Aug 12

Whom Shall I Fear?

A few years ago, Chris Tomlin put out a song titled the same as this blog post. It was a song reminding us as Christians of who is fighting for us. I don’t know Mr. Tomlin, nor do I know his thought process behind the song, but I imagine it was at least slightly influenced by today’s biblical text. The text talks about who we should truly fear, and who we should not be afraid of. Jesus said in Luke 12:4-5, “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” Jesus goes on in the next couple of verses to say that mankind is even more valuable than the rest of God’s creation. This is because only mankind is created in the image of God. It is also because, it is for mankind that Jesus suffered and died. However, I believe we need to take time to truly understand what Jesus was saying in the text.

Right not in this country, there is a lot of unrest. There are daily reports of riots and violence. Many governments have been overreaching their given power, and when challenged they threaten punishment to get people back in line. This is not going to be a post about the place and power of government. In fact, what I have said is as far as I’m going down that road. The main point is that we should have a genuine fear of God. All man can do is threaten, torture, or kills us. I don’t say that lightly. However, that is Jesus’ point. Humans only have power over things on earth, God is the only one who has power over the eternal. While we are on the subject, it is truly God who has the power over things on earth as well, because He is sovereign. Nothing happens in God’s creation without God’s knowledge of it. When we think of the word “fear”, we think of something bad, something terrifying. The word certainly does carry that meaning at times. If you were to look at the Greek word used for fear, it is where we get the English word, phobia. However, the word also carries with it the idea of awe and reverence. In this sense, our reverence would lead us to obedience. I would argue that this is what Jesus is getting at in this text. The one that we have the greater respect for is the one that we are going to obey. Do we have a greater respect for human authority or God’s authority? Jesus is telling us that we should obey Him, because He not only has power over this life, but also power over eternal life. This is a power that no one else has. Why should we be afraid of someone that can never give us what we need nor can they take it away from us? Later in the chapter, Jesus talks about those who confess Him before men and those who refuse to confess Him before men. We can’t be closet Christians out of fear of what some may think of us, or what they might even do to us. If we truly love Jesus, then we will obey Him regardless of any potential consequences. This is one of the reasons that I believe God is giving the church as a whole an opportunity to shine the light of the Gospel and to be salt in our nation during this pandemic. Are we going to choose to live in fear, or will we live by faith knowing that God is in control of every aspect of our life, including the time of our death? This doesn’t mean that we act irresponsible or reckless. The Bible says that we are not to tempt the Lord our God. But the church also can’t cower in the corner when our faith runs contrary to the popular opinion of the day. We must boldly, yet lovingly and graciously stand up, and speak out on what the Bible teaches. Of course, this also means that we better be living it out, because the world will spot a hypocrite from a mile away. Now is the time for the church to lead the way by loving God more than we enjoy the comfort of this life. Maybe you are wondering, how can we do that?

  1. Prayer. If we really want to see lasting change in our lives, our family’s lives, and the nation; then we are going to have to be men and women of prayer. Remember, we are not fighting a visible war. Rather, we are fighting an invisible war according to Paul in Ephesians 6:12. We must daily pray for those who are far from God, that He will convict them, draw them, and by His grace save them. We must pray that we would have the courage and conviction to lead our family and to be a witness to those around us of the power of the Gospel.
  2. Living the truth. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, keep My commandments.” James 1:22 says, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” I could list many more scriptures about the role of obedience, but hopefully these make the point. People need to see Christians living according to the way Christ taught us and showed us how to live.
  3. Speaking the truth. There is a famous quote that is attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. The quote is, “Preach the Gospel always, use words if necessary.” For what it is worth, there is no proof he actually said it. Second, it’s flat wrong. While our obedience will give evidence to the fact we have been saved by God; our obedience will not tell someone how they can surrender in faith to God’s grace. The apostle Paul in Romans 10:17 says, “So then, faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” The previous verses, Paul says that God has sent us to proclaim the Gospel. How can I proclaim the Gospel when my mouth is closed? The answer is you can’t. We have to open our mouth and share the Gospel. Not only do we need to open our mouth and share the Gospel, but we need to also be vocal on biblical principles. By the way, we can’t just cherry-pick the ones we like or don’t struggle with. Isaiah 5:20 says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” Isaiah didn’t say, “Woe to those who only call some things evil.” If it goes against Scripture, we must speak up. The principles that should guide our speaking up are: prayer, humility, grace, logic, reason, and boldness. Nothing will defeat your argument before you make your first point like speaking like a crazed lunatic. Being loud doesn’t equal passion. We need to be humble enough to listen to the person, and respond in grace. At the same time, Christianity doesn’t mean that we check our brains at the door. It is logical and it is reasonable. This is why Paul tells us to always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks about the hope that is inside of us. We also need boldness to stand on our conviction, even if it isn’t popular. This goes back to the beginning of the post. Who will I lovingly obey? The world of Jesus?

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

Posted in Through The Bible in 2020 | Leave a comment
Aug 11

Teach Carefully

As a father to four kids, I have become aware that my kids are always watching, and they are always listening. Sometimes, I have learned that lesson painfully. It can be argued that today’s text, is Jesus addressing not only the disciples but also condemning the Pharisees for their “do as I say, not as I do” attitude. But I would also argue that this is aimed at us as parents, and as Christians as well. Jesus said in Mark 9:42, “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.”

Jesus is teaching His disciples about what it means to live like a Christian. He is also giving them multiple warnings in the chapter about sin, and the seriousness of sin. I can’t state this enough, parents, we are always teaching our children. Not just when they are young, but even as they have grown, they continue to watch and listen to how you live. Not only is this true of parents, but it is also certainly true for all Christians. Not only are the unsaved watching and listening to see if our walk matches our talk; but new Christians are watching and learning from us as well. Therefore, it is imperative that we vigilantly watch our walk with the Lord, because we are always influencing people. We are either influencing them for Christ or away from Christ. When you and I sin publicly, it doesn’t just hurt our relationship with God, and our witness for God. It can also potentially lead someone down the wrong road. They can see what we do or say, or even what we don’t do or say, and they can emulate our actions, and thus, fall into sin themselves. Before you start thinking that it all relies on you, we need to remember that God has given us the Holy Spirit to live inside of us and help us live a life that glorifies Him and draws others to Him. Therefore, don’t try this on your own. Instead, pray each day asking the Holy Spirit to guard your heart, eyes, ears, mouth ,and life and that He would help you point others to the soul-saving, life-changing Gospel.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Aug 10

If You Are So Good At It, Do It Then

Have you ever met someone who is an expert at what you are doing, or at everything so they claim? My guess is, we have all run into that person before. Unfortunately, it is probably true that at one point or another, we have been that person to someone. In sports terms, we call that person an “arm chair quarterback/coach.” They are the person watching on tv, who could absolutely do the coach’s job far better than the coach can. They exist in every line of work, not just athletics. It’s really easy for us to get upset, or sometimes even offended at this person. Sometimes, in our frustration we lash out, “if you are so good, then you do it.” Praise God that Jesus is more patient with us, than we often are with other people! There was a time in which the disciples forgot where their power and abilities came from. My grandpa would say, “they go too big for their britches.” Jesus had to lovingly, but firmly remind them of a truth, that I think we all could stand to be reminded of from time to time.

The disciples had gone out and done ministry as Jesus told them to. God had given them great success. When they came back, they were astonished at all they had accomplished. In another Gospel account it says, “they came back saying that even the demons were subject to us.” They were amazed. Whether, it was genuine shock or pride, I’m not 100% sure, and I certainly don’t want to throw shade on the disciples unnecessarily. However, here in Luke, Jesus seems to use this as a teaching moment, which leads me to believe they may have had some pride going on. Jesus was trying to take the disciples away. In today’s terms, we would say for a de-briefing session. You know, talk about what went right, and what could be improved on. However, a crowd started following them. This provided Jesus with a great teaching opportunity. Luke 9:13 says, “But He said to them (the disciples), ‘You give them something to eat.’ And they said, ‘We have no more than five loaves of bread and two fish, unless we go and buy food for all these people.'” Remember, they had come back bragging about all they had done while out on ministry. Certainly, they would are able to then feed the crowd right? However, in that moment all they could see was their own inadequacy. They were no longer the disciples who had accomplished so much; they were the disciples who had a problem that was too big for them to fix. I would argue, that was Jesus’ point. We see this theme of needing to depend on Jesus throughout Luke 9. In fact, the chapter ends with Jesus teaching about the cost of being His disciple.

I think we need to really step back and ask ourselves, what was Jesus trying to show the disciples, and how does it apply to us today who are His disciples? I think the answer is pretty simple, we must depend on Him for everything. If we are able to accomplish something of eternal value, it isn’t because of who we are, or how gifted we are. It is because the power of the Holy Spirit is living inside of us, and working through us. We need to learn to depend on Jesus for everything. Jesus teaches on this in John 15, when He talks about Himself being the vine, and we are the branches. By themselves, the branches can do nothing to produce fruit. It is only as they are connected to the vine that the branches have life and what they need to produce their fruit. The same is true for you and I as Christians. It is only as we depend on Jesus, and allow His Spirit to work in us and through us, that we can accomplish anything that glorifies God. It’s really simple to become prideful, and think when things are going well, “look what we did.” However, it isn’t what we have done; instead, it is what God is doing in us and through us. This message flies in the face of what society tells us, and unfortunately, too often in ministry we can have a worldly mindset instead of a godly mindset. Think of those who get book deals or get invited to speak at conferences. They are the people who have large churches or are very successful. The world says, those are the people we should strive to be like, and we should emulate what they are doing. However, we aren’t called to look like the world or other Christians. We are called to look like Jesus, and to be dependent on Him for everything. I personally think that sometimes God allows us to get into situations that are way above our heads, to remind us that He is God, and that we need Him, not the other way around. There’s a reason that the Bible says in James 4:6 that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. One group thinks, look what I’ve done for God. The other is thankful that God saved them in the first place, because they know they are unworthy. Which group are you in? I know it is exciting to see great things starting to happen in ministry, and it is great that we share it with others. Let’s just make sure that we are giving glory and honor where it is due, to Jesus Christ.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Aug 07

Why Are You Afraid?

One of the most prominent emotions in our nation over the last several months has been fear. Fear has led to panic, stress, anxiety, and even depression for many. Fear is an emotion that has existed long before COVID-19, and will even be here after COVID-19 is no longer a front page headline. Panic, stress, anxiety, depression, and other things will also be around. They are the result of the fall of man. However, they don’t have to rule and ruin your life.

Matthew 8:26 says, “But He said to them, ‘Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?’ Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.” Jesus is continuing a long day of ministry. While the disciples are rowing the boat across the sea, Jesus decides to get a little nap in. While they were crossing the sea, a sudden storm came up. This is nothing new for that region as it is typical for cold air to rush down the one side of the mountains, clash with the warm air at the surface, and create powerful storms in a hurry. This storm terrified the disciples. I’m not going to give the disciples a hard time about being scared of a storm. Especially since on Sunday night this past week, a thunderstorm woke me up out of a deep sleep and kept me up for the next hour with constant loud thunder and severe lightning. But remember, several of the disciples were experienced fisherman. They would have been use to these sudden storms. However, in their panic they go to Jesus who is still sleeping through all of this, and they ask Him a question. “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus, don’t you care that we are all about to die? Have you ever felt that way? Maybe not that you were about to die, but have you ever felt like where is Jesus in this storm in my life? Why isn’t He doing something about it? When we find ourselves in the middle of a storm, we often have these thoughts. The good news is, there are some lessons that we can learn about the storms of life and the God of those storms.

  1. No one is exempt from storms. Unfortunately, there is a dangerous and destructive false teaching that is going around in American Christianity. It is the belief that if you become a Christian, life is going to somehow be easier for you, that you won’t have to worry about all the stresses and struggles of life, like those who don’t know Jesus. I’m going to put this as delicately as I can, what a lie from the pit of hell! I can biblically make the argument that being a child of God will expose you to more storms than those who are still unsaved. What you need to know is this, storms are a part of this fallen, sinful world. Not only are they the result of the sin of this world, but they are also part of God’s plan.
  2. Storms reveal who our faith is in. Jesus is asleep in the boat. Does He know that there is a ferocious storm howling all around Him and His disciples? Does He know that the boat is taking on water? Absolutely He does to both of those questions. Were they all in some sort of danger? Probably. So, why not do something sooner or keep the storm from happening in the first place? Because, the disciples needed to see the truth about where their faith was. They had seen Jesus healing people, and casting out demons all-day. There was no question about could Jesus have done something about it. The question was, did the disciples trust Jesus in the middle of the storm? The same is true for you and I. The Bible says that God causes the “rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” What separates the child of God from the unsaved is how we respond when the storms are howling and the flood waters are rising. If you are saved, God will allow storms in our life to reveal who are faith is in. The disciples still had an immature, incomplete faith. However, their faith grew that day because of that storm. If you look at the next verse, the disciples are amazed because after Jesus got up and rebuked the storm and it grew quiet, they asked the question, who is this man that even the wind and sea obey Him? Storms reveal weaknesses in our faith, but they also present opportunities for God to grow our faith in Him.
  3. Storms are meant to turn us to Jesus. The disciples know that if something doesn’t change they are in trouble. Even in their immature, incomplete faith, they have the presence of mind to go to Jesus. They may not have known what Jesus was going to do, but they trusted that He could do something. Do we have that same faith and confidence? Storms are meant to show us our own frailty and inability to control life. But they are also meant to point us and drive us to the One who is all-powerful and sovereign.
  4. Storms don’t last forever. In the middle of a storm, it seems like it will never end. However, they always end at some point. The hurt, the pain are real, but so is God’s presence and His power in the middle of the storms. Maybe you feel like you just can’t go on, that you can’t take one more step in the middle of your current crisis. Just keep crying out to God for help and for His presence. As He reminded Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, “My grace is sufficient. For in your weakness, my strength is revealed.” The point of the storm isn’t that you can just try harder and get through it. The point of the storm is to break your self-reliance and self-dependency and replace it with a steadfast faith in God.
  5. Storms can be used by God to reach others. One of the biggest things that I have learned is that God often uses what I go through as a means to reach other people with the Gospel. There is no doubt, that the storms of life are meant for you. However, they are not only meant for you. When we are faithful to God, reliant on God, and worship God through a storm of life, God can use us to point others to Him. Being faithful to God through a storm opens up opportunities for you and I to give glory to God by telling others of His steadfast love, power, and presence in helping us get through the storm. Storms serve a bigger purpose than just being about us. Therefore, let’s not pray that God would stop the storms. Instead, let’s pray that God gives us the grace to get through the storm, reminds us of His presence in the storm, and uses us for His glory to reach others after the storm.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

Posted in Through The Bible in 2020 | Leave a comment
Aug 06

Reap What You Sow

I’m sure you have heard the phrase, “what goes around comes around.” We typically trot that phrase out when someone has said something or done something bad to us. How often do we apply it to what we say to others or how we treat others? The truth is, the principle works both ways. The principle is reaping and sowing. We see it throughout the Bible, including in our text today. Matthew 7:1-2 says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

I would argue that this is one of the most misused Bible verses in all of the Bible. I say that because people typically only say, “judge not, that you be not judged.” They say it when someone is calling them out about something. The problem is, they are not applying proper interpretive rules to what Jesus said. They are trying to excuse what they have said or done. Jesus wasn’t telling us as Christians that we are not to judge. Rather, Jesus is saying that we need to be judging our lives as strictly as we are judging other people’s lives. If we go back to Matthew 6, Jesus tells the disciples and the crowd that unless they are their righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees, they won’t see the kingdom of God. While the people probably felt intimidated by that, Jesus was actually setting the bar pretty low. The Pharisees judged everyone else much harsher than they judged themselves. They looked down on the people. Therefore, Jesus was saying, a kingdom citizen doesn’t do that. Instead, a Christian is going to judge themselves more harshly than they judge others. A Christian is going to hold his brothers or sisters accountable for the words they say and the things they do. Not only was Jesus telling the people that they needed to examine their own lives first before others; but Jesus was also telling them to judge others the same way they judge themselves. The rest of verse 1 and 2 show us the principle of reaping and sowing. How I judge someone is the standard of judgment that will be used on me. Therefore, if I want to experience grace, mercy, and forgiveness; I need to extend those things to others. I think there are a few important lessons for us in this text.

  1. Examine your life. A discipline that we need to learn and practice is self-examination. How do we do that? Through prayer and the study of God’s Word. We need to lay the Word of God over our life and see if we are striving to meet God’s standard or not. I need to learn to examine my thoughts, words, and actions against those of Jesus. I will warn you, this can be a very painful thing at times. However, by examining my life against the Bible, the Holy Spirit can alert me to heart problems. After all, all of our words, thoughts, and actions come from our heart. Therefore, if I have a harsh outburst at someone, that is revealing that in my heart I have some anger that I need the Holy Spirit to deal with.
  2. Be held and hold others accountable. If I had to pick one reason why so many Christian leaders fall and why so often Christians struggle to grow spiritually, I would say it is because we don’t practice accountability. It is something that we give lip service to, but something we seldom practice. I get why, it can be painful. But it is necessary. Jesus wasn’t saying that we aren’t to judge in Matthew 7. Rather, He was saying don’t hypocritically judge by holding others to a standard that you don’t hold your self to. Accountability is also why I argue that every Christian needs to be a in a discipleship group. A d-group is 3-5 people of the same sex, who are believers. They intentionally meet once a week for prayer, Bible study, encouragement, and accountability. This is different than just attending a worship service or a Sunday school/small group Bible study. This is a small group intentionally. If you aren’t currently in one, I want to encourage you to pray about joining one or starting one. If you have questions, I would be more than happy to pass along information that I have learned and have found incredibly helpful for me personally and the discipleship group I lead.
  3. Be gracious. In our current culture, the standard is accuse and yell first, and then maybe listen. Even though our judicial system is built on the premise of innocent until proven guilty, oftentimes it feels the other way around. Before you dismiss this, let me ask you a question. If you were to hear the same story, with the same details about a friend and then a stranger, would you give your friend the benefit of the doubt over the stranger? You might be thinking, of course, because I know my friend. Then, I would point out to us that we are doing exactly what Jesus told us not to do. It’s easier to believe what we want to believe about those we know or care about, and it’s easier to believe the worst about someone we don’t know or don’t like. Another example would be this, someone says something hurtful to you. You are upset, but they tell you that they didn’t mean it the way it sounded. However, are you still upset? Probably. Now, put the shoe on the other foot. Let’s say you said something that hurt someone, and when confronted, you told them that you didn’t mean it the way they took it. When they are still upset, do you feel like they are being unfair? Most of the time we do. In this case, we are judging people based on their actions while expecting them to judge us based on our intentions. The point is, be gracious towards others. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Choose to believe them unless you have good and sufficient reason in this instance to not believe them.

None of this is easy, but I would submit that it would do a world of good for your relationships. I can’t plant green beans and get mad when green beans sprout instead of the chocolate that I wanted. What you plant is what you harvest, not only physically but also spiritually and emotionally. So, plant wisely.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

Posted in Through The Bible in 2020 | Leave a comment
Aug 05

What Is Shrinking In You?

There is a medical condition that occurs when you don’t exercise your muscles for a time, it is called atrophy. Several years ago, I had to go through a knee surgery to try and correct where my knee cap would continue to dislocate itself. As the orthopedic surgeon talked about surgery, I noticed he was talking about it being something in the future. As the person who was in a decent amount of pain, not only did I not understand, but I wasn’t happy hearing him talk about it not happening right then. He ordered me to have three months of physical therapy before the surgery. I didn’t want to hear his reasoning for it at the time, because I was in pain 75% of the day, every day. However, after the surgery was over I finally understood what he was talking about and trying to do. The goal of therapy was to build the upper and lower leg muscles around the knee. He wanted to get them as strong as possible so that they could compensate for the weakness is the knee immediately following the surgery. He promised me that my recovery time would be cut nearly in half if we followed this course of action. Again, when he first talked about it I was less than thrilled. However, in the days and weeks following the surgery, I was very grateful. My recovery was cut by more than half, because the muscles around my knee had been strengthened. The truth is, our muscles are either growing or they are shrinking. As long as we are using our muscles, they are ready to respond. However, when we go a period of time not using them, they lose definition and the ability to respond immediately when they are needed. Our faith is the same way. In the middle chapter of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about our faith, except He talks about it from the negative viewpoint. Jesus talks about it in terms of worry. Matthew 6:27 says, “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?”

We all know that we shouldn’t worry. We tell others not to worry. However, we often find ourselves worrying about things. Worry causes atrophy of our faith. When we worry, it shows a lack of faith and trust in God. It also shows that we are depending on ourselves to try and figure things out. Jesus is talking about worrying in the sense of worrying over every day concerns and needs. He specifically uses the examples of food, shelter, and clothing. Jesus reminds us of some powerful truths about Himself in the passage. First, He reminds us that He is all-powerful. He says the birds don’t plant their food, but they have food. The grass doesn’t grow itself or the flowers bloom themselves, but those things happen. He is saying that God is the One who is doing all these things. Second, Jesus says that He is all-knowing. He says twice in Matthew 6 that God knows what we need. Finally, Jesus reminds us that He is faithful to His promises. He says that not only does God know what we need, but He provides for our needs just as He promised He would. One of the two is growing and the other is atrophying in you right now. Either you are trusting God and your faith is growing, or you are worrying about things and your faith is shrinking. I want to say that worry is part of our fallen, sinful condition. We are all prone to it. The question is, how can we shrink our worry while growing in our faith?

  1. Pray more. Jesus invites us to come into His presence boldly, to seek His grace and mercy in our time of need according to Hebrews 4:16. God delights in hearing from His children and answering our prayers is a way that God is glorified. I heard a pastor say one time, “what we worry about is what we trust ourselves to handle, but what we pray about is what we trust God to handle.” Who are you trusting to handle things right now? Don’t just pray, but write the requests down. But don’t stop there, make sure to record God’s answer to your prayer.
  2. Read the Bible and remember God’s character. One of the greatest things you can do when you find yourself worrying is go open your Bible. Read stories about how God delivered His children from difficulty, or stories of how God was with His people through the trials of life.
  3. Journal your Bible reading and re-read them. One of the greatest things God has taught me is to write through my Bible reading. This blog is one of the ways that I do that. When I find myself in a tough spot, I grab my journal and read how God is demonstrated His faithfulness to me in the past. Remembering God’s faithfulness in the past gives me strength in the present, because I know that God never changes. Therefore, if He was faithful in the past, I know He will be faithful in the present.

We are still going to find ourselves worrying about things from time to time. However, we have weapons to fight that worry. We have ways we can exercise our faith so that our worry will atrophy. How can you do a spiritual workout today?

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

Posted in Through The Bible in 2020 | Leave a comment
Aug 04

Extreme Times Call For Extreme Measures

You are probably familiar with the sayings, “extreme times call for extreme measures” or “desperate times call for desperate measures.” They have a similar meaning behind them, that sometimes you have to go above and beyond to accomplish something. Both phrases are examples of literary techniques that are often employed by speakers trying to elicit certain emotions from their audience or call them to something bigger than themselves. Jesus used many literary techniques and teaching methods to communicate His message. A great article outlining Jesus’ teaching methods can be found here, https://factsandtrends.net/2014/03/10/6-preaching-methods-jesus-used-that-you-should-too/?fbclid=IwAR0pBMwXl8TCApj6mtZ4g-VYvvY2MpM-TA9cOlWB8Uoj4UnsXs3ceVREWwo#.XyI6i30n5jZ.facebook. One of the ones that Jesus used often was hyperbole, or an exaggerated statement. One example if found in the first chapter of what is known as the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 5-7. Matthew 5:29 says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”

Jesus is teaching on sin here. The Bible shows us in both Genesis and 1 John that sin falls into one of three categories. Those categories are the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. In view in our verse are the first two. We see something that we like that isn’t ours (lust of the eyes), and it creates a desire in us to have it for our own purposes (lust of the flesh). Certainly in view here is Jesus talking about sexual sin. We know this because just a couple of verses later, Jesus talks about divorce. However, it can be more than sexual temptation. It can be the sin of coveting, which is having a strong desire for something that God has not given you nor are you entitled to. In this text, I see three lessons that I believe we all need to be reminded of.

The first lesson is that sin is a personal choice we make. Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin.” We live in a day and age in which we want to blame others for our choices. From the standard phrase, “the devil made me do it” to blaming the other person for my choice to look, that is especially true in terms of lust. How a person dress maybe sinful, but that is their sin. Our multiple looks and fantasies about them later are our sin. We can’t blame them. James confirms this in James 1:13-15. The second lesson is that sin has consequences. If it was ok for us to look and desire something or someone that doesn’t belong to us, then why would Jesus say “pluck it out?” There is no such thing as a victimless sin. The final lesson is that hell is real. This is one of the many places that Jesus references it in the Gospels. Hell and then later the lake of fire are the final and eternal consequences of our sin. We may not like to talk about it, you may not want to believe in it, but we can’t get around the clear teachings of Christ and the Bible. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” The first part of Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death.” This death is not only physical, but it is the eternal and spiritual separation from God spoken of in Revelation 20:11-15. But there is good news! Romans 5:8 tells us, “But God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus didn’t die for the “good” people, or the church-goers. Christ died for the ungodly. The latter half of Romans 6:23 says, “but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” Paul laid out who we are, and what we deserve; however, he also told us what God has done for us through Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection. My advice for all of us, including myself is this, don’t mess around with sin. As I heard someone say once, “sin will always take you further than you intended to go, and will cause you to stay there longer than you intended to stay.” Sin is nothing to play with, but rather we are to run from it and run into the arms of a loving Savior. He will forgive you and cleanse you from all your sin. Oh what a Savior!

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

Posted in Through The Bible in 2020 | Leave a comment
Aug 03

Prove It

Have you ever had someone claim something, but it just doesn’t seem to add up? We live in a skeptical society, where everyone wants to debate just about everything. A lot of times, people will say “if you can prove it then I will believe it.” I think Luke 16 would argue against that, at least in some instances. But, the point is people are always looking for you to prove what you say. We are going to see an instance of this in today’s text. The time of the text is during John the Baptist’s ministry. He is reaching people, and they are being baptized. This draws the attention of the religious leaders of his day. The religious leaders come out to talk with John the Baptist. This is what he says to them, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, we have Abraham as our father. For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.'”

What a greeting, right? Most pastors I know would be ecstatic to have people wanting to come to their church or ministry that we are doing. However, John the Baptist calls the religious leaders a “brood of vipers.” It’s almost like he doesn’t want them there. It’s not that John that Baptist wouldn’t welcome them in. Rather, it is he wanted to know why they were coming. Where they coming with pure motives or was there something else behind their visit? I’m not saying that we should call potential visitors a bunch of snakes by any means. However, I believe we would be served well to make sure that those coming to be a part of our fellowship are genuinely saved before they are granted church membership. That is entirely different than someone just coming to visit the church. Certainly, any and all are welcome to visit the church. At Westlake, we love our visitors and our members. My point is that it is important that those who are considered members, and have joined the church, we need to examine their life like John the Baptist is doing to the religious leaders coming to him here. John the Baptist knew that the religious leaders believed they were God’s children because of their heritage. John knew that salvation isn’t by works or family line, it is by faith. This is why he tells them to “bear fruits worthy of repentance.” John was saying, “if you are truly God’s children, prove it with how you live.” John the Baptist wanted to make sure that those he baptized didn’t have a false sense of assurance of their salvation.

Our life should bear evidence of our profession. Claiming to be a Christian while constantly living in sin with no desire to obey God would be like a man claiming to love his wife while beating her every day. Would you believe that man? Of course not! It’s not that as a Christian, you or I will be perfect. However, we should feel the sting of conviction when we sin, it should break our hearts that we have grieved God, and we should be striving to live for God. We must also reject any teaching that says we can be saved by any other means than the Gospel. It is vital that we allow God to examine our life, and to reveal the truth about our standing with Him. Is there proof of your profession?

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

Posted in Through The Bible in 2020 | Leave a comment
Jul 31

Be A Witness

Yesterday’s post was about knowing your identity and knowing your purpose. Today’s post is going to continue down that line of thinking. As I have a firm grasp on my identity, then I am better able to know my purpose. By knowing my purpose, I am able to avoid distractions that might cause me to wander away from achieving my purpose. We will see this tunnel-vision approach in John the Baptist’s life in John 1. John 1:6-7 says, “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.”

In the opening chapter of the Gospel of John, the apostle John lays out the identity of two key figures. He begins by telling us who Jesus is. He shows that He is the eternal God, the Creator, and Son of God who had come into the world to save the world. The second person we read about is John the Baptist. That is the John being spoken of here in the text. John the Baptist was important because he fulfilled a biblical role in helping identify Jesus as the Messiah. John, in speaking of himself to a group questioning him, identifies himself as the Messiah’s forerunner prophesied about in the book of Isaiah. John the Baptist knew from the beginning that his life and ministry was never about him. His role was to point people to Jesus, and to prepare the way for Jesus to come and fulfill His ministry. We see that language throughout John 1. You and I need to learn to identify with John the Baptist. No, we are not the forerunner of Christ. However, we are to be as John the Baptist was, a witness to the Light, who is Jesus. We are to help point people to Jesus, so that they will be prepared for His return. The apostle Paul picks up on this theme in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, where he writes, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” From the moment, that by His grace God saved you, you went from a slave to sin to a slave to Christ. We are not moral free agents. Yes, we have been set free from the bondage of slavery, but we have willingly become slaves to Jesus Christ. He purchased us at a price. That price was His life shed on the cross as the payment for our sins. Before we were saved, we lived to glorify ourselves by fulfilling our own desires. Now that we have been saved, saying that we are saved, we are to use our life to glorify God and fulfill His will.

When you know whose you are, and what your purpose is; you are better able to recognize potential distractions in your life. This is why we must know our identity. Let me give you an example of how being rooted in our identity, our purpose changes. Before we were saved, we typically looked at our job as a way to make money, which we thought could give us some happiness, it would pay the bills, and allow you to do some of the things that you or your family wanted to do. In our sin nature, work served our purpose. When God saves us, He begins to change our thinking about our work. By the way, we should let Him change our thinking! We choose to no longer see work as a way to get what I want, but instead, I now see my co-workers as part of the mission field that God has sent me to. Do I still get paid, does the job allow me to go on vacations, and things like that? Absolutely. But when my identity is in Christ, I begin to look at my job as a way to glorify God by reaching others with the Gospel and working hard first, and getting the other things second. A lot of times you will here pastors refer to this type of thinking as having a missionary mindset. In reality, it is learning to think and act like a Christian. John the Baptist knew that his life wasn’t about him, it was about pointing others to Jesus. Do you and I look at our life the same? If not, what needs to change so that God can change your thinking? In writing this, I am recalling a conversation I had earlier this week with someone. He said, “as soon as someone in the church expresses interest in the Bible or ministry, we immediately tell them that they are called into ministry, and that they should become a pastor.” He went on to say, “we definitely need pastors, and that is definitely a calling God gives. However, we also need men and women of God as doctors, lawyers, politicians, bankers, factory workers, accountants, and every other field as well.” I remember being amazed at listening him talk and the passion he had. His love for Jesus is undeniable, His knowledge of the Scriptures is incredible, but his calling is in business. He chooses to use his Christian witness in the world that God has placed him in. Oh, that we would all learn to have that mindset. Let it be Lord, and let it begin with us, those who are reading this post, and may it spread throughout Your body for Your glory and the building of Your kingdom!

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

Posted in Through The Bible in 2020 | Leave a comment
Jul 30

Know Your Purpose

I believe that one of the biggest realizations that has occurred during this pandemic is that many people have a false sense of their identity. They identified themselves by the job they had, the money they made, or the possessions they had. All of that has proven insufficient to sustain or satisfy them over the course of the last several months. I also truly feel that many churches have suffered from an identity crisis as well. The problem has been there, it was just masked by leaders measuring the wrong metrics, and the fact that our ministries were just rolling along as they always had. Then, in the blink of an eye everything changed. I have been thinking about this for a while, and wondering how did it happen so easily? I believe that today’s text gives us this answer. Mark 1:35-38 says, “Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for Him. when they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You.’ But He said to them, ‘Let us go into the next towns, that I may preach there also, because for this purpose I have come forth.'”

What does this text reveal as the reason many people and churches are suffering identity crises? In a word, prayer, or in this case probably a lack of it. Jesus had already started His ministry of healing people, and He was with people all day. Yet, He made time to get up before the others, and go to a solitary place so He could be with His Father. What Jesus does is so different than what many of us do, especially unfortunately us who are in church leadership. Jesus was having success. Most of us would have said, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Yet, after praying, Jesus tells His disciples it’s time to leave this town and go to the next place so we can keep spreading the message of the kingdom of God. You and I were created intimately for a relational God. We see it in Genesis 1. In Genesis 1, it talks about how God “made” everything else. Yet, when it comes to the creation of Adam it says, “and God formed him.” The word “formed” is a much more personal, intimate word. Colossians 1:16 says that we were created “by Him and for Him.” And as a Christian, we were saved to tell others about Him and be His representatives to those around us. We see this in 2 Corinthians 5:20 which says, “Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us; we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” We, like Paul, are to be Christ’s ambassadors and plead with people to surrender to the grace of God that they might be saved.

I am convinced that if we are going to no longer suffer from an identity crisis we need to know three things. First, whose am I? When my identity is in Jesus, then I learn that no matter what changes in my life, I still belong to Him. The gift of salvation and God’s presence in my life is something that I can never lose. Second, I need to know why God saved me? What am I to do with this life I have been given? I need to know that I belong to Jesus and what that means for me. After all, I wasn’t just saved from something (sin), I was also saved to someone for a specific reason. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us how we are saved, but we often forget that the passage doesn’t end in verse 9. It goes on to verse 10 which says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we would walk in them.” God saved us by His grace so that we could do the good works He called and created us to do. Finally, I need to know how God wants me to carry this out. This happens as we pray, surrendering our will to God’s, and allowing Him to direct our paths. Let me end this post by asking you a few questions. Who do you belong to? What is God calling you to do? Are you doing it? If the answer is “yes”, praise God. If not, all is not lost. Confess it to God in prayer, repent of it, and ask for His help in beginning today.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

Posted in Through The Bible in 2020 | Leave a comment