Dec 23

Merry Christmas From Westlake

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Justin

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Dec 18

Suffering Well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dec 09

The Lord Is My Shepherd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nov 25

Between Two Worlds

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

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

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

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Nov 24

A House Divided

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

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

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

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

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Nov 21

The Voice and Christianity

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

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

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

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

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

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Oct 02

Choosing To Love and Forgive

People will hurt you and people will mistreat you.  I know that isn’t a groundbreaking assertion, but it is true nonetheless.  I spent part of this past Sunday and even this past Wednesday night teaching on the fact that we can’t control what others do, but we can control how we respond to it.  Sometimes that is easier said than done, but it is always necessary to remember.  At our boys school this past Monday night we went to a seminar and the key point was, be proactive-I’m in charge of me.  That is from Stephen Covey’s book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and that line of books.  In our country, so many people want to play the victim role.  And there are certainly times in which we are the victim of something, but we don’t have to have that mentality.  I love what Paul said in Romans 8:36-37, “As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.”  Paul knew what it was like to be mistreated and misrepresented.  He knew what it was like to have people want to silence him and get rid of him.  Yet he writes, “in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us.”  With God we can and will overcome everything that is placed in front of us.  There are two ways that we can make this process a little faster and a little easier.

The first way is choosing to love people.  We don’t have to like what they do, but we are called in Scripture to love them.  Love is a word that is thrown around in the English language and sadly it has lost much of its meaning and value.  According to the Bible, true love is more than an emotion.  It is an emotion that leads to an action.  It is the love that God has shown to the world (John 3:16, Rom. 5:8).  It is the love that husbands are commanded to give to their wives (Eph. 5:25).  It is the love we are called to show to those around us (Luke 10, Mt. 22).  True love is not based on how people treat me.  True love is based on how I treat them.  Matthew 5:44 says, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” We can’t make people choose to love us, but we can choose  to love them, and that is what we are called to do.  Part of loving them is forgiving them.

That is the second way we can be more than conquerors.  Everyone makes mistakes.  We all say or do things that hurt others.  Sometimes we may intentionally do it, but for the most part it is something that is unintentional.  Regardless of whether it was intentional or not, remember, we have the ability to choose how we respond.  The natural response is to defend ourselves, and to want to get even with the person.  However, the biblical response is to forgive them.  The reason we are to forgive is given in Ephesians 4:32, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. ”  Notice that last phrase, “forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”  When we have a hard time forgiving someone, we need to remind ourselves of how much God has forgiven us for.  Suddenly we will realize just out disproportionate what someone has done to us is.  God has forgiven us for far much more than any one person could ever do to us.

Those are the two keys to be a “super conqueror”, choose to love people and forgive them.  You may not be able to control others, but you certainly can control yourself and your response.

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

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Sep 17

A Blank Check

Jesus’ ministry lasted three and one half years.  To say that a lot happened during that time would be a major understatement.  But on the bookends of Jesus’ ministry is something that is very interesting.  In Matthew 4 as Jesus calls the first disciples He says, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.”  Here is Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee when He sees two men, Peter and his brother Andrew.  As they are casting out their net, going about doing their job, Jesus interrupts them and gives them the command to “Follow Me.”  In fact as we progress through the Gospels we see Jesus interrupting people’s lives and calling them to abandon everything in order to follow Him.  I see two important truths about that.  First, following Jesus means a change in my life must occur.  When Jesus enters my life it isn’t going to be business as usual.  Secondly, am I open to Jesus interrupting my life?  That’s a question I and probably many others grapple with.  As Christians we always say, “Lord use me.”  And many times we are sincere in that desire, but lurking behind that request many times is a thought, “use me as long as it is something I want to do, or that I’m comfortable with, or when it is convenient for me, etc.”  But that isn’t what the call of God is.  The call of God is to “follow Me.”  It is similar to what He said to Abraham in Genesis 12, “Now the Lord ad said unto Abram, get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, and unto a land that I will shew thee.”  Do you see the “follow Me” in that verse?  In both cases, God never said where or how He was going to use Abraham or Peter and Andrew.  Rather He just issued a simple command and it was up to them to obey.  This is what Dr. David Platt calls “giving God a blank check.”  I think that is appropriately stated.  Giving God a blank check is both exhilarating and scary.  But I can also say beyond the shadow of any doubt, it is always worth it.

On the other end of Matthew’s Gospel, at the close of Jesus’ earthly ministry He says, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations (make disciples), baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. . .”  So in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry He says, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.”  And in the end He says “Go make disciples.”  What could this possibly mean?  It means that from the beginning of our faith walk with Jesus until the end of our life, it is to be about fishing for men to become disciples of Christ. Peter and Andrew were to leave their job for the purpose that God had for them.  Is God calling all Christians to leave their jobs and go into full-time ministry?  In a way yes He is, and in a way no He isn’t.  He isn’t telling us to all give a two week notice, head off to seminary, and become pastors.  Though if that is what He asks us of, because we have given Him a blank check, that is what we should do.  But in a way He is telling us to allow Him to rearrange our lives.  Our lives are no longer about our comfort, our wants, or our needs.  Rather our life is to be about His business, which is spreading the Gospel.  If I’m going to be a fisher of men or make disciples, then I need to look at every opportunity I a given as a Gospel opportunity. If I’m at the grocery store, I should be sensitive and looking for the person God would have me share with.  If I’m at the doctor’s office, I should be looking for who God wants me to share His love with.  If I’m at one of our children’s ball practices, I should be looking for that person or those people to share Christ with.  Following Jesus is a call to die.  To die to ourselves and our own selfish ambitions.  But it is also a call to live.  To live with the purpose of making Jesus known.  Yes the cost of writing God a blank check is high, but God is able to cover any amount of sacrifice and then some.  The only question remaining is, will we trust God enough to write Him that blank check and let Him fill in the details?

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

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Sep 10

Second Chance

Let’s face it, we all mess up, need forgiveness, and to be given a second chance.  Many times it is a third, fourth, fifth, etc. chance.  As parents we always tell our children, if you make a mistake own it, admit it, ask for forgiveness, learn from it, and move on.  Of course sometimes that is easier said than done.  One such case in point is a former football player by the name of Ray Rice.  Earlier this year Mr. Rice did something disgusting, despicable, abhorrent, and any other adjective you can think of that describes something horrible.  In case you haven’t seen it or heard about it, he punched his then fiance in an elevator and knocked her out.  It must be said that there is never a time or a reason for a man to hit a woman, even if she hit you first!  You remove yourself from the situation, you walk away, you do whatever you have to, but you never lay a hand on her.  That is man training 101.  But we all know that sometimes in the heat of the moment we say or do something that we later regret.  I don’t know Mr. Rice nor do I know his now wife.  Hopefully he regrets what he did, and not just because he lost his job and paycheck over the incident.  Hopefully he regrets it because he knows it was wrong.  To make matters worse, when the story first broke the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, handed down a rather light sentence to Mr. Rice.  Now this week the new video has surfaced and led to Mr. Rice’s contract being terminated with the Baltimore Ravens, the NFL suspending him indefinitely, and the loss of endorsement deals for Mr. Rice.  There are calls for further investigation by the police, jail time for Mr. Rice, and even for Mr. Goodell to resign as commissioner of the NFL.  I have my opinion on all of those things, but will choose not to air those opinions here.  However, I do believe this is a teachable moment, especially for the Christian community.  How should this situation be handled by those involved?

First, commissioner Goodell needs to admit to making some mistakes in this case.  He has thrown out a blanket statement of “we didn’t get this right” a week or so ago.  That might be the understatement of the year.  In fact, that weak answer might even make a politician blush and giggle for its absurdity.  Mr. Goodell needs to admit and own what the league office knew and saw, and when they knew it and saw it.  I am open to the fact that maybe the NFL didn’t see this new video until recently.  Obviously the police and the district attorneys didn’t have all the evidence as they allowed him to plead down to a misdemeanor and enter anger management/couples counseling.  But hiding behind blanket statements and not admitting specific mistakes is not confessing to wrong doing.  Confession is the first step towards repentance and ultimately towards forgiveness biblically speaking.  1 John 1:9 says, “if you confess. . .”

Secondly, I think we should applaud Mrs. Rice.  I don’t think I could marry someone who months earlier knocked me out cold. But she did and even this week in light of the new video, Mrs. Rice has stood by her man.  We can guess at why she is doing it and come up with theories, but the bottom line is she thus far is staying with her husband.  My prayer is that she is not putting herself in harms way.  I hope this was an ugly, one time incident.  But it is refreshing to see someone be committed to trying to make a marriage work.  Even under the best circumstances marriage is not easy.  It seems easier in today’s society to get a divorce than it is to sign up your child for a sports team (parents know what I’m talking about).  People get divorced over so many reasons today.  Yet Mrs. Rice against all odds is choosing to try to work this out with her husband.  Marriage is a sacred institution, created by God, and should be honored, defended, and only entered into with serious commitment to the phrase “till death do us part.”

Finally, as Christians we need to see this as an opportunity to speak the truth of the Bible into society.  Is what Mr. Rice did deplorable?  Absolutely it is!  But then again so is any sin that any of us commit in God’s eyes.  Man may have created some artificial hierarchy of sin, but God hasn’t.  A sin is a sin is a sin in God’s eyes.  They all deserve the same punishment.  Yet in His love, God sent His Son into the world, to die for the sins of the world, that we may be forgiven and redeeemed.  That is the message that I and many others proclaim everyday.  That is the message we must preach even in this situation, redemption.  It is so easy to be judgmental, but God calls us to love and to forgive.  Just imagine if your worst moment as a human being was videoed and aired on national television, social media, and the internet for the whole world to see.  My guess is we probably wouldn’t be as hard on Mr. Rice or anyone else for that matter, because we would be so embarrassed by our own actions.  And that is what we need to remember, we have all done things that are horrible, deplorable, disgusting, and despicable, Mr. Rice’s just happened to be videoed and aired.  But make no qualms about it, our actions, our thoughts, and even our intents are known to God.  The message that must be proclaimed through this situation is simple.  Mr. Rice, Mr. Goodell, NFL, and world, redemption is available through the blood of Jesus Christ if you will confess your sin, turn from it, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.

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

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Sep 02

Chance After Chance

Have you ever known someone that you have given chance after chance, and they keep making bad decision after bad decision?  Or worse, they ignore the problem, pretending it isn’t there, and things continue to spiral out of control.  As a parent there have been times in which I have stepped back looked at my children who I love dearly and wondered, “how in the world could you do that?”  If you can identify with that, then you can identify with how God feels towards humanity.  In the Old Testament book of Amos, God reminds Israel of the many chances He had given them.  God had sent a famine, a drought, lack of crop production, nations coming into Israel to battle them, and yet they never turned back to God.  God sending those things was not out of anger, it was out of love.  He was desiring to get Israel’s attention, for them to recognize they had gone away from Him, and to return.  Yet the phrase “yet you did not return to Me declares the Lord” is given five times in 13 verses.  In Psalm 32:6 it says, “For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found.”  David was instructing the people to turn to God while He may be found.  In other words there is going to be a time in which God won’t be able to be found.  Right now God is still offering forgiveness and salvation freely through faith in the shed blood of Christ.  But there is coming a day, a day that we don’t know when it is coming according to Matthew 24:36 and other verses.  But there is coming a day in which forgiveness will no longer be available.  The grace and mercy God is offering will be no more.  All that will be left is what is told in the rest of Psalm 32:6, “surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto Him.”  There is a day coming in which the righteous judgment of God will come flowing down upon all mankind that has not turned from their sin to trust Christ.  Amos puts it this way in Amos 5:24, “But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.”

God desires that we would all confess our sin and turn to Him, trusting that what He did on the cross is sufficient to forgive us, cleanse us, and save us.  2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God is waiting patiently because He wants us to turn to Him rather than perish for all of eternity.  But then we get to the first part of 2 Peter 3:10, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.”  Two things about that. First, the day is coming.  Secondly, it will come unexpectedly for many.  You can trust Jesus today and be prepared for whenever the day of Christ return occurs.  You can confidently look forward to eternity, knowing you will be in heaven.  But you must turn to Him now, while there is still time.  And regardless of when Christ returns, we are all closer to eternity right now than we have ever been.  Don’t delay in trusting Christ any longer.  He loved you enough to die for you, and He loves you enough now to accept your faith regardless of your past or your present.

If you have questions about how to do this, please contact us so that we can share with you how you can have  new life today and a new eternity secured by the blood of Jesus.  Contact us at or call the church office at 540-721-8784.

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

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