Mar 15

So You’re Saying There’s A Chance

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

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

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

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

Pastor Justin

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Feb 28

Worried About The Wrong Things

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

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

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

Pastor Justin

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Feb 25

Dangerous Territory

I just read a news article about an Instagram live video session a well known politician had over the weekend. During this live session, the politician had this to say, “with the climate issues we have and student loan debt, young people, I believe should ask the question, should we have children?” The politician said that we have a moral obligation to ask this question. I always find it interesting when people start talking about moral obligations, especially when those people have a shifting set of morals. It always leads me to want to ask, Who or what is the moral standard that you are leaning on to decide what is a moral obligation and what isn’t? In order to to have a moral obligation, you must have a set of morals by which you operate from. Who establishes those morals? Enough about that, because that isn’t the part that really concerned me. The part that concerned me is the implication that this politician made. The implication is because of “climate change” and student loan debt, maybe we shouldn’t be having children. There are two reasons this bothers me.

The first reason is this reveals precisely what the apostle Paul wrote about in Romans 1. In Romans 1, Paul talks about how people love the creature/creation more than the Creator. The politician is clearly blaming what we are seeing with weather patterns and disasters on humans. This is 100% our fault, therefore, according to the politician the only answer is to not have children. If we don’t have children, then we won’t be adding to the problem, and then we can supposedly reverse the climate effects. You can argue all you want, but this is the crux of the politician’s argument; the planet is more important than people. This line of thinking is precisely what the apostle Paul was speaking of in Romans 1. In that same passage, Paul writes, “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” When we profess to know better what is needed for God’s creation than God does, we show ourselves to be foolish. As another place in the Scriptures says, “the clay does not tell the Potter what to make of it. It is the Potter who decides what to do with the clay.”

The second, and in my opinion, the greater issue with this politician’s line of thinking is this, it ignores a clear command from God. In Genesis 1 it says, “God blessed them (Adam and Eve) and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Within the confines of marriage, God calls us to have children. God said to “replenish the earth”, not limit the people on it. In that same verse we see that God made us stewards of His creation. We are to subdue it and rule over it. However, we aren’t to do this in any way that we like. We are to do it in a way that glorifies Him, and reveals His loving care for His creation. If we follow this particular politician’s line of thinking, we will be ignoring our real moral obligation which is obedience to God, and that will have far longer, far worse effects on mankind than any supposed climate change ever would.

Pastor Justin

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Feb 12

Men, We Must Do Better

A sports story broke yesterday afternoon that a player who is accused of domestic violence was signed by a team. I say accused because he hasn’t been formally charged to my knowledge. But there is video evidence of what happened. My point in this post is not to debate whether there are special rules for special circumstances or special talent. It isn’t to debate whether this particular person deserves a second chance. My point isn’t even to wonder aloud what the team that signed him was thinking. I don’t know the man, I don’t know all the facts, and I don’t know anyone in the organization and all the behind the scenes things that went on leading up to the team signing him. My point here is that we have an epidemic in our nation, that we need to address.

If you are a man, there is never a reason to lay your hands in a physically harmful way on a woman, period! I understand that sometimes the woman is the aggressor in these types of situations. For the record, I don’t think it’s right for a woman to physically strike a man. But one thing I try to instill in my sons is this, you don’t ever, for any reason lay your hand on a woman. If you feel yourself getting angry and you think you might strike out, you better walk away. If she is the aggressor and punching you, you still don’t have the right to strike back, you better walk away. I see domestic violence much the same way I see abortion and elder abuse. They are sins that as a Christian man, I must stand up against and call out. They all show a systemic disregard for human life. This cannot be tolerated in any form, in any fashion, or for any reason.

A verse that is often trotted out in Christian circles is Proverbs 22:6, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart.” Unfortunately, that is a verse that is often abused, and it is often used in a way that doesn’t comfort a hurting parent of a wayward child. Rather, often it only heaps guilt upon them, because the parent feels as though they have failed somehow. The truth is, a parent can only model and teach so much. There comes a time in which our children have to own their actions, and accept the consequences of those actions. This is why the current trend of coddling our children for longer and longer, and focusing more on their self-esteem than the type of human being they are becoming is so harmful. But that is another post, for another time. We often use Proverbs 22:6 to speak primarily in the spiritual sense. If you teach your children about God, if you model a Christian life at home, and if you take them to church; then your child will turn out ok. Again, there is a lot of issues with that line of thinking, but I won’t go there now. My point is that Proverbs 22:6 is talking about the spiritual formation of a child, but it isn’t only talking about the spiritual formation of a child. Training a child up also means modeling and teaching them a strong work ethic (Prov. 6:6-8; 2 Thess. 3:10). It means teaching them that every action, whether positive or negative, as a consequence. Training them up means modeling and teaching them how to treat people in general. It also means modeling and teaching them how to be a loving husband or wife (Eph. 5:22-25). Training them up means modeling and teaching them what it means to be an involved parent.

As a Christian, all of this flows from our relationship with Jesus. We are to model for our children, the relationship that God has modeled towards us. Training a child up means modeling the life the Bible says we should live. Then it also means to teach it to our children. In most, not all, domestic violence cases, a survey of personal history reveals that the person was either witness to or a victim of domestic violence. This is a cycle that we must break. It begins first by valuing all human life. It begins with us men. God gave us a special and specific role in the beginning, and it hasn’t changed. We are to nurture our families, teach our families, and protect our families. I try to tell my boys, when it comes time for you to date, I want you to treat your date like you would want a boy to treat your sister. But all the talk in the world, won’t change a thing if they don’t see me modeling this for them. How I treat my wife, their mom, will go a long way in how they will grow up and treat their wife. Men, we can do better. We must do better.

Pastor Justin

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Feb 07

What’s Good For One…

There is a story in the Gospel of John that I was reading again the other day. It is the story of the woman caught in adultery and drug before Jesus.  The religious leaders hated Jesus, and they wanted to find any reason they could to discredit Him, and get rid of Him.  In this story in John chapter 7 and 8, the religious leaders bring a woman to Jesus. They say they caught her in the very act of adultery.  They said, “the Law of Moses commands us that she should be stoned.  What do you say?”  The problem is, they weren’t even following the Law they were trying to use to trap Jesus. The Law said that they were to bring both parties who were guilty of adultery to be tried and then stoned once found guilty.  They claimed to have caught the woman in the act.  If they caught her in the act, doesn’t it stand to reason that they also caught the man in the act?  They brought her, why didn’t they bring him as well?  They didn’t bring the man, because they didn’t care about the man.  They didn’t even really care about the woman or the Law. All they cared about was trapping Jesus, and finding a way to get rid of Him.  Therefore, to try to accomplish this, they practiced selective justice. Why do I bring this story up?  I bring it up, because I believe we are seeing the same thing play out in our nation right now in sports, in politics, and unfortunately, even the church.  Let me show you what I mean.

As I was listening to the radio the other day driving, I heard an interesting story that posed a question.  The question was, why do some athletes who get busted for using PED’s (Performance Enhancing Drugs) get treated like a huge cheater, and others seemingly get a pass. The example that was used was Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds from baseball, and the Super Bowl MVP this year, Julian Edelman.  Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds were again denied entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame by writers, because of their use or perceived use of steroids during their playing careers.  On the other hand, Julian Edelman has been talked about being a hall of fame player because of his performances in the playoffs during his career.  However, Edelman was suspended the first four games of this season because he violated the NFL’s policy on banned substances. In all fairness, what banned substance he used and why he used it was never released per the collective bargaining agreement between the players association and the NFL.  But clearly, there are two different standards here.

Of course the last 10 days have not been good days in my home state, the Commonwealth of Virginia.  There has been a bill proposed that would allow an abortion to be performed even if the mother was in active labor.  By God’s grace that bill was tabled in the sub-committee. Then the next day, the Governor of Virginia went on the radio and defended the bill, and then even went a step further. He talked about if a baby was born with severe birth defects, and the survivability of the child was low, a doctor could lay the child off to the side while they talked with the parents, and decided what to do.  I don’t care how you try to explain that, that is infanticide, that is murder!  Then a few days after all of this, a 35 year-old yearbook photo comes out depicting the Governor in a racist way.  For the record, the Governor now denies he was in the photo, even though he apologized for being in the photo the day before.  I wish that is all that had happened in Virginia, but it isn’t. However, I will leave that alone for now.  My concern with our Governor is that he openly advocates for open borders into our nation, as well as, he is open to providing access to medical care, affordable housing, and more to those who have chosen to enter the United States illegally.  Clearly, there is a double standard at play in these politics.

Finally, I am disheartened and even a little frustrated with some of my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I am saddened by what feels like a double standard coming from us in a couple of areas. First, from the photo of the Governor side.  Back when Justice Brett Kavanaugh was going through the confirmation process, there was outrage from many conservatives because of allegations that were brought up from 35-40 years ago.  Many said, “it’s not right to bring something up from that long ago.”  However, now that the photo of the Governor has surfaced, many of those same people are calling for the Governor to resign from office.  This isn’t right!  I do not condone the Governor’s picture either as blackface or dressed in a KKK outfit.  They are vile, racist, and absolutely unacceptable by anyone.  Racism is a sin that has plagued and continues to plague our nation, and as Christians, we must be on the front lines standing against it, calling it out when we see it, and working to help rid this nation and the world of it once and for all. For the record, racism is an issue of the heart. Therefore, the only way to eradicate it is by the power of God through the Gospel.  That is why this is a biblical issue, and not just a human issue.  However, we can’t cry “this isn’t fair” for our guy, and then use the same tactics on our opponent, and believe that there is nothing wrong with that.  The book of James reminds us that God doesn’t show partiality; therefore, those who are His followers, must not play favorites either.  The second area that concerns me does involve the issue of immigration.  This is a multi-tentacled issue, and I won’t be able to address it fully here. However, pro-life means to be pro-every life.  Pro-life cannot just be about abortion.  It must also include treating every person with dignity and recognizing that they are a person made in the image of God.  Pro-life means caring for and advocating those with special needs, the elderly, and yes, immigrants.  Again, I understand that there is a difference between legal and illegal immigration.  But a life is a life no matter how small or where it was born.  To fight for life means that we must fight for all lives. We must demand that our government treat every person from the womb to the tomb with dignity, care, and respect. We must recognize that every life is created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27), is loved by God (John 3:16), and represents someone that Jesus died for (Rom. 10:13).  This must begin with the church, with those who claim Jesus is their Lord and Savior.  Let us remove the log from our eye so that we can see clearly, so that we can “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8)

Pastor Justin

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Feb 04

Win Now or Build For Later?

In sports, there are two philosophies that play out each year. You see it in all the major sports. Some teams make trades, and other moves to try to win a championship that year. While other teams take a re-building approach. They understand that they may have some rough years at first, but over time they know that they will have a team that won’t just win one championship, but a team that will win multiple championships or at least have the opportunity to do so. You will have supporters and detractors on both sides of the argument.

My concern is that church’s are adopting the “win now” philosophy. What I mean is that they are more interested in drawing a large crowd each Sunday, but they have no plan on what to do to help the people grow in their faith after they get there. Unfortunately, we also see some churches that aren’t drawing larger crowds get disillusioned, and become envious of those churches that are drawing larger crowds. Unfortunately, some take it to the extreme of wanting to get rid of staff, because they are not accomplishing what people believe they ought to be accomplishing.

When we make church crowds the goal, we set ourselves up for several problems. First, we absolutely open the door for false teachers to come in, and deceive many. Because false teachers promote beliefs that will make people feel good, they will be able to draw a crowd. Second, when we believe that a crowd is the goal, we start to judge success or failure based on what we can see, not what the Spirit is doing in the hearts and lives of the people. There is also the problem of creating many false converts. Making the purpose of church be drawing a big crowd also sets the pastor(s) up for pride. Every pastor I know, including myself, has the propensity to fall victim to pride. It is part of the human fallen condition. When you look at into the church and you see a larger crowd on a given Sunday, you are tempted to think, “yes, we must be doing something right.” Of course the opposite is true as well. If there is a smaller crowd, we are prone to think, “oh no, what did I do wrong?” The final problem that I see with making drawing a crowd the purpose of church is that we fail to adequately prepare the people God has given us charge of for living a Christian life in a post-Christian nation. Living a Christian life is difficult, because of our own sinful nature. It is made even more difficult by the constant barrage of temptations by our secular society. Jesus didn’t strive to draw large crowds. In fact, every time Jesus’ crowd starting getting large, we see Him pull out one of His tough sermons (see John 6 for an example). The result is that many would walk away. Jesus’ first mission was to come and seek and save the Lost (Luke 19:10). But He also came to make disciples, who would go and make disciples.

Disciples who make disciples is the ultimate goal of the church. It is much like the philosophy of building for later. It is a slow process, at times it seems almost imperceptible. But disciple making is as sure as Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. The same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, lives inside of those God has saved. The Spirit works in the life of a believer conforming them to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). The more we become like Jesus, the more we become disciple-makers. The apostle Paul put it this way, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:1-2).

To my brothers in the ministry who are striving to make disciples, take heart. God sees your heart, and the work that you are doing. Let’s not let secular philosophies dictate spiritual priorities. Rather, let us labor in love for our Master and for those He has entrusted with us. Let us invest our lives in them, so that together we will become disciples who make disciples.

Pastor Justin

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Jan 31

What Do You Expect?

Over the last several days, there has been a lot of reaction to legislation in New York, as well as, a proposed piece of legislation in Virginia. We should rightly be outraged by these travesties. They simply reveal how far America is slipping into depravity, and just how little we actually value human life. My heart is broken over all of this. I found myself becoming infuriated with the whole thing. But then, I had a question pop into my head. It was the Holy Spirit reminding me of something. The question was this, why are you expecting the lost to act like the saved?

You see, unsaved people and saved people have two different worldviews. We look at things from an entirely different perspective. The apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man (unsaved) does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” As a Christian, we only see things properly because the Spirit reveals them to us. It is equally important for us to remember, that before God saved us, we viewed the world the same way and thought the same way that unsaved people do. It is only by the grace of God that we have been saved, and it is only by the Spirit of God that we understand right from wrong according to God. So, what can we do?

  • Pray. I know it may seem obvious to say pray, but we need to be reminded of what our first response to any situation should be. We need to pray that the Spirit would convict the world of sin, that Satan would no longer be able to blind their eyes to the truth, and that the lost would see their need for Jesus. We could end abortion, homelessness, poverty, disease, etc. but if we don’t pray and actively share the Gospel, the world is still lost.
  • Speak the Truth. Now is the time for Christians to stand firmly on the Bible. Remember, an unsaved person doesn’t know what God has revealed to us. Therefore, it is our job to share it with them. The big thing we as Christians must remember to do is to share that truth in love (see Eph. 4:15). We don’t want to ignore the truth, we don’t want to sugar coat the truth, nor do we want to turn people away from the truth because of our methods. Remember this, the message will always be offensive to an unsaved person, but as the messenger we cannot be offensive in our delivery.
  • Participate in the Process. We need more truly born-again believers in branches of government. It is one of the only ways that our voices will be heard in Richmond and in Washington. We cannot sit back in our churches and lament the condition and direction of our Commonwealth and our nation, all the while sitting back and not being a part of the solution. One of the rights granted to us is the right to participate in the process. One of the reasons that so many radical activist groups have having such success at the state and national level is that their people are mobilized to their cause. We need to realize that we are afforded the same privileges.

I don’t know how all of this is going to turn out. But I do know that God is giving His children an opportunity to shine the light of the Gospel into the darkness of our world. The one remaining question is, will we shine our light or will we continue to sit in the darkness, complaining about how dark it is?

Pastor Justin

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Jan 28

Knee-jerk Reaction

Have you ever over-reacted to a situation? I think we all have at one time or another. Oftentimes, those instantaneous reactions are wrong, and they cause the biggest fights. It is a very dangerous thing to be ruled by our emotions. In fact, the Bible warns us about knee-jerk reactions in the book of James. James 1:19-20 says, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.” Later in James it says, “The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:6). So how can we limit, and hopefully even eliminate knee-jerk reactions?

I think there are a few things we can do. First, remember the ratio of ears to mouth. God gave us two ears and one mouth. That means we should do twice as much listening as we do talking. In his book, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, Stephen Covey says that we should, “seek to understand, then seek to be understood.” Oftentimes, when we have an emotional reaction it is because we didn’t fully listen and comprehend what was being said. We simply heard something that we didn’t like, and we reacted in the moment. A way to combat this is to ask questions to make sure you understand what is being said. Second, have a cooling off period. When I do pre-marital or marital counseling, I always encourage couples to have a mandatory cooling off period. There are many reasons why emotions could run high in given conversations. Therefore, it is wiser to step back, control your emotions, and collect your thoughts instead of shooting from the hip. A momentary word spoken in anger can have a lifetime of ramifications if we aren’t careful. Third, give each other the benefit of the doubt. A lot of misunderstandings and over-reactions come from us believing the worst about the person saying it. Maybe they have been hurtful in the past, but forgiveness means that we don’t hold what they have previously done against them. If it is a martial argument, try and remember that your spouse loves you. They aren’t out to hurt you (at least hopefully they aren’t). So look past the words being said to the person saying them. Finally, give grace to each other. Sometimes, people who love us end up hurting us. Of course, we need to remember that sometimes we hurt those we love as well. Maybe there was a better way that it could have been handled. Maybe they could have said it a different way. But here you are, emotions are running high, you’re getting ready to lash out in anger or hit them with a sarcastic comeback. This is the moment of decision, will you give in to your sin nature and say what you are thinking or will you give them grace and hold back? What is the standard of giving someone grace? The standard is not how bad they hurt you, how bad you want to get back at them, or the standard of other people. The standard of grace is Jesus Christ. How much grace as God extended to you? How many times has God not given you everything you deserved for your sins against Him? That is the standard of grace. In that moment, you may feel good and justified with your reaction. However, at some point you are going to regret it. As the saying goes, you can’t unring the bell once it’s been rung.

Life is fully of hurt, and sometimes that hurt comes from those who are closest to you. It’s not right and it certainly isn’t fair. But it is par for the course in this fallen, sinful world. But we don’t have to give in to it. We can choose how we react to situations and to people. When someone hurts you, you can either pour gas on the situation with an emotional reaction, or you can pour water on it, by giving them grace and showing the love of Christ to them. The ball is in your court.

Pastor Justin

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Jan 24

Don’t Let The Past Define The Present

At this time of year every year, the Baseball Writer’s Association releases the names of those lucky few who will go into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY later this year. Something historic happened yesterday. In the history of voting for potential Hall of Famers, no one has ever been a unanimous selection. That all changed yesterday. Former Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera became the first baseball player to receive an unanimous selection into the Hall of Fame. Since the story broke yesterday, many baseball people have written about it and discussed it at length. While there are some that are congratulating Rivera on the historic feat, many others are writing and talking about their disgust with the vote. To be clear, no one is doubting the Mariano Rivera deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. As someone who got to watch his entire career, I can attest to his deserving of the honor of being inducted to the Hall of Fame. The issue people have is that he is the first. Their argument is, if people like Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Ernie Banks, Jackie Robinson, Reggie Jackson, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, and other truly great players didn’t get 100% of the vote, how can anyone get 100% of the vote? I will say that I personally see some merit to the argument. However, I think there is a larger point that needs to be made. The larger point is this, just because other deserving people didn’t get 100% of the vote, doesn’t mean that no one should get 100% of the vote. If anything, maybe the baseball writers who have a vote are finally waking up to their own lunacy in the past. In previous years, someone would intentionally leave someone’s name off their ballot, just to make sure that no one received 100% of the vote. Finally, it appears that the writers are willing to do the right thing, because it’s the right thing to do. Do I believe we will see a lot of people get 100% of the vote? Honestly, no I don’t because the criteria for being a Hall of Fame is subjective at best. That is a whole other argument, for another time. Why does this matter? It matters, because for the first time, the writers are not letting the past dictate what they do in the present.

I think this is one of Satan’s greatest strategies to paralyze or cripple the growth and effectiveness of a believer. Satan loves to remind us of our past, to whisper those allegations of unworthiness because of sins long since forgiven by the grace of God. There are many believers who sit idly by on the sidelines not because they don’t have something to contribute to the advancement of the Gospel. Rather, they sit on the sidelines because they believe what Satan says about their past. If that is you, I want to hopefully offer you some encouragement. The apostle Paul wrote these words in Philippians 3, “Brothers, I do not count myself to have attained, but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal to the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14, bold-mine for emphasis). Paul knew he wasn’t perfect. A casual reading of Romans 7 will show you that Paul was very aware that he still had a sin nature, and that he battled his sin nature on a daily basis. His point was, we can’t neglect to serve God in the present, because of our past. By His grace, the moment God saved us all of our sins were forgiven because they had been paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. Because of this glorious forgiveness, Paul would write in Romans 8, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” By His blood, we have been declared not guilty. So don’t allow your past to keep you in chains. Realize that you have been saved by grace for a purpose. You have a calling on your life that God has equipped you for. So drop the chains of the past that are hindering you, and live in the grace that saved you, marching on to fulfill the calling of glorifying God by using what He has given you to point others to Him.

Pastor Justin

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Jan 22

Not Me, But We

We have become such and individualized society in America. I am not one of those let’s look back at the “good ole days” kind of people, but I do think there was a time in America in which life was more communal. There was a sense of we need each other if we are going to survive. In this instance, I believe that is precisely the way that God created us to be. There are many verses and stories in both the Old and New Testament that show us that we were created for community, not isolation.

Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wrote these words, “Two are better than one, because hey have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him-a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Ecc. 4:9-12). Solomon is telling us that there are benefits to having others around us. The apostle Paul talks about the needfulness of accountability when he writes, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” in Galatians 6:1-2. If I isolate myself, I am more likely to lie to myself. I need godly men around me, who will hold me accountable for my life. From a leadership standpoint, Exodus 18 shows us that leadership is to be done with a plurality of leaders, not just a single leader. So, if we know that living in community is better than isolation, why is it that we so often strive to be alone or do things alone? In a word, pride. We always believe we are strong enough, that we work better alone, or that we are that one in a million person who can work in isolation and not fall victim to sin. Here’s a newsflash, none of us are that person because Scripture says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, let’s ask the question, what is the answer? Peter says that our adversary, the devil, is roaming the earth seeking those he may devour. The image is a lion on the hunt for prey. If you watch lions stalk their prey, you will see that they always pick on the stragglers. Why, because they won’t see the lion coming, and they are isolated from the rest of the animals, therefore they are defenseless.

The answer is to live as God created us. If I am going to be the Christian, husband, father, and pastor that God created and called me to be, then I need other people in my life helping me. This means having 3-4 other godly men who will hold me accountable for my life, who will ask the tough questions, who will encourage me when I’m struggling, and who will kick me in the pants when I’m not doing what I’m supposed to do. I need this, not just because I am a pastor, but because I am a Christian who loves God, but who also has a very real sin nature that wars against my new nature given to me by God. Not only do I need this, but so do you. If you are going to be and do everything God created you to do, you are going to need help. You are going to have to first and foremost rely on God. You are also going to need the help of brothers or sisters in Christ around you. I would encourage you, if you don’t already have this group in your life, to begin praying and asking God to help you find a group. Maybe you feel overwhelmed by that, and not sure where to start. Hopefully, I can help you with this. First, make it a same sex group. If you are a guy, find other guys. If you are a woman, find other ladies. Keep it small. As a group, set a time that you will meet each week, and a place. As a group, decide what you are going to study. Then commit yourself to the group, and watch what God does in your life and through your group.

Pastor Justin

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