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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Jan 14

Rightly Divide The Truth

This past week, I saw once again something that is very sad.  The part that really saddens me is this, the one who did it knows better. However, no one is above doing it. In fact, there are many people who do it on a regular basis.  Sometimes it is politicians, sometimes it is musicians, actors, or athletes.  And sadly, sometimes it is a Christian who does it, or worse yet, a pastor.  What I’m talking about is using the Bible, or more specifically, using a verse from the Bible in a wrong way to try and win an argument.  It is not my intention here to wade into the murky political waters with this post.  Rather, I simply want to warn all of us of the dangers of manipulating the Bible for our own purposes.  The apostle Paul admonished his protégé, Timothy, to “study to show yourself approved, a workman unto God, one who does not need to be ashamed; rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).  To “rightly divide” gives us the word picture of a surgeon taking a scalpel, and carefully making a straight cut.  There are two forms of biblical interpretation.  The first one is what we saw occur this week, and countless numbers of other times in the past.  This form of interpretation reads into a verse something that may or may not be there. It typically occurs when someone goes to a random Bible verse, and simply quotes it to try to win an argument or persuade someone about something.  One of the classic examples of this is Philippians 4:13 that says, “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me.”  We see athletes and others quote this verse or write it somewhere that is visible.  At face value, it seems harmless, good, and maybe even inspiring.  However, by simply cutting that verse out of its context, you are manipulating the text and trying to force it to say something that it may in fact not actually say.  The context of the passage is the apostle Paul talking about how God has taught him to be content in life whether he has a lot of things or he has nothing.  The point of verse 13 is that Paul was saying it is God who gives him the strength and the ability to do what God wants him to do in spreading the Gospel.  Later in that same passage God says, “but my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).  Paul is trying to encourage the Philippian believers to trust God to provide for them, instead of believing it is up to them to figure their situation out.  The second form of biblical interpretation pulls the meaning directly out of the text. It asks the question, what did this verse mean to its original audience.  Once it has rightly understood the meaning, then you can ask the question, how does this apply to my life?

There are a couple of reasons why I wanted to address this here. First, I want to encourage you, if you see someone quoting a Bible verse in an effort to prove they are right or to win an argument; do yourself a favor and go read that verse and the verses surrounding it.  By reading the verses around it, you will have a better chance at understanding the context of the verse used.  Then, on the merits of the Bible, you can decide whether the person has a valid point or not.  Second, if you are going to use the Bible to try and persuade someone, please do your due diligence in making sure that the verse you are quoting actually says and means what you say it says and means.  I don’t want to come off too brash or rude here, but if you are too lazy to go and make sure you are using the Bible properly, it would be best if you left the Bible out of your argument.  Because when you misquote or misuse Scripture, you not only make yourself look foolish; but worse, you defame God and do harm to the Gospel.  Whether it is your intention or not, when we misuse Scripture we give rise to skepticism in non-believers about the truth of the Bible. We don’t want to be found as someone who is leading someone astray or causing someone to stumble, or worse, completely turn away from the Gospel.  The best way to persuade someone of right and wrong is to use the Bible, but we must use it in love and make sure that we are “rightly dividing” the word of truth.

Pastor Justin

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Jan 09

What’s Your Word Worth?

Sometimes I wonder if I’m reaching that point in my life where I’m becoming one of those “old dudes that complain about a lot of things”, that I complained about growing up. In the last year, there have been a lot of instances of people saying one thing, and then doing something different. I know it isn’t anything new. But it seems as though people’s word these days doesn’t really mean a whole lot. We see every day where politicians say one thing to get elected, and then they switch their tune once they get into office. Or they will twist the facts to fit their narrative. We see it in sports when coaches say they will come coach a team, but in some cases less than 24 hours later back out of the signed contract. There are actors, actresses, and singers who lecture the nation on morality, but then make movies and songs that are anything but moral. One that hits a little closer to home for me as a parent are those times when one of the kids asks, “hey dad can you (fill in the blank with a request)”, and my response is often “not right now, maybe later.” One thing I always remember my dad telling me as I was growing up was “son, your word must be your bond.” It was very important that if you said you were going to do something, that you did it. I would like to say that I always listened and heeded that advice, but then I would be talking about another sin. But as I get older, I’m starting to learn the value in that advice.

Jesus taught us the value of being honest and clear with our communication in Matthew 5 when He said, “But let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes’, and ‘no’ mean ‘no.’ For whatever is more than these comes from the evil one.” Jesus was specifically talking about using phrases to try and convince people of the truthful of your statement. Statements like “I swear on a stack of Bibles”, or “I swear on my grandmother’s life.” Quick side note, I wonder if grandma is ok with you taking her life into your hands 🙂 The point is, what we say should mean something. People should know that if we say it, it is true, and that we mean it. For Christians, the truthfulness of our words or lack there of, can either further our witness to the world or it can destroy our witness to the world. If people can’t believe us about the little things in life, how can we ever expect them to believe us about the biggest and most important thing we are going to share with them, the Gospel?

So let us slow down, think through what we are going to say. We live in a sensationalist society that likes to make big promises, but seldom delivers. Let us be the opposite. Let’s be clear, honest, and compassionate with our communication. As the apostle Paul reminds us in Ephesians 4, “let us speak the truth in love.” People may not always like hearing the truth, but the truth is what is needed. If they know that we love them and we have a track record of being truthful, it will go a long way in helping them hear what we have to say.

Pastor Justin

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Dec 31

Begin With The End In Mind

The title of this post is from Stephen Covey’s book, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People. I was introduced to the habits and the book when my kids attended a local elementary school a few years ago. I have found the habits to be very helpful in my personal life, as well as, God has led me to write some Bible lessons from those habits. After all, all truth is God’s truth. Therefore, if it is true, it is from God. I used this particular habit with our youngest son this weekend. He is a wrestler. This is his third year in wrestling. He has great coaches around him, a strong work ethic, and a God-given athletic ability. It has been a lot of fun to watch him grow in the sport over the last three years. God has allowed him to enjoy some measure of success over these three years. However, each of the first two years he went to the state tournament, he fell a little short of the podium. The first year it was because he went up against other kids who had better technique than he did. Last year, he went a little further but ran out of steam by the time he reached the quarterfinals. Therefore, this year Diana and I decided towards the end of 2018 and into 2019, we would start putting him into double brackets most weekends. That means he would wrestle his normal weight division, but then also wrestle in a higher weight division in the same day. We put this plan into action this past weekend. Instead of getting a customary three matches for the tournament, we expected him to get six. However, it ended up that he got four matches in each weight class. This was perfect, because depending on how you do at the double elimination state tournament, you could wrestle as few as six matches or as many as eight. Things didn’t go as well for him as he wanted or expected them to. He suffered more losses this past weekend than he had combined for the year going into this tournament. He was understandably upset and frustrated. However, I had to keep reminding him of the goal. He set a goal at the beginning of this season to place in the state tournament. That was his big goal for the year. Therefore, I had to keep reminding him this past Saturday, that medals in these tournaments are nice, but they are not the goal. The goal is to get better, and to build endurance so that he stands a better chance at reaching his overall goal of placing at state. At times that can be a hard lesson for a nine year old to comprehend. Let’s be honest, that can sometimes be a hard lesson for us as adults to comprehend. As we were leaving the gym, I simply told him, “today is going to make you stronger and better if you let it. We put you in two weight classes to prepare you for the state tournament. You took a step closer to your ultimate goal this year today. Therefore, you didn’t lose matches, you were presented with an opportunity to learn from those matches.” Will that reminder help? I don’t know, I certainly hope so. But what does this have to do with you or me? We aren’t training for a state tournament or any major athletic events.

What it has to do with us, is something that we must always remember. We need to remember what the goal of our life is. A lot of people try to approach life from a ripple effect method. They start where they are, and then draw lines out of how that will change their life. However, a more effective method is to begin with the end in mind. You lay out what your ultimate goal is, and then work backwards to where you are. As you do that, you lay out the plan for how to go from where you are to where you want to be. In order to do this, you must first define your goal. What is the purpose of your life? How will you judge your life as you get near the end of your life? For the Christian, the goal has been set for us. Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The ultimate goal for a Christian is to glorify God by seeking Him. Colossians 1:16 reminds us that we were “created by Him and for Him.” The way I seek the kingdom is to seek Jesus, and to live in a right relationship with Him, and then seek to grow in that relationship with Him throughout my life. With the goal established, then I must take an honest assessment of my life to determine where I am. Am I truly seeking God and growing in my relationship with Him? What changes need to be made in my life in order for that to happen? What are some ways that God is trying to change me, and deepen my faith in Him? Then through prayer, we ask God to reveal to us how He desires to accomplish those changes so that we hit our ultimate goal.

As we prepare to start a new year, ask yourself a few questions. First, what is the purpose of my life right now? You can look at how you spend your time, your talents, and your resources to get a better grasp on what is the most important to you. Is the goal you are driving towards right now, the goal you ultimately want to hit? If not, what goal do you need to be aiming at? With your current attitudes and actions, will you hit the goal you are aiming at? If not, what changes need to be made? Finally, are you willing to pay the price and make the necessary changes to hit your goal?

If your goal in 2019 is to know God or to grow in God, and you need some help with either of those things; I hope you will reach out to us here at Westlake. Regardless of where you live, we want to help you know God and grow in God. You can reach out to us through e-mail, social media, or feel free to call us. We want you to know that we are praying for you, and we pray that this will be the year that God gets ahold of your heart and changes you for His glory and your good.

-Pastor Justin

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Dec 27

Defroster or Oscillating Fan?

There are times in life when strange questions come into my mind. This is one of those times, but I hope I will be able to explain it in such a way that it will make sense.

The other morning, I was sitting in my car while it warmed up. It had evidently gotten fairly cold in the night, and so a frost was on the windshield. As I sat in the car, I noticed the effect of the car’s defroster. That got me thinking about the impact of a Christian’s life, and the impact of a church. One thing that has become apparent to me is that fewer and fewer churches are having significant impacts on their communities. It isn’t because there isn’t a desire to impact the communities. It’s not because we don’t have enough programs. It’s not because we don’t have capable people to impact our communities. Then, why aren’t we having more of an impact on the communities that God has sovereignly and strategically placed us in? I believe it is, at least in part, due to many churches trying to be an oscillating fan. What does that mean?

Have you ever seen how an oscillating fan works? You turn it on, and the fan starts to rotate from one side to the other. When it gets to the other side, it stays there for a short time, and then starts to rotate back to the original side. It continues to do this until you turn the fan off, or you stop it from oscillating. A lot of churches are trying to be a jack of all trades, instead of a master of one. They are trying to have a maximum, outward impact. While that seems reasonable, and like a good approach. Truthfully, it is having a diminished rate of return. The result of trying to have a wide impact is that many churches are a mile wide, while the Christians in that church are spiritually only about an inch deep. The end result is that a church is reaching a large portion of people, but those people are not growing spiritually, which results in a lack of disciple multiplication. Is there a better way?

This is where the car defroster comes into the story. As I sat in my car and watched the defroster work, I saw something amazing. The defroster never moved. It was blowing the warm air on a concentrated place. The result was as the warm air continued to blow on that place, it caused the heat to radiate out further and further, until the far edges of the windshield were thawed out enough to use the windshield wipers to clear the windshield. Instead of having a small impact on all of the windshield, the defroster concentrated on that first spot, and allowed the heat to naturally spread outwardly. What if churches took this approach with those who attend their church? What if, instead of trying to be all things to all people; instead, the church focused on strengthening, and equipping the disciples who are there to grow more and more mature in their faith? The result would be instead of having a church that is a mile wide and an inch deep, you would get a church that is a mile deep spiritually, and as a result, God would grow them wider and wider by reaching people with the Gospel. I’m not advocating for doing away with evangelism teaching, community outreaches, and the like. Rather, I’m advocating for ministry leaders to equip the saints to do the work of ministry, and then go out with them and do ministry. We as church leaders can only meet with and evangelize so many people in a given day, week, month, or year. But, if we trained our people to grow in their obedience to Jesus, they would go out and evangelize the people near them. The result is that we would have a far more reaching impact. Therefore, I believe we should begin with the few, knowing that as they grow in their walk with God, they will be obedient to Jesus more, which means they will be a part of reaching the many.

The crazy thing about this line of thinking is this, it isn’t a new way of thinking. While this may be a revelation to many Christians, churches, and leaders; it certainly isn’t a foreign concept to Scripture. In fact, this is the exact model that Jesus used in His ministry. He didn’t spend the majority of His time with large crowds. Rather, He invested most of His time in His disciples. He knew that He was only going to be here long enough to accomplish the mission He was sent on, which was to be the substitute on the cross for the world. Jesus came to reconciled the world back to God. Soon enough, Jesus was going to ascend back into heaven. However, He also knew that the disciples He taught during His years of ministry, would be on the earth longer than He was, and therefore they would be able to have a larger impact. Therefore, Jesus taught the few with the intent of them reaching the many. The key to having a lasting, larger impact isn’t trying to primarily grow bigger. The key is obedience to Jesus by the few, which will result is a church growing bigger.

As we end 2018 in just a few days, I believe ministry leaders, churches, and Christians as a whole need to answer a question. Will we be a defroster or an oscillating fan? In trying to answer that question, I pray that I and other leaders will remember this, you can’t get good fruit from a bad tree, and rotten fruit will never produce good fruit.

Pastor Justin

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Dec 26

Enough

I hope you had a Merry Christmas. It’s hard to believe that another Christmas has come and gone, but it has. Now it is full steam ahead for many people to New Year’s Eve, and then New Year’s Day. As my family and I went through the hustle and bustle of Christmas Day, a word just kept coming to my mind. That word is the title of this post, enough. There are several definitions for the word, enough, but in this instance I am thinking of it in the context of satisfaction or making one feel complete. Specifically, the word kept coming to my mind in a question. That question was, is Jesus enough? I remember a few weeks back in the course of a sermon using the same question. Then I made the statement, if Jesus alone isn’t enough for you, then no one and no other thing will ever be enough for you either. That may seem or sound like a harsh statement, but I believe that that Jesus’ words and the rest of the New Testament bear proof of this statement.

In the Gospels, we see Jesus make statements such as, “He who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of Me” (Mt. 10:37-38). Jesus would also say, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it” (Mt. 10:39). We see later when Jesus is talking to a rich ruler, Jesus gives him the specific command to sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and follow Him. The result was, the rich man walked away from Jesus sad. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus said, “the greatest among you will be your servant.” In Matthew we read, “what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, yet loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” The second greatest command according to Jesus is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:39). Later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul says that we are to put the needs, wants, and wishes of others ahead of our own, if we are going to live out the mind of Christ (see Phil. 2:2-8). The whole point is that we are to live a Jesus-centered life. He is to be the greatest love of our life. Jesus is to be our greatest treasure. He is to be our everything, every time.

It’s easy to say these things, but something entirely different to live them out at times. We live in a man-centered world that teaches and feeds into our own ego of “me first.” Many leaders surround themselves with “yes” people. We constantly check our smart phones to see how many likes, comments, replies, or retweets we get on our social media posts. We crave the approval of people. People-pleasing has been the downfall of many leaders, pastors, and churches. Maybe you are wondering, what this has to do with Christmas time? In a way, nothing, but in another way it has everything to do with Christmas. Often times, we spend a lot of time trying to pick out the perfect gift for those closest to us, but find something in the back of our closet, that was most likely gifted to us last year, and take it to give to someone else who doesn’t mean as much to us. We define our love for our spouse or our children by the what we can buy them or give them. We often feel loved or scorned based on who gives us gifts, and what they gave us. Even on the day in which we celebrate Jesus’ birth, we are drawn into the prideful trap of pleasing people and being affirmed by them. Which brings me back to my question, is Jesus enough? If there was no one to pat us on the back, if there were no presents under the tree for you, if you couldn’t afford to buy a single present for someone else; would you still feel loved and valuable? Would you be confident in your identity? Praise fades and is quickly followed by criticism, gifts break, get lost, or lose their appeal; people forget who gave them what last Christmas. But who Jesus is, and who He says we are remains forever. Is Jesus enough?

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Dec 22

A Simple Guide to Gift Giving

In just a few short days, many families will gather together in homes, and exchange gifts with one another. These gifts represent the thoughtfulness of the gift giver. They represent the time spent thinking about, and carefully selecting the best gift to give. I always chuckle when I think about Christmas and gift giving. Diana and I always sit down around Thanksgiving and talk about what to give the children and other family members for Christmas. It used to be a lot harder than it is now, and frankly harder than it should have been. Just a quick note, thanks Dave Ramsey for your system of four gifts (something they want, need, wear, and read). Then you go out shopping to get those thoughtfully selected gifts. You buy wrapping paper and scotch tape (lots of tape if you are like my family). You spend hours carefully wrapping the gifts. Ok, maybe not everyone wraps the gifts. Some quickly pick up a gift bag and some tissue paper. Just a piece of advice from someone who has made this mistake before; if you are going to buy a gift bag, make sure the present fits. By now you have spent hours in all of this. And on Christmas morning, or whenever you exchange gifts, in a matter of 15 minutes or less, it looks like a Christmas wrapping paper bomb has gone off in your living room. 10-15 hours of thoughtfulness ends in 15 minutes, that’s why I chuckle. So this is my simple guide to gift giving.

The apostle Paul writes one of the most practical Christian-living letters in all of the New Testament. It is the book of Ephesians. You can divide the book neatly into two sections. The first section covers the first three chapters. In those chapters, Paul lays out sound, biblical theology. Which leads into the second section of chapters four through six. In that section, Paul helps the reader practically apply what he has just written previously. In that second section, Paul covers a lot of important topics such as living the Christian life, letting your previous life die so you and walk in the new life Christ has given you, marriage, and family to name a few. It is in chapter four that we see the simple guide to gift giving for believers.

In Ephesians 4:25-32, Paul writes about living the Christian life. In that section he deals with a very important topic, one that I would say we all (myself included) could learn from and apply. What are Paul’s four gifts the believer should give? The first one is truth (v. 25). Earlier in the same chapter Paul said to “speak the truth in love.” As a Christian, we should love and care about other Christians as well as other people. Therefore, we should love them enough to tell them the truth. The truth may not always be convenient, but it is always right. The second gift to give is to deal with any anger quickly (v. 26). Paul writes, “Be angry but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger” in verse 26. Why? The apostle answers that question in verse 27 when he says, “Do not give place to the devil.” Unresolved anger leads to bitterness which will hurt relationships instead of heal them. The third gift is grace (v. 29-31). We should extend grace to others, because God through Christ has extended grace to us. Words have power. We are told to use our words to build up and encourage, not tear down. The last gift we should give is forgiveness (v. 32). This goes right along with the third gift. Truthfully, all four gifts are connected because when we aren’t lovingly truthful, we tend to get angry and bitter which leads to not extending grace to others in the form of not forgiving them for hurting us. You may be wondering what is the standard for forgiveness we are to us? Are we to forgive only as they ask for it? Are we to forgive only a couple of times, but if they keep doing it, then we don’t have to forgive? Paul in answering that question in verse 32 says this, “And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you” (bold for emphasis). The standard for forgiveness is God. How much as God forgiven you for? How often has God forgiven you?

Maybe you have already got your Christmas shopping done. Maybe the presents are already wrapped, and neatly placed under the tree. Maybe you are still looking for the right gift to give. Wherever you are in the gift-giving process, I want to encourage you to make sure that you give these four gifts to those in your life. You will be amazed at how God changes your heart and your life when you give these gifts to others, that He Himself first gave to you.

On behalf of my family and the Westlake Baptist Church family, Merry Christmas to each of you.

Pastor Justin

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Dec 21

A Surgeon’s Scalpel

One thing that I have often noticed about reading the Bible is how straightforward it is. We live in an age of political correctness that is run amuck. We are constantly bombarded with passive aggressive posts on social media. However, the Bible is the exact opposite. It says what it means, and it means what it says. This is certainly a good thing, but it can also be a painful thing at times. It can be painful, because no one likes to be confronted when they are wrong. Yet I can attest to the truthfulness of Hebrews 4:12 when it says, “For the word of God is alive, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrows, and able to judge the thoughts and intents of the heart.” The writer of Hebrews is telling us that God’s Word is like a scalpel in the most gifted surgeon’s hand. If I ever needed a particularly difficult surgery, with all due respect to the doctor who just graduated medical school, I want the surgeon who has been doing the surgery for a while to be the surgeon with the scalpel. Just as that skilled surgeon takes his or her scalpel and cuts with precision; the Word of God cuts deeply and precisely to lay open and reveal the thoughts and intents of our heart. God’s Word is able to cut through our actions, past our words, and get to the very depths of who we are. It is able to carefully remove the cancerous growths of sin that infect our mind, mouth, and heart. Does this at times become a hurtful process? Absolutely it does. But in the end, it always proves to be helpful, in that it helps us become conformed to the image of Jesus. Being conformed to Christ’s image is the will of God for those He has saved by His grace according to the apostle Paul in Romans 8:28-30.

In order for God to remove these cancerous growths of sin in our mind, mouth, and heart; we must first voluntarily get on the surgeon’s table. We must make a plan and then commit to that plan of opening the Bible daily. As we read the Bible, our Heavenly surgeon will take His scalpel and pull back the layers of self-righteousness and good intentions to expose the real issues of our life. Then with the precision that only the One who made us could have, He will begin to cut out that which is robbing us of our joy, fellowship, and right relationship with Him. Have you been on the surgeon’s table today? What is His scalpel trying to get out in order to remove? Just know that while it may hurt for a while, it will heal us, and be for His glory and our good in the long run.

Pastor Justin

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Dec 20

Interrupted by God

A few weeks ago, I got the privilege of speaking at Smith Mountain Lake Christian Academy’s Upper School Chapel.  It just happened to be on the 77th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  What I hoped to share with them from God’s Word is how God can and often interrupts our life.  They all agreed that those interruptions are seldom fun, but I wanted to encourage them to see them as a blessing from God.  I think they as well as we can all agree that many times that is easier said than done.  What follows here is what I got to share with them that morning.  I pray that it will encourage you today to trust God, even when it seems difficult.

Truths From the Christmas Story:

  • God is the One in Control.  The theological term for that is sovereign.  To say that God is sovereign is to say that He is in absolute control of all things, at all times.  For some people that raises a lot of questions, some doubt, and maybe even some concerns.  However, knowing that God is the One who is ultimately in control is meant to give us peace and comfort.  In the Christmas story we see that Mary is simply going about her life like she had planned. She was engaged to Joseph, the man of her dreams.  When all of the sudden an angel appears to her and says, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.”  Before she could fully process what was happening she is told that her life and world were going to be turned upside down because she is going to conceive and carry a child.  Not any child mind you, she was going to carry the Son of God.  I don’t know about you, but I think I would have more than a few questions.  But what I want us to see here is that God didn’t ask Mary or Joseph’s permission to interrupt their life.  He simply told them what was going to happen.  How many of you like being told what to do?  However, because God is the One in control of things, He doesn’t need our permission to accomplish His will.  For some of you that may not sit well with you.  That may frustrate you. Hopefully, you can learn to see how to appreciate and even be thankful that God is in control.
  • God is more interested in the eternal than the temporary.  Some would say that Mary was going to be inconvenienced by this pregnancy. It certainly caused some trouble between her and Joseph.  She was going to have to deal with the morning sickness, the weight gain, the stretch marks, and little did she know it, but a 70 mile walk/ride on a donkey at 9 months pregnant was in her future.  Of course she was also going to have to see and hear the whispers of people every time she went somewhere, because after all she was pregnant, and her fiancée wasn’t the father.  Of course it turned Joseph’s life upside down as well.  He had to deal with news that his fiancée was pregnant and it wasn’t his. He had the stress of not only providing for a future wife, but now a child.  He was probably getting a lot of advice from his friends on what he should do with his apparently unfaithful wife-to-be.  Sometimes life is like this, you get hit with something unexpected. This is where it helps to remember that God is the One in control, and He has a plan and a purpose for everything. We would see the purpose in Luke 2, when the angel appeared to the shepherds and said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  What Mary and Joseph may have seen as an inconvenience, was actually God working out His plan that was formed from before the foundation of the world.  God knew the stress, strain, and struggle that Mary and Joseph were going to go through over the next nine months, but He also knew that Jesus’ birth was going to begin to accomplish His will and His plan for the world. I want you to hear this, God is more interested in your eternal holiness than your temporary happiness.  I love how Jeremiah 29:11 ends.  We all know the beginning, “For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord.”  The end of that verse says, “to give you an expected end.”  Everything that God is doing in your life and my life right now is part of Him accomplishing His plan and His will in our lives to bring us to His expected end for us. But how can we learn to appreciate these interruptions in our life?

Application:

  • Remember that God is good.  As Chris Tomlin reminds us, and Christian radio stations remind us over and over and over, God is a good Father.  He has your best interest at heart.  It doesn’t mean that God won’t allow pain and difficulty to come into your life.  It just means that even in the painful times, the inconvenient times of life, God is working something out for His glory and your good.
  • Remind yourself that it won’t always be like this.  No one likes pain, stress, or trials.  But when we trust God, we can know that there is a purpose behind them. I love what the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:17, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.”  The pain we go through here can’t compare to the glory of being in Jesus’ presence for all eternity.
  • Remember God is with you.  Just like the angel said to Mary, God has said to each of His children, I am with you. Regardless of what you are going through, even if you feel like you are alone and everyone has abandoned you, God is with you.  You may not be strong enough.  I’m sure Mary and Joseph wondered how they would make it through this time in their lives. But God gave them the strength and the grace needed each day, and He has promised to do the same for us.  For God is faithful and He has said, “My grace is sufficient, for when you are weak, then My strength in revealed.”  So let us echo what Mary said to the angel that night, “I am the servant of the Lord, may it be unto me as the Lord has said.”  


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