Dec 03

Seeing The Unseen

What separates people like the late Steve Jobs or Bill Gates is that they can see what others don’t see. They are often referred to as visionaries. Who knew that every home one day would have a portable computer, or a computer that fits in your pocket? The answer is Steve Jobs. However, great entrepreneurs are not the greatest visionaries. People of faith are the greatest visionaries. This isn’t to put anyone down. Rather, there is one fundamental difference between the Steve Jobs of the world and people of faith. What the entrepreneurs create will one day fade or fail. What the people of faith are seeing that is unseen is eternal. Hebrews 11:6 says, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”

Here is the biggest similarity between people like Steve Jobs and people of faith; what they didn’t see was so powerful that is caused them to change how they lived. The essence of faith is primarily seen in how we live. Many people talk about faith from a standpoint of believing something. However, faith that doesn’t change who we are and how we live isn’t really faith. Hebrews 11 is commonly known as the “Hall of Faith” chapter. How do we know that people like Abraham, Sarah, Noah, Moses, Abel, Enoch, and others truly had faith in God? We know they had faith because of how they lived. What this shows us is this, while faith begins in our mind with beliefs, it then moves out into our life. Faith begins in our mind, and then works out through our lives. If we expect people to believe what we believe, they must see us living out what we believe. People should be able to see what we believe. This is what Paul Tripp refers to as our functional theology matching our confessional theology. Until the world sees us living out what we say we believe, they won’t believe what we say. And as much as we like our iPhones and our Samsungs, they won’t get you into the presence of God for all of eternity, only the Gospel will. Let’s makes sure that those around us not only hear what we believe, but they see us living it.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Dec 02

Being Perfected

We are broken. This is a simple fact that should be undisputed, although we all like to argue it. We are broken because of sin. It started in the Garden of Eden, but it has continued through our own rebellious choices. Yet, there is another truth for a Christian. We are already, but not yet. We are already seen as perfect by God the Father, while He is doing the work of perfecting us in this life. It started with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. It isn’t something that we can do on our own. Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”

The writer of Hebrews is beginning to show how Jesus is a better sacrifice than the Old Testament sacrifices. In the Old Testament, there were daily sacrifices necessary. But there was also a yearly sacrifice to cover the nation’s sins. The thing to remember is this was something that had to be done yearly. However, with Jesus’ sacrifice, it was once for all. The perfect died for the imperfect. From the moment you surrender to God’s grace in faith, He instantly saves you. At that moment, we go from sinful to sinless. This doesn’t mean that we are perfect. Instead, it is how God the Father sees us because of the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. This is what Paul was talking about when He wrote that we have been given the righteousness of Jesus. Here is the paradox, we are perfect yet being perfected. God sees us as He sees Jesus. Yet, there is a process that every believer goes through called sanctification. The process is lifelong, it is done by God as we submit to the Holy Spirit, and it is guaranteed to be done. This is one area that the sovereignty of God helps us to understand life. Because God is in control of all things at all times, we can learn to see everything in our life as accomplishing His purpose. This is exactly what God is doing, even during the difficult times of life, God is teaching us and transforming us. Put simply, He is perfecting us through the preparation process. No, it doesn’t take away the pain or the sadness that comes with life. What it does is give purpose to it. This is the greatest challenge for us at times, to remember that God is working His purpose out in our lives. It may not feel like it right now, but one day it is going to be worth it if we surrender our life to the Lord.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Dec 01

Something Better

Have you ever seen all of the “new and improved” products in stores? I have to be honest, I’m a bit cynical. I often wonder if they are really all that new or improved. Or is it just a small change, then a change in packaging to create a desire to try it? However, there is one thing that I can guarantee is “new and improved.” It is the new covenant, which is in Jesus’ blood. Hebrew 8:7 says, “For it that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second.”

The writer of Hebrews is continuing to show how Jesus is better. He is better than the angels, Moses, and now Jesus is better than the old covenant. The writer clearly tells us that if the Law could save us, then there would have been no need for Jesus to come to the earth to die on the cross and rise from the dead. For those who believe that they can be saved by their works, the fact that Jesus came to the earth, died, and rose again speaks against your belief. The apostle Paul would say that if we could save ourselves, then Jesus died in vain. Clearly there was a reason that Jesus came and died. The reason is that you and I could never save ourselves. What does this mean for us?

The biggest takeaway from this verse and this chapter is where we should get our identity from. So often, we get our identity from what we do. Yet, it isn’t what we do that commends us to God. Instead, it is faith in what Jesus has done in our place that commends us to God. Therefore, we need to learn to have our identity in who Jesus is, what He has done for us, and who He says we are. When Jesus is enough, it removes my desire to perform in order to be loved. I know how easy it is to be in an identity crisis. Let Jesus free you from that today. No longer trust in yourself or what you do. Instead, trust in what Jesus has done for you as the reason you are saved. And know that even on days when you mess up real bad, you are still loved and accepted because of Jesus’ death and resurrection on your behalf.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Nov 30

An Anchor For The Soul

One thing that changed the face of modern-day retail was infomercials. These 30 minute long commercials for a product in which an over the top spokesperson tells you how great a product is. They include testimonials of people backing up what has already been said. Celebrity endorsements helped and continue to help with some products. But the real game-changer was the money back guarantee. “Try it in your home for ____ number of days, and if you aren’t fully satisfied, just send it back for your full refund, minus shipping and handling.” That one statement gave people the confidence to start calling 1-800 phone numbers or now ordering online these products they had never seen before. Thanks to that line, the infomercial business in over a $1 billion dollar business within the United States each year. However, there is an even greater guarantee that you can have. A hope not that you can get your money back, but that your soul is perfectly protected for all eternity. It is found in Hebrews 6:19, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil.”

The writer of Hebrews is showing the absolute certainty of the new covenant being a better covenant than the old one. The old covenant was in the Law. It was mediated by the priesthood, which was imperfect. However, this new covenant is in Jesus, specifically His blood that was shed for our sins. This covenant is mediated by the eternal God, who is perfect, and cannot lie. This new covenant is eternal and unbreakable, because of the One who created the covenant. This is why it is an anchor for our soul. Our soul can be steadfast in knowing that no matter what happens in our life, because we have been saved by God’s grace, we are secure in God’s presence. This is why our hope must be in Jesus. Because it our hope for salvation is in anyone or anything other than Jesus, our soul will not be anchored in the unmovable Rock. Think of a ship that has dropped its anchor. No matter the wind or the waves, it won’t move because the anchor is holding it in place. This is who Jesus is to the Christian. He is both the Rock and the anchor. Therefore, no matter what comes in life, we can know that our life and our soul will not be moved away from God. Whatever happens in this life, we know that it will end with us being in the presence of God for all eternity. We can know this because it is promised by the eternal God who can never lie. That’s an anchor! That is better than any money-back guarantee we could ever get from some infomercial.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Nov 27

Showing Compassion

Have you noticed that we are not only an anxious nation, but in many ways we are a grouchy nation as well? Part of it stems from our lack of patience. We have been ingrained with the belief that everything should be instant including our gratification. But part of it is we have lost a basic kindness and care for our neighbor. In short, we are lacking in compassion. This is clearly evident on social media. It appears that some people get on social media simply looking for a fight. Therefore, I want to challenge myself and fellow Christians to be different. In a world where it is normal and easy to nitpick someone, let’s instead look for ways to encourage others and meet them in their suffering and pain. This is what the writer of Hebrews was getting at in Hebrews 5:2, “He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness.”

The writer is setting up the argument of how Jesus is the greater High Priest than the Aaronic priesthood of the Old Testament. To do so, the writer talks about how the Aaronic priests needed to make sacrifices for themselves, because they were fallen sinners as well as the people. However, Jesus was and is without sin. Therefore, the sacrifice that He made was not for Himself, but instead solely for sinners. It is in this way that we need to understand as Christians that we are like the Aaronic priests (tribe of Levi). We are all fallen sinners who are daily in need of God’s grace. We need His grace as much as those who are lost do. Therefore, instead of reacting with anger or judgment towards people, we need react with grace and compassion. We need to have empathy for them, because before Christ we were just like them. It is only because of God’s grace and His Spirit living inside of us that we are changing and becoming more like Jesus. So, the next time you find yourself getting frustrated because of something someone is doing, take a moment and remind yourself that they are an image bearer of God just like you, and they need the same grace that God has shown you. After all, if Christians won’t be compassionate and gracious, who will?

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Nov 26

Listen Up!

Let me begin this post by saying, Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I pray you have a blessed day in the Lord. I know many of us will not be gathering with our families due to the pandemic or other reasons. Just because we can’t be together, doesn’t mean we can’t show our love and gratitude for one another. If you get the chance, call or video chat with those you love. This year may be different, but we can still find ways to be together and share our love for one another.

Harvard professor, George Santayana, said, “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” While Santayana may have said it, the nation of Israel in the Old Testament lived it. Of course, so did the 12 disciples, and so do you and I for that matter. There are probably a myriad of reasons why we seem to get locked into endless cycles, and I won’t deal with or try to deal with them all here. But there is a recurring theme that sums them all up, we don’t listen to God very well. In the Bible, God has given us His wisdom on how to live and love. Yet, we like Adam and Eve and every one after them, have decided that we know better than God, and so we try to do it our way. In Hebrews 3 there is a warning that I hope we all take notice of and listen to. Hebrews 3:7-8 says, “Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, in the day of trial in the wilderness.'”

If you were to try to summarize 2020, how would you do it? I don’t know that we can adequately summarize it. There has been a lot of bad things in this year. Yet, I don’t believe that it has all been bad, and I do believe that there can still be some more good that could come out of it. However, we have to listen and learn. In trying to summarize this year, I guess it all depends on what you are looking for. The truth is whatever we are looking for, we will find. If you want to find nothing but trouble and problems, you won’t have a shortage of those to find in 2020. From racial unrest, injustices, political turmoil, and oh yeah, maybe you have heard about the pandemic we are in. That is just scratching the surface. But, if you want to find some good in all of it, we can find that as well. Families have spent more time together, people have been reminded that life is fragile and short, and for the first time in my lifetime we are starting to have some difficult conversations that needed to be had. I’ve seen several social media posts about 2020 being perfect vision. Maybe, that is what God is trying to do for us, to realign our vision with His heart and His purpose. But we are going to have to learn from our past. This is what the writer of Hebrews was imploring his audience to do. Israel refused to learn from their past, so they kept committing the same sins over and over. It resulted in them missing out on God’s blessings, and it cost them their life. We are in danger of doing the exact same thing. God has given our nation warning after warning. We, like Israel, learn from it for a while, but then we go right back to the way things were, and believe it or not, we go further away from God over time. If our nation doesn’t learn some vital lessons from COVID-19 and this year, I am truly afraid one of two things being the case. I am afraid of what it would take for our nation to be brought to our knees before we repent of our pride and cry out to God. Or, I wonder if we have gone too far, and God’s judgment is going to fall on this great nation. By the way, God’s judgment in this case, I believe would be this, He would give us exactly what we asked for. Both of those scare me, not just for my generation, but for my children’s generation. How far will we go away from God?

But, this is Thanksgiving so I want to end on a positive note here. That positive note is this, God is still giving us time. If you flipped into Hebrews 4, we see the writer of Hebrews saying that God is giving us time and another chance to enter into His rest. In this case, rest speaks of His salvation. While we are in danger of God’s wrath here and eternally, God is still giving us time to repent of our sins and turn to Him. But we need to start learning our lesson now, and start allowing God to make changes. May He do so, and may He begin with me! On behalf of myself, my family, and the entire Westlake Baptist Church family, Happy Thanksgiving from us to you. May this be the time and the season in which we turn back to God, and experience His blessings.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Nov 25

Jesus Understands

Have you ever felt as though no one understands what you are going through? Oftentimes, when we start to feel that way, the feelings of isolation and loneliness come with that feeling of no one understanding. It can be a very difficult place to be mentally and emotionally. It is also a lie for Satan that we need to learn to recognize. How do we know it is a lie? Hebrews 2:18 says, “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.”

We know it is a lie from Satan that no one can understand how we are feeling, because Jesus has gone through what you and I go through. He understands the pains, pressures, stresses, and struggles of everyday life here in this broken world. The biggest difference between Jesus and you and I is this, Jesus never gave in to those temptations that came His way. That may not be encouraging, but it should be. It should encourage us because it means that Jesus is the Sinless Savior. This is good news, because when we give in to those temptations, it means that we have an Advocate, someone on our side pleading our case to God the Father. This isn’t an excuse to sin. Rather, it is hope that when we do sin, we won’t be kicked out of God’s presence, because our acceptance is based on the One who was tempted, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).

I don’t know what specific things you are facing right now. I know a lot of people are struggling physically, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually. There is nothing that I, or any one for that matter, can say to take away what you are facing. However, I can tell you that you can take it to Jesus because He loves you, cares for you, and is able to help you through this time. It is true, that Jesus may not change the situation you are facing, but He will change you through the situation. As the hymn says, “Are you weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Savior, still our refuge; take it to the Lord in prayer.” Earlier in that song it says, “oh what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear; all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer.” Let’s not sacrifice our peace and piece of mind by believing a lie. Instead, let’s know that Jesus is near, that He cares, and that He wants to hear from us. Take it to the Lord in prayer!

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Nov 24

An Antidote to Anxiety

We live in a time in which many people are anxious. The rise of anxiety disorder diagnoses are on the rise. Between COVID-19, job market issues, stock market uncertainty, and political tensions; people are very, very anxious. How can we as Christians live differently than that? Paul gives us the answer in Philippians 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Paul is giving his final instructions to the Philippians. He is telling them how to live a life of faith, and how to deal with difficulties in their life. These verses have a nice logical flow. It begins with a command, “do not be anxious.” Then, it tells us how to fulfill that command. The antidote to anxiety is prayer. The result of praying is that we will have the peace of God. But how can we not have anxiety when things are so stressful?

  1. Pray for others. Part of the meaning of the word for “supplication” is making petitions. As I said yesterday, it’s not denying that we have problems; it is choosing to focus our energy and attention on something else. If we just look around us, we can definitely find someone who has it worse than we do.
  2. Pray for your own needs. Paul clearly says that we should pray. What we pray about is what we trust God for. What we don’t pray about, we are trusting ourselves to fix. All the worrying we do never solves the problem does it? Worrying is like running on a treadmill, no matter how fast you go, you end up getting off at the same place you got on. Praying and giving our burden over to God takes it off our plate, and puts it on the plate of the One who not only loves us, but the only One who can do something about our problems.
  3. Remember that God is in control. When Paul talks about the peace of God guarding our heart and mind, he is reminding us that God is in control. When I am praying about something, remembering that God is in control, it will give me peace. It also reminds me that no matter what is happening in my life, God is ultimately in control. And since I am one of His children, He is going to work all things out for His glory and my good (see Rom. 8:28).

We are certainly living in crazy times. There are plenty of reasons for people to be anxious. What a blessing as a child of God that we don’t have to worry or be anxious. We can pray and trust that God is in control and He is going to work all things out. No matter what happens to me, I win. That is peace! If I wake up tomorrow morning, I win because God is still in control of my life. And If I die tonight, I win because I am in His presence. Praise God for His love, grace, and His peace!

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Nov 23

A Shining Light

Wouldn’t it be nice to turn on the television and not hear someone complain about something? Or go to work and not have the one co-worker who constantly puts management down? It’s easy to see the negativity in others, but do we see any of it in ourselves? Whether we like to think about it or not, what we subject ourselves to the most is most often what we become like. Sadly, a critical spirit can infect a Christian and make its way into a church. Then it causes havoc before we even know it. How can we prevent ourselves from developing a critical spirit? Paul writes in Philippians 2:14-15, “Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”

Paul is calling the Philippian Christians to live differently from those around them. Again, it is so easy for us to become like those around us, especially when the mood or the culture is negative. Have you ever noticed how quickly a bad mood spreads? It is important that we understand the influence we have on those around us. Paul had been talking about suffering previously in the book of Philippians. He is reminding them that suffering for the Gospel should be expected, but it also make us more like Jesus. As this occurs, it allows us to have a stronger, more consistent witness before a watching world. So, how can we be less negative in our life and strengthen our witness before the world?

  1. Pray more. This probably seems like a no-brainer, but it is something that we often forget. Whatever we pray about, we are trusting God to work out. Therefore, when we see something that is troubling to us or upsetting us, it is an invitation to pray about it. After all, no amount of rumbling or grumbling has ever fixed a problem. Therefore, we want to take it to the One who can do something about it.
  2. Fix your eyes on Jesus. This goes along with the first one, but we need to remind ourselves of who Jesus is. We also need to remember what Jesus has done for us. When we remember that Jesus has changed our eternity, then we can have a better perspective on our temporary problems.
  3. Choose to praise Jesus more. This builds off of number two. As I pray more and keep a proper perspective, then I can praise Jesus more. I am not denying the problems before me. I am instead choosing to praise Jesus in spite of my problems. No praising Jesus won’t magically solve the problems, but when I sing of God’s grace, mercy, and kindness; I can remember that God has met every need I have in the past, so I can trust He will do it now. Praising Jesus lifts my eyes up and fixes them on Jesus instead of my problems, which reminds me to pray more.

Life is difficult, especially in the middle of a pandemic. There is certainly a lot that could bring us down. However, when I remember that Jesus died for me and rose from the dead, and that this world is not my own; It helps me to face the uncertain days ahead. Any problems or difficulties we face are just an invitation by God to pray and to trust Him more. As we do, watch how He strengthens us and continues to bring us through day after day.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Nov 20

Walk Carefully

Do you remember the old game on Windows computers, Minesweeper? That was such a fun game to play. For the longest time, I didn’t understand what the numbers in the boxes meant. However, I learned that they were a clue as to where the mines were. Once I learned that, I was able to get better at playing the game. As believers living in this world, we need to constantly be on the lookout for spiritual landmines. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:15-16, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” The word “circumspectly” means carefully or cautiously. Think of walking on ice over a pond. You want to make sure that you are paying attention to where you place your feet, because you don’t want to step onto weak ice that could potentially put our life in danger. Spiritually, we are to guard our heart, our eyes, and our ears from anything that could influence us away from Christ. The problem is, sometimes the things that we think will protect us are the very things that cause the most damage in our walk with Jesus. That is why we must be very cautious in who we allow to influence us. Just as not everything that glitters is gold, not everyone who claims to be a Christian is a Christian. Because of His love for His children, God has not left us without some “minesweepers.”

The first spiritual minesweeper is the Holy Spirit. Every child of God is indwelled by the Holy Spirit. Because He knows the mind and heart of God, the Holy Spirit will always direct us in God’s path to fulfill God’s will. The second spiritual minesweeper is the Bible. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to guide us in a way that pleases God. A Christian who doesn’t regularly read the Word of God is walking in a minefield with the number “1” all around them, just like in the game of Minesweeper. It means they are in imminent danger of stepping on a landmine and causing damage to themselves, and possibly those around them. Another spiritual minesweeper is prayer. While we often like to think that we can go with our gut or listen to our heart; the Bible would warn us against that, because both can be swayed the wrong way. Yet, as we pray and as we read, the Spirit guides and protects us. Next, is the church. God has given the gift of the church to every believer. Having brothers and sisters come along side of us to pray with and for us and to encourage us can keep us on the right path and away from spiritual landmines. Finally, there are other believers as well. This goes along with the church, but we are all closer to some people than we are others. Therefore, when we feel we are being led by God in a certain direction, we should go to those we trust, tell them what is on our heart, and ask them to pray about it with us. Then, set a time to come together and talk about what God has been saying. This is why Proverbs 11 says there is a “safety in a multitude of counselors.” A word of caution here though, make sure that those who are influencing you are truly godly men and women. There are many false teachers and false Christians out there. This is why we need to spend time together outside of church. People can act one way in church, but entirely different outside of church. This is why I believe that all believers should be involved in discipleship groups. A small group of same sex believers who intentionally spend 60-90 minutes with each other every week to pray, read Scripture, memorize Scripture, and hold one another accountable. When you have this group, you automatically have some people who can pray with you and for you. You already have people who can hold you accountable, and help you stay on God’s path.

We all have to realize that the days are becoming more and more evil. Darkness is coming into the light, and it is being celebrated and normalized in many aspects. It is time we as Christians stand against what God calls sin. It is time that we watch our lives, as well as, help other believers watch their lives as well for the glory of God and our good.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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