May 22

Even Dogs Get The Crumbs

In Mark 7 there is an interesting miracle that is recorded.  It is interesting, not because Jesus cast out a demon, but rather because of the exchange between Jesus and the woman.  The text is found in Mark 7:24-30.

Jesus has just taught on what defiles a person (Mark 7:1-23).  In doing so he has denounced the Pharisees.  After teaching on true defilement, Jesus again goes against the tradition of the elders.  This time he goes outside of Palestine to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  Jesus and His disciples are clearly seeking some rest.  He tries to hide in a house, but there was no such luck.  A Gentile woman comes to Him and asks that He cast out a demon that has possessed her daughter.  It is here that we see the interesting exchange.  After having asked Jesus to deliver her daughter, Jesus seemingly responds in a callous way by saying, “Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.”  The woman, undeterred, responds, “Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.”

It is important to know here that Jesus is not specifically calling this woman or her daughter a dog, even though it was a common Jewish title for Gentiles.  Jesus here is testing the woman’s faith.  This woman had two very big cultural strikes against her at this time.  First, she as a Gentile.  Jesus clearly says that He has come to the Jews.  This is of course in fulfilling Scripture that “salvation is of the Jews.”  The second thing against her was the fact she was a woman.  Women in that society were looked down upon.  Yet we see in Jesus’ actions that the Gospel is for Jews and Gentiles, and that all people have the same sin problem, and need the same Savior.  This is why Paul would later right that there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, male or female.  Paul was saying that God sees us all the same, that we all have the same problem, and that the solution is the same for everyone.  Jesus’ first response to this woman wasn’t callous.  Rather it was Jesus stating who He came to (the Jews-children) as an acknowledgment of Israel’s special relationship with God.  What we see from the woman is incredible humility and faith.

She demonstrates faith by coming to Jesus in the first place.  Even though she was a Gentile, she still believed that Jesus could heal her daughter.  Her faith was strong enough to ignore the cultural stigmas that were against her, and still come seeking Jesus for help.  Are we that desperate for Jesus?  Are we willing to risk ridicule and maybe even rejection from people to see Jesus do something in our life?  The woman displays great humility because she doesn’t argue with Jesus about Israel’s relationship with God.  She says, “Yes, Lord.”  She didn’t put the Jews down simply so she could have her daughter healed.  She wasn’t presumptuous about who she was.  She knew she was a Gentile woman, but she still had the faith to trust that God could heal her daughter.  Again, what about us?  Do we want what we want so bad that we will do whatever it takes, including put others down to get what we want?  Do we have a sense of entitlement?

Faith and humility go hand in hand.  Humility acknowledges who we are and our own weaknesses.  While faith says, “I can’t, but God can.”  That is why in James 4 it says, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”  We must first see clearly who we are, before we will ever look in faith to God to help us.  Because of the woman’s humility and faith, Jesus healed her daughter.  What do you need God to do in your life?  Are you humble enough to admit that you can’t fix whatever the problem is?  Do you have faith that God can?

Pastor Justin

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May 16

Standing Strong

On Sunday mornings at Westlake Baptist we have been going through the Gospel of Mark since Easter Sunday.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can say that I have enjoyed the time of study, and I have found God challenging me personally on a lot of things.  This past week, I preached out of Mark 6.  Specifically we focused in on Jesus calling and commissioning the disciples to go out and preach the Gospel.  However, there is another story in that chapter that fascinated me.  It is the story of King Herod trying to figure out who Jesus was.

This section of Mark’s Gospel begins with the phrase, “King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.”  There was this traveling Jewish preacher who had stirred everyone up and got them talking about the things He said and did.  Jesus had created such a ruckus with His ministry that even the king had heard about him.  I know this is a very different time that we are living in, but I am sure of this; President Trump has never heard of, nor is he aware of the pastor of Westlake Baptist Church.  That isn’t a knock on the President.  It is a fact, that he has bigger and more pressing matters to tend to, and I’m just not that important.  But here, king Herod has heard of Jesus and is hearing reports from people on what Jesus is saying and doing as He travels around from town to town.  There is something about Jesus that strikes fear in Herod’s heart.  So much so that Herod is curious about what people are saying about Jesus, and who do they think He is.  The first report that Herod gets is someone says, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead.  That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.”  I’m pretty sure that Herod didn’t hear anything else, because this was Herod’s worst nightmare.  So much so, that Herod is convinced that this is in fact a resurrected John the Baptist.  Why would this be a problem, if in fact John the Baptist had been resurrected?  Mark does a good job in recounting Herod’s relationship with John the Baptist in Mark 6:17-29.  Here is a condensed version.

Herod was having an inappropriate relationship wit his brother’s wife.  John the Baptist came to Herod at one point and told him that what he was doing was wrong and that he needed to stop it.  Herod doesn’t like it but sees fit only to put John the Baptist in prison, but Herodias (the woman in question) certainly cared.  In fact in Mark 6:19 it says that she held a grudge against John the Baptist and wanted him killed.  One evening at a later point in time, she would get her wish granted.  It was Herod’s birthday.  Herod wanted to show off his power and prestige and so he threw a good old fashioned birthday bash for himself and many others in his kingdom.  While they are partying and drinking too much, Herodias’ daughter comes in and starts to dance for Herod.  In his drunken stupor, Herod enjoys it a little more than he should and he asks the young woman what she would like him to give her.  He says he is willing to give her up to half of his kingdom.  She goes and tells this to her mother.  Herodias being opportunistic tells her to ask for John the Baptist’s head on a platter.  When she goes and tells this to Herod, he is afraid, but he grants her wish.  So Jesus is scaring Herod because Herod think this is the prophet that he put to death come back to get his revenge.  As we like to ask on Sunday mornings, so why does any of this matter to us today?

There are a few lessons we can learn from this story.

  • Stand strong for what is right.  John the Baptist knew his message could get him in a lot of trouble with king Herod.  But John the Baptist had long before decided to honor God with his life. He was a prophet, and he was going to tell the truth no matter what happened.  We need courage of conviction in America today.  We need men and women who will stand on the truth and proclaim the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).  Speaking the truth will not make you popular with people, but it will glorify your Father who is in heaven.
  • Guard your life.  There are temptations literally around every corner, and if we aren’t careful we will fall right into sin.  Herod compromised with marriage, he compromised later with giving in Herodias’ request, and he lived in fear that it would come back to get him.  If we guard our heart, then we will have no reason to fear what others find out about us.
  • Sin will find us out.  Moses in giving the Law to the nation of Israel said in Numbers 32:23, “Be sure of this, your sin will find you out.”  We can hide it for a while.  But if we don’t allow God to deal with it privately, then we will get exposed publicly.
  • There is grace available.  Herod messed up repeatedly, and he was living in fear.  I wonder how many people in America can say they are in the same place right now?  If so, here is the good news.  Jesus wasn’t John the Baptist resurrected to get even with Herod.  Jesus is the Savior who had come to call and redeem Herod to believe in Him, be forgiven of his sins, and have a relationship with God.  The same is true for you today.  Don’t mistake God’s grace and the lack of judgment on your life right now for God not caring about the sin in your life.  Don’t run from it and don’t hide it.  Rather, confess it and receive God’s grace.  I promise you this, if God can forgive a sinner like me, I know He will forgive a sinner like you, if you confess and repent of your sin and trust in Him.

I will close this blog with one of my favorite verses, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Rom. 5:20).  There is no one alive today who has sinned so much that the grace of God cannot overcome and forgive that sin.  If you would like to talk about what this means or what it looks like to trust Jesus Christ, I hope you will reach out to us either here on the blog, on Facebook (search Westlake Baptist Church), or e-mail us at westlakebc@gmail.com.  We would love to tell you how God’s amazing grace saved a wretch like us.

Pastor Justin

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May 08

No Selfies With Bears!

I read a very strange and very sad story this morning.  The headline was, “Man mauled to death trying to take self with a bear.”  Go ahead and admit it, if you saw that headline you would click on it as well.  The story goes like this, the man was returning from a wedding, got out to use the bathroom, saw an injured bear, he decides to take a selfie with it, and the bear kills him.  That is bad enough, but what really caught my eye was a little further down in the story. According to the Indian newspaper, The Hindustan Times, there were witnesses to this tragedy.  And the most shocking part about it was this line from the newspaper reporter, “bystanders were busy shooting this incident on their mobile phones instead of trying to rescue him.”  The report goes on to say that only one person tried to ward the bear off with  a stick.  Only one person tried to help this man, the rest wanted to record it on their phones!  I have several feelings about the man who tried to take a selfie with a bear, but I will leave those alone for now.  Because my true outrage and frustration is with those bystanders who did nothing except film a man’s death.  But this story also got me to thinking about the state of Christianity today.

In the Gospel of John there is a conversation that Jesus has with His disciples.  The conversation is about the fact that there are many people who still need to hear the Gospel and be saved.  Jesus says in John 4:35, “Do you not say, there are yet four months, and then comes the harvest?  Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.”  Jesus there is using a common illustration for His disciples about farming.  A farmer tills the soil, plants his crops, and waters his crops.  The farmer has to wait until the crops are ready to be harvested.  Yet, Jesus is telling His disciples that they don’t have to wait to preach the Gospel and see people saved.  There are many who are willing to hear the Gospel and God is drawing them now to salvation.  Jesus’ words to His disciples was this, get busy sharing the Gospel because people need it, and many are ready to receive it.  In another time, Jesus sent out 70 disciples to preach the Gospel.  In Luke 10:2 Jesus says, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few: pray therefore the Lord of the harvest, that He would send more laborers into His harvest.”  Again, Jesus is emphasizing the overwhelming need of people to hear the Gospel and be saved.  Jesus says we should pray that the Father moves in the lives of others who will feel the call to share the Gospel because there are so many people who need to hear it.

Then there is the flip side of this.  It is found in 1 Corinthians.  The apostle Paul had founded the church in the city of Corinth.  It was a church he loved and prayed for.  Yet, word came to him that they were having a lot of problems.  There was a lot of fussing and fighting in that church, they were suing each other, the “haves” were flaunting what they had in front of the “have nots.”  It was a complete mess in Corinth.  So Paul spends the first 11 chapters of the book trying to biblically correct their corrupt behavior.  At the end of chapter 12 Paul says, “and now I will show you a more excellent way.”  Then he immediately launches in 1 Corinthians 13, which is commonly called the love chapter.  Paul then writes about orderly service and how a worship service should be done before reaching the climax of the book.  The climax of 1 Corinthians is chapter 15.  It is the single greatest chapter on the reality of the resurrection and why it matters.  And about half way through this chapter Paul writes this, “Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.”  Paul is talking about the greatness of the resurrection, why it matters, and how it should shape how the Corinthian believers should live and then he drops the hammer on them.  He basically says, you have the greatest story ever to tell, the story that could change people’s lives just like it changed you, and you aren’t even telling the story to people.  I have to wonder if the apostle Paul was alive today, would he say something similar to many churches?  Too many Christians are like the bystanders in the story, they just want to sit back and observe what is happening.  Undoubtedly they talked about how tragic it was that the man was mauled to death. Some probably thought the man was foolish for trying to take a selfie with a bear, just like many in the church complain about how bad society has become.  But at the end of the day, they did nothing about it and too many in the church are doing the same!  We have been given an incredible opportunity to share the Gospel with more people than ever.  With social media, blogs, podcasts, easy world travel with airplanes; we have all that we need to share the Gospel.  Yet if the numbers are accurate (and we have no reason to believe they aren’t), the Gospel is getting shared less now than previous years.  I want to appeal to all Christians, beginning with myself, this must not continue.  We must get off the sidelines and get busy sharing the amazing, life-changing, life-transforming truth of the Gospel.  May we be those laborers that Jesus spoke of in Luke 10, and may we pray for more laborers to join us as we share with the world the glorious truth, Jesus saves!

Pastor Justin

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May 02

Walking Worthy

In the apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he talks a lot about what it means to be a true disciple of Jesus.  In chapter 4, Paul talks about the church and its witness internal and externally as evidence of our faith or lack there of.  The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1, “I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.”

In this verse Paul says we need to rightly identify who we are when he says, “the prisoner of the Lord.”  Paul is saying that he belongs to Jesus Christ.  Paul is not a moral free agent free to live and do as he pleases.  He says the same thing in a few different ways in other areas of the New Testament.  For example in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Paul writes, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, you were bought with a price.  Therefore, glorify God in your body.”  Then in 2 Corinthians 5:20 Paul says we are “ambassadors for Christ.”  As a Christian, we must remember that we belong to God and therefore we are called to represent Him in all that we say and do.

Paul then in verse 1 says that he “beseeches you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called.”  That is Paul saying, because you belong to Christ, you need to live like Christ.  The word “worthy” that Paul uses here means appropriately or as in a manner that honors and is honorable.  So to “walk worthy” means to live a life that is honorable and honors the One we are representing.  In verses 2 and 3 Paul defines how we can live a worthy life for Jesus.  He uses words such as lowliness, meekness, long-suffering, forbearing, and unified.  So for a Christian to live a live that honors God we are to be humble, gentle, patience, loving, accepting of one another, and we are to have a desire to be unified with our brothers and sisters in Christ.  But how does Paul know, how do we know that living like this will honor God?  We know it because it perfectly describes the life of Jesus as revealed in Philippians 2.

Philippians 2:2-8 can be broken down into two categories.  The first is prescriptive, that is describing what we should do.  The second part is descriptive, and that is Paul explaining the why of the first part.  The two parts of this passage are tied together by verse 5 in Philippians 2 which says, “let this mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus.”  So verse 5 bridges the prescriptive section with the descriptive section.  How did Paul describe the mind of Christ?  We see it in verses 6-8.  Paul says that Jesus was humble, selfless, sacrificial, and obedient.  Even though Jesus was and is God, He still humbled Himself in submission to the Father’s will to come to the earth, die on a cross for sinful mankind, and rise from the dead three days later.  He did this, not because we wouldn’t do it, but because we couldn’t do it.  The God-man who had every right to be served, instead came to serve the world.  And Jesus didn’t just do it when it was easy or just those who loved Him.  Jesus walked in selfless humility all the way to the point of the most excruciating and humiliating form of death, crucifixion.  So then we look back at verses 2-4 and we can see Paul calling us to live by these same attributes.  We see unity in verse 2, selflessness and humility in verse 3, and sacrificial in verse 4.

Therefore, if I am going to be considered by God worthy to be called a Christian then those three things should characterize my life.  In a day and age in which it is easy to say we are a Christian, and when it costs us relatively nothing to identify ourselves as Christian, the question then becomes, does my life give honor to God?  Can I actually call myself a disciple of Jesus’ according to how I’m living?  Here are some questions to help us think and pray through this.

  • Am I humble?  Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.  Am I willing to take a back seat, to do things and not get any recognition for it?  Am I willing to not do what I want for the sake of others?
  • Am I gentle?  Again this doesn’t mean weakness.  In fact, meekness is strength under control.  When someone upsets me and I want to give them a piece of my mind, do I instead give a soft, well-measured response (see Prov. 15:1)?  Another way I put it is this, when I speak am I gas or water?  Do I ignite and fan the flames or do I cool it down?
  • Am I patient?  This goes along with the next phrase Paul uses in Ephesians 4:2 of forbearing one another.  To forbear means to put up with.  Am I someone who strives to help those who are new to the faith or do I get upset because they just don’t seem to get it?
  • Am I a unifier?  We live in a divisive world.  There is hatred, bitterness, anger, and discord everywhere we look.  Do we fall into it ourselves?  When people hear us speak do they hear us constantly talking negative about others or a situation? When they encounter us on social media, do they readily know what we are against or do they know what we stand for?  We need to remember the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Mt. 5:9).  Do we bring people closer to God and each other or do we push them further apart?

May this passage cause us to praise God for His great love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness towards us in that we don’t always walk in a worthy manner.  And may it call us to prayer asking God for His help in allowing us to walk in a worthy manner.

Pastor Justin

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Apr 23

A Dog Named Odie

Our family has a dog named Odie.  Odie is an interesting dog to say the least.  One night he starts barking incessantly.  I am thinking that he probably needs to go outside.  However, just a few seconds outside and it becomes very evident that he didn’t have to go.  He wanted to track something outside.  Now this is probably a good time to mention that Odie is a dachshund, not a retriever.  But he tries his best to track things outside.  After getting off the porch, he immediately puts his nose to the ground and starts tracking.  Now I was able to see what he was going after.  However, Odie was unable to see it because he kept his head down the whole time.  We spent about 10 minutes outside, and though I could see the cat, Odie never saw him. What is the point of telling this story? The point is I think sometimes we as Christians can be like Odie.  We can focus so much on what we are doing, that we miss seeing Jesus.  But how does this happen?

I think it happens in a variety of ways.  But the root cause of it all is the same.  We measure who we are and our importance by what we do.  That is to say we have an identity crisis.  If your worth to Christ is measured by what you do for Him, then you will be on a never-ending treadmill of ups and downs. Some days things just seem to click. We get up before the alarm goes off, and we get right to our quiet time and prayer time.  Then there are days when every thing seems to go wrong.  We oversleep because we set our alarm clock for p.m. instead of a.m.  The kids get up earlier than normal or they just seem to fuss and fight with each other and they make it impossible to get alone with God.  When we don’t know who we are in Christ, we can believe that we have somehow let God down or that we are a failure.  Or there can be times in which we fight temptation and overcome it through the power of God, and we think that God loves us so much right now because of it.  But let a temptation get the best of us, and suddenly we are a failure because we sinned, and so there is no way that God could possibly love us.  I wonder how many of you reading this right now can identify with this roller coaster of emotions?  Again, I want to emphasize that it is because you are suffering from an identity crisis right now.  You believe that your worth to God is tied to your obedience to God.  So I want to say this, you cannot do anything to make God love you more than He already does, and you can’t do anything to make God love you any less than He already does.  How do we know this?  Because of the truth of Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrated His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  Jesus thought we were worth dying for when we were sinners!  So if He loved us that much when we were sinners, how could He love us anymore now?  Should we be obedient to God?  Absolutely. In fact, Jesus says our obedience to Him shows our love for Him.  But don’t think that our love for God affects His love for us.

Pastor Justin

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Apr 16

The Purposes of Jesus’ Temptation

One thing that was discussed in the sermon on Sunday was about the temptation of Jesus.  Sunday didn’t provide enough time to go into detail about the purposes of Jesus being tempted as He began His ministry.  Therefore, this is a follow-up to that point.

The Bible declares in Hebrews 4:15 that Jesus was tempted just like we are, yet without sin.  And this leads some to say, well if Jesus couldn’t sin, what was the purpose of satan tempting Him those 40 days?  The purpose was to two-fold.

First, to show beyond the shadow of any doubt that we can trust Jesus. H.A. Ironside said of the temptation of Jesus, “His temptation was not to see if perchance He might fail and sin in the hour of stress, but rather to prove that He would not fail, because He was absolutely the sinless One.”

The second reason of Jesus’ temptation was to give us an example on how to handle temptation when it comes, and it will come.  1 Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.  God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  So Paul is saying that temptation is going to come.  And notice, God is faithful in that with every temptation that comes, He will provide you with an escape so that you don’t have to give in to that temptation.  What is the number one way God has provided for us to escape temptation?  For that we would look in Matthew 4, where the temptation of Jesus is detailed fuller.  In Matthew 4 we see that with every temptation satan brought at Jesus, Jesus quoted Scripture back to satan.  So the number one way God has provided for us to avoid sin and to handle temptation is the Word of God.  That is why it is vital for you and I to spend time in the Bible every day.  We don’t just want to read it to say that we read it.  We want to read it to know God and how to please Him.  Paul says that the Bible is given by the inspiration of God and that it is good for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction of righteousness so that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly furnished to do good works.  To do this we must do what Psalm 1 to meditate on the Word day and night and in Psalm 119:11 it says, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against You.”  Have a plan and work the plan on being in the Bible daily.  If you need help in that, please let us know, we would love to be able to help you establish a healthy habit of reading the Bible.

 

Pastor Justin

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Apr 11

Never Easy, But Always Necessary

Any parent can tell you, one of the hardest parts of being a parent is having to discipline your child when they sin.  As parents we always want to believe the best about our children.  We think things like, other kids might do that, but my little sweet angel would never.  And as much as we want to believe that, we know it isn’t true.  We all have a natural tendency toward sin.  It is the result of Adam and Eve choosing to disobey God in the Garden of Eden, and Adam passing that nature down to the rest of humanity as we see in Romans 5:12, “As sin entered the world through one man, and death  by sin.  So death passed to all men, for all have sinned.”  The reality is none of us are above committing the most heinous of crimes.  For parents, it is how we deal with our children in these times that they disappoint us that can set them up for either success of failure in the future.  So how does the Bible teach us to discipline our children when they sin?

  • We must discipline them.  I’m going to start here, because many parents think the most loving thing they can do for their child is to let their wrong behavior go unpunished.  From the Old to the New Testament there are countless examples of God disciplining people and nations for sinful behavior.  In Proverbs 3 and Hebrews 12 we read, “whom the Lord loves He chastens (disciplines).”  The writer of Hebrews goes on to say that if God disciplines us when we sin, it shows that we are His child.  But if we can sin and not feel discipline from God it is because we don’t belong to God.  I never really understood what my parents were saying by the statement, “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.”  As I child my thought was, “you are lying, because I’m pretty sure I’m going to be the one getting the spanking, not you.”  But as a parent of four wonderful, yet fallen children, now I get it.  When Diana or I have to discipline our children because they made a poor choice and sinned, it breaks my heart.  The key at least for me is to remember what Hebrews 12:11 says, “Now now discipline for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are disciplined.”  I have to discipline not only to show in the moment that what they did was wrong, but also to prepare them for the future to make better choices when their decisions will have more of an impact over their life and others.
  • We must discipline out of love, not anger.  As a father, I have to admit that I haven’t always followed this one like I should.  My children will tell you, if you want to elicit a swift and sometimes too strong of a reaction from their father, do something in public you know you aren’t supposed to.  I have to admit, I do not like being publicly embarrassed.  But I will also tell you, that we have to be the adult in the situation and handle ourselves properly.  Discipline is not just punitive, it is meant to be corrective.  We don’t want them to simply stop a bad habit, we want them to develop good habits.  Therefore, when we do discipline we need do more than just give a punitive punishment.  One thing that my wife, Diana, is so good at and that I am trying to learn is to sit them down and talk to them first. Ask them the questions, do you know why you are in trouble?  Do you know why it is wrong?  Then whatever discipline is handed out is handed out.  But then she looks them in the eye and tells them, “I forgive you and I love you, and nothing you do will ever make me stop loving you.”  The way she has always explained it to me is that she wants to break the habit, not the spirit, and she wants the children to know that even when she is upset with them, her love for them doesn’t change.  If you feel yourself being angry as you are going to discipline, be the adult, take a step back, take a walk, and then come back and handle the situation.  If you are like me and you forget these steps, as soon as you can, go to your child and confess your sin and ask for their forgiveness.  It may be hard to go to your child and admit that you messed up, but if the goal of discipline is correction and showing them the right attitude and behavior, then it is a necessary thing for us as parents to do.
  • Be consistent.  One of the worst things we can do as a parent, but something we are all guilty of doing is being inconsistent in our discipline.  Let’s be honest, some days go better than others and so some days we are in a better mood than other days.  However, that leads to frustration in our children because they don’t know what will bring discipline and what will bring laughter.  Ephesians 6:4 says, “And, you fathers, do not provoke your children to anger: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”  I believe Paul singles our the dads here for a couple of reasons.  First, the father is often the disciplinarian in the family. Though I would argue that mom and dad need to be on the same page and both should be disciplinarians.  Primarily I argue this because the phrase “just wait until your dad gets home” can sow seeds of disrespect for the mother, and make it seem like she doesn’t have an equal voice and say in the home.  But it also causes many children to fear their father, become angry and resentful towards him, and not look forward to his or her father coming home.  Second, I think Paul singles out us dads because we are most often guilty of being inconsistent in disciplining our children.  Some days work goes well, we are happy to be home, and so we allow the kids to get away with a little bit more.  Other days, our boss is a jerk, everything goes wrong, we carry work home with us, and our children can do nothing right.  This is why I believe the Bible argues for us setting up boundaries early on with our children about what is right and what is wrong.  In our home, and I’m not saying our way is the only way, we have our rules for our children posted on a cabinet in the kitchen.  By establishing boundaries, you are setting rules and expectations for the children.  You are also taking the subjectiveness of your mood as a parent out of it.  If there is a violation of the expectations and rules, then discipline is a must.  But if they aren’t breaking those rules or expectations, even if you are having a bad night and want to snap, it can serve as a check for your own heart and attitude.  I like to put it this way, if the action would get them in trouble on a “Monday” kind of day, then it needs to get them in trouble on a “Friday” kind of day.

Disciplining our children is not fun, neither of us enjoy it, but it is necessary.  If we as parents discipline properly and confess when we don’t, then we can set our children up for success in the future. More importantly, as parents we are teaching them about God and how God relates to His children.  Let your children see God in you and through you.  If we do this, regardless of what society says, we will have done what God has called us to do and that is a win.

Pastor Justin

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Apr 10

When Tragedy Strikes

News broke Friday night into Saturday about a tragedy involving a hockey team in Canada.  As of the time of this writing, 15 people including young men in their late teens to 20 years old died.  There are still some recovering from injuries sustained in the accident.  Countless lives have forever been changed in the blink of an eye.  In times like these we often search for an answer to the one question that seldom has an answer.  We want to know, why?  We sometimes ask, where was God?  We even at times malign God’s character by saying, a loving God wouldn’t let something like this happen.  We resort to these questions because we are hurting, in some cases we are angry, and we want to blame someone.  So how are we as Christians supposed to answer these difficult and sometimes impossible to answer questions?

  • Acknowledge that we don’t always know the answer.  I know this scares many of us.  When people ask us a question, especially a theological question, we feel that we have to give them an answer.  And while we could give theological answers to the problem of evil and suffering in the world, in the moment, those answers aren’t what people are really looking for.  There is absolutely a time and a place to answer questions dealing with evil, pain, and suffering.  However, in the midst of a tragedy, that isn’t the time because often the answer is “I don’t know, but we have to trust that God has a plan and He knows what He is doing.”  Saying that in the moment to a grieving family will not bring comfort, it will only lead to more questions, uncertainty, and possibly sow the seeds of anger and bitterness towards God.
  • Pray for the families who are grieving.  Many people get upset when they hear a Christian say that we should pray for the families.  They lash out and say, “praying won’t bring my son or daughter back.”  They are right in that it won’t change their situation.  However, prayer can change their perspective of the situation.  David wrote in Psalm 18, “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help.  From His temple He heard my voice, and my cry reached His ears.”  For a Christian to say “we need to pray” is the way that we as Christians admit that the answers people are looking for do not come from us, rather they come from God.  Prayer is the human acknowledgment that we can’t, but we are going to the only person and trusting the only person who can give us what we need.
  • Pray with and be with the families who are grieving.  We cannot sit back and be passive in our ministry to the hurting.  We must be present with them.  In his great theological work, the apostle Paul in the book of Romans said, “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”  He starts that section of Scripture by saying, “let love be genuine.”  Many people will “offer up thoughts and prayers for the families.” Yet few will go the extra mile to go and be with them in their time of grief and beyond.  While the world will move on from this or any other tragedy in a week or so, those families will still be hurting, still searching for answers, and still trying to learn how to live their life.
  • Realize the gift you have been given.  This is an internal one, but we need to sit back and be grateful for the grace God has shown us in that we still have life.  Life is incredibly fragile.  It can change in the blink of an eye.  As James said, “For what is your life?  It is a vapor that appears for a short time, and then vanishes away.”  Don’t take the precious gifts you have been given for granted, because they can be gone before you know it.
  • Look to share the greatest gift you have ever received. In the midst of pain and suffering, people are more open to God and the Gospel.  Again they are searching for answers to why this happened, but also they are searching for answers to the question, how do I go on from here?  No we don’t want to manipulate emotions or prey on the hurting.  But it is a good time for us to share how the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the answer they are truly searching for.  Only as we have placed our faith in Him, and know that we are His child can we live day to day.  Only having the peace of mind of being secure in His love and grace will help get us through life’ most trying moments.  When we are with those who are hurting, we are not there to show how smart we are or give them our answers.  We are there to point them to the only answer they need, Jesus!  It is in this way we can give a simple answer to the why and to the how question.

Example conversation you could have: The pain we are feeling is not how God designed things.  The tragedy that you are experiencing right now is because long ago and ever since the Garden of Eden man has rebelled against God.  The Bible calls this rebellion against God, sin.  The pain we are feeling is the result of sin.  Yet God in His great love desires something better for you, and He has provided everything needed for you to experience it.  He sent His Son, Jesus, to this earth to be the sacrifice for the sins of the world.  And by Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection, He now offers us forgiveness for our sins.  He has made what was impossible, now possible in that our sin separated us from God, but through His death we can now have a relationship with Him.  No, being a child of God will not take away all the pain in life.  It will not make you immune to suffering.  As long as there is sin, there will be suffering.  But it does mean that you won’t walk through this or anything else in life alone.  It means that God will give you the strength you need to make it through each day, one day at a time.  It means in those days that you are struggling, and are angry, God will give you grace and He will never turn His back on you.

In something that short, you are answering why tragedy happens-sin.  But you are also pointing them to the hope and the answer of how do they go on from here-have a relationship with God that was provided for by God, and grow in trusting Him.  No one is immune in this life to pain and suffering.  As Christians, we have experienced and have been given the mandate to share the Gospel, which is the only good news that can save a person, change them, and change their perspective on tragedy.

Pastor Justin

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Apr 02

Unwritten “Rules”

For those who know me personally or those who follow this blog, you know that I am a sports guy.  I played throughout much of my life, I was blessed to be a part of some great teams, I have coached some, and now my children are playing various sports.  My favorite game to play without any doubt was/is the game of baseball.  I know many people might not see it this way, but I always saw baseball as a chess game played on a field.  You always had to be thinking a couple of plays ahead to set yourself up for the best chance to win.  Sometimes you would sacrifice one player (a bunt situation especially) so someone else with more power could help you win, etc.  One thing that most baseball people know and are for the most part ok with is what is referred to as baseballs “unwritten rules.”  For the record, these “unwritten rules” are also what drive many non-baseball fans absolutely crazy.  Just a brief sample of some of baseballs “unwritten rules” are things such as if you hit a home run, you need to run around the bases.  Do not stand there and admire your homer.  That is grounds for getting plunked on purpose the next time you come up to hit, or in some instances the next guy who hits directly after you has to take your punishment for you.  Another one is if a pitcher is throwing a no-hitter and it is late in the game, you do not try to bunt to get a base hit and break up the no-hitter.  That one has serious ramifications for you if you do this.  One more example, if your pitcher hits one of my teammates and it appears on purpose, then I am obligated as a pitcher to hit your first batter of the next half inning.  No one knows exactly how many “unwritten rules” there are in baseball, because after all they are unwritten.  But there are a lot.  Sometimes someone might intentionally break one of those rules, and there are other times when someone doesn’t it but they don’t mean to.  Whether it is intentional or not, there are ramifications and some would argue, these unwritten rules ultimately hurt the game.  The validity of those rules isn’t the purpose of this blog post however.  I heard of a situation in a game yesterday.  One team got really upset,  but it doesn’t appear that any “unwritten rule” was violated.  But it created some bad blood and it has baseball fans talking about it.  But again, this isn’t the point.  So what is the point?

The point of this blog is to ask this question, are there some “unwritten rules” of church?  Are there some known or perceived “rules” about going to church?  Another question that I am pondering is this, are those “rules” helping or hurting the church’s mission in reaching the lost with the Gospel?  My initial thought is that most if not all of these “unwritten rules” are hurting our Gospel witness in our community.  While we may have good intentions, just like baseball does in protecting the integrity of the game; I believe that some “unwritten rules” or “unwritten expectations” about going to church are pushing people away from seeking God and truly hearing the Gospel from otherwise great men and women who love God, and the great churches they attend.  So I want to have a little bit of fun, but also maybe shine some light on a few thoughts that may be hurting the church’s effectiveness in reaching the lost.

This is what I would like you to do.  Whether you go to church or don’t.  Write in the comments below, what are some “unwritten rules” you have run into or believe exist for people who are going to go to church?  I am going to ask for one thing, please keep it respectful.  Don’t mention any names of churches or pastors.  While you may feel good about calling a church or a pastor out, it is not the right time, place, or way to do so.  I recognize that pastors (myself included) have unintentionally hurt people in the past, or people have gone to a church and been hurt by a church.  If that is the case, I would encourage you to reach out to the pastor or the church and have an honest conversation with them about what happened.  Speaking as a pastor, I don’t want to shy away from difficult conversations.  I realize that I am a fallen, sinful human being who though he doesn’t try to hurt others, sometimes is guilty.  And churches are made up of imperfect people who sometimes do things that cause hurt.  So let’s have some fun, shine some light, but show compassion and grace as we learn together.

Pastor Justin

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Mar 14

Following Christ

Christians today know that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to follow Christ in our culture.  This doesn’t diminish our calling to follow Him in any way.  The following devotion was shared with the staff of Westlake Baptist Church at our monthly staff meeting in March 2018.

Scripture: Joshua 1

 

Being in leadership today, whether paid or lay staff is incredibly difficult.  Most every church I know has a similar complaint to this one, it’s hard to find people to help.  It is easy to become discouraged when you struggle to find volunteers.  It can be discouraging to have personal excitement, but not see it on the face of others who are working in your area of ministry.  It can really be discouraging when you are doing what you believe God has told you to do, but you are seeing the results that you expected to see.  As I read Joshua 1 the other day as part of my Bible reading plan for this year, I was struck by the number of times I saw a particular phrase.  The phrase was “be strong and of good courage.”  That phrase appears four times in 18 verses.  I pondered on why did God keep telling Joshua to “be strong and of good courage”?  Then it hit me.  God told Joshua to be strong, because a weak leader will never be able to lead a strong-willed group of people.  If you study the book of Exodus you will quickly see the group that Joshua was inheriting from Moses was a strong-willed group.  On multiple occasions the people complained and willfully rebelled against God.   It lead God to call the “stiff-necked” or what we would call stubborn.  We must be strong in the Lord, stand and fight in the power of Him.  The greatest way to be strong in the Lord is to be a man or woman of prayer.  But God also told Joshua to be of good courage.  As a leader, it is very easy to get discouraged.  Satan will do whatever he can to put stumbling blocks in front of you, place difficult people around you, and anything else he can think of to discourage and distract you.  However, we must remember a few important lessons if we are to remain of good courage.

To remain as a leader of good courage we must:

  • Remember it is about God, not me. Joshua 1 starts off by God saying to Joshua, “Moses my servant is dead; now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan” in verse 2.  The man goes into the ground, but the message and the mission go on.
  • Remember you are not alone. One of the greatest promises given by God to His children is found in verse 5, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”  We are going to go through valleys in life and ministry, but we are never alone!
  • Remember that what God will accomplish what He promised. God promised in Genesis 12, that He was going to multiply Abraham’s descendants, and that He would give them a land.  Even though Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and the nation of Israel had failed God and sinned numerous times; God was still faithful to His promise.
  • Remember that God raises up those He desires to use. If God wanted Moses to lead the nation of Israel into the Promised Land, then God would have used Moses.  In the same way, God has gifted you, give you passion, and called you to the ministry you are in because He desires to use you for His glory and to accomplish His purpose.  You may feel unqualified or unable to do anything, but God doesn’t make mistakes.  Remember point number one, it is about God not you!  God uses the weak things and the foolish things of this world.  It is never about what you can do for God, it is about what you allow God to do in you and through you.
  • God prepares us for His purpose. God doesn’t waste any experience in our life.  Even if the experience is bad and not what God would have desired for us; He can still turn something bad into something good.  At the same time we must understand that God will not just give us a big responsibility without first preparing us.  We must be proven faithful in the little things, before He will entrust us with bigger things.  So see your current situation and circumstances as part of God’s preparation process.  You may be like the faithful men and women of the Old Testament who believed in God’s promises, looked for them, labored for them; but in the end never saw them.  But their life and their ministry had a purpose.  Or God might let you see the fruits of your labor and to enjoy the harvest.  Regardless of whether you get to see it all come to fruition or not, keep your eyes on Jesus, be faithful to Him, and He will be pleased.

May we as Christians be able to say as Paul did in 1 Corinthians, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”

Pastor Justin

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