Jan 24

Where He Leads I Will Follow

My family and I are walking through a devotion called “The Story” this year.  Yesterday’s devotion was about Abram’s call.  It is found in Genesis 12:1-3, “Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”  With these verses, Abram’s life would forever change.  There are several lessons that we can learn from these verses and some others.

The first lesson we learn is that if we are going to follow God, we are going to have to forsake ourselves and our plans.  Abram probably had a pretty comfortable life up until that point.  There was no reason to think that life was going to change.  Yet with God interrupting Abram, everything changed.  God told Abram, “Get out of your country, from your family, and specifically from your father’s house.”  Everything that Abram knew and was comfortable with, he was going to have to leave.  Talk about a major change!  Yet even today, if we are going to follow God, we are going to have to forsake the comfortable, the convenient, and the things that make us complacent.  Luke 9:23 is where Jesus says, “If any man desires to come after Me, let Him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.”  Jesus was saying that a call to follow Him is a call to relinquish all control of our lives.  Instead of being “masters of our own destiny” (a false illusion anyway), we must willingly submit ourselves to the plan and purpose of God for us.  Now if that major of a change doesn’t cause enough anxiety to rise up in us, there is a second lesson.

Following God doesn’t mean that we are given the entire road map.  God tells Abram, “get out of the familiar and follow Me to a land that I will show you.”  I am a planner by nature.  It is not an exaggeration to say that I generally have a plan for my plan.  Yet I have learned over the years that God does not always reveal the entire plan at once.  It is generally just a piece at a time.  What makes it possible for us to do this is the knowledge that God is trustworthy, He is faithful, He loves us, and He has our best interest in mind when He calls us out.  Not only these things but when we trust God we are trusting the one that Isaiah said “knows the beginning and the end.”  Therefore, following God is not a blind leap of faith.  Rather it is following the One who has the best map to get us to the best destination.  Because God has the map and knows the way, and because I have relinquished all control of my life over to Him, it is not necessary for me to have all the steps.  I would even say that it is for our good that we don’t know all the roads God is going to lead us down, because some of them might scare us enough that we choose not to trust Him and follow Him.  On the night Jesus was betrayed as He was walking with His disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, where He would ultimately be betrayed by Judas, Jesus told His disciples, “I have many more things that I would like to tell you, but you are unable to handle them right now.”  Jesus knew that the events that were going to be set in motion with His arrest in a short time would rock their world.  Although Jesus had told His disciples that He would be betrayed, given over to the authorities, crucified, and three days later rise from the dead, His disciples struggled with believing it.  Jesus knew that once they saw Him arrested and ultimately led away to Golgotha to be crucified, that their faith would waiver, and that they would struggle.  If Abram would have known all the roads God was going to lead Him on to fulfill this covenant, Abram may not have been as willing to follow God.  In the same way, because of God’s love for us and His knowledge of what we can handle and when we can handle it, God only gives us what we need, when we need it.  We just have to trust that if God is calling us to walk down a certain path, He already knows how it is going to turn out, He knows the dangers and the pitfalls, and that He is walking with us every step of the way.

The third lesson we can learn from this set of verses is that certain promises from God are conditional.  God told Abram to leave his land, family, and specifically his father’s house behind for a land He would show him.  As a result of doing this God promised Abram that he would be blessed, he would become a great nation, and that the world would be blessed through Abram’s descendants.  However, all of this hinged on Abram trusting God enough to leave.  If Abram didn’t leave his land, family, and house then those promises would have never been fulfilled.  Does this mean that God’s plans can be held hostage or changed by our actions?  Absolutely not, God is sovereign, all-powerful, and all-knowing.  God knew that Abram would respond, and so by God telling Abram what would happen when he responded, God was showing Abram that He truly is all-knowing.  God desires that the world would respond to His invitation to the gift of salvation.  2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all would come to repentance.  God not only desires that we would be saved, but He made it possible for us to be saved.  He did this by sending His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, that as we believe on Jesus’ sacrifice as the only way to be saved, we will be saved.  Romans 10:13 says, “For whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”  So God desires we would be saved, He provided the way for us to be saved, but we must still have faith in that God’s way is the only way. That is why salvation is available for all, but it is not automatic.  Regardless of our past or our present, God is able to overcome our sin and save us from sin’s penalty which is eternal death (Rom. 6:23a).  It is important to know that salvation is more than a prayer we pray, a card that we sign, a church aisle that we walk.  Salvation is an attitude of our heart that depends entirely on God to save us, and it is evident in the life that we live.  While we are not saved by our works, our works demonstrate the we have been saved.  As James said in James 2, “faith without works is dead.”  In Genesis 12, Abram demonstrated his faith in God’s promise in verse 4 that says, “So Abram departed…”  So we see that God’s promise here is conditional, but there is one more lesson we can learn from Abram.

The final lesson is that God will fulfill His promises.  As we progress through the book of Genesis we see how God fulfilled His promise to Abram.  It began by God giving Abram a son named Isaac (Gen. 21).  Isaac would have a son named Jacob that would continue to be a fulfillment of God’s promise to Abram (Gen. 25).  From Jacob would come the 12 tribes of Israel.  These 12 tribes of Israel would be God’s way of making them a mighty nation.  The second part of the promise was giving Abram’s descendants a land of their own.  We see this through the book of Exodus and through the book of Joshua as the nation of Israel traveled to their land (Exodus), and conquered their land (Joshua).  Yet there was another part of the original promise in Genesis 12 that God would provide for. That part of the promise is that through Abram’s descendants the whole world would be blessed.  This was ultimately fulfilled through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  It was through Abram’s lineage that the Savior of the world was born, that all who believe in Jesus would be forgiven of their sins and given eternal life in heaven with God.  As we trust God and walk by faith we can know that whatever God has promised us as His children He will fulfill.  That is because according to Titus 1:2, “God cannot lie.”  So whatever He has said will come to pass.  So even if you don’t see all of God’s plan, even when it doesn’t make sense, remember who your faith is in, walk by faith, and know that God will bring to pass what He has promised.  May that encourage you as you walk with Him this day and everyday until we are face to face with Him.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

Pastor Justin

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Jan 07

So Many Opportunities

One of the highlights of my mornings are when I get the chance to do a devotion with my wife and we get to pray together.  Few things set my day up for success as well as that special time.  As we were having that privilege this morning Diana said something that has stuck with me now for several hours.  She was praying for God to guide me as well as herself, and that we would pray before we did anything because “there are so many opportunities for us to fall into sin.”  That line was so impactful this morning, and I have been thinking about all the opportunities since our prayer time that I could have miss stepped.  We live in a world that is full of temptation not just out in the physical world, but especially within our digital world. God then brought 1 Thessalonians 5:17 to my mind.  The book of 1 Thessalonians is a book inspired by God and recorded by the apostle Paul to a church that was struggling with pressure inside of the church as well as from outside the church.  Persecution was very real for the Thessalonian believers at the time Paul was writing.  In some ways persecution is beginning to become real to believers within America.  I want to be clear that we are not facing the persecution that many in the New Testament faced, nor are we facing the type of persecution many brothers and sisters around the world are facing.  However, we are seeing a culture that is becoming less tolerant of Christianity, and a government who seems set on defying biblical mandates.  Towards the end of his first letter to the church at Thessalonica Paul writes, “pray without ceasing.”  This doesn’t mean that Christians are to go around all day, every day mumbling prayers.  Rather Paul is speaking more of an attitude that we should have.

To pray without ceasing speaks of an attitude in which we are always ready to pray.  We are to be faithfully consistent in our prayers.  This is certainly a challenge for many Christians.  As one pastor put it, “We need to pray more than just rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub.”  Prayer is being connected to, in communion with God and that cannot occur mindlessly or flippantly.  If I am going to be in an attitude of prayer, then I need to be on guard for those many opportunities that present themselves every day to get out of fellowship with God through sin.  If I am watching something that is inappropriate, reading something inappropriate, listening to something inappropriate then I have become disconnected with God, and therefore I’m not ready to pray until there is confession.  If my attitude towards someone isn’t loving, compassionate, and kind then I am not ready again because sin has disconnected me from God.  Therefore, I have to be vigilant to guard my heart, my mind, my words, and my actions.  The natural outflow of guarding ourselves is that we will be connected to God in a spirit of worship and prayer, because we will actively be seeking to please Him in our lives.

Another part of praying without ceasing is seeking God’s guidance throughout our day.  There are many decisions that we must make, the majority of them we make without giving it a second thought.  It is my belief that the greatest temptations lie within the ordinary, mundane parts of life.  A Christian man or woman is going to know that going into a strip club isn’t honoring to God.  But how many of us watch shows on TV or the internet that have strong sexual connotations in them?  Watching TV is ordinary and mundane, most of us after dinner sit down in front of the TV, turn it on, and give very little thought about what we are seeing on the screen.  Some decisions that we have to make don’t have the danger of temptation connected to them.  Sometimes you will have to decide between two things that are good, but you must decide which is the best.  We see this in Luke 10:38-42.  Jesus comes and visits Mary and Martha in Bethany.  Martha is being a good host, which was the job of the woman in those days.  She was making sure that the house was straight, a meal was being prepared, and that Jesus would be comfortable during His stay with them.  Martha wasn’t wrong because she was being a good hostess.  Mary on the other hand chose to sit at the feet of Jesus.  In those days it was a symbol of putting yourself under the authority of a teacher.  So while it looks like Mary was being lazy and just sitting while her sister was working, that isn’t what was occurring. Mary wasn’t wrong in her decision to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn.  Mary and Martha had a decision to make between a good choice and the best choice.  Mary made the best choice because she was focused on Jesus and learning from Him. Jesus had already predicted His death on several occasions.  There was always going to be housework to be done, but Jesus wasn’t going to be with them much longer.  Mary focused on a relationship not works.  This is the constant pull many people feel, and without trying to judge or condemn anyone who has uttered the statement, “cleanliness is next to Godliness” or “God understands I only have two days to get all this done so I will miss church”; neither of those statements are true or biblical.  When presented with two good choices, we need to prayerfully seek which is the best choice.

As we live a life that is connected to God throughout the day, a life in which we are ready and able to pray at any moment we will find it easier to live out the words of Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”  The reason many times we struggle to pray, to feel connected to God, to know God’s will for our life or this situation is because we have disconnected ourselves from God.  Therefore, let us be intentional about striving to live in connection with God.  Pray each morning for God to help you guard your heart, your mind, your mouth, and your actions.  Be on the lookout for those opportunities to fall into sin, they are there, and they will rear their ugly head when you least expect it.

By His grace and for His Glory,

Pastor Justin

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Jan 05

The Name of God

Below is a copy of a Post Sunday Follow-Up message.  Each week on Monday or Tuesday we pick one point of the previous Sunday’s message and we try to dive a little further into it.  In this Post Sunday Follow-Up we look at the name of God and why it is so important and why it should be treated with such reverence.  If you would like to receive this each week or for more information on the teaching ministries of Westlake Baptist Church please e-mail us at westlakebc@gmail.com  Hope you enjoy!

This past Sunday we started talking about learning to pray like Jesus prayed.  We studied Luke 11:1-4 with our focus on verses 1 and 2.  Lord willing, we will look at verses 3 and 4 this Sunday.  The main point of this past Sunday was that when we pray, we need to come into God’s presence and not just give Him a laundry list of needs and/or wants, but rather we need to take time to worship Him for who He is.  Who exactly is this God that we are praying to and trusting to answer our prayers?  That is the focus of this e-mail.

 

In the story of the burning bush we see the name of God.  In English Exodus 3:14 says, “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.”  I AM in the Hebrew is “yehweh” which is where we get Yahweh.  You have have even seen it has Jehovah.  In English you will see it written as LORD (all capital letters).  Yahweh, Jehovah, or LORD all refer to the personal name of God.  It is important to remember that names in the Bible have important meanings.  ”Yehweh” means “He is” and as you can see in the verse it says “I AM.”  This speaks to the fact that God is self-existent.  He needs nothing or no one for Him to exists, He exists because it is His nature to exist.  Not only is God self-existent, but He is also eternal.  I AM is another way of saying, I have been ,I am, and I always will be.  There has never been a time nor will there ever be a time in which God doesn’t exist.  His name also shows that all things have their existence in and from God.  We see this further in Scripture in John 1:1-4, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by Him; and without Him was not any thing made that was made.  In Him was life; and the life was the light of men.”  John 1:1-4 are so theologically rich, but I will resist the temptation to break it all the way down.  What we should notice is this, the Word (John’s reference to Jesus) was with God from the beginning.  In verse 3 we see that God is the Creator of all things.  In verse 4 we see that God is life.  Therefore, without God not only would there have been no creation, but life would not exist without God.  So by calling Himself, I AM, He is pointing to the fact that He is the Creator and Sustainer of all life.  But Yahweh reveals even more about God in Exodus 3:15, ” And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, the LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is My name forever, and this is My memorial unto all generations.”  By referring to Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, He is revealing to Moses, Israel, and to us that He is a covenant God.  To help that make sense we need to understand why God revealed Himself to Moses here in Exodus 3.  Israel had been in slavery to the Egyptians for 400 years (prophesied in Gen. 15:13-16).  God promised in Genesis 15:13-16 that He would deliver Israel from their slavery.  God in Exodus 3 says in verse 7 that He has seen their affliction and heard their cry.  God is coming to Moses for two reasons.  First, it is to fulfill the prophecy in Genesis 15 about delivering Israel from their slavery after four generations.  The second reason deals with the first in that God had to deliver Israel from their slavery so that He could lead them to the Promised Land He told Abraham that his seed would have.  God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 that they would have a land of their own, they would be a great nation, and the world would be blessed through Abraham’s seed.  So in Exodus 3, God tells Moses to tell the nation of Israel, the very God who created everything, is the same God who made the covenant with Abraham, and is the same God who is now going to deliver them from slavery and lead them to the Promised Land.  God wants Israel and us to know that the promises He makes, He will fulfill at the right time.  So this one name shows us that God is the Creator, the Redeemer (Israel from slavery in Egypt, us from sin through the cross), and He is the covenant maker and fulfiller.

Notice in Exodus 3:15 the last phrase, “this is My name for ever, and this is My memorial unto all generations.”  The world will know who God is by His name, I AM (Yahweh, Jehovah, LORD).  It is a unique name, no one else is Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, or Covenant Maker and Fulfiller.  That is why when we get to the 10 Commandments in Exodus 20 we see God protecting His name.  Exodus 20:2 says, “I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.”  There we see LORD (all capitals) again to remind them of who is doing this.  Verse 3 of Exodus 20 says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”  God is saying you can’t have anyone before Me, because there is no one like Me.  That goes back to telling Moses to tell Israel that “I AM” sent him.  Who else is like God?  Who can you compare Him to?  The answer is that no one is like Him and no one can compare to Him.  Don’t put anything that was created in front of the One that Created everything.  We see that again in verse 4 about not making any graven images.  Then in the Third Commandment we see that we are not to take His name in vain.  We aren’t to use God’s name flippantly or lightly, because His name is a reminder for Israel and the world of who He is and what He has done.  When we use God’s name lightly or without regard we are devaluing who God is and what He has done.  We are essentially saying there is nothing special about God, that we could have done any of the things that He did if we wanted to.  When we speak the name of God we are remembering His work in creation and in redemption.  We see those two themes in heaven that the angels and saints of all time praise God for in Revelation 4 and 5.  Let us therefore remember when we speak His name or when we go to Him in prayer, that the same God we are praying to and asking for help, is worthy of our praise because of His work in creation and in redemption.  So let us come into His presence to worship Him, to focus on Him first, then may we remember that this same God created everything in the right order, He sustains all things, and so as we ask in prayer, may we know if He could create something out of nothing, He can surely change and work in my situation no matter what it is.  This same God gave His Son when we had nothing to offer Him in return that we might be forgiven and given eternal life.  There is nothing too hard for my God!

 

Serving Him,

 

Pastor Justin

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Dec 29

The Difficult Part of Love

Love is not easy!  I know that isn’t a groundbreaking or earth shattering statement, but those who love others know it to be a true statement.  It applies to your spouse, your children, and even other people.  The idea of love has been so perverted by society that I’m not sure the vast majority of people even know what love is.  But that’s not what I want to write about in this post.  What I am going to write about here is the other side of the coin of love.  We all know the side where we have butterflies in our stomach when we see the people we love.  We know the side where things are going well.  But there is another side of the love coin that is just as important, yet many times neglected.

As a father of four beautiful, wonderful children very few things bless me like coming home from work and having them come up and give me a hug.  I enjoy them telling me that they missed me while I was at work.  I love having them ask me to go play a Nerf war with them.  And if that is all love was then love would be easy.  But we know that isn’t the case.  There are times when my beautiful, sweet children turn into little monsters, cause my blood pressure to rise, and make me want to pull my hair out.  Sometimes it is not them, it truly is me.  But other times it is them, they are making a mistake or worse they are deliberately doing something they know they shouldn’t do.  It is at these times I am faced with a choice.  Do I love them or do I pacify them?  Do I do what is best for them in the long run or do I tell myself “they are simply kids being kids?”  Sometimes they really are simply kids being kids.  I think we as parents sometimes forget what it was like to be a small child.  Other times we care too much what others will think about us or our children.  But again, there are times when this is not the case.  This is when we have to choose to demonstrate the difficult part of love.  That difficult part of love is rebuking or disciplining our children.  Many of us heard growing up from our parents when they were going to discipline us, “this will hurt me more than it will hurt you” (by the way, I still think that is a lie, but that is another post for another day).  But I can say as a parent, it does hurt to have to discipline my children.  I remember a time with our oldest, Andrew.  We told him before dinner, if you eat everything on your plate, we have a surprise for you.  Because he is just like his father (stubborn) he decided he didn’t want to do that.  No amount of begging or pleading on my part would get this child to eat.  Ice cream is a rare treat at our house, and Diana and I really wanted to give it to him.  It didn’t matter how much we wanted him to eat so he could get the surprise, he simply wasn’t going to do it.  After a while, Diana and I gave up.  Then it happened, we told him what his surprise would have been.  That is when the tears started flowing from him.  It about broke me mentally and emotionally to watch my son cry over not getting ice cream.  I was ripping my papa bear heart out, but because we love him, we couldn’t give him the ice cream.  And that night we talked about choices we make and how choices have consequences.  I’m you the parents who read this post could tell similar stories, but I want to go to another side of this as it relates to Christians.

We live in a pluralistic world, a relativistic world in which people want to believe anything and nothing all at the same time.  They say as long as you believe firmly in what you believe or don’t believe, you are right.  The world says what may be true for you, may not be true for me but neither of us is wrong.  But God says that is wrong, that there is one way, one truth, and one life and that Jesus Christ (John 14:6).  God says there is only one God (Ex. 20:3).  So how do we lovingly deal with someone whether they are a Christian or not when a false teaching is presented?  This is the difficult part of love.  Many in our culture will say “leave it alone, it’s not that big of a deal.”  Except it is a big deal, because in many cases a person’s eternal destiny is dependent on them having the truth.  In 2 John, John tells the elect lady (whoever she was), “if there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”  If we don’t correct it (there is a right way and a wrong way to do that-more on that shortly), then we are just as guilty as they are.  We may think we are loving them by not dealing with the issue, but we are really showing we have no care or concern for them.  We may want to let them have their ice cream, even though they didn’t eat their dinner but we must realize that a lifetime of ice cream is not what they need.  Sure the ice cream may taste better than their vegetables, and they will like you more if you let them just have the ice cream.  But at the end of the day they will not be strong and healthy.  And possibly one day they may come back to you and ask you, why did you let me do that, didn’t you know that wasn’t good for me?  So how do we exercise this difficult side of love?

1-Speak the truth in love.  That is Paul’s words of wisdom in Ephesians 4:15.  Notice he didn’t say “just let it be.”  He said “speak the truth.”  But Paul also didn’t say be a jerk about it.  I have been guilty many times in life of saying the right thing in the wrong way.  The end result that I desired was not accomplished.  My mentor always told me, “make sure your people know that you love them.”  I am discovering through eight years of ministry, nearly 10 years of marriage, and a little over eight years of being a parents that he was right.  1 Peter 4:8 says, “love covers a multitude of sins.”  As long as people know you love them, they are more willing to forgive you and overlook some of your faults.  If you love someone, tell them the truth.  There will be times when it is uncomfortable and even difficult, but doing it will demonstrate your love for them.
2-Use God’s Word.  The source of all truth is God, not my opinion or anyone else’s.  We must be careful that we don’t use the Bible as a club to beat someone over the head with.  To protect against that refer to number one above.  But because all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16-17) it is profitable to show us where we are wrong and how to correct it.  There is a difference between sinning and having different personal preferences.  If the Bible is silent on a particular subject then understand that God has given freedom in it.  God has revealed what we need.  Sometimes people do things different ways, but that doesn’t make it a sin or wrong.  Over the last 20 years Christians have fought on many things including worship styles (contemporary vs. traditional hymns), technology in church, social media, church planting vs. established churches, etc.  And I think we all need to be really honest, the Bible doesn’t condemn either side of our arguments, it is simply our personal preferences that we are giving the same weight as Scripture which is a sin on our part (Mt 15:9).  What the Bible does condemn is our attitude towards our brother and sister during those arguments (again another post for another day).  Our only authority as a Christian is what God’s Word says, and so when we must correct someone, we must use it (again see point one on how to do it).
3-Love the person more than wanting to win an argument.  Many times as Christians we want to be “right” and we don’t care about the damage we do in the process.  That is certainly condemned in Scripture (1 John 2, 3, and 4).  If I love you, I’m going to lovingly and humbly show you the right thing according to the Bible.  But I’m also going to make sure that I don’t lose a brother or sister over it.  Sometimes people are going to walk away after being corrected, even if you do it the biblical way.  That is on them.  But we must be cautious not to push them away.  I have been blessed to have people in my life at times that have gotten in my face and confronted me.  I didn’t like it at the time, but later on I was able to go back to them and thank them for loving me enough to say something.  That was because God used them to convict me.  It was also because I knew they loved me and they weren’t trying to hurt me, but rather help me.  And we have all had instances in which someone was right, but they were not right with how they went about it.  The end result is we didn’t listen, we were turned off, and in many instances the relationship was broken.

Let us love one another enough to encourage one another, and when necessary rebuke in love.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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Dec 23

Merry Christmas From Westlake

I wanted to take a quick moment and to say on behalf of myself, my family, and the Westlake Baptist Church family, Merry Christmas to you and your family.  Thank you to the many of you who are faithful readers and those who choose to comment on certain posts.  My prayer is that the unusual and sometimes crazy ramblings of a preacher have somehow blessed you or helped you get into God’s Word a little more in 2014.  We are planning some things for the 2015 year that will hopefully help this blog to be more impactful and helpful in your walk with Christ.  I want to take the rest of this post to offer some biblical advice on how to make it through this week, which for many is one of the most stressful weeks of the year.  But this will not just be advice for this week, but for any time of the year.

How Can I Make It Through The Stressful Times of the Year:

-Rest.  That sounds so simple and yet so few of us actually do it.  We can see in Genesis 1 and into 2 that God created us for a rhythm of work six, rest one.  Practicing a Sabbath is very beneficial for us.  But the rest I’m referring to here is our nightly rest.  It is so easy to run and be on the go for 16-18 hours a day.  And there are times that it is going to be necessary.  But I would submit to you that it is not as often as we allow it to happen.  Know your own personal rhythm.  How many hours of sleep do you need to function, be energetic, and engaged during a day.  For the vast majority of us it is between six and eight hours.  I know many people who say, “all I need is four or five hours and I’m good to go.”  And that may be true for a while, but it will catch up to you.  I like how a personal fitness device put it the other day, humans are like mushrooms at night, they need a good cool, dark place to sleep.  What that means is that we need to turn off the electronics, turn off the lights, and get some good sleep.  I fight myself on this personally at times, because I feel like there is never enough time to get done everything I would like to.  As I was reading in Ecclesiastes the other day, this verse stood out to me.  ”To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). There’s a season and a time for everything.  The rest of that passage begins to talk about opposites and how life has an ebb and flow, because that is how God designed it.  There is a time to work and play, and there is a time to rest.  As I have been putting this into practice, I am finding that I am able to accomplish more in less time.  I know you know this, but it bears repeating.  God made everything and when it was made He said, “and it was good.”  God knows what He is doing.

-Relax.  This is similar to getting rest, but we all need some mental downtime.  Time that we can just be with family, with friends, and at times by ourselves.  Jesus didn’t do ministry 24/7.  There are several times in the Gospels that we see Jesus retreat from people, be alone, and get recharged.  Again, I understand that this can be a struggle for many of us, but it is necessary.  God has blessed us with life, and we need to take time to enjoy it, because it will be all over way too soon.

-Worship.  You and I were created by God to worship Him and to have fellowship with Him.  In America we have become compartmentalized people.  Everything and everyone has their own place, and we do everything we can to keep it that way.  Around this time of year we see the sign that says, “Jesus is the Reason For The Season.”  Certainly, Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas.  But do you see how compartmentalized that statement is?  Let’s pull Jesus out at Christmas and at Easter.  Or let’s pull Jesus out on Sundays and maybe Wednesdays.  That is the view of the average American church-goer.  However, Jesus is far more than just the reason for the Christmas season.  Jesus is the reason for life!  If I’m going to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and make other disciples of Jesus, then He can’t be a part of my life from time to time, He must be my life.  Colossians 3:4 says, “When Christ, who is our life. . .”  For a Christian, Jesus isn’t just part of my life, He is my life.  Without Jesus, I wouldn’t have life or eternal life (Col. 1:16; John 14:6).  Without Jesus I can do nothing (John 15:5), but the Bible also teaches that with Him I can do all things (Phil. 4:13).  Therefore, when I talk about worship, I’m not just talking about going to church on Sunday and Wednesdays.  Make time for personal worship during a day and for family worship each day.  The longer I pastor the more convinced I am of this, the key to strong churches is strong families.  As a church leader, I need to prayerfully look for ways to help strengthen the families in our church and in the community.

Life is busy and it is hard.  I want to thank you for taking time to read this blog.  I will end with this, I love Casting Crowns.  They came out with a song earlier this year called Thrive.  The song says “we were made for more than just to survive, we were made to thrive.”  Thriving is possible if we will humble ourselves and admit that God’s ways are the right ways.  Have a safe, blessed, and Merry Christmas!

Pastor Justin

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Dec 18

Suffering Well

Here as of late the podcasts of preachers I listen to, the blogs I read, as well as the articles I have been reading all seem to revolve around one subject, suffering.  As I have gone back and looked and listened to several recent sermons I have preached, suffering has come up in the vast majority of them.  Could it be God trying to tell me something?  Could it be God telling our church something?  I am not sure on a definitive answer, but the answer to both of those questions very well could be yes.  I will be one of the first ones to tell you that suffering is a part of the Christian life.  In the past on this blog and in other avenues I am blessed to preach or teach I have talked about finishing well in our life.  Remembering the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 that say, “whether ye eat or drink or whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God.”  That phrase “whatever you do” stands out to me.  Using a little sarcasm here, in the Greek the word “whatever” means “whatever.”  And so dealing with the recurring theme, God wants us to suffer for the glory of God.  In order for God to receive the glory through our suffering, we must learn to suffer well.  How can we suffer well?  What does that exactly mean?  I am not sure how to define it myself, but I do believe we need to have a particular mindset when we are suffering if we want to bring glory to God.  With that in mind, what do we need to remember or remind ourselves of in the middle of our suffering that will help us do it well?

Remember Jesus suffered during His earthly life.  In one of the greatest chapters concerning the ministry and crucifixion of Jesus, Isaiah says, “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).  Sometimes it is easy to remember that Jesus is God, but forget His humanity.  While we may not be able to fully explain it, the Bible teaches that Jesus was 100% God and 100% man at the same time during His earthly ministry.  So yes, He is God and He is in control of all things and knows all things, but He also understands sorrow and grief.  Hebrews 4:15 reminds us, “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.”  Jesus experienced pain, hunger, sorrow, sleeplessness, stress, and the many other things that we experience.  Therefore, when you are going through things and you are suffering, remember, even if no one else on earth can understand what you are going through, God can.  You are never alone in your pain and suffering.

Remember suffering doesn’t last forever.  I know when things are going wrong and you are in the middle of suffering it seems like it lasts forever, but it really hasn’t and doesn’t.  The first part of 2 Corinthians 4:17 says, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment.”  Psalm 30:5 says, “For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”  Even Job, who suffered as much as anyone other than Christ in the Bible, didn’t suffer forever.

Remember suffering is preparing us for something greater in the future.  I am not and will not teach that life on this earth is easy or will be easy.  Some people will suffer their entire lifetime or a large portion of their life.  But if our hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is something greater awaiting us when our suffering is over.  The rest of 2 Corinthians 4:17 says, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”  Then verse 18 says, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”  I put it this way sometimes, we have to go through Monday so we can appreciate Friday.  Our hope is not in this life or in this world.  If we are living our best life now we are headed for hell.  As the apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (bold is mine).  All things are not good, but God can work them for our good.  As a child of God, God is not just working in our life here and not, but He is also preparing us for eternity with Him.  Which leads to the last point to remember.

Remember suffering here is purifying us for heaven.  Everyone of us is a sinner (Rom. 3:23).  That means we are impure.  God will not and cannot allow any impure thing into heaven.  Therefore, we must go through a purifying process.  That process begins when we surrender our heart and life over to the Lord Jesus Christ, acknowledging that He is the only way to heaven (John 3:16, 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:9-10).  But that process continues the rest of our life.  Too many preachers and churches teach that salvation is the end of the process.  They teach from the perspective of as long as you have your “get out of hell free” card then everything is good.  And while you must have salvation, God desires to do something more and far greater in your life than to simply save you.  He desires to transform you into the image of His Son.  Romans 8:29 says, “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”  There must be a refining process that takes place in our life.  Think about the two most precious commodities in the world, gold and diamonds.  Both in their finished state are incredibly valuable.  But unrefined they aren’t worth much.  Both diamonds and gold go through a high temperature refining process.  There is heat and pressure applied to them to mold them and shape them into what they should be.  Suffering does this for a Christian.  2 Corinthians 4:8 says, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.”  Yes God allows us to go through difficult times, but it is always for our good to make us more like Christ.

Suffering is never fun nor easy, but it is necessary.  After all, how could we say we have a strong faith if it is never put to the test?  In Ephesians 5 it says that the church will be “a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle.”  Anyone who has ever left a shirt or pair of pants in the dryer for a time after the dryer stops knows two things.  First, there will be wrinkles.  Secondly, the only way to get the wrinkles out is to apply heat and pressure.  So if we are going to be wrinkle-free children of God, there will be heat and pressure applied to us.  And though it may hurt, it won’t last forever, and it is working something out far greater than we can ever imagine.  Remind yourself, if Jesus suffered, I will suffer.  But I’m not alone, He is with me, and because He overcame the world, I will overcome it as well.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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Dec 09

The Lord Is My Shepherd

“The Lord is my Shepherd” are the words to what is most likely the most popular Psalm in the Bible.  The 23rd Psalm is recited in church services, funerals, and other events.  It used to comfort those who are struggling.  And while it is used in a wide scope of events, its audience is narrow.  This Psalm is clearly written to those who can call Jesus their shepherd, which means they belong to Him as His sheep.  David gives several blessings or benefits to being a sheep of God’s.

The first blessing is that God is a personal God.  Notice it says “The Lord is my shepherd.” The Hebrew word for Lord there is Yahweh.  It is the personal name of God.  It is the name that God used to speak to Moses at the burning bush, and to others on many other occasions.  It is the same God that in Genesis 1 spoke everything into existence.  The God who created me, wants to have a relationship with me.  The God who knows my every fault, still loves me enough to pursue me.  That is the God that David is talking about.  And that God wants a relationship with each person He created.

The second blessing is that God provides for me.  David writes, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.”  The green pastures would have been difficult to find at times in biblical days for shepherds.  Sometimes having our needs met isn’t the easiest thing, yet God provides for us every single time (Phil. 4:19).  It is such a blessing to know that even when the storms of life are all around me, God is there providing for me which gives me a sense of calm.  We see that in the phrase “He restoreth my soul.”

The next blessing is the God leads me.  James 1:5 says, “If any man lacks wisdom let him ask of God.”  Jesus said in Matthew, “ask and ye shall receive.”  There are other examples that show us the truth that if we humbly ask God for guidance, He will graciously provide it for us. One of the greatest ways God has provided us with guidance is by recording the Bible.  The Bible is literally God’s written voice.  It tells us of the origin of the world, it tells us about the problems of man, it tells us how to have a relationship with God, it tells us how to live a life that pleases God, and it tells us how things will end.  Literally everything we could ever truly need for our life is recorded within the 66 books of the Bible.  That is one thing that confounds me.  We have the wealth of knowledge at our finger tips, yet it is one of the most overlooked resources. Go ahead, snuggle up with it, read it and see for yourself.

Another blessing we have according to Psalm 23 is God’s presence.  Verse 4 says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”  David would write in another Psalm that there is no place he can go that God is not there.  We all walk through dark, difficult circumstances in life.  One of the greatest blessings and comforts during those times is knowing that God is right there with me.  He is walking me through the situation and providing me guidance every step of the way.  If I will trust and obey, then I will have nothing to fear. The bible says that “perfect love casts out fear.”  Paul wrote in Romans 8 that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.  And so I can face each day with the certainty that I am God’s child and that He is going to take care of me.

David the writes, “Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”  God loves me enough to discipline me when I fall into sin.  A shepherd’s staff would have been thick enough to fend off wolves and other predators that may have desired to harm the sheep.  But it can also be used to correct the sheep when it wanders away.  And I like a sheep am prone to wander.  The other side of this is the fact that a shepherd’s staff was a hook on the top.  This is used to pull a sheep back or our of pit when it has wandered off.  God has pulled me out of many pits in my life.  Both correction and corralling are done out of love for His children. Even in discipline God is demonstrating His love.  That is why Solomon told his son, “do not despise the chastening of the Lord nor be weary of His correction.  For whom the Lord loves He corrects” in Proverbs 3.

The next blessing David mentions is God’s protection.  David writes, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”  The Bible says in Ephesians 6 that we are part of a spiritual battle.  Every day is a struggle between our sin nature and our desire to serve Christ as Paul reminds us in Romans 7.  But even when we sin and fall and satan accuses us.  God is there interceding on our behalf declaring, “I shed my blood for that.”  God does protect His children in many ways, even ways that we don’t think of often.  David in verse 5 says “Thou anointest my head with oil.”  Anointing was used to symbolize a selection.  David was anointed with oil to symbolize his selection as the next king of Israel.  We are anointed by God as co-heirs with Christ.  Jesus’ inheritance is our inheritance.  In God’s eyes, His children literally are princes and princesses.

Next David says “my cup runneth over.”  We are so blessed.  He has been writing about some of our blessings in this psalm.  But there are so many other ways we are blessed.  Our problem comes when we take our eyes off of Christ and place them on our self and our circumstances.  We need to remember the words of the hymn, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look fully in His face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”  You must choose each day to look at and gaze upon Jesus and remember how He has blessed you.

In verse 6 David gives two blessings. The first one is that “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.”  God blesses me in my life.  He gives of His goodness to me.  And He gives me mercy (not receiving what I deserve).  So I am blessed in this life.  But David’s final blessing mentioned is “and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  As a child of God I have the eternal security of knowing that as God’s grace has been shown to me and I accepted Him by faith, nothing will take away my salvation.  As a child of God, I can not only face life with no fear, but I can also face death with no fear.  None of this is because of who I am, but rather it is because of whose I am.  I am a child of Yahweh and I am blessed beyond all measure.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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Nov 25

Between Two Worlds

Have you ever been talking to someone and they said something so profound that you just said to yourself “wow, that is really powerful?”  I had one of those moments in a chat with a brother in Christ.  His quote was, “We know about eschatology He will fix it. But we live in between the already and the not yet. Where the struggle stings.”  Daryl Moore was spot on, we are caught between two worlds.  How do we reconcile in our minds the fact that God will make all things right one day, when we live in the presence of constant struggles?  Abraham said in speaking of God in Genesis 18:25, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”  Abraham was talking about the impending judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah.  As a Christian, we know that one day God will set all things right.  But we also know that that day is not here yet.  Hence the struggle when we see issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, racism, and the like.  It is in these times are faith is tested.  But we must not lose hope, because the God we serve, the God of the Bible, both knows what is happening, and how it will turn out in the end.  We cannot get so caught up in our past that we miss the progress that has been made in the present.  But we also cannot get so caught up in looking to the future that we lose heart in light of our present circumstances.  We must have as the apostle Paul said “steadfastness”, an unwavering commitment and faith in God.

The Bible clearly says in Romans that we are to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.”  As Christians, we are called to join our fellow humans in the struggle.  We are not to stand afar off shouting some Christian cliches, that while they are true, are not helpful in the moment.  We must live life with those who are hurting, and in living life with them point them to the answer.  2 Corinthians 5:18 is where Paul tells us that God has given us a ministry of reconciliation.  We must admit the wrongs of mankind, help to work through the problems faced in this world, but in all things we must point people to Christ.  In this world, there will always be classes of people, there will always be hatred and violence.  That is because this world is broken.  It was broken not at the colonization of America, the sexual revolution, or even the rise of feminism.  This world was broken in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve willfully chose to rebel against God.  It is that event that set the sails on the course of human history and has brought us to the place we are today.  It was a heart problem that led Adam and Eve to sin, and it is a heart problem that drives the hatred, violence, and chaos of today.  There are no human fixes for these problems, there is only the Divine fix, which is a new heart.  It is the church’s responsibility to live out the truth of Scripture that in Christ there is no difference in people.  The answer to the world’s problems is not a new justice system, it is not a new government.  The answer is the cross of Jesus Christ.  Only in Him can we be delivered from that which divides us and is killing us.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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Nov 24

A House Divided

I have the joy and privilege of pastoring a Southern Baptist Convention church.  Though I did not grow in in the Southern Baptist Convention, I have come to love Southern Baptist because they are people who stand on the Word of God.  Which is why my heart breaks at what I am watching within our Convention.  The good news is the outcome is avoidable, but it will take all Southern Baptists, and not just some or only those in key leadership positions to avoid the waterfall that is coming.  What I am talking about is the debate concerning method of salvation (soteriology) of Calvinism versus Traditionalism.  For the sake of this post, I am not going to dive into the beliefs of either.  I have watch from afar over the last several years the now former President of the SBC, Dr. Fred Luter, and even the current President, Dr. Ronnie Floyd speak of the declining numbers within the Southern Baptist Convention.  Over the past several years the SBC has been at historic lows in salvation decisions, baptisms, and the number of churches that are either plateaued or declining is rising.  One argument for this is that it is a sign of the times.  The  apostle Paul told us in 2 Timothy that this was going to happen.  I understand that argument and certainly can see it playing a role in it.  But I want to call all of us as Southern Baptist to ask ourselves a question.  Could part of our decline be because we are inwardly focusing on this argument of Calvinism versus Traditionalism, instead of focusing on taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth?  This debate that has raged for several years is not the only reason for the decline, and I want to note that, but I believe to dismiss it altogether as a contributing factor would not be in our best interest as a Convention.  I am reminded of what Jesus said when the people of His day were accusing Him of being empowered by satan in Matthew 12.  Matthew 12:25 says, “And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.”  Division brings downfall!  I have read blog after blog of Southern Baptist on both sides of the debate.  Men that I really admire the work God is doing through them.  And I will admit, maybe I don’t have the theological acumen to understand why this debate must rage on, but I do know this.  The Bible says that God hates those who cause division (Prov. 6), and that God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33).  Therefore, the logical conclusion (at least in my opinion for what it is worth) is this, if it is causing confusion or division, then it is not from God and we need to cease and desist at once, for our own good, but more importantly for the eternal good of those who are still without Jesus.  After all it was the newly elected President of the International Mission Board, Dr. David Platt, who recently asked the question, “when it is going to be completely intolerable to us as Christians that there are 2 billion people (2,000,000,000) who have not heard the Gospel?  So that this post is not just one lamenting a problem without proposing solutions, let’s look at how we can correct this.

First, we need to realize that we have more in common than we have that we disagree on.  For instance, I have not met a Southern Baptist yet that does not believe that all people are sinners (Rom. 3:23).  I also have not met a Southern Baptist that does not believe that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven (John 3:3, 16, 14:6; Acts 4:12; Eph. 2:8-9).  Finally, I do not know a Southern Baptist who is not aware that God has given us a call to “Go” (Mt. 28; Mk 16; Lk 24; Jn 20; Acts 1).  These are our core convictions when it comes to salvation, and we all, Calvinist and Traditionalist, believe them to be true as revealed by the inerrant, infallible Word of God.  Secondly, while we fight against one another, there is a world that is lost, dying, and going to hell and I cannot believe for a second that God is pleased with us on this.  The apostle Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 10, “. . .whatsoever we do, do all to the glory of God.” Let me ask us all,myself included, how is our fighting while people are going to hell bringing glory to God?  Even if one side of this debate wins, we both lose.  Because we will have allowed so many people to die without hearing the Gospel, and we will have succeeded in splitting what has been the largest and most powerful Convention within America.  I have heard state and national leaders say, “we accomplish more together than we ever could separately” and they are exactly right.  Because of the Southern Baptist Convention, Southern Baptist churches have six of the best theological training seminaries in the world, there are approximately 5,000 missionaries around the world, there are new church plants going up all over North America, when disasters strike, the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers are there to help physically as well as spiritually, and so many other things.  Are we willing to watch this fall by the wayside just to win an argument?  In the words of the apostle Paul, God forbid!  Finally, we must realize that there is room for both sides of this argument at the table, because our mission is the same.  Both Calvinist and Traditionalist believe we don’t know who God will save, but that we are called to preach the Word every where we go.  Therefore, why don’t we get back to focusing on that. Let us lay down our arguments, pick up the banner of Christ, and spend the rest of our lives proclaiming Jesus saves!  I have heard one side of the argument say, “well they are attacking us and they have all the key seats in SBC leadership.”  Maybe that has happened and maybe it hasn’t, I’m not in a position to say.  But I am in a position as a fellow Southern Baptist to remind us all that we are to have the mind of Christ in us.  One of the aspects of the mind of Christ is putting others ahead of ourselves.  I preach fairly often here at Westlake that you cannot control what others do, but you are solely responsible for what you do.  It is not just our Convention that is at stake, it is the eternity of untold billions of people that are at stake.

My prayer is that this post will not come across as mean spirited or hateful, but as it is intended, from a broken-hearted Southern Baptist who wants to see the SBC lead the way in reaching the lost with the love, grace, and mercy that God has shown us.  I also pray that this will be a warning to all churches and organizations, religious and secular.  You must have one common goal that you strive for.  If you have any more than one goal, you will pull apart and your downfall will be certain.  The three keys are simple: Have a common goal, know your core values, and work together.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him.

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Nov 21

The Voice and Christianity

Diana and I have a show that we like to watch, it is called The Voice.  We like it because it doesn’t have the craziness of other similar shows.  The people who come to the voice are very talented and passionate about their profession, and not simply people who are looking for the 15 minutes of fame.  But there is another reason that I enjoy the show. It is generally the first three or four episodes and it is the blind auditions.  The four coaches backs are turned to the stage, the singer comes out, and if a coach or coaches like the person’s voice, they turn around for them.  The judgment is based entirely on the voice, rather than appearance.  There are several times each year that a coach will say “you look nothing like the mental picture I had listening to your voice.”

We live in a very visual society. We like for the people we look up to, or in too many cases, idolize, to look a certain way.  We will often say “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”  However, if we are honest, many times that is precisely what we do.  Unfortunately this isn’t just limited to the outside world, but even within the church too often as well.  There is a story in the Old Testament that shows us that this isn’t a new phenomenon.

The people had wanted a king so they could be like other nations.  And so God allowed them to choose a king.  The chose a man by the name of Saul.  What were his qualifications to be king?  Well according to the people, he was a good guy and he was taller than most (see 1 Samuel 9).  That’s not exactly an Ivy League educated, war hero, successful business person is it?  Saul would reign over Israel for 40 years; however, like most of us, the power went to his head and he began to do things that didn’t honor God.  Therefore, God was choosing the next king.  God told the prophet Samuel to go to the house of Jesse and anoint the next king.  So Samuel goes and Jesse lines up all of his sons for inspection.  Samuel is making a determination based upon what else, physical appearance (1 Sam. 16:6).  Yet God tells Samuel in 1 Samuel 16:7, “But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.”  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech said, “I have a dream that one day my children will be judged not based on the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  Dr. King in that statement certainly reflected the thoughts of God.

The truth of the matter is that first impressions often are wrong.  That is because we are making assumptions based on what we see, what we hear, and what we perceive.  However, after spending time with a person and getting to know them, we many times find out that we were wrong.  Anyone can make a snap judgment about someone.  But to truly demonstrate love to people, we must take time to get to know them.  Understand the roads they have walked, the experiences they have gone through, and get to know them as a person.  Before making up your mind about someone, take time to get to know them, you might be glad you did.

By His grace and through His strength may we live for Him

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