Oct 01

The Word Does The Work

Have you ever seen something grow despite obvious challenges to growth? I have to be honest, for the longest time, the grass in our driveway grew better than some of the grass in our yard. No matter what we did or sprayed, the grass would grow in the driveway. It just didn’t make sense, yet the growth was undeniable. I imagine that throughout history people have had similar thoughts about church growth. How did the church grow in the first century with all the persecution that happened? How did it continue to grow despite all the obstacles and opposition? How does the church grow today when there are so many other things that vie for the attention of people? There is one undeniable able to that question. The answer is, the Word of God. Specifically, it is the Spirit of God using the Word of God proclaimed faithfully to grow the church of God. It has nothing to do with great theologians, charismatic pastors, flashy programs or worship services. The church grows as God intended for it by the Spirit of God using the Word of God proclaimed faithfully. In Acts 17:11-12 we read, “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that the received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore, many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.” Everywhere Paul and his ministry companions went they faced intense opposition. They were run out of city after city, yet the church kept growing. Why? Because Paul taught the Scriptures to the people, and the Spirit of God used it to convert sinners and make them into disciples. There are a few lessons that I think we in the modern-day church could learn from this.

  1. Be faithful in teaching the whole counsel of God. This first encouragement is for the pastors and Bible teachers. I know it is difficult to teach everything, because so many things have become hot button topics these days. I know we all have issues or topics that we like, and we enjoy teaching on them. However, only preaching “relevant” topics or our getting up on our favorite “hobby horse” issues is like a diet that consists of a meat, bread, and junk food. If you eat that stuff you will grow, but not in the right ways. You will grow, but you will be unhealthy. We need a well-balanced diet if we want to grow the right way and be healthy. The same is true for the church. She needs the full counsel of the Word of God taught to her, even those tough topics we don’t like to teach on. If it is in the Bible, it is inspired by God and good for the Christian.
  2. Be a student of the Bible. This is not just for pastors, this is for all Christians. Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15 to be “study to show yourself approved, a workman of God that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” If you want to grow in your walk with God, there are no shortcuts. It is only by persistent prayer and diligent study of the Bible.
  3. Expect opposition. I can’t remember who said it, but they said, “every place God builds a church, Satan builds a synagogue on the other street corner.” Just remember, anything worth building is worth working for. So, labor well in Christ’s power.
  4. Trust God for the results. At the end of the day, you can be diligent in study, persistent in prayer but still struggle to see growth. However, I thought about what happened here in Virginia a couple of weeks ago. It was a bright, what should have been a sunny day; yet, it was hazy outside. The haziness was the result of the California wildfires. Think about that, our sky was affected by something happening 3,000 miles away. My point is, you don’t always see immediate results. However, as you are faithful over time, one day you will wake up and see things that you had been praying for, maybe for years. But even if things don’t grow the way you desire, trust that God is still on His throne and knows what He is doing. It is His will that we want to see, not our own.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 30

Faith Working Through Love

Have you ever been the recipient of an empty gesture, such as when someone gives you a gift because you gave them one? Or someone just give you flattering words, but you could tell by their tone of voice it was insincere? For those who are trying to earn their way to heaven through their good works, it is an empty gesture toward God. It means nothing, and it will bear nothing good in the end. The apostle Paul says in Galatians 5:6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.”

Whether we are obeying the Law or not obeying the Law, it doesn’t commend us or condemn us before God. Because we are sinners, we stand condemned by God (Rom. 3:23, 5:12). Our way to be made right with God isn’t found in what we do. Rather it is found in trusting in what Jesus has already done for us. Paul is telling the Galatians that it is faith that saves. However, it is a certain type of faith which saves. It is not simply someone who says “I believe” a certain set of beliefs. A saving faith is a faith that not only says “I believe”, but it also demonstrates that faith in how it behaves. A faith that saves has works (see Eph. 2:8-10). Not only does a genuine faith demonstrate itself through works, but it is motivated by love. It is a love that is first centered on Jesus. The greatest command is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt. 22:37). As I am loving God rightly, then it will show itself in how I love others. This is why Jesus said the second greatest command is like the first, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39). Just as people can tell if you are simply going through the motions with them, God knows our hearts and our motivation. We will not be able to fool God by faking it until we make it. I would even suggest that many people feel unfulfilled in their walk with Christ, not because Christ isn’t enough, but because they are focusing on doing right instead of being right in their heart. Let this be a gut check, or in this case, a heart check for each of us. Why do we do the things we do? Are we walking by faith, doing what God has called us to do because we love God and others, and we desire to see Him glorified, or is there some other motivation? Spend time in reflection and prayer today, asking God to reveal your heart to you. Then respond accordingly to what He reveals.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 29

Not For Nothing

Have you ever felt like you worked hard for something, or worked to help someone but it wasn’t appreciated? What about working hard for a promotion, going through the process of making sacrifices trying to show your boss that you are worthy of that promotion, only to not get the promotion? In those times it can feel like you did all of that for nothing. We know it wasn’t for nothing, but in that moment, that is how it feels. I imagine that is how a lot of people feel who are trying to work their way to heaven. They try and try to live a “good” life, and to do the right things. For a while, they are successful, but it seems like somewhere along the way they fall back into those old sinful patterns. The apostle Paul, in writing to the churches in Galatia, has some words for you if you are feeling this way today. Galatians 2:21 says, “I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died in vain.”

The churches in Galatia started off strong, but some false teachers had moved in and were causing havoc in the churches. These false teachers, like Satan in the Garden of Eden, perverted the Gospel and caused many to suffer for it. Just like Satan, these false teachers didn’t outright deny what God had taught, they simply “tweaked” it. The problem is, a half truth is a still a full lie. The false teachers in Galatia had come in and they were teaching that you needed faith in Jesus, but that you also had to keep the Law in order to be saved. This is a faith+ belief. Unfortunately, this false teaching is alive and well in the American church today just as it was in Paul’s day in Galatia. Why is a works-based salvation so appealing to many? Because it makes sense to us, it lines up with what we are taught from a very young age. We are taught to depend on no one but ourselves, to pull ourselves up by the boot straps, or if you want it to go get it. All of these things make sense to us, because this is what we are taught in society, and unfortunately many times in our homes as well. Paul’s point in our text is that if we could save ourselves by what we do, then Jesus died for nothing. If salvation is by our works, then there was no purpose in Jesus coming to the earth, and there would be no purpose in God putting His Son through the agony of the crucifixion. However, God doesn’t do something for no reason. Even though we may not always see it or understand it, there is a plan and a purpose behind everything. Jesus had to come to the earth and lay His life down at the cross, because there was no other way that sinful man could be made right with God without that sacrifice. Yes, we are to do good works. However, we do good works because God created us and called us to do them (see Eph. 2:10), but also as a way to show our gratefulness for God saving us. Put another way, we don’t do good works in order to be saved; instead, we do good works because we have been saved. Are you living in such a way that devalues Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross? Are you trying to work your way to heaven? Just remember this, Jesus didn’t die for no reason. He died because there is no other way for us to go to heaven. Therefore, surrender your heart and life to Him, trusting in the finished sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to save us. Then, go out and do good works to glorify God and as a way to say “thank you” for saving a sinner like me.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 28

Old Habits Die Hard

Have you ever wanted to break a bad habit, but struggled doing so? It is amazing how easy it is to start something and how hard it can be to stop it. Many times it goes directly to our motives for doing it or wanting to stop it. Is it a genuine desire to stop or do we want to stop because we know we should? The same can be said for the beliefs that we hold. Sometimes we will learn something from a trusted teacher, friend, or family member and we will have a hard time letting it go, even in the face of knowing it isn’t correct. We see this happen in the early church as well. There were some Jewish people who became disciples of Jesus. However, they had a difficult time letting go of their past. We read it in Acts 15:5, “But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the Law of Moses.'”

It hadn’t been that many years since Jesus’ earthly ministry, yet we see early struggles emerging in the early church. Jesus had set them free from the Law, because He fulfilled the Law (see Mt. 5:17), yet they wanted to run back to the familiar. This is the same pull we feel as we are trying to make changes in our lives as well. For the Jewish people here, the Law of Moses was deeply revered. While you and I may not understand the pull it had over them, we need to understand that they grew up with the Law. For their entire lives they were taught that a person who is loved by God is someone who follows the Law. Now, here is a former religious leader in Paul coming in and saying that we are saved by grace, not because of the Law. While their head was able to hear it, their hearts struggled to let go of the only belief system they had ever known. This is at least the second time that there was a potential split brewing in the early church. Yet, we see the Holy Spirit work through the leaders in Jerusalem to come together, and in unity find the truth. Once again we see the power of humility and dependence on the Holy Spirit to guide the church in truth.

The lesson for us in this text is a dependence upon the Holy Spirit to guide our daily walk, and the need to study the Bible. The Spirit of God uses the Word of God to guide the child of God for the glory of God. Before we commit to a belief or a system of beliefs, we need to be intentional about praying, and studying what the Bible says about the topic. This is also a good time to remember that Proverbs 11 says that there is “safety in a multitude of counselors.” As you get alone with the Bible, and pray for wisdom and understanding, it is then good to go and talk with other believers about what you are learning. God can use other believers to either show that you are on the right track or that you have erred in understanding. This is another reason why discipleship matters so much for a Christian. Too many Christians are trying to figure it out on their own, and unfortunately Satan can come in and really mess things up in our minds and with our beliefs. This is also another reason why we should be faithful in our church attendance. The more systems of accountability and exposing ourselves to genuine Bible teaching, the better off we will be in the long run. Who do you have in your life that can speak into your life to encourage you where needed or to challenge you when necessary? Who are you learning the Bible from, and are you sharing what you are learning with others? These are all marks of a maturing Christian. Yes, old habits die hard, but God can make sure they die if you will trust Him and follow Him.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 25

Bless or Curse

Yogi Berra, the former New York Yankees catcher gave us many “Yogi-isms” said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” The context of that statement according to his book was he was giving someone directions to his house. However, that saying has been used by many people in trying to give wisdom to other people. When you come to a fork in the road, you have to pick a path. Well, the same is true in how we use our words. One of the greatest gifts we have been given by God is the ability to communicate with people. However, we must be careful in how we communicate. Our words can either be a blessing to others or they can cause great pain. In speaking of our tongue, the Bible says it is the only thing that mankind can’t tame. James wrote a lot about our speech as Christians. James 3:7-10 says, “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile, and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.”

In previous verses, James talks about how small the tongue is in comparison to the rest of our body. He compares our tongue to the bit put in a horse’s mouth and the rudder of a ship used to turn the ship. James says that although our tongue is small, it is able to control a lot. James makes an interesting statement when he says that we bless God, but then we curse man, who is made in the image of God. James is drawing a connection between our we speak to others is really revealing how we feel towards God. To curse someone made in His image, is to curse God Himself because God is the Creator of all mankind. So, when you are telling someone off, you are in a way telling God off. I think a question that we should ask ourselves before we open our mouths is this, would I say the same things to God or about God as I am getting ready to say to or about this person? While we often try to justify harsh words by saying that our emotions got the better of us, Jesus has a different take. In Matthew 15:18, Jesus said, “But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.” The context of this statement is that Jesus had offended the Pharisees by saying they were exactly like the Old Testament prophet Isaiah said Israel was when he wrote, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.” The Pharisees focused on the outward actions of the Law, but neglected the heart and motivations behind obeying the Law. Jesus was saying that they were doing the right things outwardly, but inside their heart wasn’t right. Then, Jesus tells a parable to demonstrate that truth. Afterwards, Peter comes up and asks Jesus to explain what Jesus meant by that parable. Peter’s question lead to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 15:18. Jesus’ point is that what comes out of our mouth reveals what is truly in our heart. So, when we lose control and have an angry outburst; we may say that emotions got the best of me; however, Jesus would say that what came out of us is what is truly inside of our heart. Here is the dangerous deception, we are very good at covering up the real us. We are so good at it, we even fool ourselves into believing that we are good people who just slipped up. Jesus would say, you didn’t slip up, you just got caught with your mask off, and the real you shone through in that moment. That’s hard to hear isn’t it? I think of those times that I have “lost” it even momentarily. This is why we must be in the Bible daily, because it accurately diagnoses who we are. But it also points us to Jesus, who is our hope and our help. James says that we can’t tame the tongue. His intention is to point us to Jesus. It’s not about trying harder to watch your mouth. It is about surrendering your body to Jesus, and asking the Holy Spirit to work in you and change you. We can’t tame our tongue, but the Holy Spirit can. We need to ask God to search us and to reveal who we truly are, and then we need to ask for His help to make us into the man or woman we are supposed to be.

Our words reflect our heart. You wouldn’t go swimming in a dirty pool would you? You would want it clean. Then why are we ok walking around with a dirty heart? Use your words wisely, because they can speak life to someone or they can destroy them. One of the most important times to remember the power of your words is when you are hurting or you are angry. Words that come out in a moment can do a lifetime of damage, and sometimes the damage can’t be undone. We all like to be encouraged by others, so give the encouragement to others that you hope others will give to you. Use your words to build up, not to tear down.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 24

Two Ears, One Mouth

Have you ever known someone who was always the “smartest” person in the room? They knew the answer to every question, and were always one of the first to answer? Not trying to doubt their intelligence, but seldom were they actually the “smartest” person in the room on every subject. But it didn’t stop them from believing they were, and offering their opinion. Unfortunately, in our day and age of social media, there are a lot of “smartest” people in the virtual world. I remember when a couple of our children went to a public elementary school. This particular school focused on the “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” as written by Stephen Covey. One of the habits written about in the book was to “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Whether or not Mr. Covey knew that this sort of wisdom came from Scripture or not, I don’t know. I don’t know if the school realized it. Either way, they were teaching a great principle. Something that frankly, we all could stand to remember right now, especially in our interactions on social media. James 1:19-20 says, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

One thing that Diana and I try to tell our children, “God gave you two ears and one mouth. Therefore, do twice as much listening as you do talking.” It is easy to say, but sometimes hard to follow. However, it is needed, maybe now more than ever in our nation. With everything going on in our country and then add on top of it many of us are still in some form of a lockdown, you have a recipe for disaster. Then, let’s pile on to that how both political parties are stoking the fires, and now you are sitting on a powder keg just looking for a reason and a place to go off. We have some very real problems in our nation. Problems that will not be solved by violence, rioting, or immediately dismissing someone because you don’t agree with them. What truly needs to happen is that leaders need to get in a room with people who have grievances, sit down, be quiet, and just listen. The only talking that they should do is to ask questions as a follow-up to make sure they are hearing and truly understanding the concerns. As difficult as this may be to hear, sometimes people act out because they feel fed up with not being listened to. No, that isn’t a justification for rioting and looting. However, I have known more than one kid to throw a temper tantrum and do stuff in order to get their parent’s attention. I believe that the church needs to lead the way in modeling reconciliation and dialogue. After all, Paul says that God has given us a ministry of reconciliation. Of course, he is talking about how we are to share the Gospel with the unsaved, so that God can save them, and they can be reconciled to Him. However, Jesus also taught us about reconciliation on a personal basis as well. He said, “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave you gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24). I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers to the deep-rooted problems in America. However, I am smart enough to look at both sides and say that what we are doing isn’t working; therefore, we better find a different way. Sometimes, what someone truly wants is for someone to just listen. They want to know that someone cares. I can remember early on in Diana and I’s marriage that I would frustrate her a lot. Ok, so I probably still do now that we are 15 years into our married life. One thing that frustrated her the most was how I went about trying to “fix” everything. She would come to me with a problem or a concern, and I immediately went into fix-it mode. The good news is I was able to fix some of the issues. The bad thing is I wasn’t listening to my wife and showing her my love for her. She finally had to just tell me, “I don’t want you to fix everything, I want you to listen to me. I want you to be on my side.” I would like to say that I have fixed that problem, but I’m not a miracle worker, just a work in progress. What could God do in our hearts and in our communities, if pastors or different races sat down and had a genuine conversation about what is going on in their community and in the world. And both sides just listened to the other, and loved their brothers in Christ, and prayed with and for each other? What could happen is churches of different races in the same community did a joint worship service together and shared a meal afterwards (yes socially distanced and with as much precaution as possible)? Would it immediately change the community and the country? Probably not. But it couldn’t hurt. Because again, what we are doing as a nation sure isn’t working right now. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, the same way and expecting different results; I think we are meeting the definition of insanity. The blood of Jesus Christ is a greater uniter than everything that Satan is using to divide us. It’s past time that we show love for one another, and in this case it starts by sitting down, opening our ears, and keeping our mouths closed for the most part. We must listen to each other, because then we might learn that we really aren’t that much different from one another. Who can you show love to today by listening to them?

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 23

Strengthen and Encourage

Have you ever worked for someone but had no idea what the expectations of you or the job were? It can be frustrating, can’t it? Fortunately, God has not done that to His children. He has clearly laid out the job description, requirements, and expectations for us. Now, whether or not we read them or actually obey them might be up for debate, but we can’t say that we didn’t know. With that being said, let me ask another question, did Jesus tell us to make converts or make disciples? Of course, Jesus told us to make disciples (see Mt. 28:19). If that is what we were told to do, why does it feel as though we spend more time and energy trying to create converts? Is there a difference between a convert and a disciple? There absolutely is a difference, it is a huge difference. In fact, I would say that it could be the difference between truly being saved and not being saved even though you may think you are. That’s a pretty bold claim, so maybe I need to scripturally back it up. A convert is someone you share truths with, and they come to your “side” of the argument. A “Christian convert” is someone who knows the truths of the Bible, specifically the Gospel, and they agree with them. The truths would be that God created everything perfectly (Gen. 1-2). Then, sin entered the world (Gen. 3), and sin has marred God’s creation. Because mankind is sinful, we need a Redeemer, a perfect sacrifice for our sins. God promised to send one in Genesis 3:15. At the right time, God sent Jesus into this world, born of a virgin (Gal. 4:4-5; Isa. 7:14). He lived a sinless life (Heb. 4:15), and went to the cross. On the cross, Jesus became our substitute, taking our sin and paying our debt (2 Cor. 5:21). By Jesus’ death, He satisfied God’s wrath against sin (Isa. 53:11), making redemption possible. By His resurrection, He has proven that He is God, and that He has power of life and death and is the author of eternal life. Jesus is the only way we can be saved (John 3:16, 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:13). If you know these things, and agree with them; then you could be considered a convert. However, we aren’t called to be converts, we are called to be disciples. A disciple is someone who believes all those things, but then their life is transformed by God through their obedience to live these truths out. In other words, a convert believes something but a disciples believes is and lives accordingly. A disciple is a learner, that is the simplest definition. But they do not learn simply for knowledge. They learn so that they can imitate what they are learning and seeing. This is why the apostle Paul told the Corinthian believers, “follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). By the way, the word often translated there as “follow” is also translated as “imitate.” Therefore, Paul is saying, imitate my life as I am imitating Jesus’ life. Now, with the definitions stated, we need to go back to the original question, are we making converts or disciples? If we are honest, most churches are seeking converts. We go out, share the Gospel with people, call them to believe the truths we have shared; then, if they do we baptize them. What typically comes after baptism? In most cases, sadly, the new Christian is left to figure out how to live for Jesus on their own, while the church goes out and starts chasing their next convert. I want to go ahead and say this, that is the exact opposite of what we see Jesus do in the Gospels. It wasn’t even the apostle Paul’s method. Jesus called people to follow Him, He taught them through words and actions, then He sent them out to do it while He watched. All of this was so that when He ascended back into heaven, the disciples would be equipped to carry on what they had seen and heard from Jesus. How do we know what Paul did? Acts 14 covers how Paul’s first missionary journey came to an end. Acts 14:21-22 says, “And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconic, and Anitioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.'” What Paul and Barnabas did here was they retraced their steps. They went back through the cities they had previously visited. Why did they do this? To “strengthen the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith.” They went back to strengthen and encourage the disciples. Yes, Paul went from city to city. But he didn’t forget them. He would double back, and invest in them again.

I believe we as pastors and churches need to learn the model of discipleship taught by Jesus and demonstrated by Paul. Yes, we need to go out and share the Gospel in our communities and beyond. Yes, we want to call people to surrender their heart and life to the Gospel. However, salvation is the starting line, not the finish line. We need to be more intentional about investing in those around us, whether they are new disciples or not. It is my experience that the church as a whole has done a lousy job of discipling believers. I believe this is part of the reason that the modern-day church is so weak. I’m not saying this out of anger or with the intent of hurting anyone. I’m just as guilty as anyone. My heart is broken. We live in a crazy time in which the world is shaken. They don’t need to see a shaken church who has no idea what to do. They need to see a humble church that is confident in the Person and plan of God. That means we need to focus on being a disciple-maker who makes disciple-makers. We do this not in large gatherings, but rather in small groups. Over the last six months, we have seen many churches have to not meet publicly because of COVID-19 restrictions. In fact, WBC where I serve, we didn’t meet publicly for three months. Yes, we met every Sunday and Wednesday night on YouTube live. But actually coming into the building didn’t happen. Now, some churches are being put in the position to choose whether or not to continue to meet and face fines, or do something different. I’m not going to wade into that debate in this post. However, I will say that if we were doing what Jesus has called us to, I don’t think the church as a whole would be as rocked as it is right now. Gathering together as the body is vital and yes, it is essential (Heb. 10:24-25). However, that is only one aspect of our worship. We need to be in Bible studies in our homes and communities. We need to be in accountable relationships with other believers. It is in these smaller accountable groups, typically called discipleship groups, that we spur one another on to evangelize and teach to strengthen disciples. Evangelism and teaching are the two oars of making disciples. You need both if you are going to be a healthy Christian and a healthy church.

Therefore, I want to end this post with some encouragements for you. First, pray for your leaders. I have pastored through a lot of things, but never through a pandemic. I’m not alone. I know pastors are struggling right now, and there are a lot of reasons they are. Pray for your leaders. Pastors/leaders, pray for your people. As much stress as you feel right now, remember your people are feeling it to. Most of them have never lived through a pandemic. We all need to give one another a little extra space and grace during this time. Next, be faithful in worship attendance whether it is online or in-person. We need to be gathered with the body to encourage and prod one another on to love and good works. Next, if you aren’t in a Bible study, whether it’s called Sunday school/life groups/small groups or whatever, you need to be involved in one. Finally, I want to encourage you to get into a discipleship group or maybe God is calling you to start one. I have been blessed to have some people teach me what they are and how they can be successfully done. I am forever grateful to Pastor Robby Gallaty and Replicate Ministries. I would love to be able to help you learn more about d-groups. I don’t care where you live. Thanks to technology, we can meet in the same room even if we are many miles apart. I think it is time that we start investing in one another. We need to strengthen and encourage each other that we may be found faithful to the Lord Jesus when He returns.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 22

Sleeping in Prison

Have you ever been in a stressful situation, but felt completely calm in the middle of it? My dad tells a story of when I was playing baseball, I was going to start a pretty big game. As I was taking my warm up pitches, I was casually blowing bubbles with my bubble gum on the mound. It didn’t matter if I was in mid-wind up or actually throwing the ball. He always says that is how he knew that I was relaxed, and that I would have a good game that night. I’m happy I seemed calm on the outside, but knowing me, I was probably a bundle of nerves on the inside. Sometimes, when we should feel nervous, anxious, or even scared; we don’t really realize the magnitude of the situation we are in, and so we don’t act nervous, anxious, or scared. Other times, when it really isn’t that big of a deal, we tend to act like it a really big deal. What is the difference? I’m sure there are a lot of things that lead to the different reactions, but I have come to believe that there is one driving force behind it. We either believe that God is sovereign or we don’t. When we talk about God being sovereign, which is God is in control, people tend to get really nervous. That is because there is a theological belief system known as Calvinsim, that tends to talk a lot about God’s sovereignty. I’m not going to go into all of the details about Calvinism, but one of the biggest premises behind the belief system is that God is in control of all things at all times. This shouldn’t make us nervous at all. In fact, it should be one of the most comforting facts we can ever know. It can be comforting because it means that an all-knowing, all-wise, loving, gracious, and merciful God is in control. Things are left up to chance or coincidence. It is all divinely orchestrated. This doesn’t meant that God causes bad things to happen or is the author of evil. But it does mean that God is in control, so that even when bad things happen, He is powerful enough to turn them around and bring about something good from it. Again, I can’t think of anything that is more comforting than this. I think the apostle Peter, one night while he was in prison, would agree with me. The story is found in Acts 12. James has already been killed by King Herod, and persecution of the church is growing. Peter has been arrested, and Herod intends to kill him as soon as the Jewish festival of Unleavened Bread is over. The night before Peter is scheduled to be executed, guess what Peter is doing in his prison cell? Acts 12:6 says, “And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison.” Did you read that? Peter was sleeping! The night before he is going to be killed; Peter isn’t worried about a last meal or trying to figure out how to escape. He has completely trusted God with his life, and this allowed Peter to get a good night’s sleep. That is until the angel came and woke him, and walked him right out of the prison. The point is, Peter didn’t know that God was going to spare his life. For all intents and purposes, Peter thought the next day he was going to die. Yet, he had peace in his heart, and that allowed him to give no thought to his life. Peter trusted in the sovereignty of God, and that gave Peter peace. I can’t help but wonder if this is part of the reason that our world seems so frantic right now. They are running around, losing their minds because of COVID-19. I’m not downplaying COVID-19 at all. It is a serious virus that has made many sick, and taken the lives of many. In fact, as I write this, a friend of mine is in a hospital fighting for his life due to COVID-19. Yet, his wife is posting on social media about their family’s trust in God’s plan for his life. She has no idea whether or not her husband and the father to their little girl will come out of this, or if he will step into eternity and be with Jesus. However, it doesn’t matter, because she trusts God, and knows that God will do what He knows is right. This is what it looks like to trust in the sovereignty of God. When we trust that God is in control, it allows us to relinquish control. When we trust God, it allows us to not worry and fret over every little thing that happens in life. The reason that the Bible describes God has high above His creation, is to remind us that it may be over our heads, but it is still under God’s feet. When we trust God, it gives us peace. A peace that the Bible says passes all understanding. A peace that knows no matter how things work out, it is right and God is good. So, the question is this, do you have this peace? It is available because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. You can receive it as you surrender your heart and life to Him, and then live according to faith in Him. If you would like this peace, but don’t have it, please reach out to me at pastorjustin@westlakebaptist.org. I would love to tell you how you to can experience peace regardless of the situation or circumstances of your life.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

Posted in Through The Bible in 2020 | Leave a comment
Sep 21

A Blank Check

How many of you would like to receive a blank check, and to have the person who gives it to you tell you to write whatever amount you need in the box? How many of you would be willing to write a blank check and give it to someone? Let’s be honest, we like to receive more than we like to give in some instances. I can’t help but wonder if we don’t treat our relationship with God much the same way. We would love for God to give us that proverbial blank check. Whatever we needed, we could have it. In fact, I believe that is how many people treat God. They treat Him more like a genie in a bottle than the sovereign God of the universe. We would love for God to give us that blank check, but how many of us are truly willing to write a blank check to God? I wonder how much we miss out on being used by God, because we don’t want to write Him a blank check. Peter could have missed out on God using him if he didn’t trust God. Peter had a vision that didn’t make sense in Acts 10. Acts 10:19-20 says, “While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.'”

Let’s be honest, that isn’t much information to go on is it? Imagine you are Peter. You have just seen a strange vision of a bedsheet lowered with various types of animals on it, including some that you as a Jewish person are forbidden to eat. But then God tells you to go ahead and eat it. This doesn’t happen just once, but three times. Then, all of the sudden here are three strangers looking for you and wanting you to go back with them. I think there was good reason for the Spirit to tell Peter to go with them men and don’t doubt or question why. I’m not Peter, and I have a few questions. Let me switch metaphors for a moment. I’m a puzzle guy, I love working puzzles. However, like most people, I work a puzzle from the outside in. I start with the border, because I know once I have it filled in, then every other piece goes on the inside. However, in my walk with God, I have to be honest about something; God seldom gives an edge piece of His plan. He seems to like to plop down a center piece, that at the time doesn’t appear connected to anything else around it. This is where the blank check comes in. When you write a blank check, you are trusting the person you are giving it to, to write in the correct amount. The question is, do we trust God? The reality is, God seldom gives us that edge piece of His plan. However, He does give us enough of the puzzle for us to respond in faith to Him. All He told Peter was to get up and eat, and go with these men who came looking for him. Truthfully, Peter didn’t need any other information, and neither do we. God gives us what we need to know in order to obey Him. Therefore, the question isn’t, what’s next? The question is, will I trust God enough to obey Him with what He has revealed to me? These are the times in life, that I have to remember, if I can’t see or understand the hand of God in a situation, I just have to trust the person of God in this situation. God is good, loving, gracious, and merciful. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. He knows the end from the beginning Isaiah 46:10 says. He has a plan, and His plan is for His glory and my good. Therefore, I already have enough to trust Him and to obey Him. The question is, will I trust Him and obey Him? That is a question that you have to answer for yourself. What is keeping you from giving that proverbial blank check to God? What are you trying to hold back? This is a call for all of us to turn loose and give all of ourselves to God, knowing who He is, and trusting what He has planned for us. It begins with surrendering you heart and your life to Him. Then it continues with surrendering your plans and your desires to Him. Trusting that wherever He leads you, it is for His glory and your good. Here’s the final question, do you trust Him enough to do this?

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

Posted in Through The Bible in 2020 | Leave a comment
Sep 18

Spreading

One thing that we have heard for six straight months now is about the spreading of a virus. The interesting thing is, the spreading of Christianity has a similarity to the spreading of a virus. All it takes is the right environment. Jesus had told the disciples that they would be witnesses to Him in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth in Acts 1:8. Up until this point in the book of Acts, the Gospel has stayed in Jerusalem. However, with the events of Acts 7 and into the opening of Acts 8, the environment was right for Christianity to spread. Acts 7 closes with the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. This sets the stage for what we read in Acts 8:1, “Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” Did you see where they were scattered to? God was fulfilling His promise to spread the Gospel to Judea and Samaria. However, just like the spread of a virus, the environment for spreading the Gospel was not necessarily a favorable environment to those living in it.

God spread the message of Christianity through suffering and persecution of His followers. We see this over and over, not only in the Bible, but also in history. The stronger the persecution, the stronger the church and the further the Gospel spreads. This is why I believe we as Christians are wrong to pray that God would keep persecution away from us, or that He would remove it from us. Persecution is God’s environment of purification in the lives of His people. As much as COVID-19 has not been enjoyable, I truly believe that this is the church in America’s Acts 8:1 moment. Jesus gave us the Great Commission to go and make disciples of all nations. However, for far too longer, we as Christians have tried to gather into our holy huddles, build bigger ministries, focus on making converts, but not do the one thing that God has called us to do. At the end of March, as things began to shut down, churches had to focus on getting the Gospel out to their neighbor through different means. No, the virus isn’t persecution, but it is God’s method of getting His children to do what we should have been doing the whole time. We started noticing our families more, spending more time with them, and learning to disciple them. We started noticing our neighbors and showing the love of Christ to them. These are all very, very good things. Hopefully, we will have learned this lesson and long after COVID-19 disappears from our vocabulary, we will continue to do what we have recently started doing. I’m not saying that difficulties are fun, because they aren’t. However, we should learn to embrace them, because they are for God’s glory and our good. God uses difficulties in our lives to trim the fat in our lives, those things that we focus on that we shouldn’t. God uses them to narrow our focus. But He can also use those things that we go through to reach others. However, God uses them, He is glorified through them when we are faithful to Him, and that is what matters. So, hang in there, keep praying, and keep trusting. God has a plan, and He is working it out, and it is going to be perfect.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

Posted in Through The Bible in 2020 | Leave a comment