Jul 22

Cleaning Out My Closet

Last week, I was asked to do something by my wife that needed to be done, but I dreaded doing. She asked me to clean out my closet. To be honest, it is a fairly simply process, but it meant I was going to be confronted with a reality I didn’t want to face. I was going to have to face this reality, I have changed. I knew that I had in my closet some shirts that I really like, have every intention of wearing, but also know that right now, wearing them may not be the best idea. And since, I am not wearing them at this present time, and in order to make room for what I do wear, I needed to get rid of them or put them in the clothing purgatory known as a tub downstairs. Again, let’s just be honest here, what goes into a tub downstairs, remains in a tub downstairs until it is donated. Therefore, I should just go ahead and cut out the middle stop of the tub, and give them to a Christian organization that our church partners with, the Agape Center. Why does any of this matter you ask?

It reminded me of this truth, change is inevitable, and in many instances it is good. I have to say, that is a tough sentence to type out. I am a routine guy. I am a planner. In fact, most of the time I have a plan for my plan. If you want to frazzle me, let my plan get messed with. At times, I think I remind myself (and Diana) of the “Don’t mess with my discount” lady on the new State Farm commercials, when it comes to my routine. However, change can be a good thing, and it certainly is an expected thing. After all, if we didn’t change, we would still be eating that nasty baby food in a jar. Praise God, we have teeth and better taste buds as we get older! When we were young, it was good, we even looked forward to it. However, as we got older and changed, we realized, why eat pureed chicken when you can grill up a nice filet mignon?

If you are a believer, not only can you expect change in your life, it is mandated by God. Romans 8:29 is where the apostle Paul writes, “For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” If I am going to become more like Jesus, the Holy Spirit is going to have to work in my heart and my life to change me, because on my own I will not become more like Jesus, and neither will you. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Change is inevitable, because my old self, that is ruled by sinful, selfish desires has died, and God has given me a new nature. There are many other verses we could look at to show the inevitability of change in our lives. Even creation teaches us that things change. Right now in Virginia, the heat is on and so is the humidity. For many, it has been oppressive for the last several days. However, the forecast starting tomorrow has a change coming. Right now we are in the middle of summer, but in a few months fall will be here, then winter, and then spring, and the cycle will continue. This is in part I believe why Solomon wrote, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” in Ecclesiastes 3. So, I guess my advice to myself and to the rest of you who are like me is best summed up by a man named Flip Rodriguez. Flip is a contestant on one of my favorite shows, American Ninja Warrior. He wears a shirt that says, “be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” We may not like change, but we know who is in control of all things, God. And God doesn’t change (Heb. 13:8). So, yes our lives are going to change. Sometimes that change is going to be good, and sometimes it is going to be difficult. But no matter what, we can rest and trust in the never changing God. He has never failed us or left us, and He promises that He never will. Praise God for His faithfulness, grace, mercy, and presence in every day of our lives, and in every situation we find ourselves in.

Pastor Justin

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Jul 15

Your First Disciples

Much has been written over the years about making disciples. In my own denomination (SBC), there has even been a disciple-making taskforce established. They have given a report. For what it is worth, it is a great report, and wonderful recommendations made. Much of my thinking and change in strategy has come from one of the people on that taskforce, Pastor Robby Gallaty of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Henderson, Tennessee. I have enjoyed reading the books he has written, and listening to the podcast he produces. Robby has mentioned it in multiple places, but he unfortunately is one of the few. For all of the talk about being a disciple who makes disciples; we often overlook the first disciples we are called to make. Who are they you ask?

The first disciples we are to make are our family. The basic building block of society, and what I argue makes stronger churches and communities, are strong families. It doesn’t surprise me that Satan seems to attack marriage and the family the hardest, because those were the first two institutions created and blessed by God. One thing that God is leading our church to do is to recapture that vision of strong families. A few weeks ago, in our mid-week Bible study, I laid out three principles for doing this. I won’t go into great detail on all three. But I did want to talk about the first principle. It is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie die, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (bold is mine for emphasis). In these verses we see two important truths. First, the parents must know and live the truth. Simply put, you can’t teach what you, yourself do not know and live. If you want to talk baseball, I feel I can sit down and have an intelligent conversation with you about it. I feel as though I have something to contribute to that conversation. Why? Because I spent years playing baseball, and I have given part of the last several years to coaching the game. However, if you want to sit down and talk about cars; I should be a passive spectator in that conversation. It’s not that I don’t like cars. It is simply that I don’t know much about cars. I wasn’t blessed with being very handy, and I don’t have the greatest amount of patience when dealing with tight spaces. If we try and talk about something that we don’t have knowledge or experience in, people are going to see right through us, especially if those people we are trying to talk to are our children. They see right through us, because they live with us. The second truth Moses points out here is that parents are to teach their children. The primary teacher of spiritual truths in the life of children is to be their parents. The formula of knowing and living the truth and then teaching it to others is seen in the New Testament as well in Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1-2. By teaching our children the truths of God and His Word, we are ensuring that the Gospel will continue to spread from one generation to the next. We are passing along the faith that was once delivered to us. A thought hit me just the other morning, it is possible for us to be involved in trying to make disciples in the church, while neglecting to make the first disciples we are called to make, our family. It is possible to get so involved in the work of ministry that we forget our first and I would argue, our most important ministry occurs not in the church building but in our house. The second truth I taught on that Wednesday was that the church plays a secondary role in training children. As parents, we need to resist the idea that it is the church’s responsibility to teach our children everything they need to know about God and the Bible. Due to time constraints, the church simply can’t do a proper job. In the same line of thinking, the church must resist the temptation to be the all in all teacher of the children. This lead to the third truth which was, the church’s responsibility then is to help teach and equip the parents to train their children spiritually (Eph. 4:11-12). God has given the church gifts and leaders who are to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. The work of ministry begins in the home! So how can we make disciples of our family? How can the church help?

The most effective way of making a disciple is by having them be active in your life. I know many people were hoping for a silver bullet or some ministry program, but I’m convinced that those things simply don’t exist. We can start by doing two things. First, let our spouse and/or children see us reading God’s Word and hearing us pray. Second, have them study and pray with you. Being a disciple is more caught than it is taught. This was Jesus’ method with His disciples. You can break the Gospels down into three distinct phases. The first one was Jesus did and the disciples watched. Then, the disciples did and Jesus watched. Finally, when Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples did and continue to do. Jesus didn’t give them some classroom formula and tell them to go do it. He taught it, modeled it, and then helped them do it. Another way to make disciples of your family is to worship together. One thing that has been on my mind for a year or more now is just how isolated our churches are most Sunday mornings. We talk about family and the important of family. However, when the family gets to the church building, we send them in a bunch of different directions. Husbands and wives often go to different Bible study classes while the children go to their own. Then, they spent a little time in worship together before we ship the kids off to children’s church (if your church does children’s church). Then, if you have a mid-week service we do it all over again. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have age specific Bible study classes. There are times in which they are very good and helpful. But at a minimum, we might want to think about studying the same lesson on age appropriate levels. Give the family something to talk about after church or during the week. Give them something they can study as a family, and grow in their faith together. The leadership team that I serve with at Westlake and I have talked about this, and we are beginning to get some answers to our prayers, think about it this way; a normal “church” week involves Sunday school, worship, children’s church, and then a mid-week Bible study. For adults, that means typically at least three different lessons that we are to digest and apply. Anyone else have a hard time digesting one lesson and applying it? For a child, the normal “church” week involves three lessons, Sunday school/small group, children’s church, and mid-week. If it is hard for us as adults to process all of that, why do we think it is any easier for our children to? I believe it is important for families to worship together, not just sing the same songs, but for the child to see their parent(s) studying God’s Word as the preacher is preaching. At the same time, the children will pick up and learn more than we often think they do. The final suggestion for making a disciple of your family is this, be intentional and be honest. You won’t grow in your walk with God on accident. You are going to have to be intentional about it. At the same time, don’t try to paint a picture of you that isn’t true, and that your family will see right through. As hard as it is, we need to be honest with our family about our struggles. Talk about how you need God’s grace each day, and how God loves you even though you frequently sin. Your child will not think less of you, they will see authenticity, which will help woo their heart to Jesus. At the end of the day, our job as parents is to love our children as God loves us. We are to represent Him to them, and point them to Him as who they need. So let me ask one final question at the end of this long post, are you making disciples of your family? If not, confess it, know God has forgiven you, and seek His help to begin today. We are in a war, it may be invisible, but it has very real casualties. Let’s keep the Gospel moving from one generation to the next, by loving and teaching those closest to us.

Pastor Justin

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Jul 10

Paper or Digital?

With our high-tech society, most retailers these days ask you if you wanted a printed receipt or a digital receipt. Digital receipts allow them to use less paper, so there is a cost savings to the company there. Of course, there is also a darker side of it, they want your e-mail address so they can send you all of their ads and try to get you to come back into their store and spend more money. But alas, most of the time, I get a digital receipt. It is easier to keep track of, and helps when looking at the budget to know where money is going. But the paper or digital debate isn’t just in the business side of life. It is also the subject of debate amongst church-goers when it comes to their Bible. There is definitely an age gap associated with this debate, though there are certainly outliers in each. But if you are 50 or older, most likely you carry a paper copy of the Bible to church and maybe to work. If you are below 50, most likely you have your Bible on your tablet or smartphone. There are advantages to both of course. And in my mind this debate is settled very easily, whichever one you are more likely to use is the right option for you.

If you have ever attended Westlake Baptist, you know that my sermon outline is on my iPad. However, I always have a paper copy of the Bible in my hand while I’m preaching. However, for the longest time when I would do my private devotion time with God, I would use my iPad or my iPhone. I have so many bookmarks and highlights in my YouVersion, I would be very sad if I lost them all. And that is one reason why I love the digital copy of the Bible. I can highlight and make notes to my heart’s content, and know that they are stored on a cloud. Let’s face it, there is only so much room to write a note in a paper copy of the Bible. I don’t have those limitations in the digital copy. I can also share notes and highlights with friends, and they can do the same with the digital copy of the Bible (at least through YouVersion). I am currently doing a Bible reading plan with other people using the digital version of the Bible. We can keep track of each other’s progress to encourage or to nudge along to keep the habit of daily Bible reading, as well as, read any notes one or all of us make. It truly is a great discipleship tool and accountability tool. However, just like doing a digital receipt at your favorite retailer can have a downside; there can be a downside to solely using a digital copy of the Bible. Warning, I’m about to sound like the “old guy.”

I have what we tell our middle son, Noah, is his super power, ADD. I can go from on topic to chasing a squirrel in less than 5 seconds. Many times, my office is like my mind, cluttered and unorganized. Some days I wonder how I get anything accomplished. And over time I noticed something about myself as I used my iPad to do my devotions. Sometimes, I would struggle to stay focused on my reading or in praying. It was never intentional, but again, I get easily distracted. Since my iPad and my iPhone share notifications, my iPad can easily go off 10 or more times with various notifications. Try as I might to ignore them and keep focused on what I am doing, many times I find myself checking the notifications. I am one of those people, who hate to see unread notifications on my phone, laptop, or iPad. Each day before I leave the office, I put any unread e-mails into a folder that I come to first the next day. Yes, I realize you can turn off notifications on your smartphone and tablets, but then I forget to turn them back on, and since I don’t see the notifications, I don’t know that I need to go respond to things. It’s that whole out of sight, out of mind thing for my brain. So, now I try to use my paper copy of the Bible to do my devotions. I still go in to the YouVersion app to highlight, make notes, and more from my reading. But I try to make sure that I don’t use it unless I have to for the actual reading. There is one other downfall, at least in my mind, and I’m open to the fact this may only be in my mind. With a digital copy of the Bible, when the pastor or teacher says, “Turn to (book of the Bible)”, all you have to do is tap the top of the screen, and you can find that book. People learning the books of the Bible is becoming a lost art. Again, as long as you are bringing your Bible to church, I’m a happy pastor. But I have to say there is something neat about hearing pages flip. There is something special about highlighting and making notes in your Bible. A pastor several years ago told me that he uses a Bible to preach from until it is worn out. Then it becomes his personal study Bible that he goes back and highlights and makes notes in. He does it to help him put lessons together with cross-references and things. But he said the main reason he does it is so that he can pass it down to his kids as they get older. They can see what God would saying and teaching him through the years. I thought that was a fantastic idea, and so I have begun to do the same. Each time I wear out a “preaching” Bible, I ask someone to make a box, and put a plaque on it with the dates that I used that Bible, and one day, Lord willing I will pass them down to each of my kids. Let’s be honest, you can’t do that with a tablet. Those things will only last for so long :).

Maybe you aren’t like me, and you don’t get easily distracted. Maybe you prefer a paper copy of God’s Word. Maybe you prefer a digital copy of God’s Word. It really doesn’t matter. What really matters is that we read it to know God, and seek His help in obeying Him. Neither a printed or a digital copy will show you are more dedicated and committed over the other. My philosophy is this, which ever one you will use, that’s the right one for you, and there is plenty of room at the table for both groups.

Pastor Justin

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Jul 09

Can You Hear Me Now?

I wonder how many people remember Verizon Wireless’ slogan from a few years ago, “Can you hear me now?” I kind of wonder if God ever feels like asking us that question. Yesterday, I got to be a guest driver for Diana and her summer camp kids. They were such great kids, but they got me thinking about this subject. Once they were all buckled in to their car seats, and we were ready to go, I heard one of them ask this question, “Ms. Diana, does this bus play music?” I laughed and of course immediately turned up the radio, and they started singing along. It was such a sweet sound to hear those kids singing praises to the Lord. However, while I waited in the bus for them to return after singing for the residents of a nursing home in the area, I got to thinking about our daily lives, specifically our walk with God. Sometimes, it seems as though we are walking step for step with the Lord. We are walking and talking with Him, we hear Him, we see His hand moving in our lives and all around us. Then, there are times when it seems God is a thousand steps ahead of us, and we are struggling to see Him let alone hear Him. Of course, there are several different reasons why this could be the case. But this was the thought the struck me yesterday, sometimes we don’t hear God because of all of the noise in our lives.

I will freely admit, when I get into the car, I love to turn on the radio and sing my heart out. I am sure many a people have had a great laugh after sitting beside me at a red light. Or sometimes, I will turn on a news station to catch up with the headlines. Other times, I want to hear a sports story or two, so I will turn on a sports station. The point is, at a time when I am alone, a perfect time to talk with God and listen to Him, I often have noise on. Could this be why we so often struggle to hear from God? Certainly it isn’t just the radio. We have television, gaming systems, computers, and of course our smart phones. I know I’m not the only one here, but my phone starts going off typically by 6:00 every morning, and it doesn’t seem to stop. By themselves, none of these things are bad things. However, I wonder if we have allowed what was meant for good to become something bad in our lives that drowns out God’s voice, at least subconsciously?

When Jesus taught the disciples how to pray said, “But when you pray, go into your closet (room) and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret” (Mt. 6:6). Telling someone to go into their closet or their room to pray seems strange to us. But I think I’m starting to see why Jesus gave us that teaching. In my closet, there are no distractions. Being able to close the door allows me to shut the world out, even if for just a brief few moments. It is in those times that as I open the Scriptures and read in order to pray, that I find my mind doesn’t wander off as much and I don’t get as distracted. Our society has seemingly become scared of silence and solitude. Certainly, silence and solitude for a long time can have long-lasting ramifications. But I would say that we all need a little silence and a little bit of solitude each day. A few minutes where we can tune the world out, so that we can tune in to what God wants to say to us today. So grab your Bible, head to your closet, talk to God, and allow Him to talk back (primarily through His Word). Or, when you get into your car, spend at least half your car ride with the radio off. Let’s make sure, that as much as depends on us, we can hear God now.

Pastor Justin

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Jul 08

Mowing the Lawn and Gospel Ministry

A few weeks ago, I had to have surgery done. It was what the doctor described as “a routine, major surgery.” It was something they did a lot of, but it was a major surgery. My greatest fear through all of it, was not the outcome of the surgery, but rather the changes I needed to make leading up to and following the surgery. I knew the changes were only temporary, and that they were for my good in a lot of aspects. But that didn’t mean I liked having to do them. One of the things I was going to have to not do leading up to the surgery, and for at least 4 weeks following the surgery was this; I could not get on the mower. For some people that isn’t a big deal, for me however, that was a very big deal. I enjoy being on a mower. I don’t enjoy cutting the grass as much as I love the peace and solitude being on the mower gives me. For the three hours or so a week, I get to unplug from the world and focus on worshipping God. The time on the mower is spent in prayer, in singing along to my iTunes, or feeding my soul by listening to other preachers proclaim God’s Word. On one of the last times I got to mow, God spoke so clearly to me through a couple of pastors and even in my prayer time. What was the subject on which God was speaking?

God was reminding me of my calling as a pastor to pass on the Gospel and biblical truths to the next generation. However, it wasn’t God saying, “make sure you share the Gospel this week or preach biblical messages.” Those are given, no-brainers. What God was saying was this, “train others to do what one day you will no longer be able to do.” And the illustration that God used in my life was handing over the mowing responsibilities to my oldest son. Andrew is certainly old enough, and he is more than capable of taking care of our yard. Fortunately, God wasn’t asking me to give up mowing at the church or the ballfield (yet anyway). I have been aware for some time, that Andrew was ready and needed more responsibility. After all, he is growing up, and one day he is no longer going to live in our house. If the Lord wills, Andrew will get married one day, and many of the responsibilities will fall on him as a way to love and provide for his family. Therefore, he needed someone to show him how. It was during this time of mowing for me that God brought back to my mind a sermon I preached a few months back, but also a book that I had recently read, and two sermons I had just listened to by faithful men of God.

Passing on the timeless truths of God’s Word and the responsibility of teaching those truths to the next generation is how we ensure the Gospel doesn’t end with us. Passing them on and the responsibility of teaching those truths is clearly commanded in Scripture. The apostle Paul says it this way in 2 Timothy 2:1-2, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.” Paul speaks of four generations here learning and teaching biblical truths. He starts with himself and what he had learned. Paul tells Timothy, take what you have heard from me. Therefore, Timothy is the second. Timothy is then to teach those truths to “faithful men.” That is the third generation. Then those faithful men are to pass it on to others, which is the fourth generation. In a strange way, teaching my son how to take care of our yard, and then passing on the responsibility for him to do it, reminded me of my calling to pass on what God has taught me to others, so that they can teach others, and pass it on to even more people.

This isn’t something that just applies to pastors or teachers. This also applies to us as parents, but also to all Christians. Every believer is called to be a minister of the Gospel. We are to share the Gospel with those God places us in front of (Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). As a parent, the first disciples I should be making are the children that God has entrusted me with. We clearly see this in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Let us be diligent in sharing the Gospel and biblical truths with others, and let us also be diligent in intentionally investing in the next generation of leaders. In other words, let’s be disciples who make disciples who make disciples.

Pastor Justin

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Jul 01

Justice For All

Ingrained in all of us is a desire for justice. We have this desire, because of our Creator. In Genesis 1, we learn that God has made mankind in His image. However, in Genesis 3, we see the fall of mankind into sin that changed everything. Because of our sin nature, we often times desire fairness rather than justice. However, let us get wronged or someone we care about get hurt, and we quickly call for justice. Many in the world call it karma, or express our desire for wrongs to be righted with the statement, “what goes around comes around.” We are tempted to believe that this is something new, but of course it isn’t.

In Acts 28, Luke is recording the voyage of Paul to Rome. To say that it has been an interesting journey and somewhat disastrous is a small understatement. However, we see this belief in karma stated in Acts 28. The ship that Paul was on has run aground, and the ship is destroyed. The prisoners on the ship with Paul, are able to make it to land. The people on the island of Malta show Paul and the others great kindness. Luke records that one way they showed them kindness was that they built a fire on the seashore for them, because they were wet and cold. The heat from the fire, drew a snake out. Clearly it was a poisonous snake because the people of Malta thought Paul was going to be dead. They expressed it this way, “no doubt this man is a murderer. Though he escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” I love what Luke records next. He says they waited for him to swell up and die. Luke says they waited a long time for that in fact, but no harm came to Paul. Of course, then the people of Malta took their belief 180 degrees and decided that Paul must be a god.

When they saw the viper bite Paul, they were convinced that he had done something wrong, and now justice was coming to him. We are a lot like them aren’t we? Whether we express it or not, we often have a mindset that we get what we deserve, what goes around comes around, etc. Unfortunately, many in the church are not immune to thinking this way as well. Sadly, this line of thinking causes many to attend church or give to the church, not out of love and gratefulness for their salvation, but rather out of fear of God taking His revenge on us somehow. There are three lessons we can learn from Acts 28 as well as a quick survey of Scripture.

The first lesson is this, the controlling force is the world is not karma; rather it is the sovereignty of God. To say that God is sovereign is to say that God is in control of all things, at all times. In recent years, there have been many assaults launched at God, the Bible, and Christians professing a firm conviction about the sovereignty of God. While, we don’t have time to deal with them here, I would be more than happy to discuss them with you. You can contact me at pastorjustin@westlakebaptist.org. God had ordained that Paul would go to Rome, and nothing was going to change God’s will for Paul, or for you and I. Paul could have been set free, in fact, Roman leaders were willing to have done so had Paul not appealed his case to Caesar (Acts 25, 27, 28). Paul had been shipwrecked (Acts 28). Paul was bitten by a poisonous snake, and there were no anti-venoms in those days (Acts 28). However, none of those things were able to thwart God’s plan for Paul’s life. What a blessing and an encouragement to know that nothing we will face in life, can alter God’s plan for our lives!

The second lesson is that one day justice will prevail. Let us be careful in crying out for justice, we will talk about why shortly. One of the hardest things for many to understand about this life is why certain things happen. Why do young people get cancer and die? Why do those who hurt women and children seem to get free passes from our penal system? Why this, or why that? We ask that question, again, because ingrained in us from the moment of our conception, is a basic understanding of the need for justice. And when we see something that is unjust or that doesn’t seem right, we cry out for justice to be done. May we all learn to be like Abraham as he talked with God about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18, when Abraham said, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” The world we live in right now isn’t perfect, sin has marred it and continues to mar it by the choices we make daily. Maybe you have been the victim of a great injustice in life. I know this won’t take away the pain and the hurt you have experienced, but I hope this will encourage you; one day, in God’s time and in God’s way, He will right every wrong. He will bring true justice. Which leads us to the third lesson.

In the cross, we see both grace and justice. While we cry out for justice to be done, let us be careful in doing so. If God was to deliver justice immediately, every time it was called for, we would all be in grave danger. God is holy, that is He is morally pure and perfect in all ways. As such, God cannot stand sin, as it violates His holiness. If God was to deliver His justice to us, none of us would be able to stand. In fact, we would all be delivered to an eternal place of torment known in Scripture as the lake of fire. In Isaiah 64:6, the prophet says, “Our righteousness is but filthy rags.” In light of our blatant rebellion against God, even the good things we do, aren’t really that good. What we see in God sending His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross is the justice of God. In His holiness, sin demanded punishment and payment. In His death, Jesus delivered both of those on our behalf. Which means, not only did God do what is just at the cross, but He also extended grace to you, me, and all of the world. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” The prince of preachers, Charles Spurgeon, called this verse “the great exchange.” At the cross, Jesus exchanged His holy perfection for mankind’s sinfulness, and in turn gave sinful men, His holy perfection. At the cross, Jesus took our sin and in salvation offers us His right standing with God. Oh, may we never get tired of singing and praising God for His grace that saves a wretch like me!

Pastor Justin

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
May 07

Something Isn’t Right

I am writing out of great concern for many people in the church right now. I have been thinking about this the past couple of days, and only now is God allowing me to put it on paper. I realize that many will not like much of what I will write here. My prayer however is that they will know my heart behind it. I encourage anyone to reach out to me if there is something you would like to talk about concerning this post.

The apostle Paul wrote several letters while sitting in a Roman jail. One such letter is the book of Philippians. Many commentators speak of Philippians as a book of joy, which is certainly true. In the opening chapter, Paul is telling the Philippian believers how he prays for them. In verses 9 and 10 Paul says he prays, “that your love may abound yet more and more in the knowledge and in all discernment, that you may approve things that are excellent so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” Paul is praying that the Philippian believers would have and use discernment. Discernment is related to wisdom, but takes it a step further. To discern something is to make a determination about something or someone. It is the ability to look deeper than what is readily seen or known on the surface. Why was Paul concerned about the Philippians having discernment? He says in verse 10 that they need discernment so that “you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” Paul was concerned for the holiness of the Philippian believers. He knew that the power of the Gospel came from the Holy Spirit, and flowed through the life of a believer who was pursuing holiness in their life. A polluted life lacks the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is where my concern for the church comes in. There have been several events over the course of the last week that have caused this angst in me. But on top of that, I am concerned about what we as believers are allowing into our lives. Last week, news broke of a particular author passing away after battling an infection. She proclaimed to be a Christian, and authored several best sellers aimed at Christians. I will not get into a debate on whether or not she was genuinely a disciple of Jesus or not. Only God knows the heart of a person. Yes, we are to look at the fruit of a person’s life, and that will give us an idea of where they stand with God. But ultimately, only God knows. My concern came in two waves. The first was reading many social media posts about this particular woman. If you didn’t see who they were talking about, but only read what was being written, you would have thought they were talking about Jesus. We can and should celebrate the life God gives us, but we should understand anything truly done for the kingdom is empowered and inspired by the Spirit, not us. As Paul says, “there is nothing good in me, that is my flesh.” My other cause of concern was how many took to social media to blast this particular woman, and in some instances appear to actually be celebrating her death. One went as far as to say that while they aren’t happy she is dead, they are pleased that she can no longer lead people astray with her false teachings. Leaving your personal feelings out of this, this was a married woman with children. Her husband and children are suffering the pain of losing a wife and mother. There is a time and a place to debate proper theology, and I love a good debate as much as the next person. However, the morning after a person dies is not that time, and certainly not on social media where her husband, children, or family might and will most likely one day see it. In both cases we see a lack of discernment. On top of this, I’m concerned with what we as Christians are allowing into our lives in the form of entertainment. We will willingly watch shows or movies that use inappropriate language, having sexual content, and take the name of the Lord in vain. In many cases, we become so desensitized to it, we don’t even notice it. This is the dulling and searing of our conscience that the Bible speaks of. I realize that if we didn’t watch every television show or movie or listen to every song that had those things we wouldn’t have much to watch or listen to. But I wonder if we realize what we are allowing into our lives. Because whatever enters through our eyes or ears makes its way to our mind, down into our heart, and ultimately out of our mouth and life. I certainly don’t want to sound holier than thou, because I am just as guilty. But as a pastor who gets to walk alongside believers and tries to help as the Lord allows, I see the devastating effects a lack of discernment is causing. It causes me to wonder in my mind, could this be why the church seems so impotent in our culture? Could this be part of the reason why many millennials and those younger are choosing to walk away from the church? When I bring this up, I hear people say, “well pastor you know that the closer we get to the end, the worse things will be, and the more people won’t care about God.” I agree with that for the most part, but that doesn’t mean that those who claim the name of Christ should be a part of it. That’s like when someone laments that their church isn’t growing, and someone tries to comfort them by saying, “well, it’s not just your church, it is every church.” I don’t want to be like the 75% of churches that have plateaued or are declining.

As believers, we are given a command in Scripture, “be holy for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). That is an Old Testament quote that Peter uses that is found in Leviticus 11:44. Paul would say that we are to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The word “transformed” there is the same word used in Matthew 17 to speak of the glory of God that shined through Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. In that moment on the mountain, the glory of who Jesus was shined through. It was a visible change because of what was on the inside. That is what Paul was getting at in Romans 12:1-2 when he talked about being “transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Because the grace of God saved us, and the Holy Spirit lives inside of us; we are to be altogether different that we were before God saved us. Day by day as we surrender our life and will to God, He will change us and make us more like Jesus. But that won’t happen unless we let go of the things of this world and instead pursue Jesus.

Pastor Justin

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Apr 14

Discipleship Begins At Home

For the last seven weeks at Westlake, we have been talking about discipleship, and what it means to follow Jesus. It is easy to talk about what it looks like in the church, but I believe often we overlook the place where discipleship must begin. One of my greatest concerns as a pastor and as a father is the rapid increase in our country of people who say they don’t have any beliefs in spiritual matters or they don’t see the need for church.  I don’t want to condemn anyone with this, but I think we as parents have to take a hard look at ourselves and ask the question, why are our children growing up this way?  Many parents often look to the church to be the sole spiritual teacher of their children. This is not what the Bible teaches however.  The primary teachers of the children were and are to be the parents.  We see this in many places in the Bible.  One such place is what is known as the Shema prayer, that every Jewish person would learn and recite at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day.  It is recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 which says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart.  Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up.  Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead.  Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”  In other words, mom and dad, we need to be teaching, telling, and modeling for our children what it means to love God and follow Him.  The church is meant to be a helper to the parents in the spiritual formation of their children, not the primary teacher. Think of it this way; there are 168 hours in a given week.  If you figure that a child gets 8 hours of sleep a night that is 56 hours a week. The second most common task for a kid in a week is school.  If they are in school for around 8 hours a day that is 40 hours a week.  So, in two activities for the average child, 96 hours out of 168 are already spoken for.  By the way, if your child is in a public school, they are getting indoctrinated with the world’s philosophies, which are almost always contrary to what Scripture says, for 40 hours a week.  By the way, I’m not condemning any parent who sends their child to a public school, nor am I condemning any public school teacher or worker.  I simply want to point out this discrepancy.  If the church is the primary teacher for your child, at best, the church will get to spiritually form your child for 3 hours a week (Sunday school, worship, and Wednesday night).  40 hours of the world’s philosophies versus 3 hours a week of God’s truth.  This is why it is so vital for mom and dad to be the primary spiritual teachers of their children.  Our children will mimic and model the priorities that they see in us.  This is why discipleship must begin in the home! We are one generation from a Gospel witness being extinguished in this country, and we are approaching that tipping point quickly.  Therefore, this generation of parents; we must stand up, and boldly declare, I will teach and model for my children what it means to love and follow God.

For more information or resources on how to begin disciplining your children, please reach out to us at westlakebc@gmail.com or you can e-mail me directly at pastorjustin@westlakebaptist.org. May this be the generation where we see people concerned and consumed with the expansion of God’s kingdom.

Pastor Justin

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Mar 15

So You’re Saying There’s A Chance

Springtime is one of my favorite times of the year. The temperatures are getting a little warmer, the grass will be getting green again, and there will once again be a wonderful, familiar sounds. Those sounds are the umpire yelling “play ball”, the smack of a glove as the ball hits it, the ball hitting the bat, and the cheers of the fans as they root for their favorite team. For the major leagues, they are still in spring training right now. College baseball has been going as well as high school ball. In fact, today is the season opener for the Smith Mountain Lake Christian Academy Ospreys. This is one of those days for me that an alarm clock is not needed. For most teams, early spring brings excitement and anticipation of what could be. For some teams it brings anxiety because of the pressure put on them with the expectations of winning a championship. But one thing is for sure, on opening day, every team has an equal record, and an equal opportunity to win a championship.

This reminds me of some truths about salvation. We are all seen the same in God’s eyes. Every since Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3), all of mankind was plunged into the darkness of sin. Romans 5:12 tells us, “Therefore as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, so death spread to all me, because all have sinned.” Because of our sin nature, we are powerless to do anything about our spiritual condition. Baseball teams may get better by trading for new players or working hard in the off season. However, no amount of hard work can change who we are as sinners. Yet there is good news. Because of His love, God gave us grace in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ. By sending Jesus to this earth to die on the cross, God made a way for us to be reconciled with Him where there was no way before. He didn’t do it because of our merit or because we are good people. He did it because that is who God is. By His death on the cross, Jesus satisfied the wrath of God against all sin. By His resurrection, Jesus secured the possibility that we could be saved (Rom. 4:25). Jesus did what we could never do so that we might receive what we don’t deserve, and what we could never get on our own. The beauty of God’s grace is that it is available to all who will surrender their heart and life to Jesus. God’s grace becomes even more magnificent when we realize that we are never beyond the reach of God’s grace. The end of Romans 5:20, “where sin did abound, grace did abound much more.” This is good news for those who feel that they have sinned too often, or too bad. This is God saying, no one is beyond My reach.

So today, if you are far from God, know that He has come near to you. Know that His grace is available for you. In His love, God is pursuing you with His grace with the desire of having a relationship with you. You no longer have to listen to the lies of Satan that say, God would never love you or save you. He has proven that He will, by dying on your behalf, even while you were far from Him and running from Him. What I’m saying is this, there’s a chance! As God reveals your need for Him, confess that you have been rejecting Him, and your need for Him. He will give you the faith to trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus on your behalf. And by His grace, He will save you today.

If you have any questions, or would like to talk about what it means to be saved, to walk with Jesus, or to grow in your faith. I hope you will reach out to us here at Westlake Baptist. You can call the church office at 540-721-8784, or you can e-mail me at pastorjustin@westlakebaptist.org.

Pastor Justin

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
Feb 28

Worried About The Wrong Things

For football fans, this weekend a fascinating event happens. It is known as the NFL Combine. It is where former college players essentially try out for every NFL team. They run a 40 yard dash, do a standing jump, bench press, and specific drills for their position in front of every team. Not to mention you get to take the WonderLick test, and go through a crazy interview process in which your life is dissected every possible way. You go through a physical that leaves nothing to the imagination. It truly is a grueling process for these guys. They do it all in hopes of hearing their name called at the NFL draft, and getting the shot at playing football at the highest level. In the days leading up to the Combine, owners, general managers, and the talking-heads of sports radio and television preview the top prospects, and breakdown what they believe each person can do at the NFL level. Every year, there is one prospect that passes the “eye” test, but is still talked about in a negative way. This year it is former Oklahoma quarterback, Kyler Murray. Murray was drafted by the Oakland A’s in the baseball draft, and offered a contract. However, he turned it down for a chance to play in the NFL. The “eye” test of watching this man on film shows that he is an impressive quarterback. However, all the experts are not sold on him as being a franchise quarterback in the NFL. Maybe you are wondering, why? That is actually the reason of this post. Some experts are sold on him because….wait for it…..Kyler Murray is too short. Murray is between 5’9″ and 5’10”. The photo-typical quarterback the experts say is over 6′ tall. They aren’t knocking him for his on the field play. He has the arm strength, he came make all the throws, he has good vision downfield, and he has great escapability from the pocket when pressured. By the way, for those who aren’t as knowledgeable about football, those are all very good things. Those are things that you want your quarterback to be able to do. So instead of highlighting what he can do, they are knit-picking the one thing that Murray can’t control. You can add weight or lose weight, you can work on foot speed, and you can even work on arm strength. However, once you are done growing, that’s it, you are done growing. How in the world, does this relate to Christianity, and why would a pastor spend time talking about it?

I am talking about it, because I think a lot of times we as Christians and we as churches, focus on the wrong things. We focus on church growth strategies, we focus on branding and social media platforms, we focus on leadership conferences, etc. There is nothing wrong with having a desire to see a church grow, there isn’t anything wrong with using all available means to communicate the Gospel with the world, and there isn’t anything wrong with wanting to develop godly leaders. In fact, these are all good things. The problem is, because of our sin nature, sometimes we can take a good thing and make it a god-thing, which makes it a bad thing. Put another way, we can take something God meant for good, and turn it into an idol. There are a lot of Bible stories about this very thing. The one that immediately comes to mind though is the story of Mary and Martha when Jesus came to visit them in Luke 10.

Here is the scene, Jesus comes to Bethany which is just a few miles from Jerusalem. As Jesus goes into Mary and Martha’s house, we see two different priorities come to the surface in the women. Martha immediately springs into action. She want to be a good host. In today’s Christian vernacular, we would say that Martha has a servant’s heart (whatever that means). Mary on the other hand, goes and sits at the feet of Jesus. This frustrates Martha. Instead of saying something to Mary however, Martha directs her comment to Jesus. She says, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to help me.” Jesus’ response to her is this, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and anxious about many things: but one thing is needed (important): and Mary has chosen the good thing, which shall not be taken away from her.” Martha is worried about the wrong things, that is because she is focusing on a good thing, but not God. It’s not that Martha was doing anything wrong. In those days, it was the expectation and some would say the job of a woman to be a good hostess. Martha wanted to make sure the house was clean, that there was food to eat, and that her guest was comfortable. We do the exact same things today when guests come over. There is nothing wrong with it. Martha was doing a good thing, but she didn’t choose the best thing. Martha was more consumed with what she could do for Jesus, instead of being consumed with Jesus. Did Mary see that some things in the house probably needed to be straightened up? Did she know they were going to need to fix supper? Did she know that it was her job to make sure that her guest was comfortable? Absolutely she did. But to Mary, it was more important to spend time with Jesus. Sitting at Jesus’ feet communicated that Mary was submissive to Jesus, and that she wanted to learn from Him. Sitting at the feet of someone in those days was the place of a servant, and the place where a student would sit in relation to their teacher. In many ways, what Martha could do for Jesus had become an idol in her life. What matters is not what we do, but rather who we belong to. Service is part of the life of a disciple of Jesus. We are called and commanded to serve. However, it can’t take the place of spending time with Jesus. We must fight to make sure that our service doesn’t become our identity. Let’s make sure to make time to sit at the feet of Jesus, to worship Him, and to allow Him to direct us in what we should do.

Pastor Justin

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment