learning and applying the Book of James:

Two weeks ago, we at South Ridge Church began a new message series on the book of James. This weekend, I (Pastor Justin) challenged all in attendance to read through the Book of James, and to let me know something you learned from your study, and how you plan to apply it. Below are some of the responses I’ve received so far.

Feel free to contact me at justin@southridgefairmont.com to add your contribution to this post, or “reply” below. We’re really looking forward to reading about how you’re applying the Book of James in your life!

Post 1: So much to learn from this Book of the Bible!  Our faith should motivate us to serve God in mighty ways!  Our faith, accompanied by action, shows our faith is alive! I am also thankful that mercy triumphs over judgment. I pray that I can demonstrate my faith through service to others and that I can be merciful, instead of judgmental, towards others.   Mercy triumphs over judgment.  I pray that I can face trials  and persevere, knowing that the Lord is full of compassion and mercy. There are many other things addressed in this chapter that we need to make part of our daily living in this world.

Post 2: Something I learned during this series so far is to “humbly accept the word God has planted in my heart, for it has the power to save your souls”.  I am going to apply God’s word to my life.  The first will be to practice acceptance of the actions that are presented to me.

Post 3: It’s funny how it seems that the message was meant just for me, many times
I’m struggling with something or have something weighing on my heart & mind.  Then that Sundays message seems to answer or help lead me in the direction that I need. Then Sunday, again, that message was written for me. I just finished reading James, There is so much of that that I can take and apply to my life and the man I want to become!

Post 4: For me, I keep seeing the importance of our deeds that have to go along with our faith.  We need to show others around us the love of God through our actions everyday.

Post 5: Chapter 1 thought – I understand the value of temptations.  By growing stronger, I have faith to help others who struggle with the same issues.  Chapter 2 thought – Our faith must match the same as our action.  A rowboat with two oars (Faith and Works) moving to a common goal. That is my favorite illustration. Chapter 3 thought – Wisdom by practical insight is from God.  We learn to be humble.  Our spiritual growth becomes stronger in Faith. Chapters 4 & 5 – This is totally from a Dad’s perspective,  As a dad, I must let God plan my life.  Godly character can last a life time.  It is very important for our family. My performance review should be honest and sincere,  Then my children can say “My dad is a Christian”

 Post 6: Thank you for the message on Sunday.  I really like the call to action we’ve heard since starting here a month ago.  The scripture that I focused on this week was James 2:17-18: “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” Although I do things that glorify God in helping others, I’ve wanted to do more community outreach. Reading the book of James, in particular this verse, along with the outreach opportunities at South Ridge, I’ve already begun to put my faith in action.

Post 7: One would think at my age I would have understood this long, long ago and I don’t remember being this way my entire adult life, but somewhere along the way I forgot to be a good listener, especially slow to speak, as well. My plan is to apply this verse to my everyday life. – James 1:19-20

Post 8: James has always been my favorite book of the Bible.  James has the attributes that I like to look for in a friend—direct, honest, and loyal.  My application involves the following verses, 1:22  “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” and  2:14 “What good is it my brothers if someone says he has faith, but does not have works?”  I know that our salvation is not based on our works, however, the way we live our lives is our testimony for Who is Lord of our lives.

Very recently I wrote a journal entry on what attracts me to certain Christian friends—in other words, what qualities do people possess that makes me say, “Wow I just love being with that person?”  Some of the things I wrote were “seeker of the Lord always—knowing that they will give me wise counsel”, “encouraging”,  “truthful”, “not gossipy”, “positive—don’t complain alot”, “not judgmental”, “makes time for me”, and “not envious–truly wants the best for me.”  These are people who are really living with an eternal perspective—I love being around those people. They don’t have to “say” their testimonies, they live them out.  Are they 100% of these attributes all the time? No,they are human and they fail.  However, I know that Jesus is at the center of their lives.
I desire to also have a life that is a LIVING testimony—-the kind that James described.

Post 9: Thanks for the nudge to get into the WORD. James 4:8. We step toward Him…He steps toward us…

Post 10: To sum up MY reaction to the book of James:  OUCH!  I found it very convicting as I struggle and fall short in virtually every area he mentions.  What came to me, on how to apply God’s Word was: Pause and Patience. The 2-very characteristics that I struggle with the most.  I react too quickly and expect others to do the same.  I believe if I learn the skill of taking a time out and giving some thoughtful consideration to things, I may just seem some progress.  I don’t always need to respond/react, sometimes not doing anything is the best thing to do (or not do?)

Post 11: I heard this on Rick Warren’s podcast today and thought I might share it.

“Ask God a specific question. James 1:5-6 says, “If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him …. But when you ask him, be sure that you really expect him to tell you” (TLB). Those verses tell us three truths.

First, God wants you to ask him for advice. You’re not bothering him. He’s interested in every detail of your life, and he’s waiting for you to ask.

Second, the more specific you are, the better, because it builds your faith when you ask God for something specific and then he answers. Don’t be general in your prayers.

Third, God wants you to expect an answer. Don’t pray and ask God for help unless you expect that he’s going to help you.

Look into God’s Word. After you withdraw and as you’re waiting and watching for the Lord, you need to get into the Bible. I can’t tell you how many times God has taken a verse and, even after I’ve read a passage a hundred times, it suddenly pops out at me, and I see something I’ve never seen before. God uses the Bible to give answers to your specific questions.

Post 12: I am walking for water.
About a year ago this idea “popped” into my head and though I thought I would do it, I failed to follow through. Fast forward to the James series. In searching and questioning God, I felt strongly that I was to walk (as often as possible) contributing $ for each mile I walk but to carry a bucket to raise my own awareness of why I walk and possibly the awareness of our community. It is already starting. Someone who saw me asked what I was doing and when they found out they said they want to contribute. So now its out there! Here is  where i always fall short–follow through. I could not begin to tell you the number of times I have been inspired but failed to complete!  I want to be done with that!! James is helping encourage me in my “works”. Maybe I should add, “if the Lord is willing . . . ” I will do this!

I (and maybe lots of people) want to be a part of something that makes “a difference” in lives of others. Water makes a profound difference  to the woman who has to walk 4 miles (on average) daily to have water . Its really so simple!

Post 13: I have learned (unfortunately many times over and over again) that the trials I am going through are to be celebrated!  Time and time again God is faithful and I am stronger and joyful with the outcomes of these trials, but I find I lack the faith during the trial.  I need to trust.
James 1:2  Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.

real marriage ministry begins!

Here at SRC, we’ve learned a few things about couples through the years. For example…

  • 2/3 of All Couples would like a Mentor Couple to interact with, even when their relationship is going well.
  • 9/10 of All Couples would like a Mentor Couple to interact with, especially during challenging seasons in their marriage.
  • All couples learn in a variety of ways, and they all want to take steps forward in their marriage. Sometimes they’re just not sure how.

This is why we’re very excited to begin a new ministry at SRC – Real Marriage.Real Marriage Logo (final)The Real Marriage ministry is designed from the ground up, helping couples grow in their Friendship, Unity, and Intimacy. In other words, it’s holistic in nature, focusing on every aspect of the marriage relationship.

How does it work?  Good question.

We’re going to begin offering some things at SRC we’ve never offered before. For example:

  • Large Groups – South Ridge Church will begin hosting three Real Marriage Events a year. These events are typically held in January, June, and October and are specifically designed to help couples take information about marriage and turn it into intimacy and oneness in their relationship. For 2015, we’ll have a Friday evening event in June booked soon. But we already have a Weekend Event planned for October 23-24, right here at SRC!
  • Community Groups – SRC Community Groups often discuss the same topic as the Weekend Message. And because we offer at least one Marriage-themed message series a year, all groups will be encouraged to discuss the subject of marriage within their group. Additional Life Group studies specific for wives, husbands, or couples may be available throughout the year as well. The goal of each group is to help couples apply a selfless, Christ-like love within their marriage.
  • Mentoring – The heart of the Real Marriage ministry is in mentoring. Whether a couple is engaged and planning to be married in the months ahead, or they have been married for many years, mentoring is a way to help all couples focus holistically on their relationship.

Is anything happening right now?  YES!

Marriage mentoring is now available at SR!. In most cases, couples meet with a mentor couple once a week for eight weeks to discuss various aspects of their relationship. If you have any interest in receiving mentoring, you may contact the church office any time.

We also have a good girl's guideDiscussion Group for Women beginning soon. The group will be discussing a book by Sheila Gregoire, “The Good Girls Guide to Great Sex.” It’s a great opportunity for wives to discuss a Biblical view of intimacy in marriage. If you have any interest in participating, please contact the church office soon to register.

We’re excited to begin this new ministry at SRC, and we look forward to working alongside many couples in the years to come.

your life verse?

About twelve years ago I remember sitting at Chestnut Ridge Church with 15 other men, taking the opportunity to discuss some of our favorite Scripture passages. Even though it was 6am, everybody in the room had something to contribute to the conversation. When someone asked, “What’s your favorite book of the Bible,” one individual took the opportunity to shout out, “Leviticus!” Naturally, he was the only one.

At the time, my answer to that question was the book of Job. The poetry woven throughout the book, the challenging circumstances he faced, God’s revelation of His power at the end of the book…it’s always been something I’ve had a deep appreciation for.

But after we all took the opportunity to discuss our favorite book, the question turned to, “What’s your life verse?”

Admittedly, this was a more challenging question for me. I had never really had a “life verse,” one verse I would hold onto on a regular basis. For the purpose of the ongoing conversation, I recited Exodus 14:14, “The LORD will fight for you, you need only to be still.” It was a reminder to me that God is ultimately the one who fights battles, and the Old Testament shares story after story of God’s intervention to save His people.

Nine years later, many changes had occurred in my life. I was a father, and had officially been recognized as a pastor. My grandmother offered an encouraging card (as she often did), and wrote down Philippians 1:6, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” It was a verse I had read dozens of times, but through a generous check she offered me, I had this verse lasered onto the back panel of a new ipad.

Naturally, I stored the ipad in a case for most of it’s life. But anytime I took it out to clean the screen I was reminded, “He who began a good work in you, will carry it on to completion.”

Then a couple of months ago I was enjoying some coffee over at the Joe N Throw, when I took a hard fall. The ipad I had used for years took the fall with me, and it hasn’t worked the same since. Sure it works, but it’s very slow and can barely connect to the internet. The added case often made connecting to the internet even more challenging, so I finally just removed the case altogether. Every time I’ve picked it up since then I’ve been reminded, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.”

Due to it’s age and condition, my lovely wife just offered to get me a new ipad. Sure, I could’ve gone to Best Buy, Target, or even WalMart to get one. But I wanted to keep that reminder on there, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion,” so I ordered it directly from Apple.

I share this only to say, I’m quite certain my life verse has become Philippians 1:6. There are days I may feel as if the world is winning. There are seasons I struggle with illness, or frustrations, family challenges, ministry challenges, or other abnormal life circumstances. Admittedly, there are also moments I respond poorly to the situations happening around me. Yet I’m regularly reminded…

Philippians 1-6

That’s my life verse.

And if you’re up for it, feel free to share yours.

what study bible is right for me?

Every once in a while I’ll receive a question about the various Study Bibles that are available. While some are interested in questions about different Bible Translations, others are even more interested in the study notes, maps and other features that are often included in Study Bibles.

Questions often asked include, “Which one is the ‘best’? Which one will help me to know God better? Which one is the right one for me?”

I oftentimes answer these types of questions with a simple phrase. “The ‘best’ Bible is the one you’re reading.” But people want more info. than that. They’re looking to invest some money into a Bible that they’ll likely be reading for years and years. So…which one is best for you?

Well, that’s a tough question to answer. Every Study Bible has different features, different scholars, different goals, and in the end, each one provides a different study experience for the reader. That said, I think there are three available Study Bibles today that will offer the best study experience for you. Below, is a simple breakdown of each one. Which one you choose to read and study with is up to you, but it’s my hope that this will at least provide some insights as to some fantastic resources available today.

#1: NLT Study Bible

Translation: New Living Translation (NLT)

Reading Level: 6-7th

What I Like:

1. The Translation: If I were only allowed to make one Study Bible recommendation, the NLT Study Bible would be at the top of my list. The goal of the New Living Translation was to translate the ancient Greek and Hebrew texts into English in the clearest possible manner. A number of challenging passages are easy to read, and the NLT just ‘makes sense’ to people. If you’re looking for your first Study Bible, I would highly recommend giving the NLT Study Bible a serious look.IMG_1218

2. The Footnotes: The Study Notes in any Study Bible make it or break it. When it comes to the NLT, the Study Notes make it. The footnotes will either provide additional insights into the passage being read/studied, or suggestions for how the passage can applied in real life. It’s the best of both worlds. And for the passages or topics that need even additional care or study, the NLT Study Bible has extra articles included in the text to cover those as well.

3. Greek/Hebrew Study: Throughout the text, specific words are included in the cross references that provide a Greek or Hebrew word that’s worth additional study. The reader has to turn to the back of the Bible to look up the definition of that word to see how or why it was translated as it was, but including the Greek/Hebrew word study is a nice touch and is very helpful for daily study.

4. Book Introductions: While the Book Introductions in the NLT Study Bible aren’t as detailed as some other ones out there, they still provide a good background of the book and the culture in which it was written. This is necessary when reading the Bible, because you have to understand not what the text means to you, but what it meant to the people who first read it. So a good and thorough book introduction is necessary to help, and while the NLT could provide more detail, it’s enough to communicate the main purpose of the book.

What I Don’t Like:

There’s very little I don’t like about the NLT Study Bible. Every once in a while I’ll read a passage that I don’t care for the translation when compared to others, but oftentimes it’s the opposite. Seriously, there’s just a lot to like about the NLT Study Bible, and it would be my first recommendation to most people. If you’re interested, here’s a sample that’ll give some additional insights into the NLT Study Bible.

#2: HCSB Study Bible

Translation: Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)

Reading Level: 7-8th

What I Like:

The Translation: The HCSB is one of the newer translations available (honestly, some of my seminary professors have never heard of it), but continues gaining popularity due to it’s translation style and conservative nature. Some interesting aspects of the HCSB include the use of Yahweh for the name of God throughout the Old Testament, whereas many translations simply translate God’s name as LORD. The HCSB reading level is about 7-8th grade, right in line with the NIV and others as well.

The Footnotes: While not fully on par with the NLT Study Bible, the footnotes in the HCSB are quite good. Fantastic in fact. Over 15,000 notes are included. But it’s not just the footnotes that make this a great Study Bible. This particular Study Bible is FULL of color. The verse numbers and footnotes are an offset blue color, making it easier to find specific passages and footnotes and then get back right to where you left off.IMG_1219

Greek/Hebrew Study: The HCSB wins over the NLT in this one, as the Hebrew and Greek word studies are included right on the same page. You don’t have to turn to the back of the Bible to look up specific words, but can simply read the definition and significance of that word in Hebrew or Greek, and then get back into your reading. It’s a great feature, and one I wish the NLT Study Bible had used as well.

Book Introductions: Here again, we have lots of color. Each book begins on different colored paper, which makes it look nice, but it doesn’t really add any significant book introduction features to the NLT.

What I Don’t Like:

As noted above, I truly believe the best Bible is the one you’re reading, and the HCSB is a fantastic Study Bible. If I had to offer some cons, I would say that this Bible is a little heavier than the NLT Study Bible, and it offers a lesser quality (if only slightly) footnotes than the NLT. However, the translation itself has been my preferred translation for a few years now. If you’re interested, here’s a video that’ll give you some additional insights into the HCSB Study Bible.

#3 ESV Study Bible

Translation: English Standard Version (ESV)

Reading Level: 10th

What I Like:

The Translation: The ESV does a good job of providing a more direct translation of the Greek/Hebrew text than say, the NLT does. This is sometimes a very good thing, as it does provide some additional insight into the original language. However, it may have some cons as well, as it has the possibility of making it more challenging to read, forcing you to read the study notes when you may not need to if you were reading a different translation. The bottom line is that when you’re studying a text, sometimes it’s good to read it in multiple translations, but when you have just one Study Bible, you only get one choice. The ESV is a good choice. It’s not my first choice, but it’s a good choice.IMG_1220

The Footnotes: The ESV Study Bible footnotes are regarded as some of the best of the best out there. And on passages where a number of different scholarly views are held, the ESV will often list the 3-4 different views, without telling you which is the ‘right’ one. This is a great study tool, as it then gives you something to go on should you desire to give the passage even more study. While the footnotes aren’t as colorful as the HCSB, they’re more detailed, and that’s a good thing.

Greek/Hebrew Study: I don’t see any specific Greek/Hebrew word studies in the ESV Study Bible. But there are perhaps more charts/graphs here than the others, which is a great benefit to understanding the text in a more systematic way. Still, if you like diving into the original languages, you’ll miss out in the ESV Study Bible.

Book Introductions: The ESV Study Bible probably has the best book introductions of the three. They’re detailed, and provide tremendous insight into the style and structure of each book, as well as the purpose. Yes, the NLT and HCSB have good Bible introductions, but the ones here are even better.

What I Don’t Like:

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not a huge fan of the ESV. Of the three translations covered here, it’s the highest reading level. Also, the lack of original word studies is a minus. That said, the ESV is still one of the best Study Bibles out there, and the footnotes (if that’s your thing) are probably the most detailed of the three mentioned here. If you’re interested, here’s an intro to the book of Ephesians, that’ll show you the quality of notes and book introductions of the ESV Study Bible.


I hope you find this mini-review of these Study Bibles helpful! If you would happen to have any additional questions, the pastoral staff here at SRC have each of these Bible on our bookshelves. If you’d like a little more hands-on time before deciding which one is best for you, just let us know. We’d be happy to help you out any time.

For additional insights on each Study Bible, feel free to check out the following links:

NLT Study Bible

HCSB Study Bible

ESV Study Bible

choices: part 1

Upon receiving a career opportunity they couldn’t refuse, Ron and his wife Linda moved their family half way across the country. It was going to be a fresh start for Ron, who had always struggled to climb the corporate ladder. It was also a fresh start for Linda, who had very few friends and was looking forward to beginning new friendships with other women.

After taking the first couple of weeks to settle in, Ron and Linda contacted four local churches and scheduled times to meet with each pastor. They wanted to connect with a church as soon as possible, and had some very specific questions they wanted to ask each pastor before beginning to attend on a regular basis.

Most of their questions were pretty common for the pastors they met. Questions such as, “What does your church teach about Jesus?” And, “What ministry goals do you have for our children?” But one question they asked caught some of the pastors by surprise.

“If you could get your congregation to commit to one specific thing, what would it be?”

The first pastor they met with responded by saying, “If everybody here would boldly share the gospel with everybody they knew, that’s the one thing I would want them to commit to.”

Ron and Linda really appreciated his answer, as they’d never really been challenged to ‘boldly’ share the gospel with others.

The next two pastors both had similar answers. “If we could get every person in our congregation to commit to serving in some way, it would be a true blessing to the others on staff.

But the last pastor they met, Mike, had an answer that caught them a little by surprise.

Linda asked him, “If you could get your congregation to commit to one specific thing, what would it be?”

Mike simply smiled and said, “Grow.”

“Grow,” they asked?

“Yes, grow. Some churches ask people to create relationships, or join a Bible Study, or serve, or something like that. But here, we take a more holistic approach. We want people to grow in their relationship with Jesus. That means that those who are prone to gossip will be kept accountable in how they talk about others, and those who struggle with things such as pornography will allow others to keep them accountable to how they see their relationship with their spouse.” He continued for a few more minutes, and as he spoke he talked about specific ‘sins’ many people wrestle with, and as Ron and Linda listened, they realized they struggled in some of these areas themselves. Finally, he closed by saying, “The gospel is all about repentance, and repentance means truly relying on God. Ridding yourself of self-centeredness, and ensuring Jesus truly is Lord over every aspect of your life.”

Ron and Linda thanked Mike for his time, and as they drove home they discussed the various options they had. Neither of them said it out loud, but they had no desire to attend the church in which Mike was currently a pastor. Both felt uneasy about the challenges he talked about and what a “real life relationship” with Jesus Christ looked like. In the end, they chose to attend one of the churches that was looking for people to serve. They felt that was a goal they could easily attain. Linda would be able to quickly connect with some of the other ladies, and Ron would be able to begin serving on a regular basis.


Each of us has a lot in common with Ron and Linda. We like to be in control. We want to decide what it is we’re going to do. We want to decide how we’re going to do it. We want to decide how our time will be spent. We want to decide who we’ll spend time with. In short, we want to be God. We want to be in control of every aspect of our lives.

But there’s something else we all have in common with Ron and Linda. We all have hurts. We all have habits. We all have hang-ups of some kind. None of the other Pastors Ron and Linda met with discussed this, but Mike clearly communicated that within his congregation their was an expectation to give up control and to rid the sins that cause hurts, habits and hang-ups.

Funny thing is, this is a problem that has been ongoing since the beginning of time.

I recently began a new Bible reading plan – reading through the Bible in 40 weeks. (Really, it only takes about 15-20 minutes a day 5 days a week. It’s not nearly as hard as people think it is!) And as I was reading through Genesis I came upon one of my favorite stories in the Bible – the life of Jacob.

You see, there are four patriarchs in the book of Genesis. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. You’ve probably heard stories of Abraham and what a great guy he was – so great he was even willing to sacrifice his son. You’ve probably heard of Joseph as well. He was wrongfully imprisoned for years before becoming the 2nd greatest ruler in all of Egypt. But Jacob doesn’t get talked about much. His story isn’t as insightful.

Or is it?

Read the life story of Jacob carefully (Genesis 25:19 – Genesis 33) and you’ll see a common theme throughout his life. This theme can be summarized in just two words…


Jacob tried to control God and others using these two words.

If you do ______ for me, then I’ll _____ for you. Or something like that.




That’s all he was trying to do.

It starts in Genesis 25.

29 Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field exhausted. 30 He said to Jacob, “Let me eat some of that red stuff, because I’m exhausted.” That is why he was also named Edom.

31 Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” (Gen. 25:29-31)

Here, Jacob essentially says, “If you sell me your birthright, then I’ll give you some stew.”

But this is just a part of Jacob’s deceitfulness. He soon steals his father’s blessing as well, and angers his brother Esau. In fact, Esau becomes so enraged he plots to kill Jacob. So what does Jacob do? He high-tails it out of town.

Soon Jacob finds himself alone in the desert. He has no food. No water. No possessions. No family. No friends. Nothing. And God appears to Him in a dream. God promises to protect him and be with him and watch over him. How does Jacob respond? He responds like a man with a desire to be in control. The “if…then” mentality of Jacob continues.

20 Then Jacob made a vow: “If God will be with me and watch over me on this journey, if He provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s house, then the Lord will be my God. (Gen 28:20-21)

Now take a minute to think: How much do you like to be in control? Are you like Ron and Linda? Are you like Jacob? Do you take opportunities to manipulate others to get your way? “If you do ______ for me, then I’ll _____ for you.”

Remember, we all do this to some degree.

But we each have an opportunity to make a choice. We can choose differently. We can choose to allow Jesus to be Lord. We can choose to actually grow, and not live our lives trying to hide our hurts. Concealing our habits. Masking our hang-ups. We can choose to give up control.

Are you willing to make that choice?


Choosing to give up control is one step each of us can take to recover from our control problem. As you consider making this decision, consider the following questions:

  1. What people or situations do you have the power to control?
  2. What people or situations do you like to try to control?
  3. What decisions do you make on a daily basis to control your image? Others? Your problems? Your pain?
  4. How have your decisions impacted your relationships with God and others?
  5. What hurts do you have? Habits? Hang-ups?
  6. Are you willing to give up control?

my music playlist

Those of you who know me well know that I listen to a lot of music. To be honest, I don’t listen to nearly as much music as I used to. Perhaps rejoining a gym in the near-future will help that a bit. Still, I like music. A lot.

And even though I don’t listen to nearly as much music as I once did, I often get asked by somebody at South Ridge, “What are you listening to right now?” Or, “what song is this that’s playing before the service begins?”  So, I thought I’d just take a few minutes to write about some of my favorite albums currently on my playlist.

On My Playlist:

1. Jars of Clay – Inland

Jars of Clay has had a great 20 years, so when they had a campaign to record this album last year, I backed it immediately. Bottom line, I was not disappointed. In fact, Inland has probably been my most listened to album over the past 12 months.  In my opinion, it’s slightly too mainstream for the indie crowd, yet slightly too indie for the mainstream crowd. Lyrically, Inland is fantastic from start to finish. A gem of an album and one I’ll continue listening to for years to come.

2. NEEDTOBREATHE – Rivers in the Wasteland

NEEDTOBREATHE picked up where Third Day left off many years ago – having a great gritty southern rock sound. Their newest album Rivers in the Wasteland doesn’t disappoint. While a number of tracks are standouts on their newest release, “Difference Maker” would be my favorite. The entire song is about your own pride, believing that you and you alone are the greatest difference maker on earth.

3. All Sons & Daughters – Live (and their self-titled album, too)

While I’m not personally a huge K-love fan, I still listen to quite a bit of worship music. Sure, I enjoy Crowder, Matt Redman, Hillsong, etc. But All Sons & Daughters is by far my favorite worship band. Their Live album is probably the very best worship album I’ve heard in over 5 years. No, I’m not exaggerating, it’s really THAT good. Their newest studio release (self-titled) is also lyrically and musically engaging. If you are a lover of worship music but you don’t own anything by All Sons & Daughters, purchase their Live album immediately.

4. John Mark McMillan – Borderland

Never heard of John Mark McMillan? Have you heard the quite popular worship song, “How He Loves”?  Then you’ve heard of him. He wrote it.

That said, John Mark McMillan continues to have more of an indie-rock sound, and his newest album Borderland is even more unique than his former releases. But I use the term unique in a good way. You may not fall in love with Borderland on your first listen, but give it a full 3-4 listens, and you’ll soon discover it’s an album with tremendous depth and beauty. And the repeat button will keep it playing over and over and over again.

5. Sleeping At Last – Atlas (Year 1)

Sleeping At Last is most likely in my top 3 songwriters of today. In a good mood? Listen to some Sleeping At Last. Feeling low? Listen to some Sleeping At Last. Don’t feel like listening to anything? Listen to some Sleeping At Last. It’s rare than an artist can write this well consistently album after album after album. But Sleeping At Last does it. Great, great stuff.

Other mentions:

Paul Baloche – Live (worship)

Aaron Sprinkle – Water & Guns (indie pop)

Switchfoot – Fading West (rock)

The Choir – Shadow Weaver (indie rock)

Crowder – Crowder (worship)

Elevation Worship – Only King Forever (worship)

Kye Kye – Fantasize (indie synth)

The War On Drugs – Lost in the Dream (indie rock)


What’s on your playlist? Let me know in the comments below.

Laughter, Time and Care

It started out as a typical summer day. The sun came up. The sky was blue. The kids were eating their morning cereal.

But this wasn’t your typical summer day. This was the start of family vacation.  As we packed our suitcases and coolers into our cars my mother-in-law looked over at me with a smile. It was a smile she always seemed to wear. “Remember, Justin. Your only job on this vacation is to make me laugh.”

“Is there anything else I need to do,” I asked?

“No. That’s it. Just make sure I laugh.”


On another summer afternoon I took the opportunity to mow my grandmother’s grass.  About 2/3 of the way through she came out to interrupt me. “Why in the world is my grandmother interrupting me right in the middle of mowing the grass,” I thought to myself.

“Hey, there’s a riding mower in the garage. Would that have saved you some time,” she asked?

“Ummmm…yeah, that would’ve saved me a good hour or more! But I’ve done almost all of the flat part of the yard now, so I can’t use it.”

“OK, well go ahead and finish up and then we can sit out on the porch and talk for a while.”

“Well, I really should get home to my family sometime soon.”

“I won’t keep you too long. But let’s spend at least a little bit of time catching up.”


On yet another summer morning, I remember having breakfast with Megan’s grandparents. As we ate breakfast they were sure to ask the the normal questions.

“How are others in your family doing?”

“How is everything at the church?”

“How is that car of yours running?”

And as we began to clean up and get ready for the drive home, Gram had one final thing to say to me.

“You take good care of that bride of yours, you hear?”


These are three simple memories I have of three women who had a tremendous influence in my life. One was my mother-in-law, who passed away earlier this year in February. Another was my grandmother, who passed away shortly after my mother-in-law. And another was my grandmother-in-law, who passed away in April.

Each spoke of and received love in different ways.

One wanted to laugh.

Another wanted time.

Another wanted to know her family was being well cared for.

Laughter. Time. And Care.

That’s all they wanted.

They didn’t want nicer houses, cars, cell phones, or anything else. They simply wanted laughter, time and care. But they didn’t see it that way. They saw it as love. They simply felt and received it in different ways.

How many of us want exactly what they wanted, we just keep looking for it in all the wrong places?  We want to know and experience love, yet we try to find it outside of relationships with others.

Maybe if I have a nicer home. Or car. Or shoes. Or a TV. Or a…(you fill in the blank.)

But we keep looking. We keep searching. Contentment runs dry. And the ‘stuff’ we own never brings us the joy we think it will.

This line of thinking always leads me to Philippians 4:13. This passage is quite possibly the most misrepresented verse in all of the Bible.  It reads:

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.

But this passage isn’t about having the ‘strength’ to do really, hard, challenging tasks.  It isn’t about climbing mountains, white water rafting, or running a marathon.  It’s about contentment.  Read this passage again, but in the context of the few verses before it.

Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:11-13 NLT)

You see, this passage is about contentment, not strength.

These three wonderful ladies who influenced my life so much, they were content with many things in their lives. They no longer cared about ‘stuff’, but about family. They cared about people. They cared about relationships.

This week, take some time to think about your level of contentment.  Are you content with what you have? Are your thoughts for ‘stuff’ consuming you? Or are you simply looking to know and experience love from others? Think — What exactly is it that you need in order to experience contentment on a regular basis?

That’s a challenging question, isn’t it?

But don’t stop there.

Take purposeful opportunities this week to bring others to laughter. Take purposeful opportunities to spend time with them.  Take purposeful opportunities to show that you care for them and their family. Provide them with laughter, time and care. Make lasting memories with the people you truly care about.

Who knows? You may just find that contentment isn’t going to be found in what you don’t have.

It’s all around you.

Compassion Sunday (2014)

This morning I took a brief opportunity to listen to one of my favorite songs. I’m not going to say what it is, as there are – how do I put this – some non-Christian lyrics placed throughout this particular song.  Nevertheless, it has some redeeming qualities as well.  For example, the chorus of this track gets me every time. It causes me to hesitate. Think. Meditate. Remember.

What is it that’s being communicated?

“…and at once I knew I was not significant.”

Take just a second to read through that line again. Slowly.

“…and at once I knew I was not significant.”

The songwriter sings this noteworthy line perhaps a dozen times. And I love it.

It makes me remember the grandness of God’s creation. The greatness of His love. The immensity of who He is compared to me.

“…and at once I knew I was not significant.”

Strong words. Indeed.

But there’s something dangerous about this idea of insignificance as well. Sure, we can remember that we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God. We can remember that our sins have wronged Him in ways that we can’t even imagine. We can remember that He is God and we are not.

But we must also remember that in His eyes, we are not insignificant. We must remember He bled…for us. We must remember He gave His everything…for us. We must remember we have been created in His image. All of us. Are these indications that God sees us as insignificant?  I don’t think so.

How does this tie in with Compassion Sunday?  Good question.

I’m wondering how many young children around the world may be feeling insignificant. They’re hungry. Thirsty. And making ends meet means they’re able to sleep on a dirt floor.  In short, they’re living in situations you and I cannot possibly fathom. Are they insignificant? Certainly not. Forgotten by much of the world, perhaps. But certainly not insignificant.

Here’s a picture of a Compassion Happiness Ngilegoi Laizerchild my family and I recently took the opportunity to sponsor. Her name is Happiness. Isn’t that wonderful?  She’s 6 years old, and according to Compassion, she sometimes works in the Marketplace or provides child care to help make ends meet. And despite her poverty, she’s anything but insignificant.

This Sunday is Compassion Sunday at SRC. In fact, for the first time ever we’re having a representative from Compassion speak on behalf of their organization. She, too was once a sponsored child and she’s looking forward to sharing her story.

And now, you have an opportunity to begin praying and thinking about the difference you can make in the life of a child. You have an opportunity to provide education, medical care, and so much more. You have an opportunity to sponsor a child.

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the hopeful marriage: the best is yet to come

There’s one question everybody knows they will be asked from time to time.  It’s thought provoking yet simple. Challenging yet straightforward. When you hear it, you know you should have an answer, but few have clarity to answer it well.

“What do you want your life to look like five years from now?”

Since we’ve been discussing marriage the past three weeks, let’s apply this question into the context of your marriage:

“What do you want your marriage to look like five years from now?”

Stop and think about that.  What would be ideal for your marriage? Let’s refrain from thinking of ‘perfection’ (such a dangerous word), and just focus on what would be ideal.  You don’t have to be too specific.  Provide just enough detail so that when you share this with your spouse he/she understands your desires.

How much time will you get to spend together every week?  What will your friendship look like? How will you be growing in holiness together?  What will you do for holidays? Vacations? Family gatherings?

Now, take an opportunity this week to write down your ideas in the form of a story.  Simply title your story, “The Best is Yet to Come…and My Ideal Marriage would be to…” and write it out.  Keep it short.  Under 1,000 words.

Take as long as you want to work on it.  Maybe a day.  Maybe a week.  The more you think through what you really desire in your marriage the more ideal it will be.

Just remember, your spouse is going to be doing this activity as well.  Chances are, they may have different ideas. Different desires. Different expectations.  So here’s what you’re going to do…

After you’ve both had plenty of time to think through things on your own, take an opportunity come together and discuss your thoughts.  Maybe you’ll discover you’re not as far off as you thought.  Maybe you’ll be way off!  Either way, focus your conversation around one simple question: “What changes can we make so that these stories are a reality for our marriage?”

As you discuss it, you’re going to write a new story.  One you both agree on.  The story of YOU gets set aside.  The story of US begins to be written.  Not only do you write it down, you begin to live it out. As you do, your experiences together become magical, not mundane. Expectations become more than normal, they’re natural.  As you live this out you’ll begin to know and be intimate with your spouse in ways deeper than you imagined.  Continue this story long enough, and you may one day help other couples re-write their story.

Don’t get me wrong…

Your story may change from time to time.

It may need to be refined.

In some seasons, rewritten.

But it’s your story, and you’re writing it together.

You’re living it together.

You’re experiencing it together.

Most of all, you’re enjoying it.


the helpful marriage: marriage as holiness

Last week, we at SRC began a new series on the subject of Marriage. It’s a subject I’m passionate about. Very passionate about. Why? Because the marriage relationship is the one relationship we have on earth that most closely resembles our relationship with Jesus. (Oh, how I wish we were taking more than three weeks on such an important subject!)

Anyway, last week’s message was on “The Helpless Marriage”, and if you haven’t listened to it yet, it’s currently available to download right here. Go on…go and have a listen.

This week, we’re moving forward to “The Helpful Marriage.”

Generally speaking, a helpful marriage seems pretty solid from the outside. It has a husband and wife who get along pretty well. They take care of the family. Pay the bills. And are overall…helpful toward one another. That’s something every marriage should have, right?

But there’s something missing within this type of relationship, too. Sure, things looks good on the outside, but the truth is that neither spouse opens up and shares their life dreams or fears with their partner. It’s even possible that secrets may be being kept. Both individuals may struggle with various weaknesses (or sins) in their lives, and they come to the mutual agreement of, “If you don’t talk about these things in my life I won’t mention these other things in your life.”  They move forward in life with the mindset of, “As long as things look good from the outside, and as long as we help one another raise the family, that’s all that really matters.”

As you know, there’s more to a healthy marriage than looking good. Much more.

One aspect of a healthy marriage is friendship. This was the focal point of the message last week.

Another aspect of a healthy marriage is that the marriage is built on holiness. I know that’s not a word most people use in everyday conversations, but if the marriage relationship truly is a reflection of one’s relationship with Christ, then holiness is the foundation upon which the marriage relationship must be constructed.  Read that one more time just to let it sink in.

If the marriage relationship truly is a reflection of one’s relationship with Christ, then holiness is the foundation upon which the marriage relationship must be constructed.

This weekend we’ll be discussing three areas of holiness within marriage, giving some specific examples as to how each one may be applied within your current marriage.  Until then, feel free to discuss the following questions with your spouse.

  1. What do you think “holiness” looks like in a marriage?
  2. Do you currently think there are any areas of our marriage where we are “helpful” but not “holy”?
  3. How can I help you better become the man/woman God has made you to be this week?


Questions or comments?  Feel free to let me know in the comment section below.

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