Sep 17

Forgive At All Cost

I’m going to show my age here, but when I was growing up there was a musical group named Meatloaf. I know they had a lot of songs, but I only remember one. The most famous line from the song was, “I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.” By the way, I am not endorsing Meatloaf and their music in any way, just making a reference to a song I have heard literally hundreds of times in my life. That song came into my head, because I believe in many ways we as people put conditions on our love and commitment. This can apply to people, situations, or even organizations. We say phrases such as , “I love you, but” or “I know I should go to church, but.” The word “but” is a conjunction that is going to reveal the condition. One of those conditions centers around forgiveness. The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness. In today’s text, we are going to see forgiveness put into action in a difficult situation. In Acts 7, we see the first Christian martyred. His name is Stephen. The religious leaders found people who would lie about him and what he was teaching. Two things stand out about the story in Acts 7. The first is how Stephen used his time to defend himself. He didn’t defend himself! Instead of saying, “these guys are lying, I’m not doing any of what they are accusing me of”; Stephen gives a history lesson. He recounts God’s faithfulness and God’s plan from Abraham all the way through Jesus. Stephen was calling on the religious leaders to repent and believe, instead of being worried about his own life. This is the example of Christian love in action we should all strive for.

The second thing that sticks out to me is the depth of Stephen’s love for God which led to a deep love for the people, even the ones persecuting him. After false witnesses were found, and he didn’t defend himself, Stephen is going to be executed. He was taken out of the city and stoned. As they are hurling stones at him, as he is bleeding, and his life is fleeting from him, Stephen does something unbelievable. Acts 7:60 says, “Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep.” Stephen followed in the footsteps of Jesus in the sense of asking God to not hold his murderers accountable for their action. Stephen is forgiving his persecutors as they are killing him.

The only way that we can choose to not defend ourselves, and to even forgive those who are causing us harm is to have a deep love and an abiding relationship with Jesus. Stephen was living out his theology. He believed that God is sovereign. This is why he didn’t try to defend himself against the lies, because he knew God was in control of all things. Stephen knew that Jesus loves sinners. Stephen knew that forgiveness is available through Jesus. Stephen knew that to close his eyes in death was not something to be afraid of, but rather to be embraced because something far greater was waiting for him. Stephen could forgive, because he knew he had been forgiven. His persecutors didn’t ask for forgiveness. Why would they, they didn’t think they were doing anything wrong. Yet, by his words, Stephen is choosing to forgive them. It’s easy to forgive those that we love or when it truly isn’t a big deal. However, it takes a love that is bigger than us to forgive those who are persecuting you. Yet, this is the very type of love that Jesus shows us, and that we are called to show to the world. When we have right beliefs, they will show by our right actions. What do our actions say about our beliefs?

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 16

Who You Are Matters

A lot of people focus on power and influence, while character is often overlooked. Then there are those who focus on outward appearances, while still ignoring their inward person. However, we see over and over in the Bible that character matters. We see it really matter as the church was just beginning in Acts. There was a threat to the unity of the new church early on. Through divinely given wisdom, the apostles decided to enlist the help of others in the church. It was this action that helped keep the church unified and growing. We see how they chose these new leaders in Acts 6:3, “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”

What we see in the selection of leaders is very important. The first thing that I see is that the new leaders were apparent to those in the church. Peter told them to look for people among them. Therefore, these were people who were already a part of the church, most likely from the very beginning. In a day and age when churches try to find leaders outside of their church, we see the early church do something very different. The next thing that I see in the text is the new leaders reputation. It wasn’t just a good reputation inside of the church, it would have also been good outside of the church. Sometimes, people don’t want to come to a particular church because of the way the people at that church act. Now, I will tell you that if you go or don’t go to a church based on a person, you are going for the wrong reason. We go to church to worship the Lord Jesus Christ. However, the people and the way they act can greatly influence visitors to return to a church or not to. Finally, we see evidence of their relationship with Jesus. They are full of the Holy Spirit, and they possess wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit. These are all qualities that every Christian should have in their life. Leaders aren’t people who have extraordinary gifts. Rather, they are people who exercise and improve the gifts they already possess. Are you striving for these qualities in your walk with God? How can God use you to further His kingdom? Pray and ask God to develop you into the man or woman that God has created and called you to be.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 15

A Time and a Place

It seems like people are just in a fighting kind of mood all the time these days. I don’t know if it is the result of the lockdowns that we have gone through this year, or social media, or a combination of both. Whatever the reason, it is evident that we have lost the ability to communicate with each other. Everything escalates quickly. I was told a long time ago, and I’m slowly learning, don’t attend every fight you are invited to. That doesn’t mean there aren’t times which call for us to take a stand. It is asking yourself the question, is this really a hill to die on? The apostles learned this early on in the life of the church. The religious leaders were not happy with the doctrine the apostles were teaching. Therefore, we see them arrest Peter and John. The arrest happened after God used Peter to heal a man who had been lame all of his life. However, what we see in Acts 4 is the fact that Peter and John are arrested not because they performed a miracle, but rather because they preached that Jesus rose from the dead and that He is the Messiah. After asking Peter and John some questions, the religious leaders sternly warn Peter and John to no longer teach about Jesus or in His name. In response Peter says in Acts 4:19-20, “But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.'” This is a bold stance for Peter and John, but I think it is worth noting that they weren’t rude or belligerent about it. They clearly state where they stand, while encouraging the religious leaders to decide for themselves what they think should be done. In this exchange and even later in the chapter, I see some important principles for our communication, especially when taking a stand publicly.

  1. Know what you believe. One of the first things that jumps out to me in their defense is how they put their beliefs out front. Peter and John believed that Jesus is the Messiah, that He was crucified and risen from the dead, and that all of this was done according to God’s plan for the salvation of people. One thing that saddens me in our day is how people latch onto something they have heard, without doing any background research on it. They get riled up over something, because someone has told them they should be riled up over it. It is important, especially for Christians in this pluralistic society we live in, to know what they believe. What does the Bible teach? You can only know what you believe if you spend time reading the Bible.
  2. Be ready to take a stand. As I said, we live in a pluralistic society. A pluralistic society means that people “worship” many different gods, while also believing that there are many ways to get to heaven. It strikes me a funny and sad at the same time that our society is offended by Christians who state that faith in Jesus is the only way to be saved, but then want to say that each person must decide how they believe a person can go to heaven. Which is it? Are you offended in the exclusivity of the Gospel or that people believe there are absolute truths, or are you tolerant of any and all beliefs? You simply can’t have it both ways. The further and further America slips into a post-Christian era, and yes I believe we are a post-Christian nation at this point, the more Christians will be put at odds with the society we live in. While I understand the angst that can cause in some Christians, I believe there are two things we need to realize. First, we have been blessed to have not faced all out persecution in this country like many of our brothers and sisters around the world. Second, Jesus told us that persecution was going to happen. Therefore, we must come to expect it. As persecution comes for our stance and beliefs in the Bible, we must be ready to take a stand. In so doing, there are a few things that I believe we need to remember.
  3. Be gracious in your speech. Notice what Peter says in Acts 4:19, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.” Peter isn’t being belligerent. He is telling the religious leaders, they have to decide whether they believe listening to God or man is right. Peter isn’t shoving any biblical truth down their throat. Rather, he has stated biblical truth and he is calling on them to believe it and accept it. Christians, we will not win the world to Christ by talking and treating them disrespectfully. The world needs to hear and see something different from us. Following in Jesus’ example according to 1 Peter 2, when we are reviled, do not revile back. When we suffer, don’t retaliate; instead, commit ourselves to God who will judge and avenge His children. As the saying goes, “kill them with kindness.”
  4. Determine if this is really a hill to die on. One thing that saddens me about many in the Christian circle is how we have lost the ability to discern. Our lack of discernment has caused many to have their faith shipwrecked by false teaching. But it has also caused many Christians to fight over non-biblical or sometimes secondary doctrinal matters. What I mean by secondary doctrinal matters are things such as the timing of the rapture, celebration of holidays, and things like this. Too often Christians walk around and get offended by everything except the things that we should really get offended by. If it doesn’t change who God is, doesn’t change the message and meaning of the Bible, doesn’t distort who Jesus is, or how a person is saved; then it most likely is a secondary doctrinal issue. When it comes to secondary or even tertiary doctrinal issues, we can disagree on them, but not be divided over them. At the risk of offending some, I want to give a quick example. Many Christians have lost their mind on social media the past couple of years because Starbucks uses a red holiday (Christmas) cup. Why should we not lose our mind and weaken our witness over this? First, let me say this, I do not drink Starbucks. I have had it before, and I wasn’t a huge fan of it. If you like it, that is great, continue to drink it. I don’t want to pay those prices for something that I don’t like, but that is just me. Now, we need to realize that Starbucks has never been a Christian company. They have never claimed to be. In fact, their CEO has stated in clear terms how he feels about Christians and others. Therefore, why would I expect them to have Christian symbols of Christmas on their cups? I would be more offended if they tried to manipulate me by putting Christmas symbols on their cups, because that would be them pretending to be something that they are not. I don’t like companies or politicians pandering to me, especially when it causes them to compromise what they truly believe. I would rather you be up front about who you are and what you believe. Then, I can decide whether or not it is right for me to patron your establishment or give you my vote. Finally, I want to remind us Christians, we cannot expect the lost to act like they are saved! The things of the Spirit are spiritually discerned Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2. So, while we may not like what Starbucks does, this isn’t a hill to die on. Instead, it is a call to prayer for the CEO and any workers there who are not Christian. The last thing I want to say about this topic is this, when we get outraged by everything, we automatically weaken our witness and soften our voice. I will use an example from a pastor and his wife that my family is friends with. This family says they don’t raise their voice at their kids. Not because their kids don’t drive them crazy at times, but so that when the kids hear them yelling at them, they will know it is something important. The example is if we yell at our kids because they are not listening to us, they are more likely to tune us out when we yell at them as they are running towards the road and into real danger. Why? Because they can’t differentiate between when we are truly scared for them and our normal conversational tone towards them. However, when we don’t yell or raise our voice normally, when we do yell at them to “stop” as they are running towards the road, their brain will realize that their tone of voice is different. It will make the children more likely to stop. So, don’t lose your mind at every potential slight. Save the outrage for truly important issues, and this will make your voice louder and stronger in the public square.
  5. Learn to rely on the Holy Spirit. Peter and John didn’t go looking for trouble. They were simply doing what Jesus had done and what Jesus had told them to do. This has to be true of you and I. We don’t want to go looking for a fight, but we don’t want to run from it when it comes to us either. However, here is the key. Don’t fight in your strength and wisdom. Instead, pray and trust the Holy Spirit to equip you to stand and fight.

There are times in which we need to be genuinely outraged, and we need to speak up. Those times are probably going to increase the closer we get to the return of Jesus. Therefore, we must always be ready to take a stand. Don’t go looking for a fight, but when it comes, be ready to stand and trust that the Lord will fight for you and give you the words to say when necessary.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 14

The Spirit and The Word

Success is something that many, if not everyone desires. Why is it that so few actually achieve success? There are a lot of reasons. However, I am convinced that one of the biggest reasons is because we tend to overcomplicate things. I’ve seen it in sports, business, entertainment, and other areas of life. Unfortunately, the church is not immune to this problem. If I could define the reasons the early church was so successful, I think it would actually be pretty simple. They relied on the Spirit of God and the Word of God. One of the best examples of this was on the day of the church’s birth, the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. There was a lot of commotion happening in Jerusalem as the Holy Spirit came upon the church. It lead many people to marvel at what was happening, and it lead others to mock. However, Peter stands up and delivers the first sermon of the church to a large crowd. Acts 2:37-39 says, “Now when they (the crowd) heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off; as many as the Lord our God will call.'”

Here was the pattern, the Holy Spirit came, and Peter spoke the Word of God. Much of what Peter preached that day came from the Old Testament. The result was that 3,000 souls were saved that day. We can go a little further in the book of Acts and see that the Lord added daily to the church those that were saved. Later in Acts 2 it says that they continued in the apostle’s doctrine. The pattern is simple, they relied on the Spirit of God to use the Word of God to produce conviction which led to repentance which resulted in people being saved. It is that simple. I can’t help but sit back and laugh but also be grieved at all the money churches spend on programs, and trying to launch new ministries. It is always done with pure motives and sincere desires to see the church grow. Yet, we are not seeing the same results that the early church did. It has to lead us to ask the question, why is this? For all the technology we have, the access to the Bible, all the innovation; we are not seeing people come to the Lord in salvation as often as they did in Acts or even in our own nation just 30 years ago. On Sunday mornings over the last month here at Westlake, we have studied through the book of Ezra. There in Ezra 9, all they did was teach the Word of God, and people came forward confessing and repenting of their sins. If you want to see spiritual growth in your life, then you must learn to rely on the Holy Spirit to do the work. And know that He is going to use the Bible as the textbook. I long for the day that disciples of Jesus and churches alike trade in our technology and innovations, and simply rely on the Holy Spirit to do His work in us and through us, and we learn from the Bible. Are you relying on the Spirit of God to change you? Are you daily reading the Bible to see how you should live, and to learn what God wants to change in you? If not, let today be the day you pray and ask God to use His Word empowered by His Spirit to begin changing you from the inside out. Then, see how and where God works in you. Then, I would encourage you to compare your spiritual growth over the past six months with what God is doing in your life since getting back to the basics. I bet you will be amazed at the power of God. May we get back to the basics, and forsake trusting ourselves so that God can work in us and through us for His glory, our good, and the building up of the kingdom of God.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 11

Never Forget

The words “never forget” are on many social media timelines today in remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001. The terror attacks in New York and Washington happened so long ago, that those who were born the year it happened have graduated high school. I like so many, remember exactly where I was, and what I was doing when I heard the news of the attacks. I remember getting back to my hotel room and turning on the tv just as the south tower collapsed. This day along with the images shown on tv are burned into my memory. But I have to be honest, I think we have forgotten. No, we haven’t forgotten the day, the images, our emotions, or the lives lost. We remember all of those things. What I fear we have forgotten are the lessons of that day. I look at our nation in 2020, and wonder, how did we go so far in the wrong direction in 19 years? That would be a whole other lengthy post in trying to examine and explain that. What I want to do with the remainder of this post is to hopefully help us learn how to not forget the lessons we need to learn. Not just from national tragedies like 9/11 or COVID-19. But also the lessons that God teaches us as we read His Word. So many people say that they read the Bible, but they struggle to remember what they read. I won’t say that I remember everything that I read, but through the years God has used godly men to pour into my life both up close and from afar to help me retain more of His Word. My guess is, the question you are asking yourself is, how?

  1. Rely on the Holy Spirit. The problem isn’t with our memory, it is with desire to try to do it on our own. The apostle Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians that spiritual things can only be understood when the Holy Spirit teaches them to us. He says that “the natural man (an unsaved person) 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” (1 Cor. 2:14).
  2. Learn in community. This goes along with point number 1, and it is another reminder to not try to learn on your own. When I used to read the Bible simply by myself, and not discuss what I was reading with others, I could fall into the trap of reading just to say that I read my Bible that day. However, since learning and putting into practice being in a discipleship group, God is changing how I read and what I remember. Yes, I still read the Bible in my home or in my office. But now, every week I get together with two other guys and we discuss what we are reading and what God is teaching us. That accountability causes me to slow down, and truly try to meditate on what God is saying. This is one of the reasons I am a huge advocate of discipleship groups. These two things help me with the final four practical steps to retain God’s Word and remember the lessons He is teaching me.
  3. Read and re-read the Bible. This sounds so elementary. Maybe that is why we so often overlook it. Psalm 1 opens by saying, “Blessed is the man who walks no in the counsel’s of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord” (Psa. 1:1-2a). There is no substitute to opening the Bible and reading from it. One change that I have made over the last couple of years in my Bible reading is the pace that I set for myself. I, like many, used to believe that reading through the entire Bible in a year was a badge of honor as a Christian. If that is the goal you have for yourself, and it was prayed over, and it is what God lead you to do, then continue doing it please. I’m not trying to claim some moral high ground in any way. However, I have started using a Bible reading plan by Replicate Ministries called the F-260 plan. In this reading plan, yes you go through the entire Bible. However, you aren’t reading every chapter. Instead, you are reading one to two chapters a day for five days a week. These are chapters that trace the message of the Bible in a chronological order. One to two chapters a day for five days is a lot easier than three to four chapters a day for seven days. It allows me to slow down in my reading and truly try to soak up what I’m reading.
  4. Meditate on what you are reading. Again, the natural tendency is to read through the Bible in order to check off a box on our spiritual to-do list for the day. However, the Bible isn’t a book to be read, it is a letter from a loving Heavenly Father to be understood and lived out. As I am reading, I am asking the question, how can I live this out today? Again, giving credit to Replicate Ministries, I use a Replicate Disciple’s Journal. It has a place where I can write what God is saying to me each day, but also a place where I can go back throughout the day, and write how God is calling me to live out the text. In the journal it is called a daily RESET. It’s a time where I reflect on what I read that morning, and continue ask the question, how can I live this out today?
  5. Memorize part of what you are reading. David wrote in Psalm 119:11, “Your Word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against You.” Each week, there are one to two verses that I am trying to memorize. Again, I am doing this in my discipleship group. Therefore, I have other guys who can encourage me, as well as, hold me accountable. I have memorized Diana’s birthday and our anniversary. Why? Because I love her. Therefore, if I love God, shouldn’t I want to memorize parts of what He has written for me? I can hear a lot of you now saying, “that’s great for you, you are young and can memorize the Bible, I’m old and it’s harder for me.” I’m not going to go any further than what I am about to say to that right here, that’s simply not true! You might have to work at it, but we never seem to mind working on things that are important to us or doing something for someone we love. God can and will help you hide His Word in your heart. Ask Him! Get with some fellow believers, and start memorizing together. You will be amazed at what God does.
  6. Share it. The final part of never forgetting, is making sure to pass along to others what God is teaching you. Every morning and evening, Hebrew families would recite what is known as the Shema. It is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Part of the Shema tells them to talk about the Law and the Lord with their children, and essentially everywhere they go. The Bible isn’t meant to be read and kept to ourselves. We are meant to, even commanded, to share with others the life-saving and life transforming message found in the Bible. This can easily be done in a discipleship group, but it can go further. I am a big believer in that what God takes us through in experiences, and what He shows us in His Word is not just for us, but it is also for others. God can take the difficulties I and my family go through, and use them to reach others who are going through similar difficulties. In the same way, I should share what God is teaching me with others.

As we once again remember the events of September 11, 2001, may we not just remember the images and the emotions of the day. May we also remember the lessons, and may we share them with the current generation so that they never forget, and hopefully they won’t have to learn the hard way like our generation has. May God be with those families who lost loved ones on this day 19 years ago, and with those who survived and are carrying the physical, mental, and emotional scars of that day.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 11

It Happens After Prayer

I want to begin by saying the title of this blog is taken from a book I read last year by the same title. The book was written by H.B. Charles, Jr., a pastor down in Jacksonville, Florida. Pastor Charles is a gifted man of God who teaches the Bible as one empowered by the Holy Spirit to do so. His book along with some other resources have shaped my approach to prayer. With all of this said, God drew my attention to two verses this morning in reading Acts 1. I will say they are not the two verses that I typically associate with Acts 1. Acts 1:14, 24 say, 14“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.” 24“And they prayed and said, ‘You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen.'”

At the time of this text, Jesus has already ascended back into heaven, after spending 40 days teaching about the kingdom of God. He has already given another version of the Great Commission in Acts 1:8, a verse that many are familiar with. After these events, the disciples gather together for what we would call a prayer meeting. Luke records in Acts 1, that there were 120 people gathered in that room. They were together for one purpose, and that was to seek God. In verse 24, we see the role of prayer in selecting leaders in the church. Again, before they made decisions we see the early church praying. I can’t help but wonder if the greatest sin of the church in modern times is prayerlessness. We have created program after program, trusting that it will do what only the power of God can do. Is the church anemic because we spend more time planning our calendar than praying? I wish I could give answers to these questions. Obviously, I have my thoughts on them, but my thoughts don’t amount to anything worth anything. I also wonder, what would our churches be like if we focused on the two-way communication method given to us by God? In case you are wondering what the two-way communication method is, it is prayer and reading the Bible. Praying is us talking to God. The writer of Hebrews says in chapter 4, that we can come boldly before the throne. That is because of Jesus’ death. This is the meaning behind the symbolism of the veil being torn in the Temple when Jesus died on the cross. It meant that the barrier between God and man had been removed. The Bible is literally the Word of God, it is the breath of God according to 2 Timothy 3:16. Therefore, it makes sense for us to take our Bible to our prayer time, and not treat them as separate things. I recently read an article that challenged my way of thinking. Many times, we pray first and then open the Bible searching for an answer. Certainly that is one way we can do it. But if prayer is about us getting on God’s agenda and wanting to do His will, shouldn’t we allow Him to speak first, and then we respond? Therefore, one shift in my prayer time has been that I read the Scripture for the day, and then I pray through it. There is a ministry dedicated to teaching you how to do this, and they can explain it far better than I can. I would encourage you to check them out at www.strategicrenewal.com. Here is a quick summary of learning to pray through the text. Begin by asking yourself, what do I learn about God in this text? Spend time praising Him for what He has revealed about Himself. Then ask, is there a sin that is being pointed out in the text that I am guilty of? Spend time confessing. Next, is praying about needs that are seen in the text. Does someone come to your mind or does something you need God to answer about show up in the text? We are asking, how am I to apply this text? Finally, is there a promise to claim in the text? Ask the Lord to help keep your mind on Him throughout the day, and to be looking for ways to live out what you have read and prayed.

For all that has happened in this COVID-19 season, I think one of the many lessons churches and church leaders have learned is this, our programs and processes can only go so far. As Mike Tyson said one time in an interview about his upcoming opponent and his opponent’s supposed plan to beat Tyson; Tyson said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” I think it is safe to say, we have gotten punched in the mouth in the last several months. There is nothing wrong with planning. However, our plans are always subject to God’s will, and should only be made after seeking God first. Let me end this post, and this week’s worth of writings with a challenge. How much time do you spend praying each day currently? Be honest, this is just between you and God. Could you starting today, add two minutes to that time? And in that additional two minutes, could you sincerely pray for God to show you His will for you that day? It’s two minutes, the average length of a commercial break. May we all seek Him as desperately as we desire our next breath.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 10

What’s The Hold Up?

Have you ever watched a commercial for a product and thought “that’s too good to be true”? What do we say about those situations? If it seems to good to be true, then it probably is. Have you ever gotten a big surprise and thought to yourself “pinch me I must be dreaming”? I imagine that is how the disciples felt at times, especially after the resurrection of Jesus. A lot of times we can be hard on the disciples, because it just doesn’t seem like they are getting it. I’m guilty of it at times myself. When that happens, I have to stop and remind myself that I have the benefit of hindsight. I am reading what happened. However, the disciples were living it. Therefore, I think we need to give them grace, because I can only imagine how hard it would have been to mentally process everything that they saw over the course of three and a half years. Then top it off with Jesus rising from the dead. That would be a lot to try and take in. As a side note, I think this is why we need to learn to be patient with new believers. If you have been a Christian for a while, you probably have had time to process a lot of these things. A new believer is still trying to process all that Christ has done for them, let alone everything they are reading in the Bible. So, be gracious to one another. Back to the text at hand. In Matthew 28, which we looked at earlier this week; there is a phrase in Matthew 28 that I have always found fascinating. As I read it this morning, I felt as though God wanted me to dive into that phrase and understand it. The phrase is found in Matthew 28:17, “When they say Him, they worshipped Him; but some doubted.” The phrase is “some doubted.” I looked in five different major English translations, and every one of them translated that verse the exact same way. Therefore, it was time to dive a little deeper and pull out the Greek New Testament on my shelf. I was curious, what was meant by some doubted? Does it mean that some of the disciples still didn’t believe in Jesus’ resurrection or the fact that He is the Messiah? All I can say is that I am so happy that God took me down this road.

The Greek word used for doubted here is not the typical word used for unbelief. Rather, the word used gives the idea that some hesitated. In other words, while all 11 knew that Jesus had risen from the dead, some were struggling to give themselves fully to Him. Again, we need to remember to give them grace, because they were living this out in real time while you and I have the benefit of looking back on the event. We know that the disciples weren’t struggling to believe Jesus had risen from the dead. We know this because this isn’t the first or even second time that Jesus has revealed resurrected self to the disciples. This is the third time in fact. Therefore, they knew Jesus had risen from the dead. So, what is their hesitation? I believe it is in part at least that they weren’t sure how to act in the presence of God. They had heard, and I believe they believed that Jesus was the Son of God. But knowing something as a fact and living it out are two different things. For many people, God is some distant person. He is someone to be pleased, not someone who comes near to us. Yet, Jesus isn’t distant. He does come near to us. In fact, His Spirit lives inside of every true believer. But I also believe there is something else to this, maybe something that you have to wrestle with as well. For the disciples, the resurrection changed everything. Now there is verifiable proof that Jesus is both God and man. Now we can know that there is life after death. Now we know that He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is not just someone to believe in, but someone that we must surrender and submit to, and someone that we are accountable to. The same is true for you and I, and indeed the entire world. Notice the next verse in Matthew 28. Matthew 28:18 says, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and in earth.” Because Jesus is the resurrected Lord, He is the Lord of the living and the dead. He and He alone is worthy to be worshipped. Jesus is no longer just a prophet or a teacher. They now fully understand that He has been and will forever be the Lord. Nothing less than complete submission and surrender to Him is acceptable. What does this mean for you and I?

It first and most importantly means that if we want to be pleasing and acceptable to the King, we must surrender to Him. You cannot reject the grace of God and think that you are pleasing to Him. But it also means that I must surrender every aspect of my life to Him. I can hold nothing back from Him. It means that my life should be lived as an act of worship to my King. I have to fully give myself to Him in absolute, unconditional surrender. My marriage, my children, my career, my finances, my possessions, and even my life are all His. I can hold nothing back from Him. So, let me ask you a question, are you withholding anything from God right now? No matter how small of a thing you may think it is, it matters. As Augustus Toplady wrote in the timeless hymn, Rock of Ages, “nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” Have you laid all of yourself down at His feet, and are you living your life as an act of worship to the King? Or are you being like some of the disciples and hesitating? Hesitate no longer! Instead, join with the disciples of all time, fall at His feet, and live your life as a living sacrifice to the risen Savior.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

Posted in Through The Bible in 2020 | Leave a comment
Sep 09

You Worry About You

When you were a kid, did you ever get in trouble with one of your friends? Did you ever get singled out, but felt like the other person got off easier? When that happens, what is the first thing we tend to say? “That’s not fair, what about them?” We always want to know what happened to the other person. This isn’t new, it is part of our fallen nature to desire fairness instead of righteousness. In our text today, we will see Peter fall into the same problem. The text today took place after Jesus’ resurrection. Some of the disciples had gone back to fishing. After fishing all night and not catching anything, they see someone on the shore asking if they caught anything. Finally, John recognizes the voice and the miracle performed was Jesus, and so he tells Peter who it is. Peter, in typical fashion, plunges into the sea and starts to swim ashore. After a nice breakfast, came a difficult conversation between Jesus and Peter. What was agonizing for Peter, was actually an act of mercy and grace on the part of Jesus. Jesus was restoring Peter, and in fact commissioning him to serve the church that would be birthed in just a few short weeks. After that conversation, Jesus tells Peter to follow Him. While they are walking, John decides he wants to be close to the conversation as well, so he starts following behind Jesus and Peter. Jesus then tells Peter how he will die. Peter will also be crucified, and the Bible says that is how Peter was going to glorify God in his death. Upon hearing this news, Peter turns and sees John, then turns back and asks Jesus, what about him? Jesus reply in John 21:22 is, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.”

Peter was more concerned about John than he was Jesus. Immediately, Jesus redirects Peter’s thoughts with the words, “you follow Me.” This is the second time in the chapter, and the third time overall that Jesus had told Peter to “Follow Me.” I have to be honest, I identify with Peter in a lot of ways. I often need to be redirected by God. My mind can try and go ten different directions, and it is easy to become distracted and drift off course. In those times, Jesus helps redirect me, just like He did Peter. It is easy to get caught up in comparisons. People do it all the time. In fact, many people choose what church to attend based on their preferences. I’m not saying that preferences don’t matter, but they should be secondary, especially when it comes to where will you worship. It is about where can I glorify God the most, and where can I serve Him the way He has gifted and called me to? Those are the questions that we should be asking. We shouldn’t be asking, which church has the best worship team, best pastor, best children’s ministry, or youth ministry. And as a pastor, I want to say to my fellow pastors, let’s drop the competition between us and our churches. We are doing more harm to the cause of Christ than we will ever help it by doing these things. People come to us because they are hurting, scared, or even sometimes angry. Let’s not try to capitalize on these emotions to gain a family that has been attending another church. Instead, let’s shepherd their hearts, and point them to Jesus so that He can heal them. This is our calling. As a shepherd, let’s remember that we are also one of Jesus’ sheep. This means as much as we are trying to lead the people, we must make sure that we are allowing Jesus to lead us. So, let us all take our eyes off of what others are doing, and fix them on Jesus, so that we may hear His voice, and follow Him in all that we do.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 08

From The Beginning

There are a lot of people who have read the Bible, but they say “I don’t know what the Bible is about.” There are some in Christianity who want to remove the Old Testament from their reading or beliefs, because they say it doesn’t matter anymore. However, Jesus clearly had a different take on it while He was on earthy. We can see this from His teaching, in Matthew 5:17, but also in Luke 24:27. The reference in Luke is Jesus talking to two of His disciples after His resurrection. As they were walking together, Jesus kept them from knowing it was Him. We can speculate as to why Jesus did this, but it doesn’t really matter. It was what Jesus said that important. Luke 24:27 says, “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”

Did you notice that phrase “beginning at Moses”? It is a reference to the first five books of the Law, known as the Torah. It is where the Law is given in the Old Testament. Jesus is saying that from the very beginning, the Bible pointed to Him. The first promise of a Savior was given in Genesis 3. The promise that the ultimate Prophet would come was given in Deuteronomy 18:15, and there were many other promises about a coming Savior in the Law. Even in the books of the Prophets, we can see Jesus clearly. Most of the books of the prophets had a similar theme. They would begin by showing Israel’s sin, but end with the promise of restoration. The way they would be restored would be by God. This is pointing us to mankind’s problem, but also God’s solution. We are all sinners, and it took the grace of God to make a way for us to be restored to a right relationship with God. Maybe you are wondering why does this matter? It matters because I should always be looking for Jesus in my Bible reading. I shouldn’t see myself as the hero of a story, because I’m not. The hero is Jesus. It also matters because the theme of Jesus is what ties the Bible together into a single, cohesive meaning. This means that I should not neglect any part of the Bible. While we don’t live under the Law, but under grace, that doesn’t mean the Old Testament isn’t important. Paul says that the Law acts as a teacher to bring us to Jesus. It shows us our sin while also revealing the holiness of God. This allows us to see our sin, but also to point us to the Savior. Therefore, if you haven’t taken time to read through the Old Testament in a while; start tomorrow. When you are reading through it, ask yourself the question, how is this pointing me to Jesus? What do I learn about God in this text? You just might be surprised by how much you enjoy reading the Old Testament, when you read it as it was meant to be read. It will help the New Testament come alive in ways you never saw before. What a blessing!

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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Sep 07

A Commission With A Promise

A lot of people talk about wanting to know the purpose of their life. I would argue that you will not know your purpose until you know your Creator. It is the One who created us that gives us our purpose. Fortunately, we can know both our Creator as well as our purpose by reading the Bible. For a Christian, our purpose is very simple. It is to glorify God in all that we do. The primary way that we can do this is by making disciples. Jesus outlined this process in some of His last words to His disciples. A form of the Great Commission appears in the New Testament in some form five times (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, John 20, and Acts 1). How can I live out by purpose? Jesus said in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the age. Amen.”

If you have been in church for any amount of time, chances are you have heard these verses referenced. They are the commission that Jesus gave to His disciples then, and it is certainly true for us now. While we may have heard it preached on, I am convinced that very few Christians actually understand what Jesus was talking about. It is the process of making disciples. The phrase “make disciples” is the only command in the verse. Therefore, what comes before it and what comes after that phrase is the process of making disciples. So, how do we do it? We begin with going. In the Greek, the phrase literally is translated as “as you are going.” This implies a lifestyle that a Christian lives, not a trip we go on. Every where we go is our mission field. Therefore, as we are going to work, the grocery store, the ball field, or wherever, we are to see our mission field and pray for opportunities to share the Gospel with those around us. Again, it is a lifestyle that we live, not a trip we take. To “go” is to share the Gospel. The other part of the disciple-making process is to “teach them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” This is the part of the process commonly referred to as discipleship. One thing that I believe we need to learn is that discipleship is not a class we attend or teach; discipleship is a lifestyle that we live. As we live in community with other believers, we are to hold one another accountable for our lives, as well as teach by our actions what it means to follow Jesus. Jesus didn’t set up seminaries for His disciples. Instead, He invited them to follow Him and learn from Him. Each Christian should be in a discipleship relationship with a few other believers. What we see in these verses is a beautiful cycle that is to continuously loop in the life of believers. It begins by sharing the Gospel. When God saves someone, they demonstrate this by being baptized. From there, those who are more mature in their faith should be teaching the new converts in a discipleship relationship what it means and looks like to follow Jesus. As they do this, they will go out and share the Gospel, and the process continues.

However, we don’t want to miss the end of verse 20 where Jesus gives us a promise. He promises to be with us to the end of the age. This means more than just having the presence of God in our lives, though we do. It means that it is Jesus who will help us in every step of this process as we rely on Him. He will help us share the Gospel. We are pointing to Him as we baptize. He will help us live in community to teach and hold one another accountable. Therefore, it doesn’t rely on you, it depends on Him. Our responsibility is to be faithful to our calling. Is it easy? Absolutely not! However, we need to remember that we are not doing it alone, it is God who is working in us and through us as we obey Him. Ask for His help, depend on Him, and see what He will do in you and through you for His glory.

By His grace and for His glory,

Pastor Justin

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