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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What's in a Title?

And he left for Tarsus to look for Saul; and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.
~Acts 11:25-26

A title can tell you a lot about a person. It can tell you their gender whether they are "Mr." or "Ms." It can reveal a lady's marital status pending on whether she is a "Ms." or "Mrs." It might tell you someone's job or qualifications for a job whether they are a "D.D.S.," "Ph. D.," or "RN." Nicknames may reveal certain characteristics of individuals or embarrassing moments they will never be able to forget. For instance, I have been known by several nicknames which all have a unique meaning in relationship to something about me. I have been called "General" (a reference to General Robert E. Lee), "Destructo" (a name I "earned" at Wal-Mart for my tendency to drop and bust things like yogurt as well as knocking over beer), "SpaZZ" (a name resulting from a reaction I had when a bee decided to land on my arm), "Preach" or "Preacher" (reason not needing an explanation) "Obadiah" (due to my so-called "Amish look") and "Levi" and "PaulLee" (both a play on my name). A title can also provide a clue to one's theology through whether one classifies himself or herself as a "Methodist," "Baptist," "Brethren," "Lutheran," "Calvinist," "Reformed," "Dispensationalist," or "insert other denomination or theological school here."

I struggled during college with what title or titles to hold. I entered college calling myself "Brethren" identifying with my denomination. However, when my professors who also called themselves "Brethren" taught against everything that I had come to know through the teachings at my church and on my own I was reluctant to continue to use the title. (This is why I tell everyone that I "serve in the Church of the Brethren" but will not identify myself as belonging to it by claiming to be "Brethren"). But when these professors did describe the positions that I held, they dismissed them as belonging to the "Evangelical" group. So I thought that I must be an "Evangelical" and not a "Brethren" then. This also led me to feel comfortable possibly being called a "Fundamentalist" depending on the definition of the term. After all, I do affirm the historic "Five Fundamentals" which started the movement and coined the title. Upon an intense study of the book of Romans three summers ago the Lord opened my eyes to see His sovereignty in salvation. This led me to classify myself as a "Calvinist". However, it did not take me too long to realize that several people have come to understand this label differently and many of my positions and understandings of God's Word became misinterpreted and skewed so the label had to go in order for people to not get the wrong idea of what I believed. Then I started reading wonderful godly men such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, John MacArthur, John Piper, RC Sproul, and Charles Spurgeon and found much of what they were saying to be in accord with Scripture. Since all of these men are identified as part of the "Reformed" group I began to openly call myself "Reformed." However, further study of many of these men's views (with the exception of MacArthur), I struggled with their claim that the Church is the "New Israel" and that all of the OT prophecies were spiritually fulfilled in them. This led me to read some dispensationalists and adopt that title, until I could not agree with "seven dispensations" and seemed to struggle with many of the soteriological (study of salvation) views of these theologians. It seemed that every theological title which I tried to hold was lacking because my study of God's Word would not put me into a certain "camp" or "group" because my views were a mixture of all of them. I finally realized that I did not need to align myself with any of these titles because I had a far greater one: "Christian."

The early church did not have several titles to distinguish themselves from others. They referred to themselves as "The Way" (Acts 9:2; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22) indicating that they proclaimed the true and only way of salvation (Acts 16:17) which was Jesus Christ. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). The title of "Christian" was first given to them in Antioch. Prior to this title, the group had referred to themselves as "saints" and "believers." While those who gave the believers this label probably meant it as derogatory, the name became fitting for this group and one in which they adopted (I Peter 4:16). Unfortunately, I believe that many of us take this title for granted and fail to recognize the full weight of its significance.

The English word, "Christian," comes from the Greek word "Christanos" which means "belonging to Christ". This title reminds us of whose we are. For those who are in Christ, we have been bought by the blood of Christ (I Corinthians 6:20). Christ died for us so that we would be able to live for Him. and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf (2 Corinthians 5:15). Many of us though do not live like we belong to Christ but as though we belong to the world. Scripture is clear that we cannot have divided allegiances (Matthew 6:24; James 4:4-5). A question we need to ask ourselves is: "Do our lives reflect our title?" "Are we living as if we belong to Christ or as if we belong to the world?" Does this title fit us as well as it did for the early church?

The title is also one of the biggest reminders of God's grace. We do not deserve to belong to Christ. There is nothing in us good that would merit His favor. In fact, He purchased us on the cross while we were still sinners when we hated Him (Romans 5:8). None of those who received this title during that time in Antioch deserved to be said to belong to Christ. In fact, Saul (Paul) was in the group and he at one time persecuted Christ by attempting to destroy His body, the Church. Now He could be called by this title since the Lord had worked in His heart and brought him to repentance and to place his faith in Christ.

Notice what the title does not mean. It does not mean anyone who is a member of a local church. It does not mean anyone who is an American or lives in the West. It does not mean anyone who merely believes the teachings of Christ and attempts to live them out. It is someone who belongs to Christ. One who has been brought into a relationship with the Son of God.

For those of you who are born again and "partakers" of Christ (Hebrews 3:14) and can genuinely carry this title, may it bring encouragement to you that you belong to Him, convict you to how you should be living, and remind you of the grace which God has lovingly shown to all of those who come to Him. For those who are not, the message of Scripture is clear. You must repent of sin and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, earnestly believing in your heart that He died for man's sins and physically rose again, trusting only in Him for your salvation. Only in being brought into a relationship with Him are you able to truly carry such a title.

In Christ,
Lee Smith
Soli Deo Gloria

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Great Leaders of the Church: John Calvin and Preaching for the Glory of God

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

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

Luther was not the only one that God rose up for the purpose of bringing reform to His beloved Church. In Switzerland, a man by the name of John Calvin created a legacy which still can be felt today. On July 10, 1509, Calvin was born in Noyon, France (Piper, 122). At first he studied theology at the University of Paris as his father had urged him. This changed in five years when after having a conflict with the church, Calvin’s father instead persuaded him to study law at Orleans and Bourges. Calvin would later return to the study of theology in Paris upon his father’s death (Piper, 122).

During this time in Paris, Calvin encountered some of Luther’s teachings which the Lord used to open his eyes for His glory to shine through (Lindt, 380). The young man became so impacted that all other authority faded in comparison to that of God’s Word (Piper, 124). Like Luther before him, Calvin became committed to the truth of the Word of God. He decided to teach the gospel solely and taught several who would gather around him (Henry, 337). The association with Lutheran doctrines led Calvin to share in the growing persecution. This forced him to flee from Paris, migrating throughout France before leaving the country in exile. He settled in Basel, Switzerland (Henry, 338). Here Calvin completed the first of five editions of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, laying out the essentials of the Reformed faith (Henry, 338). He desired to educate people concerning the faith that many were dying for in the persecution (Piper, 128). He purposed to become a literary scholar and promote Reformed doctrines, though God had a different purpose for the reformer.

Calvin planned to go to Strasbourg and settle so that he would be able to continue his work in his writing. However, God prevented him from ever arriving there. The road into the town was blocked due to the current war between Charles V and Francis I so he was unable to enter the town. This led him to take a detour through Geneva (Piper, 129). This was a place he had never intended to stay or even travel through. Here the reformer learned God’s plan for him.

In his first night in the city, Calvin received a visit from William Farel, the leader of the Reformation there who attempted to persuade him to join in their reform. While at first unconvincing, Farel in a deep voice pronounced a curse on Calvin that scared him enough to declare that he felt as if God Himself had grabbed him (Henry, 338; Piper, 129). From this point on, Calvin’s ministry was the preaching and teaching of God’s Word, which he relentlessly labored at unwaveringly. He began as Professor of Sacred Scripture and then became the Pastor of St. Peter’s church (Piper, 130). However, this role would prove to be more challenging than the reformer could ever had imagined and pose more problems than he would have wished.

A dispute arose between Calvin and the people of Geneva when the pastor called the people to swear their allegiance to a statement of faith in which the Genevans refused (Lindt, 380). The disagreement resulted in the people banishing Calvin and two others from the city (Henry, 336). However, God was not finished with Calvin yet. Also, this would not be his last service to the people of Geneva. Heading back to Strasbourg, Calvin came in contact with Martin Bucer who persuaded him to minister to a church in the city where he served for three years. It was also during these years that the Lord blessed the reformer with a wife (Piper, 130).

Things progressed worse in Geneva and the people realized that they needed Calvin’s leadership after all. They revoked the ban and invited him back to minister to them. Once again, Calvin was reluctant to return to face the people and their many problems. However, his complete surrender to God drew him back (Piper, 131). Regardless of his emotions, he decided to be obedient. This time, Calvin created drastic changes in the organization of the church and the state to ensure that the church would be given authority by the state (Henry, 339). Never completely rid of its problems, Calvin maintained faithful in serving the congregation until the end of his life in 1564 at the age of 55 (Henry, 340-341).

Separating Calvin from those leaders which preceded him and several which follow is his strong commitment to the expository preaching of Scripture. Calvin held Scripture to such high esteem that he believed it should be taught verse by verse straight through each book. He would preach ten sermons every two weeks (Piper, 138). He believed that this was the best way to counter the downplaying of God’s Word, guard against adding any of his thoughts to God’s Word, and reveal the majesty of the glory of God as He has revealed Himself in His Word (Piper, 140-141). Calvin evidenced such a commitment upon his return to Geneva after his banishment in picking up preaching on the verse he had left off three years prior (Piper, 139). Personally, this has made a tremendous impact on me as a reminder of the importance the Word of God plays in the pastor’s ministry. Being God’s Word it must be treated with honor. The role of the pastor first and foremost is to make sure to 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). Calvin modeled such a serious study of God’s Word in his exegesis and exposition.

Calvin left the church with a vast amount of his teachings, having completed commentaries on 27 books of the Old Testament and every New Testament book with the exceptions of 2, 3 John and Revelation. His Institutes of the Christian Religion still remain widely read and used to teach many Christians today the doctrines he explained from God’s Word. In his later years, the Reform movement began to grow as Reformed congregations were being formed and several churches espousing similar organization and doctrines survive and thrive today (Henry, 340). Such an impact does not appear to be waning anytime soon.

-Henry, Dr. P. “John Calvin.” Lives of the Leaders of Our Church Universal: From the Days of the Successors of the Apostles to the Present Time. Eds. Dr. Ferdinand Piper and Henry Mitchell Maccracken. Philadelphia, PA: Lutheran Publication House, 1879.
-Lindt, A. “John Calvin.” Introduction to the History of Christianity. Ed. Tim Dowley. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002.
-Piper, John. The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000.

Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Great Leaders of the Church: Martin Luther and the Authority of the Word

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
~2 Timothy 3:16-17

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.
~Martin Luther

Another flawed man whom the Lord rose up to lead His Church was Martin Luther. November 10, 1483 marks the birthday of this future reformer born in Eisleben, Germany (Heubner, 265). Following his father’s promptings, Luther went to the University of Erfurt to study law (Piper, 83; Stupperich, 368). He received both his Bachelors and Masters here but then encountered an experience God would use to direct him into a different path which He had planned.

On a trip home one day from the university, Luther got caught in a thunderstorm and was shaken with fear. Having fallen to the ground, he cried Help me, St. Anne; I will become a monk (Piper, 83). He fulfilled this vow later joining an Augustinian monastery in the area (Piper, 84). In entering the monastery, Luther took with him his personal struggles of how such a righteous God could accept a sinner as he. Later he confessed to being angry with God viewing the term the righteousness of God as indicating God’s justice in punishing the unjust sinner (Luther, 11). In fact, Luther spent much time at the confessional in the monastery over sins others viewed trivial. No comfort offered by fellow monks or the head of the monastery could ease his troubled mind (Dillenberger, xvi). Rest did not come to the weary monk until the day the Lord granted him understanding of the passage in Romans which caused him great turmoil. Upon meditating and examining its context, Luther came to the realization that the righteousness of God is bestowed upon those who come to Him through faith and that alone. It is through this faith that one is justified and not by any works of their own (Luther, 11). This understanding came in direct contradiction to the works-righteousness system esteemed by the Roman Catholic Church.

During his time in the monastery, Luther was ordained a priest and taught philosophy to the younger monks. After a few years, his superior permitted him to teach the Bible (Piper, 85). Later, he received a doctorate in theology where he vowed to preach and to teach [Scripture] most faithfully and clearly (Heubner, 266). His life reflected the seriousness of this vow as Luther became professor of Bible at the University of Wittenberg and faithfully taught there the rest of his life (Piper, 85). He also preached three times a week at a local church and had accumulated around 3,000 sermons by the year 1546 (Piper, 87). For Luther, the Bible was the Word of God and His full authority with no other form of communication given to man (Piper, 77; Stupperich, 369). Such a perspective would cause Luther problems with others claiming to have equal authority.

Luther grew greatly disturbed at the preaching of Johann Tetzel that a gift of an indulgence would ensure an early release from purgatory and forgiveness of sins. He countered this teaching by posting his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg church on October 31, 1517 (Dillenberger, xx; Heubner, 266). Several of these directly challenged the Pope’s authority to grant remission of sins. The list gained popularity as copies were made and distributed (Dillenberger, xxi). Luther’s further writings caused an increased tension between himself and the church at Rome. When faced with the demand to recant of his writings and statements, the reformer courageously refused (Stupperich, 368). He would never compromise Scripture. In fact, at the Diet of Worms where he was excommunicated, he stated:

Unless, therefore, I am convinced through proofs from the Holy Scripture, am vanquished in a clear manner through the very passages which I have cited, and my conscience imprisoned thus by the Word of God, I neither can nor will retract anything. Here I stand. I can do nothing else. God help me. Amen! (Heubner, 268)

Though excommunicated, Luther had yet to complete another task God had for him. Frederick the Wise found a safe haven for Luther in a castle in Wartburg. This provided the reformer with the perfect place to be alone with God and translate the Bible from it’s original language into German so that the people would be able to read and understand God’s very own Word (Heubner 268). Throughout the rest of his life, Luther continued to engage in defense of the authority of Scripture and the failure of the church in living it out. He breathed his last on February 18, 1546 (Piper, 111).

Any modern Protestant denomination would be remiss not to give God glory for His instrumental use of Luther. Regardless of their view of Luther’s theology, they cannot deny their development out of the Reform movement he started. Without the spark created by this one man’s stand for the authority of God’s Word, churches today possibly would still be in bondage to the traditions and authority of the Roman Catholic Church. Also, through his translation of the Bible into German, Luther enabled people to read and study the Bible on their own without them having to blindly rely on the Pope and the priests for their interpretation. The fact that Jesus is the only historical person to exceed Luther in the number of books written concerning a figure should be of no surprise (Stupperich, 368).

The reformer's major impact on me was his commitment to God’s Word and his stand for its authority despite popular opinion. As demonstrated in his famous speech at the Diet of Worms previously examined, Luther would never take back any of his statements unless he found reason to do so. He would not place the authority of the Pope above that of Scripture. For Luther, it was all about God’s Word as it should be for believers today as well.

-Dillenberger, John. “An Introduction to Martin Luther.” Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings. Ed. John Dillenberger. New York: Anchor Books, 1962.
-Heubner, Rev. Dr. L. “Martin Luther.” Lives of the Leaders of Our Church Universal: From the Days of the Successors of the Apostles to the Present Time. Eds. Dr. Ferdinand Piper and Henry Mitchell Maccracken. Philadelphia, PA: Lutheran Publication House, 1879.
-Luther, Martin. “Preface to the Complete Edition of Luther’s Latin Writings.” Martin Luther: Selections From His Writings. Ed. John Dillenberger. New York: Anchor Books, 1962.
-Piper, John. The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000.
-Stupperich, R. “Martin Luther.” Introduction to the History of Christianity. Ed. Tim Dowley. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002.

Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Great Leaders of the Church: Augustine and His Passion for God

You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.

~Psalm 16:11

Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.
~Augustine, The Confessions

While commonly known as Augustine of Hippo today, the saint was born Aurelius Augustine in Tagste, North Africa in 354 (Bindemann, 105). Like many, his life consisted of a quest for pleasure. He sought this pleasure satiated in things below (Augustine, 20). Such a quest for pleasure in the wrong direction led him to father a child out of wedlock at a young age (Bindemann, 105). The saint himself attested that lust was something he delighted in, mistaking the sin for love (Augustine, 20). He would not find his true pleasure until several years later.

Seeing the skill of the young man, Augustine’s father heavily encouraged him to study rhetoric in school. This resulted in the saint spending four years in a school in Madura and later at Carthage (Piper, 46). While at Carthage, Augustine continued to fulfill his passions of lust and worldliness. He even sought delight in his success at his studies of rhetoric for the praise of his own glory (Augustine, 33). It was here that he began his affair and his illegitimate son was born (Piper, 47). Also, never being fully satisfied with the pleasures of lust, he began to seek out pleasure in a new direction. A providential direction which would ultimately lead him to find the One who fully satisfies.

Upon reading a poem by the philosopher, Cicero, God awakened in Augustine a desire for wisdom and knowledge (Augustine, 34). However, this quest led him to the Gnostic group known as the Manicheans. This was yet unable to quench his thirst for knowledge, provoking him to leave the group nine years later (Bindemann, 106). He soon shared the view of the academic skeptics that true knowledge could not be understood and took up the mantle of teacher of rhetoric in Milan, Italy (Bindemann, 106). While here, Augustine began to read Plotinus’ writings and was exposed to the thought of Neo-Platonism. Also, he encountered the biblical teachings of Ambrose (Piper, 49). God used such teachings to change Augustine’s mind towards Scripture. His conversion came while lamenting over his sins in a garden and hearing the words take and read (Bindemann, 108). Viewing the mysterious saying as a sign, Augustine opened up his Bible and began reading Romans 13:13-14 (Wright, 207). Through this piercing passage of Scripture, God drew Augustine to Him and after a restless life of attempting to find something to satisfy his passions, the sinner’s heart finally found his rest in Him (Augustine, 1).

The new life Augustine gained in Christ convinced him that he should retreat from the world with all of its temptations and become a monk. He desired to start a monastery back home but circumstances led him to move it to the city of Carthage. It was here that God revealed to Augustine His intentions for his life and work (Piper, 54). Serving as a perfect illustration of Proverbs 16:9, Augustine went to Hippo in hopes of finding a friend who would join him in the establishing of the monastery but in turn became a priest. Upon attending a church where the current bishop, Valerius, was serving, the congregation appointed him as such (Bindemann, 109-110). There Augustine served, ministering to the people through preaching and teaching God’s Word and later becoming co-bishop with Valerius and then full bishop upon his death (Bindemann, 110). Also, in his role as a spiritual shepherd, Augustine defended the faith from the challenges of the Manicheans he formally held ties with, the Donatists and their false assumption that the character of the priest determines the holiness of the sacraments, and Pelagious who denied original sin, believing that man was capable of living a holy life without the necessary inner workings of God’s grace (Piper, 42). He continued his devotion to teaching the Word and doctrine unto his death in 430 (Wright, 207).

Augustine’s lasting legacy cannot be debated. He left an impact felt in the church for ongoing centuries. His writings number greater than 93 (Bindemann, 111) and numerous clergy received training from him (Piper, 55). God also used him to influence the minds of the Reformers in their own battle for the proper understanding of God’s grace against the works-rightousness mentality of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther was a monk in his order and Calvin quoted from Augustine increasingly more in every update of his Institutes (Piper, 25).

For me personally, Augustine’s lasting impact has to be his all-consuming passion and desire for God. One does not find Augustine in The Confessions but God as the saint relates everything in his life to God and His perspective. He reveals his sin in light of God’s holiness and views the steps to his conversion as having been directed by God with the change itself a result of God. He spent his life searching for something to satisfy him and was not fulfilled until that day which God worked in his heart. Then the one who once sought his own glory had as his only purpose to be God’s glory alone. He encourages us to similarly find our sole delight in God and demonstrates how such a delight will not leave us wanting.

-Augustine, Aurelius. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. New York: Washington Square Press, Inc., 1960.
-Bindemann, Dr. C. “Aurelius Augustine.” Lives of the Leaders of Our Church Universal: From the Days of the Successors of the Apostles to the Present Time. Eds. Dr. Ferdinand Piper and Henry Mitchell Maccracken. Philadelphia, PA: Lutheran Publication House, 1879.
-Piper, John. The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God’s Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2000.
-Wright, David F. “Augustine of Hippo.” Introduction to the History of Christianity. Ed. Tim Dowley. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2002.

Soli Deo Gloria!!!

The Importance of Studying Biography

Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.
~Hebrews 13:7

I have never been one to read a lot of biographies. Sure I have read historical people in history books but not many biographies which center specifically on them. Usually, when I am not reading God's Word, you will find me reading a commentary, theological work, or a Christian living book by MacArthur or Piper, which due to the very nature of the authors is always grounded and centered on God's Word. However, for a recent paper I have done on four great leaders of the Christian church (Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Moody), I encountered some wonderful biographies which I gleaned so much from. The paper led me to read Piper's The Legacy of Sovereign Joy: God's Triumphant Grace in the Lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, and portions of Augustine's autobiography, The Confessions. The biographies themselves are not what encouraged me but the lives of these saints. I may not fully agree with each of their theology, I cannot deny the passion and zeal they lived out for the Lord and what we can gain from their examples. I think that there are at least three things we can benefit from reading biographies of those in church history.

Biographies Can Help Remind Us That God Has a Purpose for Each of Us
Like Pharaoh (Romans 9:17), God had a purpose for each of these men as well as us today. Reading their life stories reveals God's sovereign hand secretly directing them to the point He opens their eyes and awakens them to spiritual life and where they realize the role in which He had been preparing them to do. Like Joseph, they experienced much in their lives and while they may not have realized it at the time, God directed each of their steps. Right after being betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, the author of Genesis reminds us that the LORD was with Joseph (Genesis 39:2) and as Joseph himself realized later, all of the terrible events which occurred in his life were part of God's working to bring him to the position to save his family from dying in the famine which would have resulted in God's promise to Abraham becoming broken (Genesis 45:5-8; 50:20). These men played a part in God's plan and reading them we should not forget that we do as well.

Biographies Can Encourage Us to Press On No Matter the Cost
These men did not have easy lives but experienced several problems daily. In fact, I think some of them might have even experienced more problems than we ever do. While I have my critics, I don't think they are as fierce as Luther's who excommunicated him or Calvin's who banished him from Geneva after he had poured out his life to them. Also, their work load was much greater than my hectic schedule (and trust me, it gets hectic sometimes) of work, seminary, RAing, and the occasional opportunities God grants me to preach a few times a month. Augustine was a bishop who taught God's Word regularly, wrote several theological treaties, as well as defended the faith against the Manicheans, Donatists, and Pelagious. Luther averaged the equivalent in four years of preaching a sermon every two and a half days and in addition to his church work, teaching the students at the university, had a wife and six children to tend to (including the grief of losing one at a very young age). He also produced numerous works during his life in his many battles for truth he engaged in. Calvin never slowed down in his ministry of the Word but preached ten sermons every two weeks, wrote a mass load of commentaries and other works, all the while performing the traditional pastoral duties of visiting the sick and church administration. Moody at one time was a successful businessman, Sunday School organizer, Sunday School conference speaker, and president of the Y.M.C.A. Yet, God gave them the drive to not quit the roles He had called them to but to persevere for His glory. Some of the greatest testimonies comes from those missionaries whom willingly give up their life for Christ and never back down in spite of persecution, even to the point of death. When I get discouraged due to my work load, the reminder of their zeal and passion which God gave them is a good impetus not to give up. If God can push them forward through the toughest of tasks, surely He can us as well.

Biographies Reveal God's Glorious Work in That Which is Not Glorious Itself
Also, these men were full of flaws. They were sinners saved by God's grace. Augustine had some mistaken views on sex and baptism (holding to infant baptism), Luther did not do well at bridling his tongue or controlling his anger, and unfortunately Calvin may always be remembered for his execution of Michael Severtus. Moody also was not the most accomplished speaker. Yet, their names live on in history because of the work that God has done in them and through them and not because of themselves. God so often uses us in spite or even because of our weaknesses. All of the accounts of those in Scripture bear this well. None of them were perfect except for Jesus but God's strength was shown through their weaknesses. Moses was not that great of a speaker. Abraham, though being the quiessential example of justification by faith in the New Testament, had moments where his faith lacked (such as the incident with Hagar and the two cases of lying about Sarah being his wife). The time of the judges had leaders full of problems such as Gideon and his constant need of a sign in spite of God's clear direction and Jephthah and his tragic vow. David, the king after God's own heart, had the tag line: because David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite (1 Kings 15:2). Jeremiah thought that he was too young while Jonah even rebelled against God's command, wanting to see God's wrath fall upon Nineveh instead of His mercy. Yet none of this stopped God from using these men. Likewise, all of the flaws we have does not hinder God's ability to use us. In spite of ourselves, He can and may still use us for His glory. We are not disqualified due to our inadequacies as we all are inadequate apart from Christ. Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:4-6). Praise God for His work!

So I encourage you to read a biography of one of the leaders that God has rose up in the past whom He has used to make His name great and bring Him glory. May He use us for the purposes which He has in store.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

As the Lord has used my study of the lives of these men mentioned to encourage me and draw me to glorify Him as His hand was apparent in each of their lives, I intend to share a section of my paper which corresponds to one of the saints each day this week, starting with Augustine today. May God use their stories to encourage you at what He has done in their lives knowing that He has things in store for us as well.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spurgeon on Depression

In conjunction with my previous post on depression, I would like to post a link to an excerpt from Charles H. Spurgeon's Lectures to His Students as this led me to the Scripture which I have just exposited. As one who experiences moments of depression and loneliness, the insights from this "Prince of Preachers" greatly encouraged me. I especially appreciate his insights on God's purposes for our depression. I highly encourage you to read it sometime when you get the chance. The entire excerpt can be found here:

I will leave you with it's powerful conclusion:

The lesson of wisdom is: Be not dismayed by soul-trouble. Count it no strange thing, but a part of ordinary ministerial experience.

Should the power of depression be more than ordinary, think not that all is over with your usefulness. Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward [Heb. 10:35]. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise and overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord who forsaketh not His saints. Live by the day—aye, by the hour.

Put no trust in frames and feelings. Care more for a grain of faith than a ton of excitement. Trust in God alone. Lean not on the reeds of human help. Be not surprised when friends fail you; it is a failing world. Never count upon immutability in man: inconstancy you may reckon upon without fear of disappointment.

The disciples of Jesus forsook Him, so be not amazed if your adherents wander away to other teachers. As they were not your all when with you, all is not gone from you with their departure. Serve God with all your might while the candle is burning, then when it goes out for a season, you will have the less to regret.

Be content to be nothing, for that is what you are. When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full, except in the Lord.

Set small store by present rewards, be grateful for earnests by the way, but look for the recompensing joy hereafter. Continue, with double earnestness, to serve your Lord when no visible result is before you.

Any simpleton can follow the narrow path in the light: faith’s rare wisdom enables us to march on in the dark with infallible accuracy, since she places her hand in that of her Great Guide. Between this and Heaven there may be rougher weather yet, but it is all provided for by our Covenant Head. In nothing let us be turned aside from the path which the divine call has urged us to pursue.

Come fair or come foul, the pulpit is our watchtower, and the ministry our warfare; be it ours, when we cannot see the face of our God, to "trust under the shadow of thy wings."

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Where to Go When Depressed

Then it happened when David and his men came to Ziklag on the third day, that the Amalekites had made a raid on the Negev and on Ziklag, and had overthrown Ziklag and burned it with fire; and they took captive the women and all who were in it, both small and great, without killing anyone, and carried them off and went their way. When David and his men came to the city, behold, it was burned with fire, and their wives and their sons and their daughters had been taken captive. Then David and the people who were with him lifted up their voices and wept until there was no strength in them to weep. Now David's two wives had been taken captive, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess and Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite. Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strenghtened himself in the LORD his God.
~1 Samuel 30:1-6

One thing no Christian is immune from is depression. Due to living in a fallen world, circumstances and situations inevitably seek to rob us of joy. Even the greatest "heroes of the faith" underwent boughts of depression. Job, Jonah, and Elijah at different points pleaded that God would take their lives while Jeremiah spent much time lamenting over the judgment that would befall his people. Timothy appears to be a discouraged young minister who might have even contemplated giving up the ministry due to growing opposition and persecution. One cannot read some of David's psalms and overlook periods of depression which the king after God's own heart experienced.

One such period of depression for the king occurred upon his return to Ziklag to find the city in ashes and all of the women and children carried off by the Amalekites. This included his two wives at the time. The response of David and his people is typical and expected. They lifted their voices and wept. In fact, their weeping was so great that the author explained that they did not cease until there was no strength in them to weep. Not only was this enough to depress the king, the people also turned against him. They were so embittered, literally bitter in soul, that they talked about stoning him! These were his men. The very ones who had supported hiim and fought right alongside him. This understandably made David greatly distressed. He must have felt like Job, having lost everything he held dear to and being left with those who seemed to make the situation worse (remember the lack of comfort and compassion shown to Job by his wife and "couselors").

Many of us find ourselves in similar situations sometimes. We suffer the pain of losing something we hold dear, a severed relationship, or being dismissed from a job in a steep economic time. We have relatives or family members once close confidents turn on us and become bitter enemies. Much of which make us weep with all of our strength and become greatly distressed. However, notice how David dealt with these depressing situations. He strengthened himself in the LORD his God. The situation looked bleak but the king did not give up and instead looked to God for his strength. David may have strengthened himself here similarly to that in which he did in Psalm 27. He would not be afraid of his enemies because he recognized that God was defense of [his] life (Ps. 27:1). He looked to be in the LORD' s presence where he would be protected in the day of trouble (Ps. 27:4-6). His army had now forsaken him just as his parents so he may have reminded himself that the LORD will take me up (Ps. 27:9). Through it all, what may have kept the king going in such a trying time was the consistent faith that I would see the goodness of the LORD / In the land of the living (Ps. 27:13). He found his comfort in God alone. He focused on the One who can provide joy in the midst of the darkest valley or deepest pain. He focused on the One who gives hope in what seems to be a hopeless situation. Sometimes the greatest comfort we need can come from redirecting our focus from the terrible situation we're in to the terrific God in control of such a situation and the knowledge that He is working through it for our good and for His glory.

David did not run away from the circumstances but sought the strength which only God could give to deal with them and move forward. He did not pick up the latest self-help book which outlines "12 Steps to Overcome Depression" but went to God. Interestingly, this seems to be the last place we often go in times of depression where it should be our first. In fact, it was the LORD who provided David with the guidance of how to handle these specific depressing circumstances.

After finding his strength or encouragement in the LORD, David asked for the Ephod from the priest Abiathar and asked God whether he should pursue them (v. 7-8), receiving an affirmative from God. Then through further provision of an Egyptian servant of an Amalekite, God led David to those who had burned the city and captured its residents and he received all that was lost. Where would the king have been if he allowed the depression to cripple him to the point of giving up or had attempted to strengthen himself elsewhere?

I don't know what you may be struggling with currently or the events and circumstances depressing you but I do know that there is One you can call out to during this time who can provide strength amidst the feebleness and weakness which has resulted. Like David may we find our strength in the God of all comfort when faced with the depression which comes from the pain and trials life brings!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Famine in the Land: A Review

"Behold, the days are coming," declares the Lord GOD,
"When I will send a famine on the land,
Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water,
But rather for hearing the words of the LORD.
People will stagger from sea to sea
And from the north even to the east;
They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD,
But they will not find it.
In that day the beautiful virgins
And the young men will faint from thirst.
As for those who swear by the guilt of Samaria,
Who say, 'As your god lives, O Dan,'
And, 'As the way of Beersheba lives,'
They will fall and not rise again."

~Amos 8:11-14

I normally don't do book reviews unless necessary for a class but have been so blessed with a book I have just read I feel I must share this with others in hopes that God may use it to teach and remind them of the importance and necessity of His Word being proclaimed and preached powerfully for His namesake and glory.

In conjuction with a class I am currently taking on homiletics (basically the art and science of preaching), I have been reading several books regarding preaching. Some of these books are required for the class while many are supplimants as I personally seek to faithfully exposit the Word of God. Out of all of the books I have perused the past couple of months, the best book (not counting the Bible of course!) I have found concerning expository preaching has been Steven J. Lawson's Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching.

Lawson's book is based on Amos 8:11-14 which speaks of the coming judgment on Israel for her rebellion and many sins against the Lord. Part of the divine judgment on the nation is a spiritual famine where the people will not be able to hear the words of the LORD. They will travel all over in an attempt to hear God's word but not be able to find it. Even those youthful will faint from not being quinched by God's Word and those who place their trust in other gods will fall and not rise again. Lawson argues that such a famine has fallen upon us today. While preaching is not hard to find with several orators and televangelists, most pulpits lack true biblical preaching. This book is a plea for pastors to return to true expository preaching. As he states in his introduction: Indeed, we are living in such days of drought, a time when many forces are suffocating biblical preaching. Now more than ever, pastors must return to their highest calling, the divine summons to "Preach the word" (2 Tim 4:2) (17-18).

In calling pastors back to expository preaching, Lawson discusses the Priority of biblical preaching, the Power of biblical preaching, the Pattern of biblical preaching, and the Passion of biblical preaching. To help communicate the importance and centrality of biblical preaching, he has found some of the most powerful quotes and statements from some of the greatest expositors in history such as John Calvin, Martin Luther, Charles H. Spurgeon, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Merrill Unger, and John MacArthur. I have much of their quotes highlighted and am considering compiling them as a constant reminder of the weight of teaching and preaching God's very own divine Word.

Not only does Lawson explain expository preaching, but models it as well. Each chapter has one focus and is an exposition of a passage of Scripture. For instance, the Priority of biblical preaching is an exposition of Acts 2:42-47 while its Power is demonstrated from Jonah 3:1-10, its Pattern seen from Ezra 7:10; Nehemiah 8:1-18, and its Passion taught from Paul's words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:13-16. Basically, Lawson shows what Scripture itself says about the importance, necessity, and centrality of its proclamation and exhortation. This sets the book apart from most other preaching books which give a lot of the author's suggestions on how to reach the congregation or maintain the listeners attention. This focuses on the role of preaching in the life of a church and the need of strong expositors behind the pulpit to feed flocks of sheep which are hungering and thirsting for the richness of God's Word.

John Piper once made a comment concerning recommending books that one should never say that a book is a "must read" as only one book fits that description so I will refrain from making such a comment. However, I would highly encourage anyone called into the ministry of the Word to read this book. I am considering rereading this book every year to serve as a reminder of the importance that teaching and preaching God's Word will play in the ministry the Lord will bless me with. May God raise up more expositors seeking to accurately handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)during this Famine in the Land.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Steven J. Lawson. Famine in the Land: A Passionate Call for Expository Preaching. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2003.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Ten Reasons Why You Should Study Theology

A comment I hear quite often which greatly disturbs me is: "I hate theology." Even more unfortunate is that I hear several Bible College and Seminary students utter such words. I honestly do not believe that any Christian truly believes such a statement. They may hate "theological systems," which I myself am not a fan of (I have yet to find such a system I can completely agree with or place myself in. Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology both have problems biblically). The word "theology" comes from the words "theos" meaning "God" and "logos" meaning "word," in essence being "words about God" or "the study of God." And every born-again Christian should have an inner desire to learn more about who their wonderful, magnificent, awesome God is! If they do not, then there is a serious problem. In order to study about this great God, there is only one place we can go; to His written Word where He has revealed Himself. In addition to my brief argument of why theology is important and why every Christian should love it, here are ten additional well-put reasons why it is important to study theology. I have to admit that there were some I have never thought of prior to reading this.

May these encourage you, especially if you are one of those who falsely make the aformentioned statement in the first sentence of this note, to continue to study God's Word to learn about Who He is, what He has done, what He is currently doing in the Church, and what His perfect plans for the future are! May your study of the One in which there is none greater be enriching to you and most important, glorifying to Him!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Mission of the Church

The Mission
*Matthew 28:19-20
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them all that I have commanded you. And, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Jesus’ last words to the apostles before His ascension, commonly known as “The Great Commission,” are the mission of the Church which was born shortly afterward. The Church’s role is to go out and make disciples or followers of all the nations through baptizing them and teaching them the doctrines which Christ richly expounded during His earthly ministry as well as the very Word of God. The word "disciple" basically means "learner." We are to go out and extend God's call to people to be students of Christ, learning from Him and walk alongside them, constantly directing them to Him. Such a mission closed with the wonderful promise that the Church is not alone in this task as Christ will continually be with us.

*Luke 19:10
For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

This short statement communicates Jesus’ very purpose in coming to earth. His role was to seek out those who were lost in sin and to save them from both the guilt and the bondage of those sins. In continuing Jesus’ work on earth, the Church should also have this as their primary goal; to evangelize to the lost. Notice that Christ took the initiative and went to sinners and did not wait for them to “seek” Him as they have ran the other way like sheep (Romans 3:10-12). He goes after the sheep who went astray (Matthew 18:12-14). Thus, the Church needs to go out and deliver the Gospel to the nations full of the lost, praying that God would use His Word to draw individuals into a relationship with Him.

The Message of the Mission
*2 Corinthians 5:21
He made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

This statement communicates the message of the mission of the Church to evangelize the lost. The message is the fact that God loved the world so much that He made a way to maintain His justice in punishing sin and also pardoning many who place their trust in Christ. In order for such a pardon to be made, God provided a perfect substitute in Christ whom though Himself was guilty of no sin, was credited as having committing our sins, and thus experiencing God’s wrath by dying in our place. The purpose in this imputation or crediting of our sins to Christ’s account was for God then to credit Christ’s righteousness to the account of those who believe in Him. Therefore, on the cross, God viewed Christ as a rebellious sinner and now views the redeemed as perfect and sinless. Without such a substitute, there would be no salvation. The message of salvation must include Christ’s substitutionary atoning death. Our mission is not complete if this is missing in the message.

The Means of the Mission
*Romans 1:16
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes; the Jew first and also to the Greek.

This is a powerful verse which reveals the means of the mission. God in His grace has granted Christians the privilege of participating in His work of redemption. While Christians are entrusted with the responsibility of delivering the message of the mission, the means of drawing people to Christ comes through the Word itself and not the messengers. Paul states that his reason for not being ashamed of the gospel is because it is the “power of God for salvation.” The Holy Spirit uses the gospel to bring people to faith. In Romans 10:17, Paul states that faith comes from hearing and hearing by the word of God. The ability to hear the gospel comes from the gospel itself. Faith results from hearing which results from God’s Word. Taking God’s Word out of this equation eliminates faith out of the solution. In the book of Acts, Luke demonstrates this truth as he portrays the apostles’ preaching and a response following of people being “pierced to the heart” and “many being added to their number.” No amount of pleading or persuading which we may do can work such an inner change in one’s life. Since God sovereignly uses His Word to change lives, the main task of the evangelist is to work fervently to get the message right and leave the results of his or her evangelism in the Lord’s hands to do His work.

The Mobilizing for the Mission
*2 Corinthians 3:4-6
Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate of ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy comes from God, who has also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant; not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

The truth of the matter is that we cannot serve God in the task He has given apart from His help. We are not “adequate” to do the task. This means that we do not have the courage or the right words to minister on our own. The mobilization comes in God making us “adequate” for the task. We are not able to do it on our own but only through the equipping and power of God. This means that where we lack, God’s strength is made perfect in our weaknesses as His grace is sufficient. Since God provides us with what we need in order to get done what He has called us to do, we have the mobilization needed to proclaim God’s Word with boldness, knowing that it is He who is enabling and working within us. Without Him and His work, we would remain static.