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, November 28, 2023

Mythbusters: Christmas Edition

            There was a show out a number of years ago called "Mythbusters" where they would examine popular sayings and things done in movies to see if they were true or just a myth. Over the years, the story of Christ's birth has become conflated and exaggerated with things twisted and added to it in our songs and popular portrayals. So much so that we can sometimes find it hard to separate the biblical facts from popular fiction. And the last thing we should want is to get an incorrect view in our heads of what took place that first Christmas night. I want to look with you at a number of the most common assumptions which have been made regarding our Savior's arrival in light of what Scripture teaches. If you would like, you could call this, "Mythbusters: Christmas Edition." Let's put some of these elements of the Christmas story to the test of God's Word.

            No Room in the Inn? How many times have you heard about the cold-hearted inn-keeper who could not, or would not, find any room for Jesus? He is pictured at the doorway shaking his head "no" and pointing Mary and Joseph away from there. And the countless sermons which have been preached about how we should not be like Him but instead to make room in our hearts for Jesus? However, the only problem with this is that there probably wasn't an inn-keeper. Because it wasn't an inn they were turned away from. The Greek word used for this place in Luke 2:7 is not the one typically for an inn but a guest room in someone's home. (In the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:34 where Jesus speaks of the Samaritan taking the man ambushed and beaten by the robbers to an inn, a different word is used in the Greek. This same word though is found in Luke 22:11 regarding Jesus instructing His disciples to ask for the guest room of the man's house for holding the Passover meal.) It was common during a census in that day where one would have to travel back to their hometown for relatives in the area to host them in their homes. More likely, this was the home of one of Joseph's relatives who unfortunately had all of their guest rooms filled up by others who needed a place to stay while in for the census. The best that they could do was to have them stay in the cave next to the house with all of the animals.

            Here's another myth to bust by the way. The idea that the birth occurred in a stable. It was typical back then for the animals to be housed in a cave next to a person's home. Don't think of Jesus' first earthly accommodations being a nice size modern day barn with a roof and door. Picture a dark, damp, smelly cave instead. Even more of a humble scene of our Lord's entering into this world.

            The Little Lord Jesus No Crying He Makes? We sing every Christmas of Jesus' birth which took place "away in a manger" where there was "no crib for a bed" and about how "the little Lord Jesus no crying He makes." I highly doubt this was the case. Usually, a newborn baby isn't that quiet. You can expect him or her to cry. I remember at first thinking that something must be wrong when our oldest son was born because he didn’t really cry shortly after the birth. However, later on in the day, I started to wonder if something was wrong because he seemed not to ever stop crying! The author of Hebrews tells us that Jesus became like us in every way with the sole exception of not sinning (2:17; 4:15). Jesus wasn't born without crying but without sinning. The Son of God became a teeny tiny baby and grew and developed just like we all have but obediently in every area of His life (Luke 1:80; 2:40). And that growth and development would include crying, especially shortly after birth. Let's be careful not to minimize Jesus' humanity in focusing on His divinity. (There weren't any "radiant beams from His holy face" either. He would have resembled any other baby at the time.)

            Hark! the Herald Angels SAY? Another Christmas Carol we love to sing, and my personal favorite I might add, is "Hark! the Herald Angels Sing." This is probably the most theologically deep and accurate older hymn of our Lord's birth. The writer, Charles Wesley, really did his homework! But when you read Luke's Gospel concerning the angels appearing to the shepherds that first Christmas night, you don't find it telling us that this multitude of angels were SINGING "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased" but SAYING it (2:13). While it is certainly a possibility that these angels were indeed singing these words, Luke doesn't explicitly say that. We don't know for sure. Praising and singing do go together but the Bible shows us that there are more ways of praising God than just singing to Him. That is one among a number of them. Of course, "Hark! the herald angels say" doesn't rhyme as well with "glory to the newborn king." (Please know that I am not trying to ruin or pick on any of your favorite Christmas Carols. I only want to be biblical and bust any of the myths which may be communicated in them, passed on down through the generations. Don't worry! I will still join you in singing this one loudly this month.)

            While we're on the angels, isn't it interesting that in just about every Christmas play and pageant, they are portrayed by girls instead of boys? Yet, every angel we ever encounter in the pages of Scripture has male pronouns. And the only ones we have the names of are masculine ones; Gabriel and Michael. Maybe women just appear to be more angelic than men do. (I won't go any further with that!) And don't get me started with the little cute cherubs and their tiny exposed bottoms. I don't have any idea where they came from but I know it wasn't from Scripture!

            The Mysterious Wise Men. Perhaps the group associated with the Christmas story who takes the cake for the most myths developed about them would be the magi or wise men. Much of this is due to the beloved Christmas Carol, "We Three Kings of Orient Are." First off, we are not sure that there were only three of them. There may have been many more. The text of Matthew 2 doesn't specify any specific number. Just that they were magi plural and brought three gifts. It is hard to imagine that just three of them would have caused as much of a stir as described. And I have no clue where the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar came from to call them but it's not from Scripture. For that matter, nothing is said about them being kings either. The word "magi" means "great or powerful ones" and often alluded to those with a high status or influence. These ones probably were astrologers who studied the stars and tried to interpret the future by them. That's why they take such a special notice to this unique star that showed up which others may have just passed over in their causally gazing into the night sky. They made it their practice to examine the stars. The group would not have had crowns on their heads but their eyes on the sky. "We unspecified number of astrologers of Orient are" would be quite a mouthful to sing though.

            And when it comes to their arrival, just about every single manger scene gets it wrong. The magi would not have been there at the same time as the shepherds. In fact, they would not have been at the manger at all. Matthew doesn't say that they came to the cave to find the baby or infant but "into the HOUSE" where "they saw the CHILD" (2:11). It probably was a good year or a year and a half before the magi arrived to meet Jesus. We know that it had been close to two years from when they first noticed the star and talked to King Herod about it to when the king realized that they weren't coming back. Hence, why he ordered all the male children two years old and under to be slaughtered (v. 16). So, Jesus would have been one or one and a half at the time of their visit and well out of the manger.

            The Truth of Christmas. We could also talk about how Mary did indeed know her baby boy would save our sons and daughters, that He came to make us new, and that He would ultimately deliver her because the angel told her so and due to her knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures which prophesied such. And that there was no little boy who showed up that night playing "pa rum pum pum-pum" on his drum. But the truth about Christmas is that God the Son entered our world through the birth canal of a virgin, came to earth to save His people from their sins just as He had promised many, many, many years ago. There was light entering into our darkness. There were shepherds hearing the news of the angels and seeing the true Lamb of God born that men may have eternal life through His freely giving of His life as a substitute sacrifice. There was hope for the worst of sinners and such a hope that remains today. And that is what we celebrate not just this month but the whole year through. No myths to bust there!

Love in Christ,

Pastor Lee

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Giving Thanks to God for Being God

In Exodus 34:6-7, God lays out for Moses and us who He is. Moses had asked God in the last chapter to show him His glory. And God promised to make all His goodness pass before Moses and to proclaim His name to him. All these characteristics listed here comprise God’s goodness. And what makes this passage so powerful is that it is God defining God. C. S. Lewis has said that the best one to tell us about God would be God Himself. And that’s exactly what He does here in the most comprehensive way.

Now, it is typical for us at Thanksgiving to focus on what God has given us. All of the many blessings we can stop and take the time to count. To express our thanks and gratefulness to God for those blessings. And it is good and right for us to do so. But what about giving thanks to God for being Who He is? For these characteristics which are displayed in His actions? I am struck by the fact that Psalm 100, which is referred to as being “A Psalm of Thanksgiving,” calls us to “Enter [God’s] gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness endures forever and His faithfulness, generation to generation.” We are encouraged to give thanks and bless God’s name for His goodness, lovingkindness, and faithfulness. All characteristics of His which define His very nature.

So, what I encourage you to do today, which may be a little different than what you typically do each year, is to specifically reflect on these characteristics of God He proclaimed before Moses and why we should be thankful for such. In hopes that this will further move us to give thanks to God for being the great God He is.

Giving Thanks for God's Mercy

The first thing God says about Himself to Moses in His gracious declaration to him is that He is COMPASSIONATE. The word is similar to that which is used of a mother's tender concern and care for her child. It is showing pity to someone in a miserable and weak condition, even though he or she doesn't deserve it. Exactly what God does in choosing to save those who recognize themselves to be in a miserable state of sin and cry out to Him to save them through the perfect sinless life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of His Son. He shows such pity and compassion in not giving believers the punishment and wrath they deserve but having that fall on His Son instead in their place. Basically, anything we receive from God other than His judgment and wrath is His mercy towards us. Let's give thanks for God's mercy!

Giving Thanks for God's Grace

The second thing God says about Himself to Moses is that He is GRACIOUS. Grace is unmerited favor. It is being given something one does not deserve. Of course, the greatest gift of all God has given believers is their salvation. Something which is impossible for us to earn, no matter how hard we may try. In fact, we give God every reason not to save us by our sinful thoughts, desires, and actions. What great grace God has shown us in sending His Son to experience the punishment which we deserve for our sins but He did not. And to credit His very righteousness to our account though we contributed absolutely nothing to it. All so that we could become His adopted children and live with Him for all eternity. None of which we deserve on account of our sinfulness and rebellion. Let's give thanks for God's grace!

Giving Thanks for God’s Patience

The third thing God says about Himself to Moses is that He is PATIENT, longsuffering, or slow to anger. In Hebrew, this is literally, “long of nose.” The picture is of an animal like a bull whose nostrils flare whenever it gets angry. It takes a while for God to demonstrate His anger. For His nostrils to flare up so to speak.

One of the most amazing things in the Old Testament is how patient God continues to be towards His people. How long He delays His wrath when they deserve it on the spot. Even today, He continues to show such patience in waiting to bring about the full weight of His wrath until the return of His Son. This gives more opportunity for people to repent to avoid His wrath. Let’s give thanks to God for His patience!

Giving Thanks for God’s Love

The fourth word God uses to describe Himself to Moses is LOVINGKINDNESS. This refers to His loyal love and commitment to His people. How He has devoted Himself to the good of those who belong to Him. And that good is not physical health, wealth, and prosperity but coming to know Him and being made more like His Son. We see the greatest display of God’s love with the sending and sacrifice of His Son. The giving of the One of highest and infinite value and worth to Him for our salvation. Choosing to show such love to us before we ever loved Him. There is no greater love we have experienced than this. Let’s give thanks for God’s lovingkindness which “endures forever”!

Giving Thanks for God’s Truth

Not only does God say He is abounding in lovingkindness but also in truth. He can be trusted. He won’t say one thing and mean the opposite. We don’t have to worry about any “fake news” coming from Him. He is not a politician. Everything He says in His Word is true. This is certainly the case with all the many prophecies of Jesus. They either have already taken place or will take place without any doubt. You can bank on it.

The Bible describes God numerous times as being a rock. He is a firm foundation for all who trust in His Son. All because He abounds in truth. Let’s give thanks for God’s truth!

Giving Thanks for God’s Faithfulness

The “keeping lovingkindness for thousands” speaks of God’s faithfulness. He always keeps the promises He has made to His people. He will continue to show His loyal love to His people throughout the centuries. Even when we are unfaithful to Him, He will never be unfaithful to us. A good picture of this is with the prophet Hosea and Gomer. Although Gomer was unfaithful in her marriage to Hosea, God had Hosea continue to go after his wife and even purchase her back from slavery. God will never give up on His people but continue to pursue and bring them back to Him. If our salvation depended on our faithfulness, we would have no hope of ever being saved. But thankfully, our salvation depends on His ever reliable faithfulness. Let’s give thanks for God’s faithfulness!

Giving Thanks for God’s Forgiveness

David says Psalm 32:1-2, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man whose iniquity the LORD will not take into account, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” That blessing is only possible because God is a God “who forgives iniquity, transgression, and sin.” For the one who comes to Him in repentance and with faith in His Son, He will not hold their sins against them any longer. He will not even bring them to His mind. All of their sins have been taken away and placed on Jesus instead. Just like the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement who was sent off into the wilderness never to be seen again, Jesus has carried away our sins for them no more to be seen by God. He was sent to be the perfect sacrifice to truly cover our sins and satisfy God’s wrath. The debt we owed Him for our many sins against Him has been canceled. We can sing, “My sin-not in part, but the whole-is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O, my soul!” We have a hard enough time to let go of the wrongs that others have done against us. And the wrongs that we have done against God are far greater than anything anyone has done to us. But He is willing and eager to forgive everything we have ever done against Him and will ever do. Let’s give thanks for God’s forgiveness!

Giving Thanks for God’s Justice

We live in a world full of injustice. All we have to do is turn on the news to be reminded of that. People are defrauded, done wrong, and in many cases, some even appear to get away with murder. The most vulnerable are attacked and taken advantage of. Isn’t it refreshing to know that we have a God who is just and will always do what is right? That justice is seen with His declaration that “He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

This characteristic of God should be horrifying for an unbeliever who refuses to repent. It means that they will get exactly what they deserve from God which is His righteous wrath. But for the believer, it is an encouraging characteristic of God as it ensures him or her that any justice which they have been denied here on this earth will be met. He never will do us wrong but only right. When Jesus returns, all wrongs will be made right. Let’s give thanks for God’s justice!

As you count your many blessings that the Lord has given you this Thanksgiving, don't forget to take some time to give thanks to Him for being the great God He is. For His compassion or mercy, grace, patience, lovingkindness, truth, faithfulness, forgiveness, and justice. Everything we have is because those are each true about Him.

Friday, October 20, 2023

The Best Thing We Can Do for Israel

            Right now, understandably and necessarily, our attention is being directed to Israel with everything that is going on over in the Middle East with their fight against the Palestinian terrorist group known as Hamas. The things this group have been doing is horrendous and too vile for me to even mention. This whole conflict leaves Christians here in the US with a bunch of questions. How do we understand all of this in light of the Bible? Are we witnessing the unfolding of biblical prophecy at this very moment? What relationship does the Israel of today have with the Israel which was once known as being God's people? Are they still considered God's people? And what can and should we do for then at this time?

            First, I think that we need to be careful not to get too excited and not be quick to jump to any conclusions that this serves as any direct fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Jesus said that "you are going to hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end" (Matthew 24:6). Such are just the beginnings of birth pains, not the birth of the end itself (v. 8). "Wars and rumors of wars" have been a reality in our world since our Lord uttered those words. And those prophecies of what is to come were never given to us so that we could map out everything which will lead to our Lord's return or to find out where we are in that timetable but to encourage us that all of history is marching according to God's plan to that moment when the Lord will return to defeat His enemies, reward His saints, and consummate His eternal kingdom. That Jesus will win in the end, right all wrongs, and bring us back to the bliss of the garden where we will have close unhindered fellowship with Him. We are not to be sitting around with all of our charts seeking to lay it all out with our eyes on the skies but be busy serving Him doing what He has commanded as we eagerly await His soon coming. Furthermore, what may appear to be connected to a specific biblical prophecy at this moment may not five or ten years from now. There has been so many things pointed to throughout history that people were once so sure had to be the playing out of this or that particular passage in Scripture which turned out not to be. In fact, no one would even dare claim such today about it.

            When it comes to Israel and its relationship as God's people, Paul states in Romans 9:6 that "they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel." He means that not every physical Israelite can be counted as being a part of the Israel which is considered to be God's people. Having Jewish blood and being able to trace your linage back to Abraham does not automatically make one a part of His people and a recipient of the blessings and privileges of the promise He gave to Abraham. Paul goes on to demonstrate this by pointing out that both Ishmael and Isaac can claim to have Abraham as their father. However, only Isaac is considered to be part of His people and not Ishmael (vv. 7-9). The same is seen with the twins, Esau and Jacob. God graciously chose Jacob to be a part of His people while leaving Esau outside of it. And it wasn't because of anything they had done or one being more righteous than the other since God made the choice before they had born to do anything to be judged on. It was simply because of God's choice to show mercy (vv. 11-13).

            Earlier in the letter, Paul says that the true Jew is the one who is not one outwardly marked by being physically circumcised by the hand of man but who is one inwardly marked by a "circumcision of the heart" brought about by the Holy Spirit (Romans 2:28-29). This "circumcision of the heart" refers to being "born again" with the result of being made a new creation in Christ (John 3:3, 5; Galatians 6:15). In the first three chapters of Romans, Paul labors to argue that both Gentiles and Jews alike are sinners in need of God's saving grace revealed in Jesus. In chapter 1, he focuses on the sins the Gentiles are handing over to on account of their exchanging the worship of God with the worship of idols. Then in chapter 2, how the Jews are no better with their own violations of God's law. This leads to his conclusion that "there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:22-23). Both Jews and Gentiles are in the same boat and need rescued with the only possible Rescuer being the Lord Jesus Christ. God has always had a remnant within the nation of Israel of those who truly belonged to Him. But it became clear in their unbelief that many of those a part of the nation did not belong and thus were outside of His people. They were only outwardly a Jew but not inwardly one. And therefore were no different than an unbelieving Gentile.

            Galatians 3:28-29 tells us "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is no male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, heirs according to promise." It is those who believe who can count themselves a true descendant of Abraham. Not those of physical descent or with his blood. The believing Gentile then is more of a descendant of Abraham than the Jewish unbeliever. God's people consists ONLY of repentant believing Jews and Gentiles. The only Jews today part of the nation of Israel who can rightfully claim to be included in the number of God's people are those who, by God's grace, have repented of their sins and come to Christ in faith for forgiveness of those sins.

            There is a dangerous teaching out there today that says we do not need to evangelize the Jews. Even that we shouldn't bother with such. The thought being that they are already all God's chosen people so it is not necessary to. A number of years back, I saw an interview that Pat Robertson had with Michael Eisner, then CEO of the Walt Disney Company. Eisner asked Robertson if he would go to hell because he rejected Jesus to be his Messiah and Savior. Talk about the perfect gospel opportunity! But Pat blew it! Instead of telling Eisner of how Jesus died and rose again for the sins of those who repent and trust in Him, he showed him Romans 11:26 in the Bible that "all Israel will be saved" following the fullness of the Gentiles being brought into the church and told him that he was okay then. Basically, that he had nothing to worry about. While I don't deny that verse and understand it to indicate that a revival will occur among the Jewish people at Christ's return, it clearly can't be saying that all Jews are fine in their current state and will go to heaven regardless of their faith in Jesus. Because there is no salvation without repentance and faith in Christ. No name under heaven by which men must be saved other than Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12). No salvation found outside of Him. Paul's very practice and prayers went against this mindset. When he went into an area, he first preached in the synagogues to share the gospel with the Jews (Acts 13:14, 14:1, 17:1-2, 17:10, 17:16-17, 18:4, 18:19, 19:8, 28:17) and prayed with a strong desire for their salvation (Romans 10:1). He magnified his ministry to the Gentiles in hopes that the Jews would be moved by jealousy seeing believing Gentiles possess what was originally given to their forefathers and extended to those Gentiles by grace (Romans 11:13-14).

            So, in light of all of this, what should we do for Israel in regards to this current war with Hamas? The best thing we can do is pray. Certainly to pray for an end to the violence and for justice to be brought about upon the perpetrators of this conflict. But even more so we need to pray for the salvation of the unbelieving Jews as a far worse fate awaits them than what they are experiencing now if they continue to refuse to repent and turn to Christ in saving faith. They will undergo an eternity of God's wrath without His grace and mercy. For that matter, we should pray for the unbelieving Palestinians as well. Our greatest concern must always be people's souls and where they will spend eternity. Let's be sure that such a concern is reflected in our ongoing prayers regarding this present conflict.


Love in Christ,

Pastor Lee

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

How Now Shall We Live?

            Back in 1999, Charles Colson wrote a book entitled, “How Now Shall We Live?” It’s a good question and one which many of us may find ourselves asking at this very moment as well. We live in a society that is growing more and more antagonistic towards Christians. One which is tolerant of just about everything except for anything relating to Christianity and the Bible. A culture that goes actively out of its way to promote the very things God hates. A world where in many ways we are not accepted and respected for our beliefs and everything appears to be topsy-turvy from the way it should be. How now shall we live in such a world? What is the Christian's role and responsibility here? Thankfully, God has not left us on our own to figure this out but tells us in His Word how we are to view ourselves and our citizenship here.


            One thing we need to keep in mind in our living down here is that as believers we have a dual citizenship. Not only are we citizens of this earthly kingdom in the locality of Westmoreland or Fayette County, PA or wherever you may be as you read this but also Christ has made us citizens of His heavenly kingdom. Paul reminds the Philippians that "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by His working through which He is able to even subject all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:20-21). The way that Scripture describes us is as being "aliens and strangers" in this world (1 Peter 1:1; 2:11; Hebrews 11:13). We are no different than the Israelites in the Old Testament in their wilderness wanderings not being able to truly call any place they pitch their tents home, waiting for the day when they would actually arrive home to the Promised Land which would be their permanent possession. As the old Gospel song put it, "This world is not my home, I'm just a passin' thru." We shouldn't "feel at home in this world anymore." We do not belong here and are no more than a pilgrim who has set up his tent in this place temporarily. So we should guard against getting too comfortable here and living as if we are going to remain for eternity. One day our earthly citizenship is going to end and all we will have is the greater heavenly citizenship. When I was in seminary, I actually had two different addresses in two different places. There was the address of my school where I stayed for classes in Lanham, MD and the address of my parents. I had no intention of being there in MD more than the three years necessary to finish my degree but was planning to go back home to my parents in Harrisonburg, VA as soon as I was done there. This impacted how I lived in Lanham as I was careful not to settle down, always remembering that it would not be my permanent address. Knowing that our permanent residence is in God's heavenly kingdom should likewise impact what we do in our temporary residence here on earth. Are we living as if heaven is our real home and permanent citizenship or as if this is? Does it appear to others that we are seeking to stay here forever and ever or that we are those pilgrims just passing through here on route to the Promised Land to come?


            And as citizens of God's heavenly kingdom while here on earth, we have a mission. Jesus could not have been much clearer in articulating it. His marching orders to His church right before leaving earth was to "Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to keep all that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:19-20). Notice that He did not say that we are "Christianize" the nations, making it our effort to transform them into a Christian society with Christian laws but to make Christians out of the nations. To go out and evangelize and disciple those from every tribe, tongue, and nation that God will draw to His Son through the gospel message. All our focus and energy cannot be directed to electing the right politician to the White House, Governor's Mansion, or hall of Congress or to ensure that the proper laws are passed. Such would take us away from proclaiming the gospel which alone can save repentant sinners and serves as the sole means to accomplish the mission Jesus has called us to. Alistair Begg says it well when he warns, "Whenever that which is central—namely, the gospel—becomes peripheral, then that which is peripheral inevitably becomes central—whatever you want to use as the issue."


            When you look at the church in Acts, we do not find them doing everything they can to take over the Roman Empire at the time and turn it into a "holy Roman Empire." (Later Christians did indeed attempt to do so and the results were disastrous. The Roman Empire was Christian "in name only" and a lot of very "unchristian" things were done in the name of Christ which was horrendous.). Instead, we see their focus and aim being the preaching of the gospel so that more souls could be added to the number of the church by God's sovereign work through the Word. However, as a by-product of their faithful gospel witness, society was changed by more and more people becoming Christians. They could be described as turning the world "upside down" (Acts 17:6). Idol makers and fortune tellers were going out of business due to people no longer going to them on account of their new faith in Christ and the new heart they have been given by the Holy Spirit which did not desire such anymore (Acts 16:16-21; 19:24-27). If we really want to have a more "Christian" society, that will only come by producing more Christians in the society. In fact, I wonder if the reason secularism is on the rise today and there are more of those now who identify as being a "none" on surveys when it comes to any religious or church affiliation is due to many churches today becoming so preoccupied with political involvement and transforming the state where the gospel has been sidelined for such a cause. The result being less believers in the upcoming generations in our nation. We have lost them because we have failed to reach them with the gospel due to being too busy with other things. (I confess that this is speculation on my part but we do have to ask if the church's preoccupation with impacting the society other than with the gospel has any role to play in this.)


            Now, does all this mean that we should disengage ourselves completely from the world and not be concerned with voting for the next president or governor or support the passing of certain laws which would be in accord with God's law revealed in His Word? Absolutely not! In his letter to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah instructs them to "Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf; for in its peace you will have peace" (Jeremiah 29:7). Here is a model for us in our exile in this modern day Babylon. We are to do what we can to "seek the peace" or welfare of the city and nation we live in and pray for it and its leaders, especially for their salvation (1 Timothy 2:1-6). That will entail us voting for the lesser of two evils (which is pretty much our choices anymore) who would better benefit or do less harm to the nation and support those laws that would protect the people in the city and promote righteousness. But to do all this with the mindset that it is all for a temporary kingdom with the greater need being what comes afterwards. To not make any of it be the all and end all, treating the next election as being of any greater consequence than just for the here and now whereas those who don't know Christ will suffer God's righteous wrath in hell for all eternity if they do not repent and place their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Clearly, that must always take precedence for us and be the main thing we are about.


            So, how are we now to live? Primarily by proclaiming the gospel and making sure everyone we rub shoulders with knows of what God has done for Christ for all who believe in Him and secondarily by doing what we can to "promote the peace or welfare of the city" and pray for it. The day is coming when we will not "need this house no longer, we will not need this house no more" and we must always live with that in mind.


Love in Christ,

Pastor Lee

Thursday, September 7, 2023

The Importance of Having Children in the Worship Service

One of the greatest noises we hear on a Sunday morning currently at Mt. Joy is the sound of the children who are with us each week in the arms of their parents or squirming in the pews. I never tire of hearing the cries, coos, fusses, and occasional little chatter of the littlest ones among us. And I am becoming more and more convinced as time goes on that the best place for children on a Sunday morning is in the worship service with their parents. They will gain far more from that and learn the rhythm and patterns of worship than they would if they are taken out of the service into a separate place away from what all is taking place. I have noticed the kids we are blessed to have in our congregation hold the hymnal while we are singing (and in some cases sing along with their own words), hear a hearty “amen” from one of them after the prayers, and even have another give a prayer request! They are learning to worship by participating in the service with their parents. And while much of what they hear may go over their heads, they will grow into these truths and come to understand them the more that they are exposed to them. In fact, they will learn these truths quicker due to the earlier familiarity with them. I am amazed when my wife will tell me that our oldest perks up during the sermon occasionally and excitedly tells her something he recognizes from the sermon or knows, especially when it appears that he is not paying attention at all. Our oldest not too long ago, turned and looked at my wife excitedly saying, “Daddy is talking about ‘David and Goliath’!” when I had referenced this story in the message as an example.


And, trust me, I know that it is hard to get and keep a small child sitting in the pew for the entirety of a worship service, especially if you might have one that is hyperactive and struggles with sitting still in general no matter where you may be or take him. There are some days we are just happy to get our oldest to stay in the pew! (And my kids have it the worst because they have to sit through daddy’s preaching. They probably feel that they hear enough of that at home!) But just as we need to work and teach our kids to behave and sit in a restaurant or a grocery store, we can and should do the same in church. The rewards and dividends are too great to neglect this. And I do believe that God will bless us in our efforts as well.


Today in several churches many people are quick to desire to drop their children off in some room and then come to worship without having to worry with them. They want the children to be “out of sight” and “out of mind” in the worship service. That’s sad really. We shouldn’t want to deprive children of the blessing of being a part of the worship service where they are exposed to the rich truths of the hymns that we sing. Where they can witness the adults worshiping. Where they can hear what God is saying to them from His Word during the sermon. This is one reason I no longer am in favor of having a Jr. Church for the kids while the service is going on. It would rob them of what they would learn from both what they hear and see taking place. It also will make it more difficult to acclimate them to sitting through the entire service later when they outgrow the children’s church. But if all they have ever known is being in the pew for the duration of the time of worship, it will, eventually, become second nature to them each week. Much more so the earlier a child has to do this. Of course, the nursery is available should the smallest of the kids get really fussy and need to be taken out. I absolutely love what Al Mohler has said about the importance of having children in the worship service. “We should, in church, welcome the wiggling and the squirming. And we should hope that what is happening is that the Word of God is reaching those hearts in ways those children do not even recognize. They are speaking as children. They are thinking as children. They are reasoning as children. But the Word of God can reach where we cannot go.” 


            There is evidence in Scripture that God has intended children not to be separated from their families in the regular worship service as well. Have you ever noticed that Paul addresses children specifically and directly in Ephesians 6:1 regarding their obedience to the fifth commandment? Since these letters were originally intended to be read to the whole church gathered together for worship on a Sunday morning, he obviously expected the children to be sitting there with their parents as it is being read. He doesn’t say, “Parents, be sure to tell your children when you see them later that they are to obey you in the Lord.” No, he points the finger right at the children. He is hoping that their ears will perk up as they are listening to the letter being read. That they would have been listening to all of the letter up to this point. They would have been in the assembly with their families. Likewise, Moses commanded in the Old Testament that at the end of every seven years at the feast of tabernacles, all of the nation of Israel were to gather together to hear the words of the law being read (Deuteronomy 31:10-11). He specifies that that includes "the men and the women and little ones and the sojourner who is within your gates" (v. 12). The young children weren't relegated to another place for a lesson of their own but were to be there with the rest of the community to benefit from listening to God's Word as well "so that they may hear and so that they may learn and fear Yahweh your God and be careful to do all the words of this law" (v. 12).   

         I, myself, am a product of being brought to church at a very young age, carried as a babe in arms. We pretty much were there whenever the church doors were open for something. Some of my earliest memories was hearing my pastor preach, standing to sing with the congregation, and putting my dollar in the offering plate when it came around. And while much of what I heard I did not understand at first, around nine I began to pay more attention to the sermons and something started to stir in my soul as the Holy Spirit was using that to instill saving faith in me. I still remember my dad pulling me down the aisle, sitting me on the sink in the bathroom, and giving me a stern talking to (a few times even more than just a talk) for misbehaving in church. And now I never want to leave the church building! In fact, I pretty much live there! Things might have been very different for me had I not had that foundation of church attendance every Lord's Day morning from before I can even remember. It was an indispensable part of my spiritual shaping and development.

            Something parents can do today to encourage their kids in worship is to communicate to them in both words and actions how important such a time is. If you tell your kids that they will not understand the preacher and that the worship service will be boring for them, it will turn out to be a self-defeating prophecy. They will more likely not come to see this time as special and significant for them. If all a child ever hears is that Chuck-E-Cheeses is the last place you would want to be and is no fun whatsoever, they are not going to want to go to Chuck-E-Cheeses. Likewise, if you tell them something similar about the worship service, don’t be surprised when they don’t want to go. (Of course, there will not be a natural desire for them to hear God’s Word and be a part of the service as that results from the new birth. You can’t change their heart but you can instill in them the significance of corporate worship.) Do they see an excitement and enjoyment in you to be with God’s people and to worship Him through the singing of songs, prayers, and attentiveness to the Word? Never forget moms and dads that your children are always watching. And they can tell whether you are being genuine or not. Let’s be sure not to neglect having them in worship each Sunday morning to help develop in them an understanding of the gospel and the transformative power of the Lord Jesus Christ in hopes that the Spirit might use that, along with your faithful instruction at home, to bring them to faith in Him.


Love in Christ,

Pastor Lee

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

True Conversion

           What is true conversion and how do we understand it? This change from an unbeliever to a believer. The change from someone who once was separated from Christ on account of their sin to someone who becomes His beloved child, adopted into His forever family. The change from being on the broad road to hell to having the full assurance that one will spend an eternity in heaven. How does such a change come about? And what are the characteristics that can be expected of those who have underwent this kind of change? Does this change take place by raising a hand, praying a prayer, or walking down an aisle in response to an evangelistic message? Or does none of those things have anything to do with a real conversion to Christ from idolatry and sin? It is quite possible that there are many today who think that they have been converted who have yet to be. Or others who are but fail to recognize the significance of what has happened to them. My goal in this article is to look with you at what Scripture tells us about true and real conversion to clear up any of the misunderstandings and misconceptions regarding it.

            True Conversion Results From Being Born Again. Before anyone can be converted, they first must be born again by God's Spirit. Jesus told Nicodemus that "unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). He of course was not talking about a physical birth as it is impossible for someone to climb back into their mother's womb and go through the entire birthing process all over again as Nicodemus himself realized (v. 4). Instead, this refers to a spiritual rebirth. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which has been born of flesh is flesh, and that which has been born of the Spirit is spirit" (vv. 5-6).What Jesus speaks of here is a radical heart change. The prophet Ezekiel described it as God removing the stubborn rebellious heart of stone from those chosen to be His people and giving them a heart of flesh desiring to be obedient to Him in its place (Ezekiel 36:26). In order for someone to turn away from their sinfulness and embrace Christ for their salvation, their desires need to change. Sin must become bitter to them for Christ to be seen as sweet. An example I like to use is with different flavors of ice cream. If you would put before me a bowl of strawberry ice cream and a bowl of chocolate ice cream and asked me to choose between the two of them, I will always choose the strawberry over the chocolate. Why is that? Simply because I do not like chocolate ice cream at all and strawberry is my absolute favorite. And the only way you could get me to turn from choosing strawberry ice cream to choosing chocolate would be to change my tastes for them. Chocolate ice cream is going to have to taste a lot better to me and strawberry not be as appealing. Such an inner change of taste or desire is what happens in the new birth which leads to someone no longer desiring the sin like they once did but now having a desire for Jesus which wasn't there before. And that leads them to leave the one and pursue the other. The only way one can be converted outwardly to make a decision for Christ is for him or her to be converted inwardly with a change of heart and nature brought about by the Holy Spirit.

            True Conversion Involves Repentance. Repentance is a turning away from sin and whatever someone may have been trusting in for their salvation. It has been described as being like an “about face” in the military. When soldiers are heading one direction and their commanding officer yells that phrase, they halt and turn around to face the opposite direction. In repentance, one turns around and faces the opposite direction of sin and idolatry. While one is not saved or converted BY their repentance, no one is saved or converted WITHOUT repentance either. It is a grace that the new birth results in. In fact, twice it is said to be a gift that God grants (Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25). Everything regarding our conversion is God's work and not ours. It is His Spirit who causes us to be born again and also enables us to repent and believe. No one would ever be converted without Him.

            True Conversion Involves Faith. The flip side of repentance is faith. We can only receive Christ in faith with empty hands. Repentance is the emptying of our hands of trusting in anything or anyone else for our salvation so that we can trust in Christ alone for it. And this faith is not simply a mere belief in the facts of the gospel and Jesus but an appropriation to make it your own. It is not believing that Jesus actually died in place of sinners for their sins but that He died in YOUR place for YOUR specific sins. It is such a firm confident trust in Jesus as doing all that is necessary to accomplish your salvation through His sinless life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection that you will base your whole life on it and act on it. We know that Peter truly believed that Jesus was both able to make him walk on the water as He was doing and that Jesus would do so because he got out of the boat (Matthew 14:28-29). Had Peter not really believed that Jesus both could and would do that, he never would have even dipped one toe on the water but would have remained in the boat. And you may have heard me before use the illustration of Charles Blondin, the Frenchman who became famous back in 1859 for walking across a tightrope 160 feet above Niagara Falls several times between Canada and the United States. He did this once on stilts, another time on a bicycle, once in a sack, and one time he even carried a stove across and cooked an omelet. One day he came across on the tightrope pushing a wheelbarrow blindfolded. He asked the crowd if they believed that he could carry a person across in the wheelbarrow while blindfolded. The entire crowd enthusiastically shouted "yes." However, when he asked for a volunteer to get in the wheelbarrow for him to do so, not one of them did, revealing that none of them had the confidence that Blondin could actually do it for them. They really did not believe it. Faith and repentance are the first breaths of the new birth which the believer continues to inhale and exhale throughout the rest of his or her life. Both are essential components and characteristics of conversion.

            True Conversion Results In a Difference. True conversion to Christ from sin and idolatry is not something that people should have to guess at. It will not be a private matter. In fact, it cannot be. The change brought about within will work its way out into the living of one's life. It will be seen in a changed and transformed life. It will be evident to everyone who knows him or her that the believer is not the same person he or she was. They are different. A new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). To tweak the popular children's ditty, "If you are converted and God knows it, your life will surely show it." This can be seen with Zaccheus, who very uncharacteristic of a man known to be a cheat and extortioner, chooses to give half of his possessions to the poor and to pay back four times as much to those whom he had wrongfully taken from (Luke 19:8). Or perhaps with the most dramatic conversion in history ever recorded, the apostle Paul, who after Jesus met him on the road to Damascus, went from being a fervent persecutor of God's people to the most ardent missionary the church has ever known. Neither one of these men were the same men they were before. There was no question that some sort of change had taken place within them. No one could deny such. They had been converted by God's Spirit.

            This is true conversion. Not raising a hand, praying a prayer, or walking an aisle but being born again by God’s Spirit and evidenced by a life of repentance, faith, and change by that same Spirit. I hope that that is a description of what has happened to you. If not, I pray that the Spirit of God works in you to become born again and that you would repent of your sins and place your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for your salvation. And that such will be made evident in your life. Let's celebrate the conversion that God sovereignly brings about in the lives of His people.

Love in Christ,

Pastor Lee