Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. ~2 Timothy 2:15

About Me

I am a young man who is following God's call into pastoral ministry. I have been so blessed with the privileges which the Lord has granted me. I am blessed to serve the Mt. Joy congregation in Mt. Pleasant, PA. I am constantly humbled and amazed at what the Lord is doing in my life.

Monday, December 31, 2012

What To Say To Your Pastor At the End of The Sermon

So the worship service has come to an end and you are waiting in line to greet the pastor afterwards. You want to let him know how much you appreciated the sermon but don't quite know what to say. As a pastor, I can tell you that I have heard a variety of comments pertaining to my sermons. Some make me smile. Others bring a chuckle while a few leave me scratching my head. From "you were a little long-winded this morning" to a nine year old confessing "I got a good nap in during the sermon today." A fellow pastor shared with me that he was once told that he gave a "warm sermon," one that was "not too hot." Much of what people say on the way out the door to their pastor is not necessarily wrong or bad but might not be as helpful for their pastor and his faithful task of delivering God's Word as they realize. Perhaps more could be said for the sake of clarity. It is beneficial to give your pastor feedback, but clear communication of what you are trying to say helps him out even more. Let's look at some of the most common "sayings" that pastors hear on Sunday morning and what they may communicate.

"Good job"
To tell the pastor "good job" after the sermon with nothing else attached to it is very ambiguous. What did he do a "good job" at? Communicating the Word? Explaining a difficult passage? Speaking eloquently? Peaking your interest? Keeping you awake? Simply saying "good job" is not as clear to your pastor. Also, it may play on his pride. Trust me, pastors are just as prone to pride as anyone else in the congregation. It creeps up on us without warning! "Good job" emphasizes the work that the pastor has done and his skills and talents instead of directing him back to the very One whose grace he had to depend upon to labor at understanding the passage and communicate it effectively. It can easily lead him to begin patting himself on the back instead of giving glory to the God who actually deserves the credit.

"Thank you for sharing your heart"
Hearing this one actually scares me. Any pastor committed to what is called expository preaching; taking a passage and seeking to communicate each point the biblical author intended to make as he moves through the text verse by verse, does not want to hear this. It actually communicates to him that he has utterly failed in his task. He then didn't deliver God's Word that morning but his own thoughts. Though, unfortunately, there are too many pastors whose sermons result in the congregation learning more about themselves instead of God. But a pastor SHOULD be concerned with the congregation learning and applying what God has said to them in His Word instead of sharing his own thoughts or ponderings.

"Good message"
At a summer interim I served at while in seminary, I remember someone coming up to me after the service and saying this. I asked the person if they would thank the mailman for the letter their grandmother had written to them. They told me that they wouldn't because he did not write it. I then proceeded to tell them that I did not write the message I shared that morning but only desired to communicate what God had said in His Word. I served as the "mailman" in this case and they should be thanking the Author of the letter. He then told me, "Well, thank you for delivering the message." That I could better accept. Always make sure that you thank your pastor appropriately, and that for what he has actually done, recognizing it through the work of God's grace.

"I enjoyed it"
Alongside of "good job," this saying appears to be borrowed from the theater. After watching a play, it is customary to say "good job" to the actors and let them know that you "enjoyed" the performance. This comes very close to communicating that someone viewed the sermon as entertainment, something that they would enjoy as a football game (when their team wins of course!) or a movie. But the sermon should not be entertainment but be the communication of the Word of God to the people of God. Many times it should be convicting. You would not say with a big grin on your face, "I enjoyed the sermon this morning. God really pointed out to me a sin I need His grace to work on and it grieves my heart." Though in a sense we always should "enjoy" reading and hearing God's Word proclaimed because of our joy in the One that Scripture points us to, the Lord Jesus Christ. However, I don't think that is what many seem to be communicating in uttering these words after a sermon. Otherwise that should be said every Sunday if the preacher is doing his appointed task with excellence.

"Thank you for the message"
This is the remedy to the problematic "good message" saying examined above. It humbles the pastor to remind him that it was not "his" personal message that he delivered but God's and it appropriately thanks him for the role that He played in God's work of sanctification in His people's lives. This is one of the better things one can say to their pastor and coupled with one of the following can be very beneficial to him.

"I really needed to hear that today"
This serves as very encouraging to your pastor. It communicates to him that God has used him that morning to minister His Word. It allows him to rejoice in God's grace in doing His work through such a weak and frail vessel. It reminds him of the purpose and power of preaching.

"I have been praying for you for this morning"
The more I serve in pastoral ministry, the more I recognize just how much I need God's grace to serve Him and His Church. For the serious preacher who is concerned about understanding God's Word and communicating it effectively, the sermon occupies much more time than just the 30-40 minutes on Sunday morning. Personally, I probably average close to 15-20 hours a week for sermon preparation. It is always encouraging to your pastor for him to know that those in the congregation are praying for the Spirit's aid in his labor to proclaim the precious words of the Lord. Though make sure that you only say this if it is true; that you HAVE BEEN praying for him and his task of preaching.

"To God be the glory!"
Here is a cry of worship! I believe that it was P. T. Forsyth who once said something to the effect of, "To have someone say 'that was a great sermon' is a sign of utter failure. The proper response should be 'what a great God!' " In fact, God's intention with His Word is to spur His people to worship. Isaiah 55:11 is often quoted or prayed at most worship services but seldom does anyone actually focus on what God's desire for His Word that goes out of His mouth really is. They fail to read verse 12 which follows it and shows what God's purpose is. It is worship! For the people to go out rejoicing and all of creation praising God. For you will go out with joy and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills will break forth into shouts of joy before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. (I just discovered this insight myself from Paul David Tripp in his book, "Dangerous Calling.") This should be the same statement that is on the heart of the pastor as he prepares to preach, delivers the message, and steps down from the pulpit. Saying this to him on the way out the door will allow him to join you in worshiping the great God the Scriptures reveal.

"I would like to talk to you later about some things God pointed out to me with that sermon" or "I have some questions about something you said this morning."
A major goal of a pastor is to disciple the flock that God has entrusted to him. Comments like this provide him an opportunity to do just that. Most pastors would love to hear this and make the time to sit down with you to discuss what God is saying in His Word and how that applies to your life further. It may take a moment though for them to get over the shock of the statement first since they don't hear it so often.

So this coming Sunday, after being blessed with hearing God's Word rightly proclaimed, as you stand in line to shake the pastor's hand, here are some things to keep in mind if you are struggling with how to comment on his sermon. I am sure that several more sayings could be added. These are just the ones that have come to my mind in my "ponderings" the past few days. God bless!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Heroes or Humans?

When you think of the men and women portrayed in Scripture, what do you think of? What comes to mind when you picture Abraham, Moses, David, Mary, and Peter? Do you envision people who did the unthinkable, moved the unmovable, and had an unwavering faith that we can only imagine? Often we seem to focus on the successes of these men and women but forget about their many and varied flaws. We have taken these mere humans and turned them into heroes, thinking that they themselves are supernatural and never did any wrong. We place them on pedestals and view them as role models. We even sing songs such as "Dare to be a Daniel." In Sunday School, they are presented several times on the same plain as Jesus Himself. But the Bible presents no such picture of the men and women that can be found in its pages.

The Bible does not shy aware from showing these men and women in all of their glory, which often is not a very glorious picture. They all are described as sinners just as you and I are, with several flaws. For instance, although Abraham is known as the quintessential "man of faith," he often exhibited periods of lack of faith. In reading about him we see not only his faith but also his failure. Growing impatient towards God's deliverance of His promise to provide Abraham with an heir so that he would be the "father of many nations," he allows his wife to talk him into sleeping with her slave girl, Hagar (Genesis 16). Instead of waiting on God's timing, he took matters into his own hands. We also witness his fear. Twice he lies about his wife because of his fear of the king and Pharaoh (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18). He did not trust God to protect him in both cases. Had not God intervened, this could certainly had ruined His promise to Abraham to provide a child to him through Sarah. We are even given a hint that before God called him, he participated in the worship of other gods (Joshua 24:2). He was another wretch that God in His grace decided to save and include in His divine plan of redemption.

Many speak of how courageous of a leader Moses was and even point to him as an example of what a godly leader should look like. Yet we shouldn't forget that the one who led the people out of their Egyptian slavery wound up doing so because he ran out of excuses in the face of a God who was determined to use him for such a task. He recognized that he was nothing and not fit for the task (Exodus 3:11). He claimed that he would not know what to say to the people to distinguish Yahweh from the other so-called gods (v. 13). The people would not listen to him or believe him (4:1). He was not the greatest speaker (v. 10). Even after God dispels all of these by promising to be with Moses (3:12), instructing the saint on how to introduce Himself to the people (vv. 14-17), showing him the miraculous signs He intends to do through him (4:2-9), and promising to be his mouth (vv. 11-12), Moses still wants nothing to do with the job. Oh, my Lord, please send someone else (v. 13). He finally goes as God's gets angry and sends his brother to aid in his call (vv. 14-17). Don't forget also that this great leader actually did not retain the privilege of leading the people into the promised land of Canaan due to his disobedience at Meribah (Numbers 20:2-13).

Even David does not come across as the "hero" he is often painted to be when one looks at Scripture's record of his life. The great king after God's own heart was also a great sinner. The Bible does not hide the fact from us that he was guilty of adultery and murder in the case of Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah (2 Samuel 11). In fact, the author tells us at the end of the summary of the account that the thing that David had done displeased the LORD (2 Samuel 11:27). The king also finds himself in trouble after conducting a census against God's wishes (1 Chronicles 21:1-17). He certainly was not perfect and had his flaws.

The same can be seen with Mary and Peter. Mary identified herself as a sinner needing the Savior. She states, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior (Luke 1:47). (And that statement alone is enough to shoot down the claim of Catholicism that Mary was born sinless. Someone "sinless' would not need saving.) The Peter we witness boldly preaching in Acts in the face of persecution is the same Peter who was referred to as Satan by Jesus (Matthew 16:23), denied Jesus three times (Luke 22:54-62), and had to be confronted by Paul over his accommodating to the Judiazers sect (Galatians 2:11-14).

The only hero in the Bible is the Lord Jesus Christ. Every heroic deed stems from His work or points to His coming and purpose. All of the righteous things that people recorded in Scripture have done can only be attributed to God's work through them. In facing the Philistine giant Goliath, the young shepherd David acknowledged that it would be God who would deliver him from the enemy and not himself (1 Samuel 17:37, 46). The battle actually was the Lord's and David merely served as His vessel to accomplish His purpose. for the battle is the LORD's and He will give you into our hands (1 Samuel 17:47). All of these people's flaws reflects their natural sinfulness and any successes they had point us to the greater success of Christ in His atoning work on the cross. There is a real sense where God uses David to represent his greater son, Jesus, who defeats the one behind the giant Goliath; the sinister serpent Satan. David is not an example for us to defeat the "giants" in our lives but rather an encouragement to look away from ourselves and our strength to rely on the only One who has defeated the Giant who plaques us and can be our strength.

This truth that these Old Testament saints are only humans instead of heroes proves comforting to us. This means that if God can use such wayward sinners as they to accomplish His perfect plan and bring glory to Himself, then He can also use us. It also makes sure that we place our trust in the true hero of the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let's not "dare to be a sinful Daniel" but find security in the sinless Savior.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Responding to Christ's Birth

When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. ~Luke 2:15-20

Can you imagine what it must have been like to be one of the shepherds who first received the announcement of the good news of Christ’s birth? You are standing there looking out for the sheep when suddenly a bright light appears and an angel tells you that the long awaited Messiah that you read about in Scripture has been born. The One that the prophet Isaiah said would come and be Immanuel, God with us, has arrived and is lying in a manger at this very moment (Isaiah 7:14). Luke gives us a picture of their response to this wonderful news in his gospel.

The first thing we notice about the shepherds after hearing the word about the Savior’s birth is their excitement. As soon as the angels depart back into heaven, they begin saying to themselves Let us go now as far as Bethlehem and see this word that had happened which the Lord has made known to us. They could not wait to seek out the newborn Christ. The group decides to go now and Luke describes them as going in a hurry to find the special Child. The impression is given that they left promptly after the angels. They could not wait to meet Jesus.

We also see the wonder that Christ’s birth brings. After arriving and beholding the infant Jesus, they relate the message of the angels that was given to them. We are told then that all who heard wondered concerning the things spoken by the shepherds to them (v. 18). The Greek word used here to indicate the response means wonder, marvel, be astonished. This serves as a common response to Jesus. Later Mary and Joseph are amazed at what Simeon says concerning their special Child (Luke 2:33). Those in the synagogue were amazed at Jesus’ words (4:22). The disciples were amazed at His calming of the winds and the waves (8:25). The crowds stood amazed at His exorcisms (9:43; 11:14). The scribes and Pharisees found themselves amazed at His answer to their tricky question (20:26). Peter marveled at the sight of the empty tomb (24:12) and the disciples could not believe because of their joy and amazement at viewing Jesus after His resurrection (24:41). Christ should always produce in us such amazement. Mary herself treasures what has been told about Christ, holding fast to it in her heart. We would do well to continually treasure Christ in our own hearts and constantly be thinking about Him.

Notice how the shepherds leave. They go back glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen just as had been told them (v. 20). Their encounter of Christ leads to worship. They give God glory for the Savior He has given and the work that He accomplishes through Him. Such a response of excitement, wonder, and worship we witness of the shepherds to Christ’s birth should be our response to Jesus today. We should excitedly come to Him, wonder at the majesty of Who He is, and glorify and praise God in His name on account of Him. As John Calvin points out, “If the cradle of Christ had such an effect upon them [the shepherds], as to make them rise from the stable and the manger to heaven, how much more powerful ought the death and resurrection of Christ to be in raising us to God?” We often talk about the wonder of Christmas, lets make sure that we never lose the wonder of Christ, regardless of the day of the year that it is.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee
Soli Deo Gloria!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The "Potential" Harms of Holidays

Well it looks as if the holiday season is once again upon us. I was at Subway this afternoon in Pittsburgh hearing the Christmas music as I read and had my lunch. Very few stores can be found now without a Christmas tree in the window and I noticed driving around last night several homes already have their Christmas lights up. However, I began pondering a few things this afternoon as I chewed to the tune of "All I Want for Christmas is You." While the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter can be a blessing, in many ways there are some "harms" associated with them that we must be cautious of. Before you label me as crazy (or for some probably "crazier" than you already thought me to be) and click away from this blog, take a moment to consider one of my "pastoral ponderings" and make sure to read all the way through so you know that I am NOT throwing these holidays out.

Confusing Communications
One of the harms of these holidays concerns what they appear to communicate to us. For instance, the presence of a holiday known as "Thanksgiving" makes it seem that only one day a year we should set aside time to "count our many blessings, name them one by one, count our many blessings, see what the Lord has done." For the past month I have noticed on Facebook people mentioning something they are thankful for each day. Yet the Bible instructs us to be thankful always (Ephesians 5:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:18). Not just one month out of the year or the fourth Thursday of November. Having a holiday reserved just for thanksgiving makes it seem that one day greater than any others we should express our gratitude to God for His numerous blessings when really we should continuously have an "attitude of gratitude" daily.

Similar can be said pertaining to the holidays of Christmas and Easter. Having a day to celebrate Christ's birth has created the mentality that we should only praise God for that birth around the month of December. Shouldn't we be celebrating God coming to earth to save sinners all year? It is funny how some people get so worked up when they hear a Christmas carol in July or in October before the season begins. Hymns exalting the Christ who was born in Bethlehem "born that men no more may die" should really be sung every month, not just December. In fact, "Joy to the World" is based on Psalm 98 and yet it finds itself regulated just to Christmastime. (I confess that I am guilty of not having the congregation sing any of these so-called "Christmas Carols" or "Christmas Hymns" apart from the season of Advent but that might change soon.)

With Easter and the special services we have on that day, does that communicate that it is a better day to celebrate Christ's resurrection than every other day? One of the reasons why the early church decided to meet on Sunday for worship was to commemorate Christ's resurrection since it was on a Sunday morning that He rose from the dead. So really every Sunday should serve as the reminder of Christ's resurrection and not just a certain one in March or April, whenever it may fall based on the new moon.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not saying that we shouldn't celebrate these holidays. I just finished putting together the readings for the Advent wreath for each Sunday and am contemplating some Scriptures to preach on that deal with Christ's birth. The Old Testament has a number of feast days that would commemorate certain things that God had done for the people, such as Passover. My point is that we need to be careful that we do not fall prey to the idea that these are the "ONLY" times to give thanks or to celebrate Christ's birth, death, and resurrection. That we should be striving to remember these things always and not limit them to just one day or month a year.

Sinister Syncretism
Another "potential" harm of the holidays is that of syncretism. The term syncretism means basically to combine different opposing things together. This was one of the main pitfalls of the nation of Israel. The problem with the Israelites in the Old Testament was not primarily that they did not worship the one true God, Yahweh, but that they did not worship Him alone. They would attempt to worship Him but also set up altars to foreign gods and participate in the rituals and practices associated with them. They merged elements of pagan worship with that of the true worship of God. Much of our holidays of Christmas and Easter have succumbed to syncretism.

Christmas has become the celebration of both the Son of God and the Santa god. If you really think about it, much of the popular conceptions of Santa Claus make him appear to be deity. He is all-knowing like God for "he sees you when you are sleeping, he knows when you are awake, he knows if you have been bad or good." He is portrayed as all-powerful in that he is able to get to every house every Christmas Eve in such a short time. (Though unfortunately, there is not much difference between many people's conceptions of Jesus than Santa Claus. They view both of them as giving them whatever they ask for if they only believe enough and behave.) Here we have syncretism. Are we celebrating the Son of God who came to earth as God's greatest gift or a big jolly fat man who comes into people's homes to give several gifts? There is actually an interesting country song that says that "Jesus gets jealous of Santa Claus" which is true since Jesus get jealous of any rivals. In many ways ole Saint Nick has become a rival god! Children get much more excited about him and the gifts that he may bring than the gift of the One born in the manger!

Not only is the celebration of Santa added to some folks' celebration of Christ but also the god known as "materialism." It certainly is clear what several people celebrate at Christmas. Just look at how serious some people take the American holiday called "Black Friday" or how important it becomes to them to buy the greatest gift someone in their family wants, regardless of the price. Even if it means going into debt to get it. Whatever happened to God's indescribable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15)? Much of Christmas has become a list of wants without Christ as the center. Many today attempt to participate both in the worship of Christ and the worship of money.

Someone may be quick to point out to me that Christmas actually began as a pagan holiday that the Christians countered by choosing to celebrate Jesus' birthday on that day. That really is not germane to my point. I am more concerned with how people celebrate the holiday today and unfortunately many have fallen prey to syncretism in combining the celebration of Christ with the celebration of materialism.

The same type of syncretism can be found with Easter as well. Much of Easter is the celebration of the goddess of Spring. Alongside the symbols of the cross and the empty tomb representing our Lord and Savior's death and resurrection, we find that of bunnies, eggs, and other signs of Spring. Many go to an Easter Sunrise Service to celebrate Christ's resurrection and then later that afternoon to hide Easter eggs to celebrate Spring. It is an interesting combination of these different practices and rituals. The question we must ask ourselves is Who or what are we really celebrating in these holidays? Christ, Santa, Money, or Spring?

Helpful Holidays
Please don't think that I am a Scrooge or a Grinch. I enjoy Christmas. I really do. I just have some concerns about what these holidays may communicate and the syncretism many unwittingly participate in that deflects from Christ who should always be our main focus. One of the best benefits of these holidays is the open door for evangelism that they provide. Regardless of how the special days originated before Christians sought to plan their own celebrations at the same time, the watching world has some inkling that the day has something to do with Christ for believers. I have had people ask me around Christmas time if that is when Jesus died. It provided a wonderful way to begin a discussion concerning Who Jesus is and why He died. Christmas and Easter are the two times a year that Jesus actually gets a mention on the radio or secular television programs (apart from His name being used in vain). Thereby giving us some great witness opportunities.

One of the worst ways we can squander such opportunities is by being so consumed about Santa Claus, gifts, and Easter bunnies that we forget about Christ or we reveal Him to be secondary to other things. That communicates that Christ is not all important or all satisfying to us. Which in turn makes others fail to see Him to be such as He should be. Don't waste the wonderful opportunities that these holidays provide for us in fulfilling the Great Commission!

So enjoy the holidays, but don't limit your celebrations of Christ to just them and make sure that Christ remains the center of all that you celebrate, from Christmas to Easter to a baby's birth to your anniversary to every day and every breath.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Monday, November 19, 2012

In Everything Give Thanks

in everything give thanks ~1 Thessalonians 5:18

In closing his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul gives several instructions on how they are to live their lives. One of these is to in everything give thanks. As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, let's examine what these few words communicate to us.

Give Thanks
In Greek, the verb, give thanks, is in the imperative mood which indicates that it is a command. This means that giving thanks is not an option for the Christian but mandatory. Paul is not saying that we SHOULD give thanks or that it WOULD BE WISE to give thanks. We MUST give thanks. The giving of thanks to God is required of us. In fact, a Christian should be characterized by their thankfulness to God. In Ephesians 5:4, after Paul gives a list of things that are not fitting for the Christian (immorality or any impurity or greed, filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting), he tells us that what should be expected and practiced is the giving of thanks. Failure to obey this command to give thanks to God serves as a sign of unbelief. The pagan Gentiles who denied and rejected the visible evidence of God are described not to honor God as God or give thanks (Romans 1:21). Christians must give thanks to God.

Give Thanks Continually
This verb also is in the present tense. This communicates the command to be continual. We are to continually give thanks. We must always be expressing our thanks to God. We should take a moment before enjoying our meals to thank God for the food itself as we witnessed Jesus (Matthew 15:36; 26:27; Mark 8:6; 14:23; Luke 22:17, 19; John 6:11, 23) and Paul (Acts 27:35) consistently do. Thanksgiving should be a regular part of our prayers. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (Philippians 4:6). Every one of our numerous prayers we lift up each day should be given with thanksgiving.

This means that we should have an "attitude of gratitude." We should not just express our thanks to God on the fourth Thursday of November. It should not be for only one month. I am noticing many on Facebook posting something that they are thankful for each day. I wonder how many of those take as much time to reflect on God's many blessings every other month of the year. We must give thanks 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. Actually, with every breath that we inhale and exhale. After all, each breath itself is a gift from God that we do not deserve and thus is something to be thankful for.

Give Thanks In Everything
We are told to give thanks in everything. This everything includes "the good, the bad, and the ugly" that we experience in our lives. Our highest highs and our lowest lows. Our greatest joys and our deepest disappointments. When we are "on the mountaintop" or "down in the valley." We are called to give thanks regardless of the circumstance or situation.

Now it is easy to give thanks when things are going and for those things we deem as good in our lives. We sing loudly the hymn to "count your many blessings, name them one by one, count your many blessings, see what God has done" and think fondly of our family, our friends, and the luxuries we enjoy. (The kind of things people have been posting on Facebook the past few weeks.) But I have yet to see someone post that they were thankful for how God intends to use the suffering that they currently are experiencing or the pain that haunts them. Or what God has taught them through such trials. Yet everything would include our suffering and pain. Because God is in control of all things and has a plan in all that He ordains to occur, we can give thanks during even our toughest trials and tribulations. The Psalmist was grateful to God for the afflictions He brought upon him because it helped him learn to be more obedient to God's word. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word (Psalm 119:67). It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes (Psalm 119:71). Paul praised God in the midst of a painful "thorn in the flesh" that it glorified God's strength in His weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). (Keep in mind this was after petitioning God three times to take it away.) In fact, much of Paul's praises and thanksgivings to God were given while in pain, agony, and strife. Just read a partial list of the apostle's burdens in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. Many of the thanksgivings he shares in some of his letters came while sitting in prison with much pain. James exhorts us to consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4). We should thank God in the midst of our trials and pain that He has a greater purpose in them to strengthen our faith so that we continue in Him unto the end. That He uses the severing of earthly pleasures and conveniences to remind us that Christ is greater and this earth can never be called our ultimate home.

This in everything means that we are to give thanks when the world feels like it is spiraling out of control and crushing us. We are to give thanks when our plans fail, being reminded that God's plan is greater. We are to give thanks when God does not give us what we thought we needed, remembering that God knows better what is best for us. We are to give thanks in the most excruciating pain, knowing that God has a purpose in that pain that we just can't see with our limited vision.

Let us, with the grace that God gives us, in everything give thanks.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Day After the Election

Well, it is finally over. After a long and what appeared to be drawn out campaign, President Barack Obama has been elected to a second term as president of the United States of America. Such news has been welcomed differently by various people. Some of you may be ecstatic as the candidate you viewed as being the stronger leader won and will be remaining in office. Others may be dismayed or disappointed due to the results. Some anticipate hope while others fear the worst for the nation. Regardless of your political allegiance or where you stood in this race, I have some points I would like to remind you of from God's Word.

1) God is Still Sovereign
Regardless of who is sitting in the Oval Office, God is still sitting on His throne and in charge. The angel reminded King Nebuchadnezzar That the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, And bestows it on whom He wishes / And sets over it the lowiest of men (Daniel 4:17). This election is not the end of the world. No need to move to Canada or Zimbabwa or Timbuktu. Though Mr. Obama retains the highest office of the land in this country, God is still reigning supreme as sovereign lord and king over the entire universe. In fact, God has been in charge for all eternity past and will forever be in eternity future. He has no term limits! As the Psalmist proclaims, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God (Psalm 90:2). No matter who has authority on this earth, nothing he can do can ever change God's ultimate plans. Job recognized I know that You can do all things, / And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted (Job 42:2). The president is no exception to this. The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1) Knowing this truth allows me to sleep tonight and every night in the next four years, regardless of who may occupy the White House.

2) In His Sovereignty, God has Chosen to Place Barack Obama in the Position of Leadership for Our Country For Four More Years
Paul tells us in Romans that For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God (Romans 13:1). No president or leader of any country holds their position apart from God. This same point is made in the reference to Daniel 4:17 just recently quoted. We have just witnessed God bestowing another position of leadership on one of the lowiest of men. When Pilate reminded Jesus of his authority concerning His execution, Jesus reminded him just who gave him that authority. You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above (John 19:11). In God's sovereignty, He has used the means of the electorate to have Obama serve four more years as commander-in-chief of our country. Throughout history, God has placed men in leadership positions who turned out to be both good and bad for their respective countries or constituents. He chose Moses, David, Josiah, and Hezekiah but also Pharoah, Nebuchanezzar, Ahab, and Manassah. While the actions and policies of these leaders did not always honor God, He still had a purpose and plan as part of His secret, unrevealed will for choosing them for their office. God clearly has a plan in the results of last night's election which we may never comprehend this side of Heaven. (I will point out that there have been occasions we have seen recorded in Scripture where God has placed certain ones in power as judgment upon a nation. Of course I cannot say whether that may be His plan with the results of this election but I can at least point that out as a possibility. Certainly America as a nation is ripe for judgment; especially with four states that have just stuck their fist in God's face to redefine what He has instituted as a marriage and family.)

3) We are Commanded to Submit to the Governing Authorities
Scripture is clear that we need to respect and submit to those God has chosen to place us under. Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities (Romans 13:1). Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right (I Peter 2:13-14). Failure to do so is an affront to God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves (Romans 13:2). This does not mean that you have to personally agree with the leader on everything or approve of his or her policies. After all, Paul and Peter wrote these commands under Nero, who definitely was no friend of Christians. In fact, Peter was probably killed under Nero's reign! The one exception to this is in the case of when the authorities require you to go against something that God has commanded you. Wonderful examples of this are with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abedego as well as Peter and John. Daniel's three friends are seen to be in full submittance to the authorities placed over them except when the decree went out that all must bow to Nebuchadnezzar's golden statue. Because this would place them at odds with God's clear commandment to worship only Him, they refused and proclaimed we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up (Daniel 3:18). Yet they did not resist when the men came to throw them into the fiery furnace. Likewise, Peter and John were in subjection to their God-appointed authorities as well but when they were commanded to refrain from continuing to speak in Jesus' name, they replied, Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard (Acts 4:19-20).

4) We are to Honor Those in Authority
Despite your feelings toward Governor Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama, we are commanded to respect them. Honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king (I Peter 2:17). There is never a time for name-calling or putting these men down. Keep in mind that they are men and they have their faults just like the rest of us. I am growing more and more concerned at the amount of hatred I see among Christians towards certain political candidates. While some claim to love as Christ has commanded, their very words and actions toward those in office or running for office seem to portray a different picture. While I greatly disagree with Mr. Obama on several of his policies, especially toward abortion and so-called same-sex marriage, I still respect the man and his hard work he has put in to get to this office. Please disagree without losing the respect we are commanded to give him.

5) We are to Pray for Those Placed in Authority Over Us
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 (I Timothy 2:1-2). Obama is in a position I would never want to be placed in and is getting ready to take on a massive responsibility. We need to lift up all of those in authority in prayer, not only for strength and guidance for them to make the right decisions but also for their salvation as the same types of people Paul commands us to pray for are the same types of people God desires to be saved (I Timothy 2:4).

6) We Must Continue to Spread the Gospel
Our mission has not changed as a result of this election. In fact, our mission would still be the same had Romney won. That mission is the "Great Commission" that Jesus gave in Matthew 28:19-20. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. Those in our country, and those in the world, still desperately need to hear the gospel. This gospel has been spread by God's people during what can be described as "the best of times and the worst of times." Under godly rulers who govern righteously and those who were ungodly and dealt wickedly. We can't neglect this because a certain candidate didn't win the election or due to our unrest over who won! What is worse than a spiraling economy and a bigger government is the reality of Hell for those who have not repented of their sins and grabbed a hold of the only life saver, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Seeking to live biblically for God's glory,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Things to Remember For Election Day

As you get ready to head to the polls and vote tomorrow, please remember the following things:

-To praise God for the ability to live in a country with the freedom to vote. Not everyone has such a privilege to play a role in choosing their leaders.

-That we are not voting for a pastor but the leader of a section of the Kingdom of Man so his religion does not serve as a major factor in our vote. Besides, based on what each of the two major candidates have said about Jesus and the gospel (or according to the church they affiliate with and claim to subscribe to their teachings), I am not convinced either one of them has truly trusted in the biblical Jesus and could thus be called a Christian.

-That God's intention for the government is to promote righteousness and punish wickedness (Romans 13:3-4). So we should be voting for the candidate that best seeks to do just this (though of course they will not be able to do so perfectly because they are a sinful human). Consider the treatment of the unborn. How just is it for the government not to protect them but to discard them as a choice to be disposed of by a mother's wishes? (What really is the difference anyway between an unborn infant and a born infant other than their location?)How just is it to shake your fist at God and seek to redefine what He has established to be a family (Genesis 2:24)? How just is it to steal from what one has earned and compel one to give against his or her will? (While the Bible certainly teaches us to care for the poor, it is for us to do so voluntarily for the glory of God and not coerced by the government.)

-That regardless who wins this election, God still reigns on His throne.

-That regardless who will be serving as our president beginning January 20th, they still have to answer to the God who placed them in that position (Just look at the book of Daniel with Kings Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, and Darius. God called each of them to account for their arrogance and idolatry, cf. Romans 13:1; John 19:11). While there may be a "separation of church and state," there can be no "separation of state and God."

-That regardless of who holds the title "president," we are to submit to his authority (Romans 13:1). To rebel against whoever that may be (barring that they do not require us to go against God's commands) would be to rebel against God (Romans 13:2). This is whether you agree with his policies or not. And Paul probably wrote this under Emperor Nero who certainly was no friend to Christians. History reports that he set Rome on fire and blamed the Christians for it. In fact, it is believed that Nero eventually was the one who had Paul beheaded.

-That regardless of who takes office and what policies and procedures they put in place, people still need to hear the gospel. While laws concerning morality are beneficial and necessary , they can only regulate outward behavior. They cannot change the heart. Only the Holy Spirit can do that and He does it through the church's preaching of the gospel.

-That our job ultimately is the "Great Commission" given by our Lord (Matthew 28:19-20)and the results of the election will not change this. While it is important to vote, and there is a lot at stake in this election, it is not our end goal. Our number one goal is to glorify God and to do that by sharing the good news concerning the salvation found in His Son. So go ahead and vote but then get back to the greater work!

-That our hope lies not in any political party or any candidate but in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes (Psalm 118:8-9).

Let's make sure not to lose a proper perspective amid all of the election fervor!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy Reformation Day!

For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. ~Romans 3:28

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the work of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. ~Ephesians 2:8-9

This doctrine [Justification by Faith] 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. ~Martin Luther

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. ~John Calvin

Tonight many will spend their evening "trick or treating," celebrating a so-called holiday called Halloween and not realize an event that transpired 495 years ago on this day that marked a major turning point in the history of the church. October 31, 1517 marks the day the German monk named Martin Luther posted his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenberg Church, an event most scholars identify as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. These "theses" called the authority of the Pope in matters of salvation into question and sought to expose how the "treats" of the indulgences that were sold were actually "tricks" with no real significance except for making the pope and those who sold them very wealthy. An indulgence was a letter the Catholic church sold that promised forgiveness of sin and an early release from purgatory (a place the Catholic church conceived of where one would stay after death but before heaven which length of stay was based on the number of sins one committed in their earthly life). Luther's posting of his theses on "All Hallow's Eve" was instrumental. The next day the church would celebrate "All Saints Day" so they would see these as they walked in. Luther's students actually took the list and made copies with the aid of the new printing press creating quite a stir. The first ripple of Reformation fervor had been struck and would gain in momentum as God enlisted others such as Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin to join the cause. Several current protestant denominations are products of God's work through them.

Many may question why such an event is a big deal. Why would a man complaining about certain teachings in the church be something to celebrate? People do this all the time. However, I think the celebration really is about God and how He used this man with his many, many, many flaws (he clearly had an anger problem and appeared to promote some wayward morals) to call His Church back to the truth. The Catholic church had repudiated the Bible's teachings on salvation by creating a synergistic economy of grace where man cooperated with God for his salvation. The selling of indulgences was a form of works-righteousness where the church taught that one could earn their salvation by paying a certain price for an indulgence. The sacraments became viewed as works that one must do in order to receive God's grace. In the Pope claiming the authority to grant the remission of sins based on a sale of an indulgence, he placed himself above both God's Word and Christ Himself. Many were blinded by such teaching (and some still are today) thinking that they could earn their own salvation.

The Reformers combated such views and practices. They claimed sola scriptura, that Scripture alone was the only authority for the believer. This led Luther to translate the Bible into German so people at the time could have a personal Bible and be able to study it on their own instead of relying on the false teachings of the priests who were the only ones who could own and read one. The Reformers called the people back to the truth taught in Scripture that one was justified (declared righteous in God's sight by God Himself) through their faith in Christ and not by any works that they could do. They rightly stated that salvation was by grace alone (sola gratia) through faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (sola Christa) for the glory of God alone (soli Deo gloria) as Scripture taught. Paul explicitly states 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). Salvation is a gracious gift given by God and received through the means of placing one's faith in Christ. The Lord used Luther as well as the other Reformers to call the church back to this truth, a truth foundational to the gospel.

Let's celebrate God using such men with their numerous flaws (much like we each have) to call the church back to the truth of His Word, especially with the central doctrine of "Justification by Faith," as well as pray that God would continue to raise people up with a passion for His Word and boldness for His truth to continue to reform His Church as to where He would have it to be.

Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Rape and the Sovereignty of God

A few days ago a firestorm erupted when Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock made the following statement in a debate with his Democratic opponent concerning abortion: "This is that issue that every candidate for federal, or even state, office faces, and I too stand for life. I know there are some who disagree and I respect their point of view and I believe that life begins at conception. The only exception I have is in that case [where] the life of the mother [is threatened]. I struggled with it for a long time, but I came to realize that life is a gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape that it is something that God intended to happen." Immediately, the news media and Democratic politicians jumped on this last sentence and cried "foul." They lambasted the candidate for claiming that God intended rape to happen. However, this does not seem to be what the candidate meant.

First, let's be fair to Mr. Mourdock and actually pay attention to what he said. After all, we certainly would not want someone to examine our statements before jumping to conclusions after misreading them. He is speaking of a "life" that comes from the "horrible situation of rape" being "intended to happen" by God. Not rape itself. This fits his biblical view that "life is a gift from God." He communicated that "life is a gift from God" regardless of the circumstances that bring it about. The Bible does teach that every life is fashioned by God (Psalm 139:13-16; Jeremiah 1:5) and that it is God Himself who gives the breath that makes one a "living soul" (Genesis 2:7). No qualifications are given pertaining to God's hand in creating and breathing life. Whether the life resulted from sinful sexual activity outside God's intention of marriage (both in co-habitation or adultery) or through rape does not change the fact that life itself originates from God. In fact, we are breathing now due to God giving us such breath to keep living. God could choose to withhold our next breaths and we would be dead. This perspective is actually not that controversial as it has been made out to be. Perhaps what seems so scandalous about the candidate's statement revolves around the connection between God's sovereignty and the evil act of rape. What does the Bible say about such things?

God is Sovereign
The Bible clearly presents God as sovereign; that He is in control of all things and that nothing occurs that He has not brought about or permitted. The Psalmist tells us that our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases (Psalm 115:3). God speaks through the prophet Isaiah and declares that the very reason He can predict the future with such accuracy is due to the fact that He is the One who plans the future. For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish My purpose" (Isaiah 46:9-10). He then illustrates this by revealing His plan to release the Israelites from their coming captivity through the means of a man named Cyrus, a man who would not be born until much later (v. 11). Also, Paul reminds us that God works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). So God is in control of all things that happen. This would include the evil acts of men. If God is not sovereign over evil then that means He must be subject to evil.

God in His Sovereignty Does Not Approve Evil But Permits It
Now we must be careful here and not go beyond what Scripture teaches. While God is revealed to us to be in control of everything that occurs, including sinful acts, God is never shown to approve such acts but rather to permit them. God cannot be said to commit evil Himself, directly cause it, or approve it because it goes against His holy and pure nature. Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You cannot look on wickedness with favor (Habakkuk 1:13). Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempts no one (James 1:13). Yet, we do witness throughout Scripture God permitting man to execute the evil acts deriving from the evil intentions in their hearts. In fact, even Satan himself cannot perform his evil desires without God's permission. We see this in the account of Job. Satan could not torment Job without God granting him permission and even then he had to stay within God's set boundaries. And the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand" (Job 1:12). The devil was not able to strike this righteous man physically until God later allowed him, and then with the prohibition that he would not take his life (Job 2:6). Even Job himself recognizes God's sovereignty over Satan and the evil that befell him (Job 1:21; 2:10). Likewise, Jesus informed His disciples that Satan had to demand to test them (Luke 22:31), indicating he could not act without God's permission.

This begs the question then, why does God permit such evil that He hates? One of the many amazing things about God is how He has chosen in His infinite wisdom and knowledge to permit some of the most horrendous evil acts in history to use them to achieve a greater purpose that glorifies Him. Take Joseph for instance. God permitted the evil sinful treachery of his brothers to throw him into the pit and sell him to the Ishmaelites for slavery (Genesis 37:12-36). God permitted Joseph to get falsely accused by Potipher's wife (Genesis 39:1-23) God had the power to intervene and stop such events from occurring but chose not to. This was because He had a greater purpose in store in allowing such sinful acts to occur.

It was through these sinful evil actions that Joseph later finds himself serving as the second highest in command in Egypt and able to provide for his family when the great famine arose. It was through this that God preserved Abraham's family and remained faithful to His promise He had made with the patriarch. In fact, Joseph recognized this himself in looking back at God's sovereign hand in everything. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt (Genesis 45:5-8). As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Genesis 50:20). Joseph recognized that while his brothers had evil intentions in their wicked acts that God had a good intention in His permitting them to perform such acts, an intention that wound up saving their life. The same can be seen with the crucifixion of Christ where God planned to permit Satan to enter into Judas' heart to betray the very Son of God and the hatred of the Jews to have Him undergo what has been described to be the most horrendous punishment in history, that of crucifixion. He intended the greatest good out of the most terrible act of evil, using an act of sin to conquer sin!

The Evil of Rape and the Goodness of God
This now brings us back to the furor over the statement made by the congressional hopeful. God identifies rape as a sinful act and does not approve of it. In His law, it was acknowledged as a crime and in certain circumstances carrying the severe punishment of stoning (Deuteronomy 22:23-28). In fact, it is stated to be an evil act. So you shall purge the evil from your midst (v. 24). Yet a life conceived out of such a wicked and unjustifiable act could reveal God's goodness in spite of man's wickedness. God may have great plans for such a child, despite the unlawful circumstances of his birth. In fact, God has shown His grace in times past through those who have been conceived with what would be labeled as illegitimate means. Just look at Periz (Genesis 38) whom God showed grace to in including him as part of the lineage that would bring about His promised Messiah (Matthew 1:1-17; v. 3 in particular) or the judge Jephthah whose mother was a prostitute (Judges 11:1). Or the 12 sons of Jacob which would become the 12 twelve tribes of Israel, from which the Messiah would come. They came from unlawful polygamy. Jesus Himself probably was considered by many in His day as illegitimate as Mary's pregnancy occurring while Joseph being away would have led them to suspect foul play on her part.

A child's life should not be taken because of situations out of his or her control. While yes, the mother served as a tragic victim of a horrible crime, and this we should never downplay or forget, would it be right to turn around and add the baby as another victim? The only difference between an "unborn child" and one which has been "born" really is their location.

In conclusion rape is an evil, unjustifiable, sinful act committed by cowards who only claim to be men which God certainly does not approve of. Yet, God can bring about good in even the worst of circumstances with a child that might be born as a result. We have no right to choose whether or not that child should live or die because we ultimately are not his or her creator.

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Precious Promise of God's Providence

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. ~Romans 8:28

Life can be very difficult at times. Often when you think to yourself that something can’t get much worse, it does. Sometimes we find one heartache or disappointment followed by another and yet another. As the saying goes, “when it rains, it pours.” The question arises: What comfort can be found in the midst of the turbulent storms that we constantly face?

The apostle Paul was a man who knew great pain in his ministry on this earth. He gives a selective list of a lot of his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 and I am sure that more could have been added to this list before his death. What kept Paul confident and going in spite of the terrible trials which he faced was the hope of a future without any pain. He states in Romans 8:18, For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. In viewing his sufferings in light of the coming completion of his salvation where he would have a new resurrected body and see Jesus face to face, he realized that one could not even compare his difficulties on this earth with the splendors of heaven. In fact, such coming glory is so wonderful that all creation groans in anticipation for it (Romans 8:19-22) and we as believers should be groaning for it as well (Romans 8:23-25). The picture that John gives us of heaven is that it is a place where there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain (Revelation 21:1-4). And of course while those things are absent, Christ is present! Contrary to the popular book, the time of a Christian’s earthly pilgrimage certainly is not “their best life now.” The “best life” is yet to come and keeping that in mind may make our burdens appear a little less burdensome. Also, not only do we have the glory of heaven to look forward to but God Himself uses the trials and tribulations that we face to prepare us for heaven.

Paul tells us that we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. The all things in this verse refers to “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” Those difficulties that you currently wrestle with or have questions about would fit in this category. This means that there is a purpose in the pain that you are experiencing. That purpose is for your good. The greatest good for a Christian is to be made holy as Christ is holy. In fact, God’s intention with every believer is for them to be conformed into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). Often God will use difficult circumstances in our lives to develop holiness within us. This is the reason why James instructs us to consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4). James is not saying to rejoice on account of the trial itself but to rejoice because God will use it to strengthen your faith and help you remain steadfast in Him. If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we learn more in those times that we spend in the valleys than when we are on the mountaintops. It is when we are at our lowest that we realize that Christ is the greatest and that He really is all that we need. It is during these times that we learn to trust Christ more. Think of your current struggles as a surgery performed by the Grand Surgeon. Surgery can be painful but often it is necessary; sometimes to save our lives. The temporary pain of the surgery, though difficult to bear in itself, would not be as bad as the greater pain it seeks to prevent. God’s surgery is using the trials that come into our lives to direct us back to Him and guard against us going astray, thus experiencing an even graver incomparable pain. This is how all things work together for our good under God’s providential hand.

Note that this promise is one exclusive to Christians. It is for those who love God and those who are called according to His purpose. These descriptions are only fitting for Christians. Those belonging to the world hate God and Paul uses the term call to refer to the specific call of the ones who respond to Christ in faith (Romans 8:30; 1 Corinthians 1:26; Ephesians 4:1). God does not work all things for the good of making unbelievers holy. God is still sovereign over them and everything that occurs in their lives but He does not use their difficult circumstances to make them holy and increase their faith since they have no faith to increase. We can have this hope if we have been born again and as a result of the Spirit’s work, placed our trust in Christ and His work alone to save us.

This is a promise that we can bank on. Paul does not say and we think or we believe that all things work together for good. Instead, he says that this is something we know. We can be certain of this truth. Find comfort in this truth. Though you may not realize it now, God has a purpose in the pain that you are experiencing. You may not understand how He might work it together for good but you can trust Him in it. God certainly knows what He is doing!

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Lessons From September 11

Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  And Jesus said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate?  I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.  Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."
~Luke 13:1-5

Today thousands in the nation take time out of their busy schedules to commemorate and remember those who lost their lives in the horrible tragedy which occurred the morning of this day eleven years ago.  Many of us remember how that day changed the way we thought about the country, our loved ones, and even our lives.  Many still are struggling with what they have seen, or with those they have lost in the tragedy.  Some lives may never be the same again.  While not belittling the victims of the tragedy, I want to look at what those who are still living can learn from this event.

The days following the 9/11 attacks brought several questions.  Several of these questions concerned God and His role in the event.  People struggled with trying to grasp any reasons God may have allowed or permitted this to happen.  Some wondered if the people who went for what they thought would have been a normal day at work deserved to play the victims of such a horrible scenario.

Clearly God was in control of that day and is still in control of our world today.  Scripture tells us that God works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11).  Through Amos God communicates, If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it? (Amos 3:6) and Jesus says that a sparrow does not fall to the ground apart from your Father (Matthew 10:29).  Even Satan himself is under the sovereignty of God.  Jesus acknowledged to Peter that Satan could not test the disciples' faith without God's allowance.  Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat (Luke 22:31).  Likewise, Satan could not tamper with Job without God's permission and He set clear boundaries where Satan would not be able to trend.  In the first meeting with Satan, God agreed to let him test Job but would not allow him to put forth your hand on him (Job 1:12) and the second time God gave Job into his control but would not permit him to kill His righteous servant.  Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life (Job 2:6).  This is a very comforting truth.  Our lives may seem like they are spirling out of control, but the truth is that we are still in God's hands and He is working to bring things to His ultimate purpose.  You may be down at your lowest, but we have hope that God IS in control and causing all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).  Even in the worst of times, we have comfort knowing there is a loving and good God in control who has a purpose in the suffering.  God was there that day on 9/11 and, even amist the sorrow, several testimonies to His goodness have been proclaimed.  His sovereign hand never left the situation!

The second major question the World Trade Center attacks spawned is one which is a common response to every huge natural disaster or catastrophe:  "What did this group do to deserve this?"  This was seen after the tsunami in India as well as New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina.  In fact, Jesus was asked a similar question about 2000 years ago.  While speaking to a large crowd, a group informs Jesus about an atrocity which Pilate had committed.  The exact situation is unknown to us today but we can infer that it had something to do with a slaughter of Jews during their sacrifices.  Not only was this a terrible occurrence, but it took place during worship which made it even more horrendous.  Jesus realized right away the question that they had concerning this issue.  They thought that this plight was the result of them being greater sinners than all others.  However, Jesus sought to turn their perspective completely around.

Instead of agreeing with their assumption, Jesus took the focus off the victims and placed it on the questioners.  The reason this group was slaughtered was not because they were greater sinners.  The ones who were killed were no more sinners than the ones commenting concerning them.  (Note: This does not necessarily mean that the events God permits to occur are punishment for specific sins.  John 9 makes it clear that, while a result of the curse of sin, not all infirmities and incidents are due to specific sins.)  Those who died in the tsunami, in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and with Hurricane Katrina were no more sinners than those of you reading this note as well as the one writing it.  We deserved the same!  I will never forget a powerful sermon my pastor preached right after the tsunami a few years ago.  He told us that the question is not "why them?" but should be "why not us?"  We didn't deserve God's mercy to not have the tsunami happen in America, or to not have been in the Pentagon or World Trade Center on that day, as well as having the hurricane wreck havoc on the NorthEast or MidWest.  As Scripture tells us, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  We get so used to God's mercy we have problems when He shows us His wrath.

Jesus actually warns the crowd of an even greater fate, much worse than what happened with Pilate and the later example of the falling of the tower of Siloam.  Unless they repent of their sins, they will perish (Luke 13:3,5).  This is Jesus' urgent plea to those who are lost in sin.  Repentance means a turning from sin.  It is the flip side of faith.  One turns from sin in repentance and then turns toward Christ by placing their faith in Him.  The likewise may refer to the sudden and unexpected death of those in the Temple and at Siloam.  Those who went to the Temple that day to offer their sacrifices did not realize that they would not be returning home.  The possibility of the tower falling on the group in Siloam probably never occurred to them.  Likewise, if the crowd does not turn from their sins and turn to Christ they will suddenly and unexpectedly (to them) experience the punishment for their sins.  The author of Hebrews tells us that it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

No one is guaranteed of their next heartbeat or breath.  If we should learn something from modern headlines, it is that death is no respecter of age.  If you have not turned from your sins and placed your faith in the Lord Jesus, then Jesus' plea for repentance is for you.  Like those in the Temple and at Siloam, you do not know when the day will come and it will be too late.   Many who left for work that morning of 9/11 did not know that they would not leave the building.  Several wives did not know that they would not see their husbands again.  I am not attempting to scare anyone, I just want to point out reality.   For us who are Christians, this is a reminder that life is too short to waste!  Let us give out Jesus' plea to those who need to hear it in our families, schools, and at our places of employment!

Praying for those involved with the attacks in any way as well as us who can learn from God's mercy,
Lee Smith
Soli Deo Gloria!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Discerning God's Direction

One question many people ponder is "What is God's will for my life?" This often can be found in the mind of the high school senior as he or she nears graduation. Throughout our lives we struggle with how to apply this question to specific situations we face. The question becomes "Is it God's will for me to take this new job?", "Is it in God's will for me to move and buy this new house?", "Is it God's will for me to marry this young lady or this gentleman?" Several times our concern over these questions, which are asked with the best intentions as they convey our desire to please God in the decisions we make in our lives, lead to unnecessary worry and anxiety. They may also lead to ridiculous ways to try to find the answer. However, the best place to find guidance on God's direction in these important decisions is always His Word.

Bring the Book!
The good news for us is that God's will for our lives is not hidden. We do not need to look all over creation to find it. We do not have to perform certain rituals or search high and low for a certain sign. We just need to look in His Word. You can throw out your Magic 8 Ball and put your quarter back in your pocket! God has expressed His will to us in His Word. He has told us His plan to redeem repentant and believing sinners through the Lord Jesus Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross and His resurrection to new life three days later. And while it is true that there are certain aspects of His will He has chosen not to reveal (Deuteronomy 29:29), everything we need to know about Him and His plans He has not withheld from us. (Part of our problem is that we THINK that we need to know more than we are given but God does not owe His creatures an explanation for anything He has determined to do.)

God explicitly tells us His will for us in His Word. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). God's will for believers are that they continue to be made into the image of Christ. That is what He has predetermined for them. He commands us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling and promises to work within us for us to be able to do so (for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure) (Philippians 2:12-13). This is what we refer to as "sanctification," the process where God works in and through the justified sinner to make him or her righteous. ("Justification" is God's declaring the sinner righteous through his or her faith alone in Christ alone and in "Glorification" Christ presents the sinner as fully righteous before God's throne.) So our goal in everything we do should be to strive toward holiness as Christ is holy. What does a holy life look like you may ask? Well God shows us what it means to walk in holiness throughout His Word. Just look at passages such as Romans 12:1-15:13; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1; Ephesians 4:17-6:20; Colossians 3:1-4:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12; 5:12-22. What this means is that one of the first things you should do when dealing with a major decision, is to take the time to bring the book and study the book!

Using the Book

Some of you may still be scratching your heads and still wanting more help. How can I go about to see if this is a direction that God may be leading me for the purpose of my growth in holiness? To help myself when disputing over certain decisions that I have faced, I have put together the following questions taken from God's Word. These questions should aid you to examine the different possibilities that have been placed in front of you that you need to decide upon as to whether they are in God's plan for your growth in holiness. May God use these to lead you into following His perfect will for your life in all matters.

Have You Prayed About This?
One thing God says that serves as His will for every believer is that they pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). The first step to discern where God may be leading with a certain decision is to ask for His help and guidance. Ask Him to help you evaluate whether it is part of His work in your life to aid in your growth in holiness or not. We know that we cannot trust ourselves and our knowledge due to our sinfulness (Proverbs 16:25) so we need the Spirit to direct us. As James reminds us, You do not have because you do not ask (James 4:2).

Are You Focused on God? Perhaps the biggest problem we have in discerning God's direction for our lives lies with our very own direction. Far too many times we have taken our focus off of the very One who is leading us. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 3:6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. The path you should be on God will make straight for the ones who acknowledge Him in all their ways. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). To test (the literal Greek) what God's will is, Paul says that we need to have a mind that is not conformed to the way the world thinks but that is renewed in thinking God's thoughts after Him. This can only occur by studying God's thoughts as He has revealed them in His Word. If we are not focused on the One who is leading us in the perfect direction, we will never be able to find our way in that perfect direction. Make sure that you are focused on Christ and then examine where He may be leading. You will find that you may see God's direction a lot more clearly when you are looking towards Him. In fact, David tells us Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). If you are delighting in God, then the desires of your heart will be things that are desiring to Him. If you are desiring things that are not desirable to Him, then clearly you are not delighting in God but in yourself and your carnality. Take some time to evaluate your focus before even considering where God may be leading you in your decision so that you can see clearer His direction.

Is It Biblical? Since walking in holiness entails being obedient to God's commands, ask yourself if what you are considering goes against specific instruction found in Scripture. This will eliminate any unbiblical decisions right away that will hinder your growth in holiness. For instance, if the new job offer you received has some unfair practices or ones that would require you to cheat someone, you can quickly rule it out. A false balance is an abomination to the LORD, but a just weight is His delight (Proverbs 11:1). If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors (James 2:8-9). If the woman or man that one may be considering marrying is an unbeliever, then the answer to whether they should marry him or her certainly is no as God clearly states Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14). So set aside the necessary time to see if God's Word prohibits such a decision before acting upon it.

Is It Wise? So if you discover that the decision does not go against any explicit teaching of Scripture, another question you must ask is if it is a wise decision according to God's Word. Perhaps we each would do well to study the book of Proverbs more often as Solomon distinguishes between wisdom and foolishness. If the new job you may be considering means spending very little time at home with your family then you may want to rethink that job, especially if it takes away from your primary work as a husband to your wife and father to your children (Ephesians 5:22-6:4). On the flip side, if the new job offer enables you to better provide for your family than you are able to in the current job, that may indicate the wisdom in accepting such a position. Weighing the wisdom of the decision by God's wisdom taught in Scripture can very well help in seeing the direction in which God may be leading in regard to your growth in holiness.

Does It Glorify God? Scripture teaches us that our every motive for our every action should be to glorify God. Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father (Colossians 3:17). The Westminster Confession of Faith states it well when it says, "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." Ask yourself whether this decision will glorify God or not. Will the new job allow you to glorify God better than your present job or would you be able to glorify God more where you currently serve? For the couple considering marriage the question that should be asked is "can we glorify God more together than apart?" Will the decision maximize the glory you can give to God?

Will It Aid In My Sanctification? While all of these questions we are looking at deal with examining the direction that God may be leading for one's growth in holiness, I don't think it would hurt to specifically evaluate whether the decision may or may not help one in their spiritual growth. For the person considering a move, have you checked to see if a local congregation that is committed to the sole authority and inerrancy of the Word of God and the exaltation of Christ can be found close by? Too many times those who contemplate a move fail to consider such an important question. Is this an area in which you and your family will have opportunities to grow spiritually and share the gospel? For the couple seeking God's wisdom pertaining to marriage, does your boyfriend or girlfriend encourage and challenge you spiritually? Gary Thomas, in his book Sacred Marriage, asks the important question, "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" Is the person you are dating or courting one who continually directs you to God which will aid in your holiness or do they pull you away from God and thus hinder your growth in holiness? Such a question can help one decide whether such a direction may be God's will for their life.

Has God Been Opening Or Closing the Doors In This Direction? After seeing whether the decision you are grappling with is biblical, wise, glorifies God, and will help you grow spiritually, then take some time to notice God's providential work in the situation. The Bible is clear that God works all things after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). Has He been opening a door in a certain direction you are seeking or continuing to close the door to the opportunity? In Acts 16:6-10 we read about how Paul heads one direction towards Asia to preach the gospel and was forbidden by the Holy Spirit (v. 6). Then the Apostle tries to go to the area of Bithynia to preach and Luke reports the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them (v. 7). We are not told exactly how the door for ministry had been shut in these two areas but just that clearly God redirected him. It very well could have been through different situations ordained by God's providence. God then makes it clear that He has been directing Paul and company to go to Macedonia to preach to the people there (vv. 9-10). (For a more thorough look at this passage and its application to God's guidance, see my previous post, "The Guidance of God.")If God is leading you down a certain path towards a certain direction, He will make it clear by the doors He sovereignly opens and closes. Try as you may, if God wants you to make a certain decision, you will eventually do it. Just look at Jonah to find out how well things went when he decided to go against God's will for him to preach to the Ninevites. God made it very clear for him what His will for him was in that situation. (Of course Jonah had God directly tell him right away where God now speaks to us primarily through His Word.) God stopped the prophet in his tracks heading away from Him and His will. King Saul was deadset on killing David out of his jealousy of his young successor but God did not deliver him into his hand (1 Samuel 23:14). How is God providentially leading you with the decision you are wrestling with?

So take your Bible and head off to a place where you will not be disturbed for a while. Take time to pray and ask for God's guidance, examine whether you are focused on Him, see if the decision you are mulling over is biblical, wise, maximizes the potential for you to glorify God, aids in your growth in holiness, and whether God appears to be opening or closing the doors in that direction. Then go do it (or as the case may be don't do it)! May God use His Spirit through His Word to lead you to where He would have you to be for the glory of His name!

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Crazy Chick-Fil-A Controversy

I have to admit that I have been following all of the hoopla over the controversy that has erupted concerning the recent statements made by the president of Chick-Fil-A, Dan Cathy, with amazement. Much of what I have read and heard have just been unbelievable. Coming from my background in philosophy (part of my major in my undergraduate studies), seeing so many logical fallacies in public debate is just abhorrent. Though I do believe that much of the reaction to Mr. Cathy's statements supporting the biblical definition (and thereby God's definition since Scripture is His Word) of marriage does reveal much of how the pro-homosexual agenda operates. This controversy has been telling in more ways than one.

What began as an innocent statement of the values of the president of a successful restaurant chain have escalated into an all out war with people siding in favor of Chick-Fil-A (those going to eat there today for "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day") and those opposing by boycotting the company (either by refusing to eat there again or choosing to no longer provide toys for their kids meals). Much manipulation was used by the pro-homosexual agenda to get to this point. First of all, how surprising is it that Mr. Cathy, a professing Christian of one of the few restaurants that are closed on Sundays to articulate a Christian view that the Bible unambiguously teaches and in which the Christian church has held for 2000 years? What else would one expect? (But then again I am constantly amazed when couples planning for marriage meet with me in my office to ask me to conduct their wedding and appear surprised when I address the issue of them living together to be a sin according to Scripture.) That in itself technically is not controversial. I actually find it more controversial when a professing Christian who claims to take the Bible as God's Word supports so-called same-sex marriage despite God's clear definition of marriage given in Genesis 2:24 and affirmed all throughout the Bible, and by Jesus Himself (Matthew 19:4-6)!

Also, how did we go from a statement that Chick-Fil-A "are very much supportive of the family unit-the biblical definition of the family unit" and pointing out how a movement to redefine God's institution of marriage basically is man raising his fist to God in rebellion and claiming that he knows better than God (a claim I myself have made several times) to Mr. Cathy hates homosexuals and Chick-Fil-A discriminates against gays and lesbians? Mr. Cathy never said anything about homosexuals in any of the statements in which I have read. He actually spoke on what constitutes a marriage and a family. It appears to me that what we have here is deliberate manipulation to promote an agenda. Mr. Cathy's statements on marriage would not create such a firestorm but if the American public could be convinced that homosexuals are once again a victim of unfair treatment, more attention and sympathy may be gained to their cause. A similar tactic can be noticed by the pro-homosexual agenda in regards to their claim that they are the new "civil rights" movement of the 1960s; comparing themselves to the unjustifiable unfair treatment of African Americans. (Dr. Voddie Baucham reveals how erroneous and manipulative such a claim is here in his very well written article.) Such manipulation appears common by many in this group pushing for the acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle and a redefinition of marriage to suit their carnal desires. The facts of Mr. Cathy's statement probably would not have generated as much buzz nor aided their cause as well.

A New Definition of Tolerance and A Double Standard
Not only does this controversy show some of the manipulative strategies that many in the pro-homosexual lobbying groups are willing to use, it also reveals what they really mean by tolerance. This group over and over again preaches tolerance. "You must tolerate my lifestyle even if you don't agree with it." To promote their cause they have redefined the historic understanding of the term tolerance. Erwin Lutzer explains this well: "This word [tolerance], which at one time meant that people should be free to believe whatever they wished, now meant that they could do whatever they wished, and it was improper to judge their conduct. Tolerance now demands an affirmation of virtually all behavior, no matter how immoral, unnatural, and bizarre" (20; emphasis in original). However, the kind of tolerance that this group demands is not the same kind of tolerance we are witnessing them give. Many within the pro-homosexual lobby certainly are not tolerant of Mr. Cathy's perspective concerning the family (and for that matter much of America at this point, including almost all of the US presidents with Mr. Obama being the most notable exception). Two leaders in Chicago, Proco Moreno and Mayor Rahm Emmanuel do not seem to be espousing such a tolerance but threatening to deny Chick-Fil-A a permit to establish restaurants in the respective area they serve over. So much for acceptance of that in which one disagrees. It almost makes one wonder if much of the redefinition and talk of tolerance serves more as rhetoric to promote their agenda.

This is not the only example of a double standard that we see in this squabble. The Mayor of Boston, Thomas Menino, stated that "Chick-Fil-A doesn't belong in Boston" because "We're an open city. We're a city at the forefront of inclusion." Interestingly enough, by saying that "Chick-Fil-A" does not belong in an "open city . . . at the forefront of inclusion" actually shows that such a city is "closed" to this restaurant and desires to "exclude" it because of its views. As I have noticed in the denomination in which I serve, "openness" and "inclusion" serve as buzz wards to promote this pro-homosexual agenda. Those who use them seldom are "open" and "inclusive" to those who disagree with them. The current Chick-Fil-A incident stands as a case in point.

Now I won't be joining the many who decide to support Chick-Fil-A today by having my lunch or dinner there. I personally am not a huge fan of the food at the restaurant and prefer unhealthy burgers over the chickens (Sorry cows, I know you tell me to 'eat mor chikin'!) and McDonalds and Taco Bell are cheaper. However, I can't help but point out some of the common methodology used by the pro-homosexual agenda that we notice in an example like this. They do have an agenda and are working relentlessly to push it. I don't think that this is an agenda that we should try to stop by using similar tactics. But we must be aware of it. The question for us believers is: Are we just as dedicated in sharing the gospel, with both heterosexual sinners and homosexual sinners alike? The way to combat this sin, as with all sins, is with the faithful proclamation of the gospel. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Romans 1:16).

In Christ,
Soli Deo Gloria!!!

Works Cited
Lutzer, Erwin w. The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage: 6 Things You Must Know About What's Really At Stake. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2010.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Egalitarianism, Homosexuality, and The Authority of Scripture: An Interesting Connection

I was pondering the issue of the intended roles of women in ministry the past few days and I began to see an interesting connection with the arguments of those who hold to what is known as the "egalitarian" position and those within the visible church (as compared to the invisible church which only God knows who belongs) who are part of the pro-homosexual lobby. A common element with both would be that they compromise the sole authority of Scripture (the Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura).

Egalitarianism and the Authority of Scripture
The "egalitarian" position basically argues that men and women are fully equal in all aspects such that the husband has not be placed in authority over his wife and that women can and should serve the major leadership positions in the church just as much as men. Such a view leads to the promotion of the licensing and ordination of women to serve as pastors in churches and other such high offices. The other perspective, and the one that a majority of theologians, pastors, and teachers have held throughout church history, as well as the perspective of this author based on his study of Scripture, has been labeled as "complentarianism." This perspective follows Scripture's teaching that God created men and women in His image both equal in status (Galatians 3:28) but with different roles that compliment each other in the home (1 Corinthians 11:2-16; Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7) and in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-15). A typical trait of "egalitarians" has been to elevate the Galatians 3:28 passage to the exclusion of the other passages here cited. When faced with the plain teaching of these other passages, they actually wind up appealing to another authority outside of Scripture. For instance, a common attempt to get around 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 that explicitly state that God has not ordained for women to serve the role of elder in the church has been to claim that the culture of the time these verses were written were different than our culture today and thus no longer apply. In 21st century America, women are viewed as doing pretty much anything that men do. Predominantly this is due to the feminist movement. (I long for the day where the high calling of women to serve as mothers would once again take precedence over the picture of the career woman. But I digress.) Women work in the same jobs and serve in the same roles as men. The argument follows then that these passages need to be read in light of today's culture instead of examining our culture in light of Scripture. It is as Matt Chandler puts it, "The culture begins to define the Scriptures instead of the Scriptures defining the culture" (The Explicit Gospel, 194). Hence, the authority appealed to for their position is not Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura) but the culture. (For the record, the textual evidence of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 do not support Paul's instruction concerning women not serving in a "teaching" or "authoritative" role over men in a congregational setting being a cultural issue limited to Ephesus or Corinth as "egalitarians" often claim. Right after making such a statement in 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul does not reference a problem occurring specifically at that local church that serves as the reason for such a prohibition but the design and order of God's creation itself. For Adam was formed first, then Eve (v. 13). In the Corinthian context, Paul states that this teaching concerning women learning in submission is As in all the churches of the saints v. 33b.)

However, culture is not the only authority that "egalitarians" appeal to in order to substantiate their claim for women to serve in the role of elder or pastor in a church. I don't know how many times I have had an egalitarian tell me something to the effect, "But they feel that they are "called" to be a pastor. You can't argue with God's Holy Spirit if He is calling them to such a ministry." The problem here is that they are the one actually arguing with the Holy Spirit who inspired the words of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15! Their authority here is not Scripture alone but emotions. It is based on what someone "feels" or "senses". (I believe the Unibomber claimed that he "sensed" that God "called" him to blow up the Oklahoma City building and I have talked to people who claim that God "called" them to leave their wife for another woman.) Or proponents of such a view appeal to experience. They point out the gifts that a woman has for ministry and claim that you cannot tell them that God has not intended them to serve as a pastor due to the gifts He has given them. (In such a case, I would encourage a lady with such gifts to see how God may intend for her to use them in a role in which He has ordained for women to serve in the context of a church, such as working with the children's ministry or the youth or leading a women's Bible study or home group.) In each of these cases, the authority for the "egalitarian" is not Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura) but culture, feelings, or experience. Interestingly enough, these are the same authorities that we notice the pro-homosexual group within the visible church appealing to as well.

Homosexuality and the Authority of Scripture
No one promoting the pro-homosexual agenda actually holds to Sola Scriptura. They can't because if they did, they would not promote such an agenda. God's perspective concerning homosexual acts and relationships has been laid out clearly in His Word. I actually have done an extensive study of the passages that relate to homosexuality in the Bible and the paper that I have written on it can be found here. We find though with the homosexual agenda that has crept into many churches today that they also appeal to culture, feelings, or experience instead of Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura). A study guide concerning Scripture passages that "supposedly" related to homosexuality was put together by a committee within my denomination about two years ago that individual churches were encouraged to go through. One of the actual passages that concerned the issue of homosexuality was Romans 1:18-32. (I found out that one of the conservatives on the committee did suggest the other six passages that deal with homosexuality but he was told they were "clobber passages" and therefore would not be included.) The brief commentary given to go with such a passage stated something to the effect that "Paul did not share the same understanding of sexual orientation as we do today." Again, we find culture serving as the authority and not Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura). Basically, they are saying that what God said through the pen of Paul to the church at Rome does not apply today because we live in a different, more enlightened culture that has figured things out better. (Figured more out than the Ultimate Author of that text?! Perish the thought that God was ignorant about what He inspired to be written about homosexuality or that we know better about it now than He always has when He had these words in Romans to be written! Yikes!)

We also can find "emotions" or "feelings" serving as this group's authority. One of the main arguments of the pro-homosexual agenda is that those who identify themselves as "gay" or "lesbian" "feel" as if they have been born this way. And thus, they reason, if they have been "born this way," then that must mean that God made them this way and it cannot be categorized as a sinful lifestyle regardless of what the Bible actually says. For them, "emotions" and "feelings" trump Scripture. The same can be seen with the authority of experience. I am losing count of how many times I have been told about some homosexual couples who have demonstrated a better loving relationship than many heterosexual couples (and of course comparing them to the Britney Spears', Kim Kardashian's, and Katy Perry's does not really say much as none of them would come close to resembling what the portrait of a biblical marriage should look like). Just like with the "egalitarian" position, we find the pro-homosexual agenda appealing to other authorities outside Scripture instead of Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura).

The Danger of Compromising the Sole Authority of Scripture
So what is my point in showing you such a comparison that I have noticed? I am NOT saying that those who hold to an "egalitarian" position necessarily will adopt the pro-homosexual view. Many thankfully will not. However, this has certainly been the case with the denominations who have, as of this point, accepted so-called same-sex unions and permitted practicing gays and lesbians to be licensed and ordained to serve as pastors in their churches. I do not know of a denomination which has made such a move that didn't first decide to license and ordain women to serve as pastors and elders. Compromising the authority of Scripture in one place inevitably opens the door to compromise it's authority in another place. And as you can see, the same types of extrabiblical authority used to open the door to the one is the same as that used to open the door to the other. In fact, I heard arguments at my denomination's Annual Conference just two weeks ago of how the acceptance of homosexuals being licensed and ordained was just like how women used to not be allowed to be licensed or ordained. The church just hasn't caught up to the culture yet again!

The only remedy to the homosexual issue in the denominations that are currently facing it (such as the beloved Church of the Brethren in which I serve) is to get back to Sola Scriptura; Scripture being our sole authority for everything in our lives. We need to stop flirting with culture, emotions/feelings, and experience. As a denomination, as congregations, and as individuals we either believe that the Word of God is sufficient as it claims (2 Timothy 3:17) or we don't. We either are obedient to God's Word or we are disobedient. Sola Scriptura served as one of the rally cries of the Reformers when they recognized that the unbiblical abuses within the Catholic Church of Rome arose from a departure from holding to Scripture as the sole authority. Such a reformation calling us back to the authority of the Word of God is needed in many denominations today. May God, in His grace, bring us once again back to His Word as our authority and thus to glorifying and honoring Him.

For the sake of God under the authority of His Word,
Lee Smith
Soli Deo Gloria!
Sola Scriptura!