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.

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!!!