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 14, 2015

The Real St. Nick

I am just going to come out and say it at the outset: I am not a fan of what our culture has done with Santa Claus. No, I don't have any issues with large men with white long beards who dress in red. (For all I know that very well could be a description of me in about 40 years!) My problem is with how he has become the center of the celebration of this time of year and in essence has pushed out the very reason underlying all the festivities, the incarnation; God becoming man in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to save repentant sinners from their sins. It saddens me to see children taught to be so excited about a fictional character that supposedly comes just once a year but not about the very Savior born on that silent night we often sing about who is always present with us. A very unlikely theologian has said well that Jesus Gets Jealous of Santa Claus. Sinclair Ferguson has described what CHRISTmas actually looks like today for many of us: "Santa is worshiped, not the Savior; pilgrims go to the stores with credit cards, not to the manger with gifts. It is the feast of indulgence, not of the incarnation." Now, I am not planning to spend a lot of time attacking a man who doesn't exist. I have far too much more important things to do than that. Besides, I would like to direct your attention to the real St. Nicholas of history who is much more valuable than a mythical creature who flies around in a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer and whom the church historian in me would like everyone to know about.

Long before "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," there was a man named Nicholas who served as bishop of Myra in Modern Day Turkey. He was a staunch defender of orthodoxy, especially against the Arian heresy which promoted the unbiblical notion that Jesus was a creature and thus not the eternal God. He guarded the people of the region he served in from following such errant doctrine. It has even been reported that Nicholas actually went to Nicea and slapped the leader of this heresy, Arius, in the face. He certainly wasn't "jolly" when it came to false teaching! He also was known as a generous gift giver and probably gave away the vast inheritance he received from his parents.

This is the St. Nick that I want people to know. One who loved the Lord Jesus Christ and was unwavering on the truth of Who He is as revealed in His Word. Who ensured that the people he was charged with leading were not led astray by falsehood. Who followed his Master's generosity in giving of himself to benefit others. And most importantly, who directed us to the real One to get excited about and celebrate, the Lord Jesus Christ. Perhaps we would be wise to give more attention to the real St. Nick this season instead of the sensational legend that often serves to point away from Jesus and the wonder of His birth.

In Christ,
Solus Christus
Soli Deo Gloria

P. S. Concerning how to handle Santa Claus in your CHRISTmas celebrations, I believe that John Piper has addressed this so well that I will direct you to him concerning that: My favorite quote from that podcast: "If being Jesus-focused is a kill joy for Christmas, you don't know Him well."

Friday, November 20, 2015

How To Handle A Brother Or Sister Who Has Wronged You

What do you do when you have an issue with a brother or sister in Christ or when someone in the church has wronged you? Are there any guidelines of how we are to deal with them? Since we all are sinners and not fully sanctified yet (but if truly in Christ in the process of sanctification or being made holy), we should not expect others to be perfect. This is especially true of believers within the church. A key trait of a Christian is not that they are sinless (see 1 John 1:8-10), but that they recognize their sinfulness and are constantly relying on God’s grace because of it. So, coming back to the original question of how to handle a brother or sister who sinned against you, we just need to practice the steps that Jesus has laid out as recorded for us in Matthew 18:15-17. 

            You will notice that the very first thing that Jesus instructs us to do when “your brother sins against you” is to “go and show him his fault in private” (v. 15). We are to go to the person who has caused the offense directly and point out the sin to him or her. Not call up all your friends and talk about it. Not go to someone else and ask them to talk to the individual you have a rift with. But to go to them yourself. We can attest to Jesus’ wisdom here as things will only become messier if you involve someone in the middle plus it very well may make it harder to solve the problem.

            Now this must be done in love of course with a desire to reconcile with the person who caused the offense and to have the relationship restored. Keep in mind that what Jesus says here immediately follows the parable of the shepherd leaving 99 of his flock in order to search and bring back the one who has gone astray (Matthew 18:12-14). The goal must be to bring the straying member of the church back. If that is not your goal, then you need to first go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to change your heart in this matter to be obedient to Him.

            Notice that this one-on-one confrontation is to be had “in private.” Not publicly in front of others for all to see. So, don’t grab the person by the arm on a Sunday morning and confront them when others are around to overhear what you are saying to them. Actually, no one should be aware of the meeting except for you and the other person (and God Himself of course). This all is step one and is the only step necessary “if he listens to you” and “you have won your brother.” If the person doesn’t listen to you and repent, then Jesus gives us another step in this process.

            Step two is to “take one or two more with you” (v. 16). Another meeting should be arranged and this time one or two other people must be included. What is the purpose of including more people in the situation? According to Jesus, they are to serve as witnesses to the conversation. He goes on to say “so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be confirmed.” This follows the principle laid out in Deuteronomy 19:15. The purpose of these two additions are not to gang up on the person but to join the original individual in lovingly reaching out to them. Again, the hope is for the one to repent and be restored. However, should the person refuse to repent and instead hold fast to his or her sin, then Jesus provides a third step in this process.

            At this point, the entire church is to get involved. He says, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church” (v. 17). Now this is not to embarrass the unrepentant sinner or for the sake of encouraging gossip. Rather, it is for the entire congregation to reach out to the brother or sister in order to plead with him or her to get right with the offended individual before God and repent of their ongoing sin. I like how David Platt has put it, “God loves us so much that if we are caught in sin, He will send an entire army of believers to us as a demonstration of His love and mercy” (Exalting Jesus in Matthew (Christ-Centered Exposition; Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2013) 244).

            The last and final step that Jesus states is one that no congregation ever wants to have to execute but if we are to be faithful to Jesus and His teachings, then we absolutely cannot ignore it. If after the individual confrontation, the small group consultation, and the church’s compassionate outreach, the individual continues to refuse to reconcile with the brother or is deadset to remain in the sin, then they should be treated “as a Gentile and a tax collector,” two categories of people who were viewed at the time to not be a part of the community of believers. Instead of being seen as a brother or sister to fellowship with, they are to be treated as an unbeliever to be evangelized. God cares about the holiness of His church, His people (1 Corinthians 5:5-6). And perhaps, if the person is truly a born again believer, this severe action might be used by God to bring them to their senses and lead them to the repentance that they have been refusing. That at least should be our prayer for the glory of God.

            So, the next time that someone sins against you, you should know how to go about addressing it. Jesus has clearly told us what to do. We have no excuse not to follow what Jesus has said. While this may be a difficult process that goes against our natural inclinations, we must trust that Jesus knows what is best, and, with the aid of God’s grace, follow through accordingly.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Thursday, October 29, 2015

To Those Who Are "Too Busy"

Hello “Too Busy,”

            Yeah, I know. I’ve heard it before. You would read your Bible more but you are just “too busy.” You have been meaning to come back to church but you “can’t find the time.” You have thought about agreeing to serve in that specific ministry but you have so much going on with all those other activities that there is simply no way you could devote yourself to it.

            I hear what you are saying but I’m not sure that actually is the case. Perhaps the issue here is not that you are “too busy” at all but maybe it goes a little deeper than that. Could the reason for your neglect of these things actually stem from the fact that you don’t want to do them? That it is not on account of how much time you have. We all have been given the same amount when you think about it. There are 24 hours in a day for each of us. It is what we do with that time that counts.

            You see, here is how we human beings operate. We always seem to make time for the things that we love and enjoy. We’ll even sacrifice certain activities to make way for such things and not ever think about it as being a sacrifice. This is why in the midst of a hectic schedule, you can be sure not to miss your favorite TV show or sports team play. Why there is always time to devote to your hobby, whatever it may be. And why if you are given free tickets to go to the concert of that singer you like or to be in the stadium to root your team on (say the Steelers for instance since I live in what is known as "Steelers' Country" in Southwestern PA), you will rearrange your chores and obligations in order to be there. In fact, you may even be surprised that your busy schedule cleared up just enough of a block of time to work this in! So, is the issue then that you are “too busy?” Or could it be that you really do not want to? Because if you had a desire for them, then you would be doing them; even if that meant saying “no” to some other things and changing your schedule. Please be honest with yourself with what is actually going on instead of using “busyness” as an excuse.

            If your neglect of your Bible reading, regular church attendance, and active involvement in ministry can be traced to you not having a desire to do them, then perhaps you should be concerned about your relationship with the Lord, or even if you have a relationship with Him at all. (Please know that I write this out of love for you and in having a concern for your soul! I want you to have the joy of truly knowing Christ and walking in a growing relationship with Him.) Here is why I say this. Take a husband and wife for example. If a husband never spends time with his wife and always puts other things before her, you probably would question his commitment to her. There clearly is a problem in the relationship.  The same could be said for someone who professes to love Jesus but He is not important enough to them to make time to commune with Him through reading His Word, being with His people, and doing His work. He is basically being pushed aside for other things.

            Should this letter apply to you, I encourage you to repent of your neglect of God Himself and passionately seek Him above all else. Grace and mercy can always be found at the cross! Pursue Him for your ultimate joy. Set aside time to read His Word and be with His people. You will not regret it! As the Lord Himself says, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee

Thursday, September 10, 2015

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 fourteen 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!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

True Love For Christ

An essential characteristic of a true Christian is that they have a love for the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, the Apostle Paul goes so far as to state that “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22). The Greek word here for “accursed” conveys the idea of being “devoted to destruction.” So, if someone has no genuine love for the Lord Jesus Christ, he or she has no right to even call themselves a Christian. Having a love for Jesus is something that is not natural for any one of us as Scripture states we are all born hating Him. “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19-20). We by default have a hatred towards Jesus but a love for our sin. That hatred may be masked as indifference but it is there. It takes a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to give us a hatred for our sin and a genuine love for Christ. Without being born again, we will not have a true love for Christ. We will remain desiring our sin over and above Him.

Now, how do we know whether we actually love Christ or if we just think that we do when really we don’t? Keep in mind that the Bible tells us that our hearts are very deceptive and it is quite possible for us to be deceived into thinking that we have a love for Jesus when in reality we do not. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). This means that we need to examine how Jesus Himself defines what love for Him looks like for us to see whether we can honestly say that we love Him.

According to Jesus, love for Him is displayed through obedience to His commands. He stated, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). And again, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:23). So, what does it indicate about someone’s love for Jesus if they have no concern in being obedient to His teachings and commandments? If they desire to live their own way and do whatever they want, regardless of what Scripture says? If the times where they are disobedient to what He has said never bothers them? Clearly, it shows that they don’t really love Him, no matter how much they may claim to.
In fact, Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words” (John 14:24). Jesus defines love for Himself in terms of obedience.

He also defines love for Himself in terms of priority. Having a genuine love for Christ is to have Him as the greatest treasure in one’s life. Placing Him first and at the center of their life. Jesus actually states that “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). His point here is that He must be greater in the Christian’s life than their family and themselves. Anything and anyone else that they love must be loved less than Him. He serves as the top priority. And when it is pointed out to someone that they have placed something or someone above Him, the person who has a true love for Jesus will grieve this news and desire to have Him again as their number one.

What are some other things that reveal a person’s love for someone that should be expected to be seen in the man or woman who really loves Jesus in action not just in word? J. C. Ryle provides a helpful list in his book, Holiness: It’s Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014) 328-332. If we love someone, “we like to think about him,” “we like to hear about him,” “we like to read about him,” “we like to please him,” “we like his friends,” “we are jealous about his name and honour,” “we like to talk to him,” and “we like to be always with him.” Are these true about you in regard to Jesus? It certainly should be if you really love Him. This is more than a mere reference to Him in a small prayer before a meal. It is looking to Him and having Him in your mind throughout the day. It is spending quality time with Him that develops from quantity time in His Word and in communion with Him in prayer.

While no one can say that they have a perfect love for Jesus, can you say that you are falling more in love with Him the more you come to know about Him? The more that you read His Word and spend time with Him in prayer? (And if you are not doing these two disciplines on a daily basis, you need to ask yourself why. Why is it that you don’t want to spend time with Him? What has taken His place in your life that you would rather make time for instead? Or to put it another way; what is robbing you of the joy that can ultimately be found only in Him?) And if you are really struggling with loving Him, just take time to meditate on His great love for you demonstrated at the cross. That itself should motivate you to love Him more!

Love in Christ,
Pastor Lee