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, 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,
Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Untamable God!

As I been following our Bible reading plan for the year, I cannot help but be struck by the God that I continue to encounter in His written revelation. A God who creates the entire universe in a mere six literal 24 hour day span by His very Word (Genesis 1; Psalm 33:6; Hebrews 11:3). Who promises to bring about the Deliverer to ultimately defeat the deceiver (Genesis 3:15). Who wipes out all of His sinful creation but decides to show grace to one man and his family (Genesis 6:5-8). Who does the impossible (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:26; Luke 1:37). Who takes evil intentions and uses them for the good of His people’s salvation (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28). Who is the great I Am Who is, was, and is to come (Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 41:4; Revelation 1:8). Who displays His great power in freeing His chosen people from slavery and through hardening the Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 3-14). Who thunders and appears as smoke and fire upon the mountain and warns unholy people not to get too close to Him (Exodus 19:18-25). Who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:6). Who strikes down Nadab and Abihu for failing to treat Him as holy (Leviticus 10:1-3), as well as Uzzah (2 Samuel 6:6-7), and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), yet chooses to show mercy to sinners David (2 Samuel 11:1-12:15) and Paul (Acts 9:1-19; 1 Timothy 1:12-17). Who is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29). Who puts to death and gives life, wounds and heals, and from Whom no one can deliver (Deuteronomy 32:39). Who crushes His very own Son to death so that His chosen people may have life with Him for all eternity (Isaiah 53). Who does whatever He pleases, as He pleases, how He pleases, to whom He pleases (Exodus 33:19; Psalm 115:3; Proverbs 21:1; Daniel 4:35; Jeremiah 18:5-10; Romans 9:15-18; Ephesians 1:11).

This is a God so holy that He cannot let even the smallest infraction of His perfect law go unpunished and so loving that He sent His only Son to serve as the perfect substitute for those who look to Him alone to be able to have a relationship with Him in spite of the sins that condemn them. This is a God to tremble at. A God who should bring us to our knees. A God fully deserving of all our worship and adoration. A God that you seriously don’t want to mess with. (You did read some of the examples shared in the last paragraph, didn’t you?)

I am reminded of a scene in C. S. Lewis’ children’s story, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, when the beavers are first telling the kids about the King of Narnia, the noble lion, Aslan. (Lewis wrote His Chronicles of Narnia series with the intention of teaching children about the faith with Aslan representing the Lord Jesus Christ in his stories.) As soon as they discover that he is a lion, they ask if he is “safe." The response they receive is that he is not safe, but he is good. And if anyone can appear before him “without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly” (New York: Macmillian Publishing Company; 1950; 75). He is a fierce and loving lion. What an accurate picture of God! He is not safe or tame, but He is good. He is both fierce and loving.

However, I am concerned that we have lost such a picture of God today. There has been a great attempt among many to try to “tame” God. To overemphasize His love to the exclusion of His holiness. To focus on the loving aspects of His character (His mercy shown to David and Paul as well as to all repentant sinners), while choosing to ignore His fierceness (His appearance on Mt. Sinai or His dealings with Nadab, Abihu, Uzzah, and Ananias and Sapphira as well as the eternal punishment He decrees for all unrepentant sinners). Those who do just that do not wind up “taming” God but actually “creating” a god of their own fashioning who cannot save and will leave one empty. As you continue to read through your Bibles this year, make sure to take note of the full picture of how God has revealed Himself. He is untamable and we must see Him for Who He is as He has shown Himself to us.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Lost in Leviticus

If you asked most Christians what their favorite book of the Bible is, more likely you wouldn’t hear “Leviticus.” In fact, it may not be too high on their list. For many, when they first read through this book in its entirety (if they can make it through it all), they find themselves lost. Caught up in all of the rules and regulations that are given. Sorting through what makes one “clean” and “unclean.” Perhaps even overwhelmed with all of the laws to keep up with.

I think we should “love” Leviticus instead of being “lost” in Leviticus. First, it is God’s Word for us so it can’t be ignored. We shouldn’t just skip over it because we see it as boring or tedious. We must examine it and take it seriously. Also, it communicates the life giving and life transforming gospel to us. It, along with the rest of Scripture, points us to our only hope that can be found in our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The main point of Leviticus can be found in chapter 11 verses 44-45. “For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy.” God calls His people whom He has delivered out of Egyptian slavery to be holy as He is holy. The word “holy” means “set apart and pure.” God is “set apart” from all things. He is unique and cannot be compared to anything else. Likewise, He calls His people to be “set apart” and unique from the rest of the world. The rules and regulations given in this book concern how God’s holy people should conduct themselves different from the world.

Now, why is it so important for God’s people to live a holy life? Well, God has set up His tent, the tabernacle, in the camp of His people in order to dwell among them. Since God is holy, He cannot dwell among unholiness. (For an example of God’s intolerance of unholiness, just look at what happens with Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, after they disobey God in how they perform their priestly service in the tabernacle in 10:1-3.) This is why those who do something that makes them “unclean” have to leave the camp. Due to their unholiness, they cannot be in the presence of a holy God.

The problem is though, that in light of these various laws, man is found to be “unclean” and “unholy.” John Calvin has described God’s law as a mirror that reveals our unholiness. So the dilemma is how can an unholy people ever be in the presence of such a holy God. God’s remedy for this comes in the sacrifices the people are instructed to perform; specifically the sacrifice required on the Day of Atonement (chapter 16). Since “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), God demands our life for our sins. We deserve to die, both physically and spiritually. However, God accepts the death of the animal sacrificed in place of the death of the sinner. This points to the ultimate sacrifice on the true Day of Atonement that we all need to embrace to have any hope to ever be able to stand before God. When God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, died on the cross, experiencing God’s wrath for the unholiness of those who turn from their sins and look to Jesus alone and His death and resurrection as their only grounds to stand before God, the one sacrifice to take away the “uncleanness” and “unholiness” of God’s people’s sins has been given. The sacrifices we read of in Leviticus are just shadows with Jesus being the reality.
When we realize and understand this truth, the book of Leviticus should be exciting to us and move our hearts to praise God for the salvation that He has granted to us in Christ. That though we are “unclean” and “unholy” by nature, God accepts us in His presence because His Son, the true and better atonement sacrifice, has been made in our place.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Some Thoughts on ISIS: A Christian Response

As with many of you, I was appalled to hear of the beheading of the 21 Coptic Christians by the hands of the Islamic terrorist group known as ISIS last week. My heart certainly goes out to their families. I cannot begin to imagine what they are currently going through. We absolutely must be praying that they experience the comfort of Christ at this time. What this group has done for the lie they have bought into in their blindness is unjustifiable.

As a pastor who is committed to helping people have a biblical worldview; to understand and view the world around them through the lens of Scripture, I want to take a moment to remind us of some things that God's Word teaches us about this situation.

Don't Forget Jesus' Commands
While our natural reaction to this injustice is to desire to see the US drop a hellfire missile to take this group out, we can't forget what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ commanded us in regards to our enemies. He said, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say unto you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

The Christian response to this tragedy, according to Jesus is love and prayer. We are not to hate the members of ISIS and wish the worst on them but love them and pray for them. Sound hard, difficult, almost impossible, you think? Yes, but such is why we need God's grace to enable us to do this. If we have hatred in our hearts towards this group and are not praying for them then we are being disobedient to Jesus. A place no genuine believer should want to be.

Now, I am not saying how the government itself should respond to this. Basically, ISIS has declared war on this nation. They have killed American citizens and threatened our leaders. God is clear that the government has the right to bear the sword and that it is designed to serve as "an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil" (Romans 13:4). There may be a case for military action on the part of the government in this instance. But as for the Church, we are to love and pray for our enemies. This would include ISIS as well as the Boko Haram and other terrorist groups out there.

Don't Forget That We Deserve Hell Just As Much
The sobering reality that we must also remember is that we deserve Hell just as much as these terrorists. We all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). We have earned death, both physical and spiritual (Romans 6:23). Our hope can only be found in Jesus Christ who experienced that death in the place of those who turn from their sin and place their absolute trust in Him and who conquered death in His resurrection. Apart from Christ and His righteousness, we are no different than ISIS or any of these terrorist groups for that matter. As R. C. Sproul, Jr. has said, "Measured by holiness I am in myself far closer to ISIS than I am to Jesus. Praise Jesus I am not in myself." As much as we may hate to admit it, we must recognize that the same is true for each of us. Praise God for His grace and mercy!

Don't Forget The Power of God
Speaking of God's grace and mercy, let's not forget that the members of ISIS are not so far that God's grace and mercy cannot reach them. After all, there was a man named Saul, who was also known as Paul, who stood by and approved the murder of a Christian named Stephen (Acts 7:58; 8:1). This man served as a leader in the persecution of the Church, dragging men and women to prison (Acts 8:3), "breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1), and zealous in seeking to put an end to the Church (Acts 9:2). However, the Lord Jesus Christ confronted him on the way to Damascus, blinded him physically, but opened his eyes spiritually. And the former terrorist who set out to destroy the Church became a chosen instrument of God through whom the Lord continued to build it.

If God has the power to save a terrorist such as Paul, certainly He has the power to convert any of ISIS or Boko Haram. Part of our prayer for them should be their salvation. That the Lord would change their heart and draw them to Christ. In fact, this is the very reason that Paul states that he was shown mercy, to display God's patience to the most wretched of sinners whom He chooses. "Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life" (1 Timothy 1:16).

I fear too often that we have what I like to call the "Jonah Syndrome." (And I intentionally say "we" here because that includes me.) We would rather see God's judgment upon our enemies instead of His mercy. The reason why Jonah went the opposite way of Ninevah at first was because he knew it was in God's character to forgive those who repent and he wanted to see the entire city with their people destroyed (Jonah 4:1-2). If he didn't give them the message, they would not have known of their need to repent and would have perished under God's wrath. Examine your heart. Is this the attitude that you have towards ISIS or Boko Haram? Do you want God to pour out His judgment upon them or for God to bring them to repentance in order to show mercy to them? Remember God's desire as expressed in 1 Timothy 2:3-4, "This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." That "all men" would include terrorists.

So, let's approach the events of this world biblically. To see and handle things as the Bible instructs us to. Including cowardly acts of terror from those who hate the triune Creator God.

In Christ,
Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Questions To Ask Of The Bible Passage You Are Studying

Have you ever been reading your Bible and been left scratching your head? Trying to figure out what the point of the passage is that you were studying? Or wanting to know what you should take away from it? I think if we are honest with ourselves, we all have had times like this. Whether it would be trudging through those hard to pronounce seemingly endless genealogies in Genesis or Jesus’ puzzling parables in Matthew. Here are a few questions that very well might help you get more out of your Bible reading this upcoming year. Take the time to ask these questions about whatever passage you may be reading.

What Does This Passage Teach Us About God? The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us. “Revelation” means “to make known.” It is through God’s Word that He makes Himself known to us. So, we learn the specifics about Who God is and what He does from the Bible. Ask yourself what characteristics about God do you see displayed in this passage. Does it say something about His love, His grace, His mercy, His wrath, His justice, or His holiness? Or do we see something that He does?

What Does This Passage Teach Us About Sinful Humanity? The Bible presents to us God’s commentary on mankind. We learn that God made man in His image. That this image became marred on account of the Fall in Genesis 3 and as a result of that act of disobedience, all men are born slaves to sin in need of salvation. Ask yourself what this says about our condition. Is there a certain sin that plagues mankind that is illustrated? For instance, the constructing of the golden bull calf by the people of Israel in Exodus 32 not too long after God’s redemption of them from their slavery in Egypt serves as a reminder of how prone to idolatry we sinful humans are and how much we need to constantly guard against such idols (which of course are not limited to statues). Or how does the passage point to our need of salvation that can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ?

What Does This Passage Teach Us About Jesus? We must realize when we come to Scripture that we are not the point. The main character of the Bible is God’s beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is His story, not ours. We are blessed that God has chosen to make us a part of the story in having Jesus save us in His death, burial, and resurrection and accepting us to become His people as He views us as righteous through our faith in Jesus alone. This means we need to be mindful of how the passage points us to Jesus. And this is just as true for the Old Testament as it is for the New. Those genealogies in Genesis begin to make sense when we realize that they are connecting us to Jesus. Moses is tracing the seed God promised who would come to defeat the sinister serpent, Satan (Genesis 3:15). He wants us to see that He will be the son of Adam, the son of Seth, the son of Enosh . . . the son of Noah, the son of Shem, the son of Abraham, the son of Isaac, the son of Jacob, and the son of Judah. Those difficult names actually serve a grand purpose in God’s ultimate plan of salvation! Also, much of what God has ordained to occur throughout Old Testament history somehow foreshadows the coming of Jesus. A good example can be found in Genesis 22 when the young boy Isaac, Abraham’s one and only son whom he loves, carries wood up the mountain for what originally appears to be for him to be offered up as a sacrifice. A couple thousand years later, God’s one and only son whom He loves, will carry a cross of wood up a mountain for Him to be offered up as a sacrifice. Where a ram served as the substitute for Isaac, Jesus served as the substitute for God’s people. Pay attention to what we can learn about Jesus from the text.

What Part Does The Passage Play in God’s Plan of Salvation?. We must keep in mind as we read through the Bible that it is all one story. There is the grand narrative of God’s salvation of sinners through the death and resurrection of His Son. Every passage serves as a puzzle piece that together forms the full picture. It is helpful for us to figure out how the passage we are reading contributes to God’s overall plan. Perhaps it might be helpful to divide this plan up into four parts: Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration. “Creation” is found in Genesis 1-2 where God created everything good and perfect. The “Fall” is described in Genesis 3 when man disobeyed God in the garden. “Redemption” is the work of Christ to save fallen humanity and “Restoration” serves as the end of God’s plan when Jesus returns and restores everything back to the paradise it was when God originally created it. Where does the passage fit in this overarching plan?

What Does This Passage Direct Me to Do? Are there any commands in this passage that call us to some sort of action? Anything it explicitly states that I should be doing in my walk with the Lord which I am not? Anything specific I need to go to the Lord in prayer about, requesting Him to work in my life? Asking these questions will help you discover what to take away from your reading.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Importance of the Word of God

Did you ever realize that the longest love poem in the Bible is not directed to a wife from a husband but to God’s Word itself? Psalm 119 is the largest of the psalms and bigger than 30 entire books in the Bible. This poem is an acrostic, which means that it is organized according to the alphabet. Broken down into 22 stanzas consisting of 8 verses, each stanza begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The first eight lines each start with the first letter of the alphabet (aleph), the second eight lines with the second letter (beth), and so forth.

And this poem is all about the Word of God. In fact, the author of the psalm finds himself so enamored with God’s Word that he basically refers to it in every single one of the lines of the poem. One word itself does not suffice for how he chooses to reference God’s Word. Instead, he needs to use nine different terms. He speaks of God’s “law,” “testimonies,” “ways,” “precepts,” “statutes,” “commandments,” “judgments,” “word,” and “ordinances.” He cannot speak enough about the Word of God.

Several times the psalmist mentions how he delights in God’s Word (vv. 16, 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 174). For him, Scripture is more desirable than any material treasure. “I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies, as much as in all riches” (v. 14). “The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver” (v. 72). “Therefore I love Your commandments above gold, yes, above fine gold” (v. 127). He certainly could sing that he “would rather have Jesus than silver or gold.” His love for God leads him to have a love for His Word that He has spoken to us. Such should be the desire for every Christian. Since God’s written Word points us to the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ, whom we love, we should have a similar attitude as that of the psalmist. Treasuring His Word far more than any earthly riches we may ever hold.

This delight in God’s Word greatly impacts how this man approaches the Word. He doesn’t just look at it once a week or a few minutes each day. It is constantly on his mind. He talks of meditating on the Word (vv. 15, 23, 48, 78, 148). “O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day” (v. 97). He ponders the Word as he goes about the chores and tasks of his day. He states that he has “stored up Your word in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (v. 11). In order for him to do this, he must have been striving to become very familiar with God’s Word; both what it says and what it means. There seems to be the idea of him working to have it memorized here. How else can one “store” something in their heart?

The author of this grand poem even is thankful that he suffered because it caused him to learn more about God’s Word. “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes” (v. 71). He recognized that the trial or tribulation that he had to go through, which he never identifies anywhere in this psalm, had a silver lining as it produced a greater understanding of what God has said. Rather than complaining concerning his difficult experience, he rejoices. He recognizes that he would not have known God’s Word as much had he not gone through whatever the situation might have been. Do we ever think about how God may use hard situations to help us understand His Word better? To move us to trust Him more by taking Him at His Word? Or better yet, do we rejoice in our trials, knowing that in God’s purpose, we will come to know Him better in the revelation of Himself in His Word?

One thing this psalm certainly shows us is just how important the Word of God must be in a Christian’s life. So significant that we can’t just leave our Bibles sit on the shelf. Or substitute a daily Bible reading with a short quick devotion that tells a nice little story but only briefly mentions a verse of Scripture. I want to encourage you this upcoming year to make time to really read and study God’s Word. To set aside time each day to commune with God by reading a few chapters of Scripture. R. C. Sproul has stated that the real problem why so many of us are lax in our Bible study habits is not because we don’t understand the Bible or lack a desire to read it, but it stems from us being lazy. Reading and studying the Bible daily indeed is work and does take discipline. To help the congregation in which I serve in getting better at developing a necessary habit of Bible reading, I have invited them to join with me in following a Bible reading plan for the upcoming year that will take us through the entire Bible. I encourage those few who might happen to read this blog to find a good Bible plan and seek to read through the entire Bible this upcoming year as well. (If you would like some Bible plans to consider, or to join with the Mt. Joy congregation in the plan we will be following, please let me know.) Let’s pray that God would use our time in the Word each day to create in us the same passion and desire we witness in the 119th Psalm and further conform us into the image of His beloved Son.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Evidence of a True Believer-Part 3

The past few months we have been looking at the characteristics of a true believer in Christ. The evidence in one’s life that demonstrates them to have been born again by God’s Holy Spirit and having been made into a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17). The difference that a saving encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ makes in one’s life. What actions and affections show one to be a true possessor of Christ and not a mere professor of Him. The deeds that demonstrate a living faith.

We have turned to the book of 1 John to examine some of this evidence as he provides concrete examples of what the heart of a genuine Christian should resemble. So far in our study we have seen that a true believer desires to be obedient to Jesus’ commands, has a genuine love for other believers, denies the world, and remains in Christ. Such should be noticed, in some capacity, in the life of one who has repented of their sins and trusted in Christ alone for their salvation.

The apostle gives even more evidence than these in his letter. He also states that a true believer in Christ will practice righteousness. He says, “If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him” (1 John 2:29). In the original Greek that this verse was written in, it says “everyone also who practices righteousness HAS BEEN BORN OF HIM.” In other words, the one who practices righteousness reveals that they have already been born of God. The practice of righteousness serves as an indication that they have been saved. It is a necessary fruit of their faith.

The word for “practice” basically means “do.” The one who has been born again in turn “does” righteousness. And this is in the present tense, conveying a continuous action. Righteousness should be a habit we see in the believer’s life. Now, does this mean that a true Christian will never sin? Of course not! John would be contradicting himself if that was what he intended to say here because earlier he acknowledged that no believer can deny their sin and points to Christ’s work on the cross as the only hope he has when he does sin (1 John 1:8-2:2). What he is saying here is that a Christian will be striving and growing in righteousness. Like Paul, he recognizes that he has not “already become perfect” or “laid hold” of this goal but continues to press forward to achieve it (Philippians 3:12-14). When he fails, which he will, it grieves him and, with the grace that God gives, he picks himself up to practice righteousness again. The Christian continues to grow in this area as they mature though sometimes it may seem as if they are taking three steps forward and two steps back.

The very reason why a righteous life must characterize a Christian is because it characterizes God Himself. Notice that John states that the reason why we can “know” that “everyone also who practices righteousness has been born of [God]” is because we “know that He is righteous.” Sons resemble their fathers in various ways. Not only in their appearance but also in their actions. They will often pick up the habits of their dads. Likewise, there should be an expectation that the one who has been adopted as a child of God through their faith in His Son will resemble the One they can rightfully call Father. They will practice righteousness just as He Himself is righteous.

This serves as a distinguishing mark of a Christian. Later in the letter John even says, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). The one who does not continually practice righteousness but maintains an ongoing practice of unrepentant sin in their life we are told does not belong to God. Instead, he or she would be classified as a child of the devil, the one who “has sinned from the beginning” (1 John 3:7-8). There is a reason why Paul can confidently state that those who remain characterized by certain sins have no place in the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Because if one has been “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified,” they would leave such sins behind and strive to practice righteousness instead (v. 11).

Do you see such characteristics in your life? A desire to be obedient to Jesus’ commands. A genuine love for other believers. A denial of the world and its philosophy. Continuing in the faith and remaining in Christ. Practicing righteousness. According to John, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they should be there if you have been born again and are a Christian. While these will not be perfect in any believer’s life, they should be present in every believer’s life. Are they in yours?

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee