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, January 29, 2009

It is Well with My Soul

Today in chapel we sang one of my all-time favorite hymns, "It is Well With My Soul." This song is a reminder to me that no matter what may happen in life, I have full satisfaction in Christ and peace that only He can give. Hearing the story behind the song has had an even greater impact on me. In case you have not heard the situations which led the author of the song to compose these lyrics, here is the story:
Horatio's response to the calamities in his life with such powerful words and faith remind me of Job and his response to all of the trauma that occurred in his life. This righteous man lost everything; his livestock, his servants, and his seven sons and three daughters. Everything that the Lord had blessed him with as recorded in Job 1:2-3 had now been taken away by the end of the chapter. All that Job was left with was his wife who we see later on in the book to be not much of an encouragement or a comfort to him. But Job responds to all of the terrible news which he received all at once in a way many of us would not expect or respond with ourselves. He responds in worship. His wonderful statement reveals the contentment which he could only find in God: Naked I came from my mother's womb, / And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:21).

In fact, the apostle Paul's contentment was found in Christ and in Him alone. He states that I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. (Philippians 4:11). While Paul knew what it felt like to live in prosperity, the secret of being filled and of having abundance, he also knew what it felt like to get along with humble means, going hungry, and suffering need. Paul was definitely no stranger to suffering. He gives a list of these many sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28: Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was shipwrecked, a night and day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. And we think we have it bad sometimes! Paul was a friend of suffering. However, back to his discussion of contentment in the letter to the Philippians. What was the secret of Paul's contentment? What helped him through whatever circumstances that he had, whether that be living at ease or several of the horrors he experienced as recounted to the Corinthians. Vs. 13 answers all of these questions: I can do all things through Him who strenghtens me. The secret to Paul's contentment was Christ. Christ enabled him to have the strength to find contentment in all of those experiences in the list as well as those times things were going well for him. It was this contentment that kept Paul going and sustained him to persevere.

I don't know what you may be going through right now but there is hope. The same One which Job, Paul, and Horatio found contentment in during the bleakest of circumstances can be your source of contentment as well. There is no indication in Scripture that Job ever fully understood what was going on with all of the suffering which he went through. We know of the supernatural picture of God and Satan but Job is never revealed to be aware of this. Likewise, we do not always understand why the Lord brings us through certain periods of trials or sufferings but I can assure you that you can find contentment in Him during those times. The three men examined are examples of this. Jesus never promised us a rose garden but He has promised to walk with us through the gardens and valleys in our lives. I encourage you in whatever you may be going through right now, trust in Christ, and may He grant you the peace to be able to say throughout the darkest of trails, "It is Well With My Soul."

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Reminder for Inauguration Day

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 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.
~I Timothy 2:1-4

The historic day in our history as a nation is approaching as tomorrow, Barack Obama, the first African-American president will be sworn in as the 44th leader of the United States of America. The nation will once again have new leadership as Mr. Obama brings his administration to the White House. While a lot is being undertaken for this event, one of the best things we Christians can and must do is to pray for our leaders as God has commanded us in His Word.

Paul instructs Timothy to encourage those in Ephesus to pray for "all men". In fact, he gives three things the believers are to do: pray (entreaties and prayers), petition and praise (thanksgiving). We are to lift up one another in prayer. We are to intercede on others' behalf. We are also to praise God for the work which He is doing in others' lives. However, in addition to the broad category which would include everyone, Paul mentions a specific category of people whom we should pray for: "kings and all who are in authority." Paul specifically points out the government leaders. It is interesting that he takes a brief moment to bring attention to them.

So many times we fail to pray for the president and those who work for the government as well as others whom the Lord has placed in authority over us. I must confess that I do not include these regularly in my own daily prayers as I ought. Yet, these people need our prayers. I cannot imagine how much stress the president is under every day with so many important decisions to make as well as the burden on those in Congress with the weight of carrying the needs of their constituents on their shoulders. And with the economy the way it is and the major issues at stake, all of these could use our prayers. The work they have to do sure would make my papers, readings, and exams appear as a "piece of cake."

While all of these are important things to pray for, Paul seems to have a greater need in mind. Vv. 3-4 seems to indicate that the content of these prayers should be for the salvation for those in authority as well as all men. I believe that Paul is saying here based on the context that God desires all types of men to be saved, whether that be those serving in government or peasant farmers. God does not show partiality to anyone based on their status or role, or nationality as is seen with God saving both Jews and Gentiles. We need to pray that the Lord would work mightly in our leaders' lives and sovereignly open up their hearts and draw them to Him. One of the greatest things we can do as a US citizen here on this earth is to pray for our senators, congressman, and the President and his cabinet. Several of the government leaders really need the Lord. We should pray that they come to know the only God and only mediator, Jesus Christ, who enables for us to have a relationship with God. After all, what better citizens can we be on earth by praying for our earthly leaders' salvation. And for those who are saved, by praying that the Lord would strengthen them and enable them to use their position which He has given them all for His glory!

Another thing I want to point out is that Paul did not say to only pray for those leaders whom you like or those who support the issues which are important to you. Whether a Democrat or a Republican is in office should not effect our praying for them. These prayers are for "all men" and "all who are in authority". In fact, the emperior at the time of this letter was no friend to Paul or any Christian. The emperor at the time was probably Nero who heavily persecuted Christians and even blamed them for the burning of Rome. Something which he possibly did himself. He would have been included in this instruction.
Also, Paul did not put a limit on how many times one should pray for one another and our leaders. He did not give a certain day. We should be lifting up our leaders everyday. With all of the hype for this historic inauguration day, let's not forget to pray!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Hope of Immanuel

Then the LORD spoke again to Ahaz, saying, "Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God; make it deep as Sheol or high as heaven." But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD!" Then he said, "Listen now, O house of David! Is it too slight a thing for you to try the patience of men, that you will try the patience of my God as well? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to know to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.
~Isaiah 7:10-16

I originally desired to write this post right before Christmas as I have been studying this wonderful prophecy of the Messiah found in Isaiah but was unable due to my internet acting up and having a busier schedule than intended. But since Christ's birth, death, and resurrection should be celebrated every day by the Christian, this post is just as appropriate for today. Also, the prophet Isaiah recorded this not for it to be studied and read on only one day of the year. My intention is to look at this prophecy in it's historical setting.

The Hope
King Ahaz of Judah saw himself in a hopeless situation. Both Pekah the King of Israel and Rezin the King of Aram (or Syria) had joined forces in order to attack Jerusalem. This alliance caused Ahaz to fear for his security and the security of his people. Upon hearing that the Syrians were with Israel, Isaiah reports concerning Ahaz that his heart and the hearts of the people shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind (7:2). This fear and lack of trust in God eventually led the king to call for the help of Assyria (2 Kings 16:7-9; 2 Chronicles 28:16-21), which God used as an instrument to punish the people of Israel for their sins of rebellion, idolatry, and disobedence (Isaiah 10:5-7). The king's fear also led the Lord to send three literal signs to provide hope that the alliance of these two kings would not be the end of the king and the nation of Judah. Two of these signs were for the king himself, while the second applied more broadly to the entire nation and pointed to a much further culmination.

All of the signs were children with respective names containing a special message God desired to convey to the king and the people. The first sign was Isaiah's child, Shear-jashub, whose name in Hebrew meant a remnant shall return. This was to communicate to the king that this alliance would not signify the end of Judah. The two kings would not be victorious over Judah. thus says the Lord GOD: "It shall not stand nor shall it come to pass" (Isaiah 7:7). The second sign, Immanuel, will be examined more in depth shortly. Upon the birth of Isaiah's second child (at least the second child of the prophet recorded as Immanuel is never credited to be the offspring of Isaiah or the prophetess), God instructs him to give the child a specific name which again provides hope for the outcome of the war with Israel and Syria. Then the LORD said to me, "Name him Maher-shalal-hash-baz (Isaiah 8:3), which means swift is the booty, speedy is the prey. God goes on to explain how the name indicates the victory which will be given through the instrument of Assyria: for before the boy knows how to cry out 'My father' or 'My mother,' the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria (Isaiah 8:4). All of these pointed to the defeat of the Northern Kingdom of Israel so that Ahaz and the people of Judah did not have to fear them.

The Sign of Immanuel
Of the three signs God gave, the child Immanuel stands out from the other two. He was not a child of Isaiah since the mother of the child is described as being a virgin and the prophetess could not have been due to the birth of Shear-jashub previously. Also, this sign was not limited to Ahaz but was given to the entire nation of Judah. The you of verse 14 is plural in Hebrew indicating that the sign is for the nation. If the sign had been specifically given to the king, the pronoun would have been singular. God approached Ahaz through Isaiah and commanded the king to ask a sign concerning the threat from these two kings, probably because the sign of Shear-jashub was not enough to calm the king's fear. Ahaz refuses, claiming that he does not want to test God. This more likely was an excuse since he was not placing his trust in God but the Assyrians since the king had tested God his entire reign through his sacrificing to idols and even burning his own children (2 Chronicles 28:2-4). Isaiah then tells him that since he will not ask for a sign, one would be given to the entire nation of Judah. The immediate hope for that time came with the statements in verses 15-16 describing that For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken. However, a greater hope for the nation also is conveyed with this sign.

This child was no ordinary child as his birth is predicted to be miraculous. He will come from a virgin (vs 14). Much has been made concerning the translation of the Hebrew word, almah, as its literal meaning is young maiden. However, all seven occurences of the word in the Old Testament all refer to young maidens who are virgins. Furthermore, Matthew ends the debate when he, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, identifies this child as being Jesus whom he describes as being born of a virgin (Matthew 1:18). Right after recording the birth of Jesus in the opening chapter of his gospel, he states Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: "Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which translated means, "God with us" (Matthew 1:22-23). Isaiah pointed to a hope which would come to the people 700 centuries later.

The entire nation of Judah as well as all of mankind was in an even greater hopeless state by the plague of sin; a plague much worse than two kings threatening to capture their earthly kingdom. This plague had eternal consequences. Due to the disobedience of Adam, all are born with a sinful nature and all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). This sin placed man under the wrath of God Himself (Romans 1:18) and results in spiritual death (Romans 6:23). In comparison to the reality of eternal conscious punishment in the fires of Hell, eternal separation of God is the most severe. Scripture describes man as being a slave to sin, dead, blind, and lost with nothing in and of themselves able to merit the favor of God. A hopeless situation indeed. The hope came with the birth of the Savior, whose very purpose was to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). The meaning of the name Immanuel, God with us, is used to convey victory as God is on the side of the people (Isaiah 8:10). God has granted victory to those who place their trust in Christ as He has taken their sins upon Himself and experienced God's wrath on the cross for those sins, as well as experiencing the separation from God the sinner is due to experience for all eternity in Hell in order that those who place their trust in Him may be forgiven their sins and declared righteous in God's sight.

Praise God for the sign of Immanuel given so many years ago and how through that child, those of us who have placed our faith in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ have been rescued from the hopeless state that we were once in and been given eternal life! For those of you who may still be in that hopeless state, may God use this to show you the hope which exists through Christ and His work on the cross, possibly leading you to repentance and placing your faith in Christ as Lord and Savior.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!