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Living in Grace

Posted by James Keller on 04/24/17 @ 12:44 AM

Titus 3:5 (GW)
5  He saved us, but not because of anything we had done to gain his approval. Instead, because of his mercy he saved us through the washing in which the Holy Spirit gives us new birth and renewal.

Have you ever noticed that we talk a lot about grace?  I have heard many definitions for grace.  Two that I like are God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense and getting what we don’t deserve – God’s love.  Notice that in both the emphasis is on God as the giver.  Both emphasize God as the doer.  You and I are the receiver. 

The reason we talk so much about grace is because the Bible is full of grace.  Titus 3:5 tells us that we did not do anything to get God’s approval; in fact, we only get God’s approval because of the Holy Spirit who washes us clean.  Once again, we see God as the giver of approval and God as the doer.  He is the one who washes us clean.  We are but the receiver. 

It really takes off the pressure on us.  There is nothing we can do or ever will do to make us worthy of God’s love.  But God still loves us anyway.  Now that doesn’t mean that we can just do whatever we want.  How rude that would be to receive such lavish love and then live like we never received it.  Titus 3:5 also tells us that because of the washing of the Holy Spirit, because of the love of God, we are born again.  This means we have, in fact, a do over.  We have a fresh start.  Though we can’t do anything to get God’s approval, we can show our gratitude to God by the way we live. 

If you read the letters of Paul, you will see that he often exhorts us to imitate him as he imitates Christ.  Because of God’s undeserved love for us, we are to live as changed people.  Our lives should reflect the love of the one who loves us. 

How do we live changed lives?  By going deeper in our relationship with Jesus.  One way of going deeper is to be in prayer.  We are to imitate Christ.  As we look at the life of Jesus we see that He spent time in prayer.  Mark 1:35 (GW) 35   In the morning, long before sunrise, Jesus went to a place where he could be alone to pray. Because Jesus spent time in prayer, we too should spend time in prayer.  Too often we make prayer the last thing we do.  We exhaust every other resource at our disposal; then we pray.  We should make prayer the first thing we do. 

Prayer is the simplest thing to do, and yet it is also the hardest thing to do.  We tend to pray grocery lists.  But prayer is really about relationship.  I am no expert in prayer.  I have decided to make one of my learning focuses this year to learn more about prayer.  I have begun to read some books on prayer.  I highly recommend Andrew Murray’s Abide in Christ.  Another book I recommend is The Battle Plan for Prayer.  This is the book that we as a church will study together.  Join a small group and learn together how to pray.  Join us for the movie this is based on this Saturday, April 29, 6 – 8 pm.  We will be handing out the books and signing people up for small groups.

When it comes to our salvation, God is the doer; we are the receiver.  Let us not live lives like we haven’t received God’s undeserved love.  Rather, let us live lives that reflect His love to others.  Let’s start with prayer.

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

A Life of Purpose

Posted by James Keller on 04/09/17 @ 11:13 PM

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21 ESV).

What is the purpose of your life?  Many people wander through life lost because they have no purpose.  They seem to drift from one fad to another, searching for meaning in their life.  Nothing truly satisfies them.  Yet they try to satisfy every desire.  This was what King Solomon discovered.  He wrote Ecclesiastes about his quest for meaning in life.

But here Paul gives us a purpose for our life – Jesus.  To live is Christ!  What if we truly tried to make our lives be all about Jesus?  What would our lives look like?  Here are three ways that our lives are to look like Jesus’ life:

1)      Don’t do what you want but rather what God wants (John 5:30).

2)      Serve others rather than be served (Matthew 20:28).

3)      Love others (John 15:17); this includes your enemies (Luke 6:27-35)!

I could probably come up with more ways from Scripture that our lives are to look like Jesus’ life.  But these first three are pretty hard already.  But if you think about it, a life of purpose is not something easily grasped.  If it was, everyone would live a life of purpose.  A life of purpose is worth hard work.  Knowing that your life has a purpose, has meaning, is accomplishing something, isn’t that worth working for? 

On our own we cannot even come close to living these three ways that Jesus lived.  But those of us who follow Jesus are never alone.  The Holy Spirit lives in us and through us.  The Holy Spirit helps us to live this life of purpose, to live as Jesus.

Paul was content in his life in Christ.  He had found his purpose.  He couldn’t think of any other way to live than as Christ lived through him.  But he also knew that this life was not all there is.  He knew that when he died, he would gain even more than what he had here on earth.  That is the double blessing of living as Jesus lived.  You have purpose here on earth and a greater prize awaiting you in heaven.  It is truly a win/win situation.

Live with purpose!  Live your life such a way that people see Jesus in you!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

P.S.  What would you add to the list I started?

Avoided

Posted by James Keller on 04/03/17 @ 1:54 AM

Luke 6:22 (GW)
22  Blessed are you when people hate you, avoid you, insult you, and slander you because you are committed to the Son of Man.

Many years ago, my wife and I were members of a church in another state.  We were trying to live out our lives of faith. We were trying to make a difference in the lives of others, both inside and outside the church.  

The church had a very active young adult ministry.  We were part of the leadership team in this ministry.  One day I was speaking with a few of the young adults in the group when another young adult approached us.  This person stepped between me and the two others I was talking to.  He spoke directly to the two young adults, inviting them to a party at his house later in the week.  He never looked at me or acknowledged me.  After he left, one of the young adults commented on the fact that he acted as if I wasn’t even there.  The reason was that he knew I would not participate in his parties because of the activities that would take place.

This is a small example of what Jesus was referring to in Luke 6:22.   People will avoid you because you follow Jesus.  Sometimes the avoiding is simply refusing to acknowledge your presence.  Why the hostility?  Because they feel that your following Jesus is a damper on their lifestyle.  They don’t want to change, yet by seeing how you live for Jesus makes them feel guilty.  So, they get angry.  Really, they are angry with themselves for the choices they have made.  But rather than admit that, they will vent their anger at you.  Or they will try to ignore you so they don’t feel guilt over their actions.

What should you do?  Stay committed to the Son of Man! Which would you rather have, the fickle approval of people who really don’t like you or the steadfast approval of the God who loves you enough to take your place on the cross?  That doesn’t mean that we are to be hypercritical of others.  It just means we should be more concerned about God’s approval than man’s.  Even if all people desert you, speak ill of you, or ignore you, God won’t.  God’s promise is that He will never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). 

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Removed

Posted by James Keller on 03/26/17 @ 10:31 PM

John 15:1-2 (GW)
1  {Then Jesus said,} “I am the true vine, and my Father takes care of the vineyard. 2  He removes every one of my branches that doesn't produce fruit. He also prunes every branch that does produce fruit to make it produce more fruit.

As painful as pruning sounds (and is), Jesus warns us against something far scarier.   He removes every one of my branches that doesn't produce fruit.  Have you ever thought about this?  A follower of Jesus is supposed to produce fruit.  What happens when you don’t produce fruit?  You are removed. 

Jesus spoke about this a few different places.  Luke 13:6-9 (GW) 6  Then Jesus used this illustration: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard. He went to look for fruit on the tree but didn't find any. 7  He said to the gardener, ‘For the last three years I've come to look for figs on this fig tree but haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up {good} soil?' 8  “The gardener replied, ‘Sir, let it stand for one more year. I'll dig around it and fertilize it. 9  Maybe next year it'll have figs. But if not, then cut it down.'”

Here Jesus tells us that God provides everything we need to produce fruit.  The problem is when we don’t produce fruit.  God is merciful and slow to act, but eventually He will act.  He will remove those who don’t produce fruit.

Matthew 21:18-19 (GW)
18   In the morning, as Jesus returned to the city, he became hungry. 19  When he saw a fig tree by the road, he went up to the tree and found nothing on it but leaves. He said to the tree, “May fruit never grow on you again!” At once the fig tree dried up.

Why curse the fig tree?  To teach us a lesson about producing fruit.  What is the purpose of a fig tree?  To produce figs.  A fig tree that doesn’t produce figs is not worth anything.  So too, a follower of Jesus is to produce fruit.  Not producing fruit is not an option.  Not producing fruit means you will be removed from the garden; you will be removed from the vine.  What happens to dead wood?  It is burned up.  What happens to so-called followers of Jesus who don’t produce fruit?  They are removed from the garden and thrown into the fire. 

This is a scary thing.  Nobody wants to be removed from God’s garden, His kingdom.  Nobody wants to be thrown into the fire, hell.  Yet it can and does happen.  That is why the apostle Peter encourages us. 2 Peter 1:10 (GW) 10  Therefore, brothers and sisters, use more effort to make God's calling and choosing of you secure. If you keep doing this, you will never fall away. We are to make sure God’s calling on our lives is sure.  How?  By producing fruit.

So, the big question for today is: What are you doing to produce fruit?  Not sure what fruit you are to produce?  Read Galatians 5:22-26 and Matthew 28:18-20.

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Be Not Cowardly

Posted by James Keller on 03/20/17 @ 12:54 AM

John 14:27 (GW)
27  “I'm leaving you peace. I'm giving you my peace. I don't give you the kind of peace that the world gives. So don't be troubled or cowardly.

One of my favorite movies growing up (and is still) is “The Wizard of Oz.”  If you haven’t seen this movie (what planet are you from?), Dorothy is transported by means of a tornado to the land of Oz.  There she meets three friends who all need something from the Wizard of Oz.  One of those friends is a lion.  He needs courage.  He is known as the Cowardly Lion.  Yet, when faced with a great challenge, he rises to the occasion in order to help his friends.  When he finally meets the wizard, he is told he already has displayed courage.  He only lacks a medal to prove it.

Jesus tells us to not be troubled or cowardly because he has given us His peace.  How does peace make us brave?  The peace Jesus gives is peace between God and man.  In other words, Jesus has removed the hostility between us.  God is no longer angry over our sin.  It is not that God overlooks our sins.  Rather, God has already punished Jesus for our sins.  His wrath is appeased.  Sins are paid for.  We are now at peace with God. 

God is not only not our enemy but is actually our Father.  As a father protects and provides for his children, so our heavenly Father also protects and provides for us.  Romans 8:31 (GW) 31  What can we say about all of this? If God is for us, who can be against us?  In other words, there is nothing to fear.  What is the worst that people can do to us?  Kill us?  Jesus has already defeated death.  Death cannot hold us.  Jesus has already promised us eternal life in heaven.  That is what we are looking forward to.  Killing us only makes heaven a reality.  Therefore, death is no longer feared. 

The martyrs understood this.  Faced with either death or denying Jesus, they chose death.  But in reality, they chose eternal life.  As you read the accounts of the martyrs as found in books like Fox’s Book of Martyrs, you can’t help but be impressed how seemingly brave these people were.  But maybe it wasn’t so much bravery as being at peace.  Jesus left us His peace, peace between us and God.  That peace is so great that nothing else can rob us of it.  That peace still stands today. 

Peace treaties here on earth don’t last.  They are always being broken.  But the peace that Jesus brings between us and God can’t be broken.  Why?  Because God is the initiator and the finisher of the peace.  He calls for peace, sets the terms of peace, and makes sure the terms are met.  God is the only One who can break the peace treaty.  But in order for Him to do that, He would have to stop being God.  This is a peace that lasts.

Philippians 4:7 (KJV) 7  And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Christ’s slave,

 

Pastor jim

Saying No

Posted by James Keller on 03/13/17 @ 1:06 AM

Matthew 16:24 (GW)
24   Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Those who want to come with me must say no to the things they want, pick up their crosses, and follow me.”

The translation I grew up said Matthew 16:24 this way “...deny yourself.”  The New Testament was originally written in Greek.  The Greek word used here means to “deny, disown, renounce or disregard.”  I like how the God’s Word translation has translated this as “…say no to the things they want.”  What is denying oneself except to say no to things you want? That is pretty easy to understand.  Easy to understand, but hard to live out.

We live in a consumer-driven culture.  Commercials and other advertising ae all geared to feed our selfish natures.  We are told that we can have it all; we deserve a break today; why wait?  We live a world of fast food, microwaves, on demand TV programming and high speed internet.  If we want something, it is readily available.  The problem with these things is that they do not satisfy.  They only seem to feed our appetite for more.

The Jesus way is different.  Following Jesus means saying no to things we want.  Why? Because those things do not last.  When we say no to those things that may seem good, we in fact are saying yes to the best that Jesus has to offer.  What Jesus offers is always better than any good we can find on our own.

When we say no to the things we want and follow Jesus, we are saying yes to the things Jesus wants.  What does Jesus want?  1 Timothy 2:4 (GW) 4  He wants all people to be saved and to learn the truth.  Jesus’ desire is that all people would be saved.  Isn’t that why He came into the world, so that He could save people?  If that is the desire of Jesus, shouldn’t that also be the desire of us, too?  Shouldn’t we be about His business, the business of seeking and saving the lost?

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Billy Graham Museum.  One of the things that impressed me was Billy Graham’s dedication to spreading the Gospel.  He didn’t want people to see him, but he always pointed people toward Jesus.  Billy Graham’s life was not always easy.  He had his share of troubles, heartaches, and problems.  But he said no to the things he wanted and followed Jesus.  That is why he was able to do great things, not because he was great, but because the God he followed is great!

At the end of the tour I found myself in a bookstore.  I love books!  As I was looking over various titles, I came across a volume by Andrew Murray titled Collected Works on Prayer.  This volume has seven of Andrew Murray’s books on prayer.  One of my personal goals for this year is to learn more about prayer.  So, I bought the book.  I highly recommend Andrew Murray for your devotional reading.  The first book in this volume is Abide in Christ.  I read these words in Chapter 24 regarding God’s will:

It is only as long as salvation is to the sinner nothing but a personal safety, that he can be careless or afraid of doing God’s will.  No sooner is it to him what Scripture and the Holy Spirit reveal it to be – the restoration to communion with God and conformity to Him – than he feels that there is no law more natural or more beautiful than this: keeping Christ’s commandments the way to abide in Christ’s love.[1]

Saying no to the things we want is not a burden but rather a joy.  I saw this as I toured the Billy Graham Museum.  I comprehend this as I read Andrew Murray.  May we as God’s people learn this as we daily live out our lives as true disciples of Jesus!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

[1]Andrew Murray,  Andrew Murray Collected Works on Prayer, (New Kensington PA: Whitaker House 2013) 156-157

Knowledge is Power

Posted by James Keller on 03/05/17 @ 10:29 PM

Jesus went on to say, “Pay attention to what you’re listening to! Knowledge will be measured out to you by the measure of attention you give. This is the way knowledge increases” (Mark 4:24 GW).

Knowledge is something valuable in the Bible.  It is something to be sought after.  But not just any knowledge.  It is the knowledge about God and how to live in Him.

Jesus says that if you want knowledge, you need to pay attention.  Pay attention to what?  To what Jesus says.  Those who listen well will get more knowledge – they will draw closer to God.  Those who don’t listen well will get little or no knowledge.  They are in danger of getting into trouble and even of losing their faith.

Jesus’ words about paying attention apply to more than just listening to God.  Any school teacher will tell you that those students who pay attention in class do better and stay out of trouble more than those students who don’t pay attention.

So really the questions for us today are, “Why?”  Why wouldn’t we want to pay attention to Jesus and get wiser?  Who really wants to be known as fool? What is keeping you from listening and paying attention?

To be honest, we often think we know best.  We often think that we can ignore what we hear just this once.  As I write this, I am lying in a hospital bed getting antibiotics via I.V.  Why? Because just this once it won’t hurt.  I had been warned never to put on any clothing item bought from a store before washing it first.  But I was in a hurry.  I was too lazy to go to laundry room and get a clean outfit.  So, I saw some clothes that had been bought but not washed.  I quickly put them on and headed out the door.  It won’t hurt to not pay attention this one time….

Wisdom is known by her children.  I was not one of them that day.  I got a fungal infection that was lonely and invited bacteria to come over and play.  So here I am spending a romantic weekend away in a hospital bed with my new best friend Ivan – the I.V. pole.

If not paying attention to a little worldly knowledge can be this dangerous, imagine how much more dangerous not paying attention to what Jesus, God in the flesh, can mean now and for eternity!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

P.S. Remember to always wash before you wear!

So Obvious?

Posted by James Keller on 02/27/17 @ 12:12 AM

Ephesians 5:33 (GW)
33  But every husband must love his wife as he loves himself, and wives should respect their husbands.

This seems so basic, doesn’t it?  It seems like it shouldn’t have to be said.  Yet God does indeed say it.  Recently I was having a cup of tea at a coffee house (I don’t really like coffee, weird I know) with a group of pastors.  One pastor commented that he had just finished reading Leviticus.  He said how amazed he was that God had to tell the Children of Israel not to do certain things that seemed so obvious.  What are those things?

Leviticus 19:14 (GW) 

14  Never curse deaf people or put anything in the way of blind people to make them stumble. Instead, fear your God. I am the LORD.

It seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it?  Cursing a deaf man (who can’t hear our curses) is rude.  Placing objects in the path of the blind (who can’t see them) is also rude.  Why should God have to tell the Children of Israel such simple common rules of living in polite society? The answer, of course is, because human beings are not polite. 

Not only are we not polite, but we very often refuse to see the obvious.  How many times have you searched frantically for a lost object only to have someone point it out to you right in front of you?

We may know what the right thing to do is, but frequently, we choose not to do it.  So, God through Paul tells us very plainly how marriages are to work.  Husbands are to love their wives.  Wives are to respect their husbands.  It seems so basic.  But if you think about, when you get the basics wrong, the rest also goes wrong.  When a professional sports team loses a big game, what does the coach do?  Takes them back to the basics.  He reinforces the basics of the game so that they will be better.

It is the same with our marriages.  We men know that we should love our wives.  But we allow other things, other pursuits, to get in the way.   We know what we should do, but we stray away from the basics.  The result?  Our wives don’t feel loved.  When our wives don’t feel loved, they don’t feel like giving out love (yes, men, you know what I am talking about).  When a husband returns to the basics, loving his wife as he loves himself, the marriage starts working better.

Wives know that their husbands are different.  They know that their husbands need their respect.  But when wives start listening to daytime T.V. talk shows (you know the ones I am referring to) that constantly degrade men and disrespect them, wives start to think that way about their husbands.  Wives forget the basics.  When the husband doesn’t feel respected, it is hard for him to love his wife who disrespects him.  When a wife returns to the basics, respecting her husband, the marriage starts working better.

It seems so simple.  Yet we are too dense to grasp the obvious.  So, God has to remind us.  Men, love your wives!  Women, respect your husbands!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Faithful

Posted by James Keller on 02/19/17 @ 11:28 PM

2 Timothy 2:13 (GW)
13  If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful because he cannot be untrue to himself.

God’s faithfulness is not dependent on our faithfulness.  That is very comforting.  Let’s be honest, you and I are pretty unfaithful when it comes to our relationship with Jesus.  We say that He is the Lord of our life.  But too often He gets second place or no place in our decision making.  We decide what we want and then ask God to bless our decision.  Or worse yet, we decide what we want even though we know it goes against what God wants. 

Yet, how does God deal with us?  He still sends his blessings on us.  He still provides for our needs.  He sends people and circumstances into our lives to call us back to faithfulness in Him.

This is what we see time and again in the Old Testament.  God’s people became unfaithful.  Yet God was faithful in sending prophets.  God was faithful in calling his people to repentance.  God was faithful in redeeming them. 

This is also true in the New Testament.  Paul describes God’s faithfulness to us in our unfaithfulness this way: Romans 5:10 (GW) 10  If the death of his Son restored our relationship with God while we were still his enemies, we are even more certain that, because of this restored relationship, the life of his Son will save us.  Our unfaithfulness was so severe that we were considered enemies of God.  Yet God in His faithfulness sent His only son to die in our place so that we can be called children of God.  You can’t get more faithful than that.

What does God want in return for His faithfulness towards us?  Just our faithfulness towards him.  The best part is, when we are unfaithful towards Him, He still is faithful towards us!

Christ’s slave,

 Pastor jim

The Joy of Obedience

Posted by James Keller on 02/12/17 @ 10:50 PM

Colossians 3:20 (GW)
20  Children, always obey your parents. This is pleasing to the Lord.

 “O-B-E-Y Obey your mom and dad!

O-B-E-Y It really makes them glad!”

 So goes a chorus of a children’s song.  As a parent, I can tell you that when my children willingly and gladly carry out my instructions, it does make me happy.

God, as our heavenly Father, also is pleased when we willingly and gladly carry out His instructions. 

 Obedience is not a lock step drudgery but rather is meant to be a joyful opportunity of making our parents, and our heavenly Father pleased.  When viewed in that light, why wouldn’t we want to obey? 

I visit my dad quite regularly in the nursing home.  While there, I see many older people who have no family.  Their faces light up when I offer to help them.  Sometimes I just crouch down by their wheelchairs and look into their eyes as I listen to them.  They smile and thank me for taking the time to care.  I don’t find this drudgery but rather I derive much joy in seeing their happiness. 

This is what our memory verse is talking about.  This kind of obedience produces a three-fold joy.  It produces joy in our parents (or other authority figures) by our glad obedience.  It pleases God when we obey this way.  And finally, it produces joy in our hearts as we see the joy in the faces of others and know that God is pleased.

O-B-E-Y and experience joy!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

P.S.  What would you add to the benefits of obeying?

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
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