultimate delight of your soul. The reason you should long to read and study His Word is because you love and want to know Him more. If such a desire is not present, you need to examine your heart and it may indicate that you have yet to be born again.

I often have people ask me for good and trusted Bible preachers and teachers that they can read or listen to in order to help them with their daily intake of God’s Word. I am always happy to direct them in hopes that the Lord will use it for their sanctification (their growth in grace). Allow me to share some of the names that have greatly benefited me personally in my own growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. A simple Google search can help you locate their websites and books. They are, in no particular order, John MacArthur, John Piper, Alistair Begg, R. C. Sproul, Mark Dever, David Platt, Matt Chandler, Kevin DeYoung, Paul David Tripp, Paul Washer, and Steve Lawson just to name a few. For the ladies, Jen Wilkin, Nancy Leigh Demoss Wolgemuth, Elizabeth Eliot, Nancy Guthrie, and Gloria Furman are some good ones to help you both study the Bible more and understand what you are studying.

Allow me to end this article with the following quote by Ray Comfort: "One day I asked a congregation if they without fail read the Word every day, and was horrified that no one (not even the pastor) raised a hand. So I made a habit of asking congregations and individuals “Do you read your Bible every day without fail?” When professing Christians offered their sad and pathetic excuses, I would ask them if they fed their stomachs daily. Then I would ask, “Which comes first—your Bible or your belly?” and let their conscience do its duty. How about you? Do you love God enough to give Him a few minutes each day to speak to you?"

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Monday, July 10, 2017

Happy 508th 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 508th 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,
Lee
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.

The Regulative Principle in Practice



            Last month, we discussed what has been called the “regulative principle;” that God’s Word must direct or regulate our corporate worship together. It is clear that God is not only concerned THAT we worship Him but also HOW we worship Him. When we are left to ourselves to determine how to worship God, it inevitably leads to sinful ways of doing so. Israel’s case with the golden bull calf serves as a prime example of this (Exodus 32). They took matters into their own hands and wound up greatly dishonoring God and participating in idolatry. God wants us to have the greatest joy and biggest blessing in worshiping Him as He deserves to be worshiped, so He doesn’t leave us guessing on how to conduct our worship in a way that pleases Him. He spells it out for us in His Word, setting boundaries for us to operate within. And when we come to the Word, we find that those boundaries are to read the Word, preach the Word, pray the Word, sing the Word, and show the Word. Since our worship must be centered on God, it only makes sense that it would be centered on His Word where He has specifically revealed Himself to us. To the way that these directives work out in practice, we now turn.

            Read the Word. Paul instructs Timothy to Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching (1 Timothy 4:13). An essential component to our gathering together for worship on Sunday mornings should be the reading of passages of Scripture. This is why the “Call to Worship” is a Scripture reading, why we read a verse or two before the taking up of the offering, and the passage that is preached is first read. It is as God has directed us. Unfortunately, many congregations today have moved away from much Bible reading in their services. But it is so powerful just to hear God’s Word spoken audibly without any comments or explanations. The Spirit can work to grip our consciences and direct us away from ourselves to our Savior in the reading of the text alone. That of course doesn’t mean that the preaching of the Word is not as important though. In fact, God calls for both to occur in our worship together.

            Preach the Word. Paul also told Timothy to preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching (2 Timothy 4:2). God does not only want His Word read before the company of gathered saints and perhaps visiting unbelievers but also desires for His Word to be proclaimed with the point of what He is communicating in a passage both explained and applied so that His people may be encouraged, challenged, and grow further in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). It is through the preaching of the Word that unbelievers are brought to faith in Christ and believers find their faith strengthened. As we looked at two months ago when I preached on Nehemiah 8:1-8, God has given us a good model both for preaching and the appropriate response to the sermon by the congregation with Ezra and the Levites’ preaching of the law to the returned exiles.

            Pray the Word. In the context of giving instructions for how worship should be conducted in the Ephesian church, Paul says that I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people (1 Timothy 2:1). We are to be praying together as a body, expressing our adoration to God, confessing our sins before Him, and admitting our great need and dependence of Him. My wife and I recently visited a congregation while on vacation and it struck me how little we prayed together. The service didn’t even open with prayer asking for God to direct us to Himself and prepare our hearts for this wonderful time together! It was basically just a time of singing and the sermon with the offering plate passed in the middle. We certainly heard God speak to us from His Word but didn’t have much opportunity to speak to Him. He wants to hear from His people as well during our worship.

            Sing the Word. Now we come to the music in our worship. How does the Word of God direct our singing and making music before the Lord? We are told in Ephesians 5:19 to address one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. This indicates that there are different types of songs that we should be singing together. I think that it is good for us to not only sing the old classic hymns with their rich theology pointing us back to Christ and His wonderful work but also newer songs that have recently been written that encourage us to look to the Lord as well. After all, the early church would not have been singing the hymns we sing today since they weren’t written yet! And as for the instruments used in our singing, the Bible provides quite a list for us to choose from (see Psalm 150 for example). Much more than just an organ and piano! The main thing in regards to our music in the worship service is that it is something that we can sing together which encourages us to center ourselves on Christ and the gospel.

            See the Word. And the Bible also directs us to continually see the gospel placed on display in the ordinances; baptism (Matthew 28:19) and communion (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). Both of these communicate visually the life changing work of Christ on our behalf. Baptism the changed life that the gospel brings where a new believer identifies with Christ’s death and resurrection and communion the precious body of our Lord and His blood shed in our place. Communion must be practiced often until the Lord’s return.

Let’s seek to worship God according to how He desires to be worshiped. That way He will be honored and pleased and we will be edified and grow. He knows what He is doing in His instructions to us! 

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

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? Can someone just get baptized, join the church, and then never have anything to do with the church from that time forth? Does membership actually matter?

By the way that many people treat it today, you wouldn’t think that it does. Many congregations are full of just casual church members instead of committed ones and too many names on a registry who have little or nothing to do with the congregation at all. Some people appear to take it more seriously to be part of a country club than they do a member of a local congregation. I am convinced though that church membership is very important and something that a Christian who desires to be obedient to Jesus cannot neglect. A faithful Christian will become a dedicated member of a local faith community focused on bringing God glory through the growth of its members and the spread of the gospel. My goal in this article is to show you, from Scripture itself, what church membership is all about according to God and the commitment that He says it calls for. And maybe even persuade some of you to take your membership more seriously if you are not currently doing so.

Perhaps the first issue we need to deal with is whether Scripture supports the idea of having official membership in a local congregation. Not only will we see that they did but also some of the practical reasons why they found it necessary. We 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 such a number to be given. 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  turn to next.

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 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.”

If it helps, think of the church as an embassy for the kingdom of heaven here on earth. America has several embassies in foreign countries all over the world. Each American embassy not only declares the country’s interest in the foreign land that it is in as an ambassador role like referenced above but also serves to protect the nation's citizens who are living in that foreign country. For instance, say an American citizen in China loses their passport. They would have to go to the American embassy in China for them to verify that they are indeed a US citizen and would be supported by the embassy. The embassy doesn't make them a citizen of the United States but acknowledges that they are while in this foreign land. Membership in a local church is a congregation publicly acknowledging, protecting, and supporting a citizen of heaven who lives in this foreign land which is not their true home.

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.

So the commitment of membership is to live together in community with and minister to the needs of the other members of the congregation. Let's dig a little deeper into what this means. It certainly requires more contact with other members of the congregation than just once a week on a Sunday morning. There should be sharing as a family of faith throughout each week whether that would be through getting together with other individuals or families from within the congregation or even just a simple phone call or card to check on others. This also means that a member should not be as concerned about getting their own needs met or desiring to be served by others but rather how they can serve others within the local body of believers. Far too often people selfishly ask, what can the church do for me. John F. Kennedy's famous instruction years ago could be reworded for church members today as "Ask not what the church can do for you, ask what you can do for your church."

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 as not belonging 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. All of this can be seen to be called for in Scripture. Do you see now why I stated in the opening of this article that a faithful Christian WILL become a member of a local faith community focused on glorifying God through the growth of its members and the spreading of the gospel? That church membership actually does matter? Mark Dever was right to label this as one of the "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.

Allow me to end this article with one final convicting thought. We learn in His confrontation with Saul on the road to Damascus that Jesus identifies with His Church. He asked the terrorist who was deadset on killing Christians and destroying the Church, “Why are you persecuting ME?” (Acts 9:4). Not “why are you persecuting My Church?” This means that however we treat the Church Jesus views that as how we are treating Him. So if you want to have nothing to do with being a part of a local body of believers, then what does that say about your desire for Jesus? If you ignore the Church and do your own thing, what does that communicate about how precious Jesus is to you? I think that it is clear. If you truly love Jesus and desire to be obedient to His commands (which is how He Himself says that those who truly love Him demonstrate such love, see John 14:23), you will become an active part of a local congregation and take your membership in that body seriously. You will strive with the aid of God’s grace to love the people in that faith community (as difficult as that may be at times) as you love Jesus Himself. Take some time to evaluate how serious or lax you have been with your church membership. Are there some changes that you need to ask the Lord to help you make? Some steps you need to take to be more obedient to His Word and demonstrate your love for Him? Let’s make church membership meaningful again!

In Christ,
Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!!!