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
- 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.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
There are two words everyone, whether young or old, are concerned about. These two words are "God's Will." People are always inquiring as to what "God's Will" is for their life or what God would have them do in a specific situation. The questions range from whether it is God's will that one looks for a new job, whether one should buy the new house, or who one should marry (I have personally searched for an answer pertaining to this one and have found numerous names of Marys and Marthas but nothing that seems to correspond to my current situation). Often, people speak of God's will as being lost. That it is somewhere hidden and needs to be found. However, God's will has never been lost but is given clearly in His Word. Scripture tells us that For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that you abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3) and Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). Of course, these are examples of God's will generally for our lives, you may be wondering about the specifics. Though to hear God's guidance pertaining to the specifics we need to be obedient with the general. In Acts 16:6-10, we see how God guided Paul specifically to where He had for him to serve and in turn how He will guide us as well to where He wants us to be or do for His glory.
In this passage, Luke takes us with Paul on his second missionary journey. After having a dispute with Barnabas over the inclusion of John Mark in the mission, Paul started out with Silas. His goal in this trip was to visit some former churches to check on their progress as well as deliver to them the decree that had been decided upon at the Jerusalem Council. Along the way he picks up young Timothy who joins him in his work. After making his rounds to several of these churches, Paul decides to go preach the gospel in an unreached territory. In his first evangelistic tour he traveled no farther west than Antioch in Pisida. Now he appears to be heading to Asia to proclaim the greatness of God and the work of Christ.
In heading in this direction, Paul was basically doing what God had called him to do; preach the gospel to the Gentiles. God told Ananias before he met Paul that His purpose for him was to “bear His name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15). Paul even stated to the Galatians that God had called and prepared him to “preach Him among the Gentiles” (Galatians 1:16). Likewise, God has a specific purpose for us to serve and glorify Him. I like how my mentor always put it that God “wires” us for certain types of ministry. God’s Holy Spirit grants us different gifts in certain areas as well as desires which lead us to gravitate towards certain ministry fields. An evangelist has a heart for full time evangelism and a pastor for preaching and teaching God’s Word. (Such is the reason why I cannot stop teaching whether it be behind the pulpit, writing a blog/facebook note or in casual conversation over dinner.) It’s where their passion and desires lie. Paul was just seeking opportunities to do what God had placed on his heart. A start to whatever ministry endeavor the Lord has in store must start with us looking for those opportunities to exercise our gifts and live out our yearnings.
However, as Paul heads West, he hits a road block. It’s like coming up over a hill in your car to see the orange cones laid out in front of the entire roadway. You’re not going any further in that direction! Here is a clear example of Proverbs 16:9. Man makes plans but God determines the outcome. The group are described as passing through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because they were not able to preach in Asia. We don’t know what really happened to prevent this. Luke attributes it to an act of God by describing the Holy Spirit as the One forbidding them to proceed. He does not give us the specifics. It might have been the inner leading of the Spirit simply telling them no. A prophet, as they were still some at this time, might have uttered such. God may have sovereignly orchestrated certain events to occur to prevent Paul from going there. Regardless of how, God clearly said “no” to Paul’s plan to bring the gospel to the people in Asia, at least at this time. Later God does send him to Ephesus in Asia. It was just not in God’s plan and design for Paul to go at this specific moment.
Paul could have stopped and went back to Antioch or “thrown in the towel” in heading to these uncharted territories to proclaim the gospel. Instead, he continues to search for other opportunities, this time heading North to Bithynia. A “closed door” does not necessarily mean that God wants you to give up the ministry He has called you to. It might just mean that He doesn’t want you to do that ministry at the place you are seeking. God wasn’t saying no to Paul preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Only no to doing this in Asia. God had another place He desired for Paul to go. For those whose plans have not worked out, it could be that that place is not where the Lord has for you to serve currently. He may have somewhere else planned for you or some work to do both in and through you before you go. The same may be said for the one whose finances are not where they need to be to participate in a certain ministry that is starting.
Upon Paul’s change in direction towards Bithynia, he again faces another road block. Luke informs us that the Holy Spirit again redirects Paul. He somehow does not permit him to this area as well to proclaim the gospel. We find out what God is up to here shortly. There is a reason for the constant redirection. There is always a reason for any door or doors that God closes. Usually its a sign that God has another purpose in mind. This is what Luke shows us occurs with Paul.
Paul still does not give up and now goes west again to Troas. He continues to seek opportunities to do the work God has called him to. Here, while he is seeking, God reveals to him where his next area of service will be. Paul receives a vision of a man from Macedonia who holds out his hands and asks the apostle for help. After two shut doors, now God has both provided the reason for them. He had planned to send Paul and the group to minister to the people of Macedonia, not Asia or Bithynia. Luke tells us that there was no doubt this was where the Lord was leading them. The group “concluded” that God called them to bring the gospel to the Macedonians based on this vision and they left “immediately.”
Notice that the vision came while Paul was seeking the opportunities God may have provided for him to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Many times God does not provide us with the specifics of where He wants us to go until after we have begun to seek the opportunities ourselves or follow the limited instructions He gives. Abraham is a clear example of this. God simply told Abraham to move without the details of where he was to go. It was not until God led him to the promised land of Canaan that he pointed out that this was the land He had promised him (For a further exposition of this narrative, see http://blog.energeticexegete.com/2009/04/obedience-today.html). Paul had no specifics pertaining to Macedonia before this. He was just aiming to glorify God by fulfilling the calling He had for him. In God’s timing, he was directed away from where he was not supposed to go and shown where he was. Too often we are so busy seeking and waiting for our clear specific call that we fail to focus on the steps that God calls us to walk today. Not only does God determine the end of where He would have us to serve but also the means for us to get there. We need to "be faithful today in order to be where God will have us tomorrow."
We don’t know how long it took for Paul to receive this “Macedonian Call.” It might have been days or months. Much of these journeys would have been done on foot so it was probably a few months. You may be waiting for a little while before God gives you a clear call to wherever He would have you to go. Just don’t quit seeking. You may not get a vision since Scripture seems to indicate that God primarily speaks through His Word to us today (Hebrews 1:1-2). But He will make it clear in His timing where He wants you to go.
God will direct you just as He did Paul. Pay attention to those “closed doors” and keep moving ahead seeking the opportunities that are available for you. Maybe while you are seeking, you will get the answer to where it is the Lord will have you to go. Maybe you will get your “wherever” call while you are seeking or find the opportunity that God has planned for you all along. Praise God that He guides us through both the open and closed doors as to where He would have us to serve Him for His glory!
Wednesday, November 25, 2009
Many are aware of this now but last Friday, the Manhattan Declaration was unveiled. This is a joint statement made by Orthodox, Catholics, and Evangelical Christians calling for everyone to take a stand on the issues of the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and the rights of conscience and religious liberty. I wholeheartedly affirm and can join myself in fighting for these causes as all three are biblical issues. Scripture calls for the church to protect and lookout for the oppressed and forgotten ones such as the widows and orphans. The unborn fetishes that are so easily designated as a "choice" and killed would certainly fit into this category. The authors of the document hit the proverbial nail on the head when they define our culture as a culture of death. The number of those infants who have become victims of abortions is always sobering. The Bible also is crystal clear on the definition of a marriage being between one man and one woman. To craft any other type of union and attempt to claim it as a "marriage" would be a distortion of the objective definition that God Himself has given. For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). I have written more on the importance of the biblical definition and understanding of marriage in an earlier blog entry. I also concur with the importance of the rights of conscience and religious liberty. Many instances of Christians in the workforce being required to perform abortions against their consciences because of their understanding of Scripture's teaching on the matter are growing. Also, the reality of what is happening in certain states that have legalized "so-called" same-sex marriage (so-called because as I have previously stated, this does not constitute a marriage)are also clashing with the consciences of those pastors called to uphold the Word of God in their life and preaching and teaching possibly might increase as well. Overall, I found the document well written and can fully agree with its overarching message and support the three causes it calls to rally for. However, I cannot sign it.
My issue with the statement deals with the ambiguity of certain terminology. The statement claims that Like those who have gone before us in the faith, Christians today are called to proclaim the Gospel of costly grace, to protect the intrinsic dignity of the human person and to stand for the common good and It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season (emphasis mine). My question is which Gospel of costly grace does the document refer to? Notice that the declaration comes from Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical Christians. These groups do not proclaim the same gospel. Catholics for instance promote a gospel of justification by faith and works while evangelicals (the group which I could be classified in, of course depending on how the label is defined)teach what I understand to be the biblical gospel of justification by faith alone. As Paul states, For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:28) and For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). I cannot therefore align myself with such a statement that is not clear exactly to which gospel it is our duty to proclaim, especially in light of the fact that those I am joining with might not be proclaiming the same gospel.
Some may accuse me of being too nitpicky concerning this since the main point of the statement is the common three causes of the sanctity of life, the dignity of marriage, and the rights of conscience. However, the gospel is never insignificant regardless what matter the issue may be. Martin Luther rightly stated that the church stands or falls on the doctrine of justification by faith alone. He declared that the doctrine is the head and the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour. John Calvin likewise stated, Wherever the knowledge of it [the doctrine of "Justification by Faith"] is taken away, the glory of Christ is extinguished, religion abolished, the Church destroyed, and the hope of salvation utterly overthrown. The major issue for the early church always was the gospel. Paul wrote to the Galatians concerning the Judaizers who wanted to add the works of the Law to the Gospel by demanding that the Gentiles were not saved unless they were circumcised and obeyed the Law. He described this teaching as a different gospel and even not a gospel at all. I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6-7). I could not see Paul signing a document that was aligned with the Judaizers, especially with their different "gospel." The apostle's whole reason for not exercising all the rights that he was entitled to (1 Corinthians 9:3-18) was to not hinder the gospel's presentation. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it (1 Corinthians 9:23). Even in discussing those who preached the gospel to promote themselves while Paul was in prison, he states What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice (Philippians 1:18). The thing that ultimately mattered to Paul was the proclamation of the gospel.
Also, I believe that the solution to each of these moral issues ultimately comes from the gospel. The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. While legislation may help, it will not eradicate the culture of death in our society as this is the result of man's sinful nature. In describing man in his total depravity, Paul quotes Isaiah 59:7-8 saying, Their feet are swift to shed blood, / Destruction and misery are in their paths, / And the path of peace they have not known (Romans 3:15-17). The power to wash, sanctify, and justify from a life of sin whether it would be idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, stealing, or alcoholism is only found in Christ alone (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). The main job of the church is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ first and foremost. I think Augustine made a strong point that the church is to be the conscience of the nation, impacting it through the faithful preaching of the Word and godly living. This declaration is an attempt to do just that. However its ambiguity concerning the gospel, in light of the fact that groups are attached to it that have a major different understanding of the gospel, is discrediting for it is the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone that is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16). Not wishing at all to compromise the gospel which is central in any issue of morality or life generally, I cannot sign the declaration in good conscience. I affirm the importance of standing for the issues but not the declaration itself. I encourage those with like minds concerning these three important issues to read the declaration yourself and decide whether you should sign it or not. Many others, much more prominent and smarter than I, and who I greatly respect, have both chosen to sign it as well as decline it.
Desiring to preserve and proclaim the gospel of God's grace,
Soli Deo Gloria!
PS. Dr. Al Mohler of The Southern Baptist Seminary explains why he signed it and Dr. John MacArthur and James White both explain why they did not.
Update: Dan Philips has some very good questions for those who have signed and for those who are considering it.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
A nice article from Christianity Today concerning the exportation of the so-called "prosperity gospel" (which is not the Gospel at all because it presents a different Jesus than that described in the Bible who promises to save from material poverty instead of delivering man from God's wrath that is rightfully upon the sinner and a "vending machine" god who grants whatever one wishes after they dispense their faith and money) to Africa and the harms that follows. It continually breaks my heart to see the damage such teaching has done. Many who "buy" into it really do wind up even poorer. They wind up rejecting the "god" that the prosperity teachers presented after they did not receive their BMW or their crop failed once again. Then when a missionary who teaches the truth of the Word of God comes, they are even more hardened to the genuine Gospel because of the false hope of the counterfeit. The very last section of the article entitled "Grace Through Suffering" is very well done. May God show people the true wealth in having a relationship with Christ where material things do not matter and are not necessary!