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One God?

Posted by James Keller on 01/17/18 @ 10:35 AM

Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV) “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

Do you know what heresy is?  According to Dictionary.com, heresy is an opinion or doctrine at variance with the orthodox or accepted doctrine, especially of a church or religious system.

Most heresies start with how we view God.  Imagine a two-year old trying to explain to another two-ear old what it means to be an adult.  How accurate do you think that would be?  It may have some truth, but it would probably have a lot that would make us laugh.  That is what happens when we mere humans try to explain God.  How can mortal humans with limited knowledge be able to explain an immortal God who has all knowledge?

So, where do find out about God?  God has revealed (made himself known) to us through His Word.  The problem is that too often we try to use human logic to understand the Word of God.  We try to view God’s Word through our own human experiences.  This is a problem for many reasons.  One is that the Bible was written in a different time, culture, and context.  To try to understand the Bible only by using our present-day culture and context will confuse us.  We need to understand the culture and context that the Bible was written to understand the Bible.

One of the first rules for reading the Bible is to look for the clear and simple meaning.  We get into all kinds of trouble when we ignore the simple meaning.  This leads to heresy. 

Deuteronomy 6:4 tells us that God is one.   There is only one God.  God is very clear that we should only worship the one true God.  That is the first of the Ten Commandments.  “You shall have no other gods before me.”  But God also reveals Himself as three persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Where do we find this?

Mark 1:9-11 (GW) 

9   At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. 10 As Jesus came out of the water, he saw heaven split open and the Spirit coming down to him as a dove. 11 A voice from heaven said, “You are my Son, whom I love. I am pleased with you.”

Jesus is called the Son of God.  Here at His baptism we see Jesus being baptized.  A voice speaks from heaven calling Jesus His Son.  How do we know this is the Father?  Jesus calls Him that many times throughout the Gospels. John 20:17 (GW) 17 Jesus told her, “Don't hold on to me. I have not yet gone to the Father. But go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'”

How can Jesus call someone else His father if He is the Father?  This would take quite some Scriptural gymnastics to understand Jesus as the Father who speaks about going to Himself.

Also, in Jesus’ baptism we see the Holy Spirit coming down as a dove.  The Holy Spirit is not an emanation or power of God.  The Holy Spirit is a unique person.  Mark 13:11 (GW) 11 When they take you away to hand you over to the authorities, don't worry ahead of time about what you will say. Instead, say whatever is given to you to say when the time comes. Indeed, you are not the one who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit will.

There are many more verses about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  If you would like to research this for yourself, you can use an online Bible study tool like BibleGateway.  Just type in words like Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  You may need to refine your search to get the exact verses you want.  Another good resource to study this is Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation.  If you do not have access to the Catechism, you can download a pdf of it here:  Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation.

Study especially the First Commandment and the Apostles’ Creed.

What do we call this God who reveals Himself as three persons?  We call Him the Triune God.  You won’t find the word Triune or Trinity in the Bible.  But you will find proof of it.  Triune simply means Three-in-One.  God reveals Himself, makes Himself known to us, as the God Who is Three-in-One.  How can we understand this?  How can we understand that Jesus is fully human and at the same time fully God?  How can we understand that Jesus’ death on the cross paid for all our sins?  How can we understand that God who hates sin loves us who are full of sin?  We can’t fully understand these things.  But we can take God at His word.  God tells us that He loves us yet hates our sin.  God tells us that Jesus is the answer to our sin problem.  God tells us that Jesus is fully human and also fully God.  Finally, God tells us that He is one yet three: One What (God)--Three Who (Persons).  He is the God who is Three-in-One.

One final verse that tells this truth is Matthew 28:18-19 (GW)18 When Jesus came near, he spoke to them. He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 So wherever you go, make disciples of all nations: Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Baptize in one name. Name is singular here (Jesus had perfect understanding of grammar; He knew the difference between singular and plural), yet three persons.  Take God at His word.  Don’t try to understand Him; just trust Him!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Trustingly

Posted by James Keller on 01/05/18 @ 9:36 AM

Hebrews 11:1 (GW)
1 Faith assures us of things we expect and convinces us of the existence of things we cannot see.

When we talk of faith, we are not talking about “blind” faith.  Rather our faith is trusting in a God who keeps His promises.  A little child recognizes the tone in his father’s voice.  The same father can call a child by name, but the way he calls lets the child know if he is being punished or rewarded.  When a father who is known for his love and kindness calls to his little one, the little one is quick to run into his father’s outstretched arms.  Why?  Because the child’s past experiences with his father have been positive.  He thinks, “The last time my father used that tone of voice I received a big hug and daddy kisses.”  Why wouldn’t this child run into his father’s arms?  So too, our experience with our Heavenly Father will determine how quickly we run into His arms. If we have learned to trust Him at His Word, we will run quickly.  If we have doubted Him, though His Word remains firm and unchanging, we will be hesitant to come.

My experience with Jesus is that He can be trusted.  He keeps His promises.  He has promised never to leave me or forsake me.  When I look back over my life, I see that it is not Jesus who leaves me but rather I who try to leave Him.  Jesus promises to forgive me.  When I doubt this, I neglect asking for forgiveness.  Yet, when I ask, He is more than ready to forgive.

I find that it is not Jesus who needs reminding of His promises, but rather I who need to be reminded of His promises and His faithfulness.  Just because I do not understand how Jesus can fulfill His Word does not limit Jesus in keeping His Word.  This is of great comfort to me.  I am weak, yet He is strong. His strength is not dependent on me or mine. 

My faith looks trustingly, 
Thou Lamb of Calvary, 
Savior divine! 
Now hear me while I pray, 
Take all my guilt away, 
O let me from this day 
Be wholly thine!

 

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Lord, Lord?

Posted by James Keller on 12/22/17 @ 10:24 PM

Matthew 7:21 (ESV)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

These words of Jesus come near the end of His Sermon on the Mount.  If you remember, He starts out His Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes (Blessed are the poor...).  He begins by talking about those who are blessed by God.  Here near the end, He gives warnings.  This warning is perhaps the most frightening.  How do we know if Jesus will truly know us?  How do we know if we are crying out to Him, “Lord, Lord” in such a way that He will recognize us? 

Jesus gives us the answer in the second half of this verse: the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  This begs the questions, “What is the Father’s will?”

John 6:39 (ESV)

39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Believe in Jesus.  That is the will of the Father.  We find that faith in Jesus is the way to heaven.  This is found all throughout the Bible.  But how do we know if we have faith?  That is what Jesus is talking about in the Sermon on the Mount.  He is telling us how our faith should shape our lives.  Our faith is not separated from how we live.  Our faith impacts our lives in such a way that others should see it.  How should they see our faith? 

Matthew 7:12 (ESV)

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

We call this the Golden Rule.  But the only way to truly live out the Golden Rule is to live by faith in Jesus.  Our faith in Jesus will cause us to live differently.  We will stop living for ourselves and start living for others. The good news is that we don’t make these changes on our own.  The Holy Spirit, the same Spirit that gives us faith, also begins to make the changes in our lives.  This is what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 7:17 (ESV): 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 

James, the brother of Jesus, talks about this in his letter. James 2:17-18 (ESV)) 

17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 

Faith in Jesus is more than just knowledge; it is a lifestyle.  The Holy Spirit is the One who helps us to live out our faith in our daily lives.  How are you doing living out your faith?

 Christ’s slave,

 Pastor jim

 

Faithful and Reliable

Posted by James Keller on 12/15/17 @ 7:53 PM

1 John 1:9 (GW)
9 God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, he forgives them and cleanses us from everything we've done wrong.

Admitting we have done wrong is hard.  Our natural tendency is to try to blame someone else.  That is what Adam did. Genesis 3:12 (GW) 12 The man answered, “That woman, the one you gave me, gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” God saw through Adam’s blame game, and He sees through yours and mine.

What God wants is for us to admit or confess our sins.  We are not to be proud of the fact we have sinned, but we are to stand in humble sorrow over our sin.  True confession of sin is humbling.  We admit that we were in the wrong.  We admit that we are guilty.  We admit that we deserve punishment. We place ourselves into the hands of the people we have done wrong.  We are now at their mercy.  That is the scary part.  They have the right to carry out justice upon us.  No one likes to be punished.

This is where Satan comes in.  He lied to Adam and Eve.  He still lies today.  He looks for an opening.  He whispers lies in your ears.  What are those lies?  “You can’t be forgiven.  You have used up all of God’s grace.”  Or “You don’t need to be forgiven for that. God will let it slide.”  Just as Satan’s first lie to Adam and Eve in the garden led to their being separated from God and their eventual death, listening to these lies will also lead to your further separation from God and your death.

That is where 1 John 1:9 comes in.  If we confess our sins, if we admit we have wronged God, if we humble ourselves before God and admit that He has every right to punish us, what will God do?  God will prove His faithfulness and His reliability!  God has promised that when we confess our sins, He will forgive them, not once, not twice, but every time.  Which sins does He promise to forgive?  All of them!  There is not one sin that God won’t forgive if we confess it.  Do you hear that, Satan?  God’s grace is just that, grace!  His grace is big enough to take care of all our sins!  God’s grace doesn’t run out.  Instead, God’s grace runs to!  His grace runs to the sinner who confesses his sins.  His grace runs to the person who cries over his/her sin.  His grace is big enough, deep enough, wide enough, and long enough to cover every sin.  There is no sin that God’s grace can’t take care of!

The next time you sin (which could be right after you read this), don’t be afraid to climb onto your Father’s lap, bury your head in His chest, and confess your sin.  He will forgive you!  He will hug and kiss you!  He will hold you!  He will NOT throw you off His lap!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Good Works Prepared for You

Posted by James Keller on 12/06/17 @ 11:45 AM

Ephesians 2:10 (GW)
10 God has made us what we are. He has created us in Christ Jesus to live lives filled with good works that he has prepared for us to do.

When I was a preschool director in California, I also oversaw the after-school care program.  During the summer it meant that all the school age children were with us all day.  I was blessed one summer by having a retired high school shop teacher from our church volunteer to teach the school age children one hour a week.  He prepared individual packets of craft materials for the students.  One week they worked on birdhouses.  Each student received a packet of the pieces necessary to build a birdhouse.  He had pre-cut everything.  He had pre-drilled everything.  He had just the right number of nails for each house. He supervised their building of these houses.  If students didn’t pay attention and started to put random pieces together, he would walk over and gently correct them. If someone was unsure what to do next, he patiently talked the child through it.  If they still couldn’t do it, he wrapped his hands around theirs and helped them hold the tools the right way, or he helped them put the pieces together.    At the end of the hour, everyone had a birdhouse.  No two were the same, but all the students were proud of their birdhouses.  Why?  Because he told them what a good job they did.

Our memory verse says that God does the same thing for us today.  God has prepared good works for us to do.  He has already made all the preparations for us.  If we are unsure what or how we should do these good works, He speaks to us through His Word, or through another person, or even through the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  If we still are confused, He gently wraps His nail-scarred hands around ours and patiently walks us through it.  He doesn’t give us a good work that we can’t complete.  He has prepared everything so that we will hear Him say, “Good job!  I’m proud of you!”

What are these good works?  Some may be very big things, but most are found in our everyday living.  Taking care of our families.  Raising our kids.  Loving our spouse.  Helping those in need.  Showing kindness to strangers.  Working hard at our jobs.  Supporting each other in our church. No two of us will do it exactly the same.  But God is with us every step of the way.  He has already made sure we have all that we need to complete these good works.  If we start without His direction, He lovingly corrects us.  If we get stuck, we can go to Him in prayer.  If we mess up, He is there to help us to make it right. 

What is the good work that God has assigned to you today?

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Active Faith

Posted by James Keller on 11/29/17 @ 4:13 PM

James 2:17 (GW)
17 In the same way, faith by itself is dead if it doesn't cause you to do any good things.

There is a story told about a high wire walker.  He stretched out his wires high up between two buildings.  A crowd gathered, and he began to walk back and forth across the wire.  He blindfolded himself and easily walked back and forth.  Taking a rest, he said to the crowd, “How many of you believe that I can walk back and forth across this wire blindfolded while carrying someone on my shoulders?”  The crowd with one voice shouted back that they believed he could.  Looking intently at the crowd he asked, “Who will climb onto my shoulders?”

It is one thing to say that you believe something.  It is another thing to put your beliefs into action.  Followers of Jesus are to do just that, follow.  Faith in Jesus is more than just head knowledge.  Faith in Jesus leads to action.  You will need to get out of the boat (Matthew 14:29).

God’s love for us caused Him to act.  Our faith in Christ should cause us to act as well.  It is easy to say that you have faith when you are sitting comfortably in the boat.  But you prove your faith by giving up your comfort so that someone else can be comfortable. 

We have a saying in America: “Put your money where your mouth is.”  Our memory verse tells us to “put action to our faith!”  Let us not just be head nodders when it comes to our faith, but let us live out our faith so others can see it and experience it!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Dead, Yet Alive?

Posted by James Keller on 11/28/17 @ 10:47 PM

Romans 8:10 (ESV) 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.

You might be wondering how you can be both dead and alive at the same time.  Our verse starts with our bodies.  Because of sin, our bodies are dead.  When God told Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He told him, “The day you eat of it you will die.”  When Adam and Eve ate that fruit, they didn’t die right away.  But death began working in them.  They became spiritually dead, and their bodies began to age; illness and injury happened.  Finally, they died.

We are all living under the curse of sin.  Our bodies age.  We get sick.  We have injuries.  We die.  We are walking dead people.  But the second part of the verse talks about our spirits.  The Holy Spirit changes spiritually dead people into spiritually alive people.

I spend a lot of time in the ER with people.  It is not uncommon for a person to be in extreme pain yet also joyful as they speak of their Savior.  I have heard the most beautiful testimonies to Jesus while a person is crying in pain.  Their tears of pain mix with their tears of joy as they recount how much Jesus means to them.  They are experiencing the curse of sin in their bodies, but at the same time, they are acknowledging the life that the Holy Spirit gives to their spirits.  It is at moments like this that Romans 8:10 is a reality taking place in front of my eyes.

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

3 Benefits of Being Clothed with Christ

Posted by James Keller on 11/15/17 @ 7:44 PM

Galatians 3:27 (GW)
27 Clearly, all of you who were baptized in Christ's name have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

Baptism has many benefits.  I have written about some of these in the past.  But here in Galatians 3:27, we are told that when we are baptized, we are clothed with Christ.  What are the benefits of being clothed with Christ?

1)      Christ’s righteousness is now our righteousness.  On our own, we are sinful and unworthy to stand in God’s presence.  But clothed in Christ, we can stand in God’s presence.  When we are clothed in Christ, God sees Christ when He looks at us.  When Jesus told the story about the wedding feast in Matthew 22:1-14, we hear about a man who tried to get into the feast not wearing the clothes provided (Matthew 22:11).  Here in Galatians 3:27 we find out what those wedding clothes are – they are Jesus!  Being clothed in Jesus grants us access to heaven.

2)    We now represent Jesus wherever we go. I will admit that I do enjoy watching little children dress up in superhero costumes.  Watching them pretend to be those superheroes is both cute and funny.  But when we are clothed with Christ, it is neither cute nor funny.  We are not just to pretend to be Jesus; we are to in fact represent Jesus.  When the followers of Jesus were first called Christians, it was meant to be bad thing.  But the word Christian means “little Christ.”  When you put on Jesus at your baptism, you are to live as a little Christ to the world.  Too often we followers of Jesus forget this.  We think that we can put on Jesus and put off Jesus at will.  I put on Jesus when I am going to church.  I take off Jesus when I am going to a party.  Galatians 3:27 doesn’t say anything about taking off Jesus.  It actually says that when we were baptized, we put on Jesus, never to take Jesus off.  This is our source of comfort.  When we sin, we find comfort in the fact that we still have Jesus on.  This is not because of who we are but because of what God has done for us through baptism.  We are clothed with Christ.  If we remember this throughout the day, how different will we live our lives? If Jesus wouldn’t do something, look at something, say something or listen to something, then we who represent Jesus shouldn’t either. Representing Jesus changes how we see activities. Jesus doesn’t hang out with naughty people to be one of them.  He hangs out with naughty people to point them to the God who loves them.  We don’t condone or approve what people do; instead, we point them to the God who loves them enough to help them stop doing bad things.

3)     Being clothed with Christ prepares for Spiritual Warfare. The devil hates God and everything that God loves.  If you are clothed with Christ, you become an object of the devil’s hate.  The devil hates you because you represent Christ, whom he hates.  The good news is that you are already suited up for the battle.  Paul writes about our spiritual armor in Ephesians 6:10-20.  If you carefully read each individual part of the armor, you will see that they all point to Christ.  The Belt of Truth – Jesus is the way the Truth and life (John 14:6). Breastplate of Righteousness – Jesus is our righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Shoes of Peace – Jesus is the one who brings peace between us and God.  Isaiah calls Jesus the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).  Shield of Faith – Jesus is the source and goal of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).  Helmet of Salvation – Jesus is our Savior (Acts 4:12).  Sword of the Spirit (Word of God) – Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:14).  At our baptism we are clothed with our battle armor.  This armor has already defeated our enemy, Satan.  This armor is Jesus! 

What other benefits do you see in being clothed with Christ?

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Helpless

Posted by James Keller on 11/06/17 @ 11:51 AM

6 Look at it this way: At the right time, while we were still helpless, Christ died for ungodly people Romans 5:6 (GW).

My dad lives in a nursing home.  Parkinson’s disease has turned his body against him.  He is physically weak and shaky.  A series of TIAs have also weakened his mind.  His short-term memory is all but gone.  He gets confused.  He wants to do things, but he is unable.  Even the simplest of tasks that he was able to quickly do in the past are now all-day labors. He often bemoans his helplessness. 

One of the things I do when I visit my dad (which I try do almost every day) is to read the Bible to him.  As I read, we talk about the Scriptures.  Most of the time I explain things, and he nods affirmatively.  Sometimes he interjects with an observation or a question.

Recently we were reading 2 Corinthians 3.  I was explaining to Dad about why Moses had to wear a veil over his face (2 Corinthians 3:13).  We were talking about how without the Holy Spirit, it is impossible for us to understand the Bible.  Dad asked, “Is that why I can’t understand the Bible?  Because I don’t have the Holy Spirit?”  He was concerned that he would not make it to heaven.  His dementia has removed the filter between his brain and his mouth.  He says things that are not appropriate.  He was afraid that he had lost the Holy Spirit. 

My dad felt helpless.  That is where Romans 5:6 comes in.  Our God is a God who helps the helpless.  He is a God who provides for those who cannot provide for themselves.  God knew my Dad’s helpless state (and mine, as well as yours, too), and out of His great and undeserved love for us, He did something about it.  1 John 4:10 (GW)10 This is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the payment for our sins.

Not only does God take care of our sins, but He also takes care of our unbelief. Ephesians 2:8 (GW) 8 God saved you through faith as an act of kindness. You had nothing to do with it. Being saved is a gift from God.  Faith is a gift from God.  God who saves the helpless also gives faith to the helpless. 

As I talked with my dad, I asked him what he believed about Jesus.  He confessed Jesus as his Lord and Savior from sin.  I reminded my dad that God helps the helpless.  God opens heaven to those who don’t deserve it.  Our ability to get to heaven is not dependent on us and what we have done or will do.  Our salvation is based on Jesus, what He has done and continues to do for us.  My dad looked off into the distance and sighed, “That’s good!  That’s real good!”  Yes, it is good for helpless sinners like us!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

No More Trouble?

Posted by James Keller on 10/30/17 @ 11:01 PM

John 16:33 (ESV) 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

There are those who think that once they come to faith in Jesus, all their problems will go away.  But that is not what Jesus has promised.  In John 16:33 He, in fact, says that we will have tribulations or trouble.  Jesus does not promise to take these away.

When the children of Israel were wandering around in the wilderness, they complained against God.  God sent poisonous serpents to bite them.  The children of Israel asked Moses to ask God to take away the serpents.  God didn’t take away the serpents.  Instead, He had Moses make a serpent out of bronze and set it up on a pole.  Anyone who was bit by a serpent could look at the bronze serpent and they would live (Numbers 21:4-9). 

Jesus once compared Himself to the bronze serpent on the pole (John 3:14).  If God provided a way for the Children of Israel to be saved without removing the serpents, why should Jesus remove the tribulations today?  God gave the Children of Israel a way to be saved from the poison of the snakes without removing the pain of the bite.  He was providing for them without taking them out of the world.  They needed a reminder that that they needed God.  Jesus promises to give us a peace, not to take away the tribulations.  Jesus gives us a peace that is beyond our understanding (Philippians 4:7).  Amid our tribulations, Jesus gives us a peace.  He doesn’t remove the trouble, but he gives us a peace that helps us to endure the tribulation. 

A big part of that peace that we have is the knowledge that Jesus has overcome the world.  Whatever tribulation you are going through, there is peace and comfort in knowing that Jesus has conquered it.  Jesus is greater than any tribulation you are going through or will go through.  He has overcome it.  Because He has overcome it, He will help you get through it!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

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