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

About Me

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

Tuesday, 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