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Love

Posted by James Keller on 06/19/17 @ 9:23 AM

2 Timothy 1:7-8a (GW)
7  God didn't give us a cowardly spirit but a spirit of power, love, and good judgment.
8  So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.

This is the verse that our youth have chosen for their summer outreach.  Love is sandwiched between power and good judgment. Why?  Because power without love because brutality.  Good Judgment without love becomes condescending.  Love is what keeps these tow in check.  Love uses power and good judgment on behalf of others.  Love keeps these two others from falling into the extreme of forcing our will on others.

God’s love for us is like that.  He does not force us to love and obey Him.  Instead he draws us to him with cords of love. (Hosea 11:4).  Though it saddens God when we choose not to love Him, he still loves us.  But he will never force us to love him back.  It saddens him to see the people He loves choose death over life.  God’s love for us is so strong that He won’t try to show us His love in a variety of ways.  The greatest of these is Jesus.  God became human not to experience what we experience.  God became human in order to help us understand his love for us.  God’s love for us drove Jesus to the cross.  We see Jesus’ perfect love for us in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus prayed that his upcoming suffering would not take place.  This shows that Jesus is fully human.  His humanity didn’t want to go through with the suffering.  Yet his love for us gave him the power to submit to the Father’s will. 

We, who follow Jesus, are filled with the same kind of power, love and good judgment.  Jesus used his power, love and good judgment for others.  We too are called to do the same.  The greatest way we can use power, love and good judgment is to tell others about Jesus.  Our youth are doing that this summer.  We all have the opportunity to do that every day with the people God places in our paths. 

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Not Ashamed

Posted by James Keller on 06/12/17 @ 1:21 AM

38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels. Mark 8:38 (ESV)

It seems this verse has been lived out recently in the political arena.  First, Vice President Pence was attacked because he refuses to meet with women alone.  The basis of his decision is his faith in Jesus.  He has been called many names because of this decision.  He has been accused of anti-feminism.

Most recently Russell Vought has come under attack because of his belief in Jesus as the only way to heaven.  It may cost him a key position in the government.  Some would advocate that both these men should take a more middle of the road stance publicly when it comes to their faith.  But isn’t that really being ashamed of Jesus? 

If you read the New Testament (I mean actually read it, not listen to what others say about it) you will discover that it says a lot about not being ashamed of Jesus.  Here is a sampling of verses:

Romans 1:16 (GW) 

16  I'm not ashamed of the Good News. It is God's power to save everyone who believes, Jews first and Greeks as well.  What is the Gospel?  That Jesus alone saves from sin.

Romans 10:8-11 (GW) 

8  However, what else does it say? “This message is near you. It's in your mouth and in your heart.” This is the message of faith that we spread. 9  If you declare that Jesus is Lord, and believe that God brought him back to life, you will be saved. 10  By believing you receive God's approval, and by declaring your faith you are saved. 11  Scripture says, “Whoever believes in him will not be ashamed.”  Here we are not just to believe in our hearts but we are to publicly confess with our mouths. 

2 Timothy 1:8 (GW) 

8  So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord or be ashamed of me, his prisoner. Instead, by God's power, join me in suffering for the sake of the Good News. This is part of our current memory verse.  We are told to never be ashamed of telling others about Jesus.  But we are also told that suffering will come.  We don’t like that part.  But it is true.  Look at the public attacks on Vice President Pence and Mr. Vought.  They are being called names.  They are being called hateful.  Isn’t ironic that the Good News that Jesus died for all people to save them from their sins – news of God’s love for people – being labeled as hate speech?

2 Timothy 2:15 (GW) 

15  Do your best to present yourself to God as a tried-and-true worker who isn't ashamed to teach the word of truth correctly.  Paul is encouraging us to not be ashamed to teach God’s word correctly.  In other words, not to water it down so others won’t get upset.

1 Peter 2:4-6 (GW) 

4  You are coming to Christ, the living stone who was rejected by humans but was chosen as precious by God. 5  You come to him as living stones, a spiritual house that is being built into a holy priesthood. So offer spiritual sacrifices that God accepts through Jesus Christ. 6  That is why Scripture says, “I am laying a chosen and precious cornerstone in Zion, and the person who believes in him will never be ashamed.” Peter quotes from the Old Testament to show that believing in Jesus will not cause you shame.  People may treat you shamefully, but you won’t be ashamed to call Jesus Lord.

1 Peter 4:16 (GW) 

16  If you suffer for being a Christian, don't feel ashamed, but praise God for being called that name. There could be lot said about suffering for the name of Jesus and considering it an honor.  I may not agree with all of Vice President Mike Pence and Mr. Vought’s politics or decisions, but I do applaud them for their stance as followers of Jesus. 

I could list the verses that encourage us to be bold in sharing our faith.  But hopefully you are getting the picture.  We are not to be ashamed that we follow Jesus.  That includes not watering down what we believe so as not to offend others.  But we should present the truth of Jesus in a loving way. 

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Living Forever or Eternal Life?

Posted by James Keller on 06/05/17 @ 1:35 AM

54 Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:54 (ESV)

Do you want to live forever?  Many people would answer “Yes!”  Much of modern medicine is designed to prolong life.  But there is a difference between living forever and having eternal life. Living forever means never dying.  But it does not mean never growing old.  My father is 83 years old.  He has dementia.  He is not able to stand or walk much.  One of his favorite sayings is, “Old age ain’t for sissies!”  You see, he wants to live, but not as he is now.  He knows he is getting older and weaker.  His body doesn’t do what he wants.  He needs a lot of help.

That is why God sent Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden after they sinned.  He didn’t want them to eat of the tree of life.  If they did, they would be always living but also always growing older and more decrepit. 

God placed an angel and flaming sword to guard the tree of life so that no one could eat of its fruit.  What happened to this tree of life?  It was replanted on a hill outside of Jerusalem.  Its fruit is the body and blood of Jesus.  Instead of an angel and a flaming sword, it was guarded by Roman soldiers. 

Our Bible verse for this past week tells us that now we do have access to the tree of life.  We can eat of its fruit.  But instead of living forever while still growing old, this fruit gives eternal life.  Jesus tells us the difference between this new fruit and the old fruit found in the Garden of Eden.  and I will raise him up on the last day.  This fruit gives life, but it gives new life.  Jesus promises to raise us up on the last day.  Not in our aging and decrepit bodies, but in new bodies that won’t grow old or wear out.  We will live forever in perfect bodies that won’t need doctors or nursing homes. 

Come, let us eat this fruit from the tree of eternal life!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Wise or Dumb?

Posted by James Keller on 05/29/17 @ 1:16 AM

Proverbs 12:1 (GW)
1  Whoever loves discipline loves to learn, but whoever hates correction is a dumb animal.

This statement is a slap to the face.  Nobody wants to be called a dumb animal.  Our Karen members were offended by this statement.  They thought I was calling them animals.  That is an insult to be called an animal.  Many years ago, before the missionaries began working among the Karen people in Burma, that is what the Karen were called – animals.  They were considered lower than humans.  They were mistreated and disrespected.  Then the missionaries brought them the good news of Jesus.  The missionaries took their oral language and gave them a written language.  The missionaries taught the Karen how to read and write in their own language.  The missionaries started schools.  At one point in the history of Burma, Karen made up over 50% of all university students.

The Karen are an example of how the Gospel transforms lives.  They are also an example of Proverbs 12:1. Prior to the Gospel, they were considered animals by the government and were mistreated.  But, they listened to the gospel, they changed the way they thought and acted (repented) towards sin and God.  They showed that they loved discipline and correction.  Their status was raised.  More importantly their status as children of God was raised.  Communities were changed.  Families were changed.  Standards of living improved. All because they were corrected regarding their beliefs.

This same Gospel, the good news that Jesus loves sinners so much he is willing to take their place on the cross, still transforms lives today.  But only those who love discipline.  Those who refuse to change the way they think and act (repent) are no better than dumb animals.  Why?  Because like dumb animals they only live for the moment.  They only think about what brings pleasure for the moment.  They don’t see the consequences of their actions.  They don’t learn from their mistakes.  Dumb animals don’t think ahead.  They don’t plan for the future.  They are trapped in the present and limit their options.  Dumb animals miss the best for what they think is the good right now.

What about you?  Are you living for the moment and missing the best?  Or are you willing to be corrected by the gospel?

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

 

Fear of God or Just Being Afraid of God?

Posted by James Keller on 05/22/17 @ 2:12 AM

1  Since we have these promises, dear friends, we need to cleanse ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit and live a holy life in the fear of God. 2 Corinthians 7:1 (GW) 

Have you ever wondered about what the phrase “fear of God” means?  Martin Luther began the explanation of each of the Ten Commandments with the words, ‘We should fear and love God.”  How can we both fear and love someone?  Fear in this case does not mean what we think it means.  It does not mean to be terrified of but rather a reverential fear.  Luther explains it this way: We fear God above all things when we revere Him alone as the highest being, honor Him with our lives, and avoid what displeases Him.[1]

How do we revere Him alone and honor Him?  Our memory verse tells us we do that by holding onto His promises and cleansing ourselves from everything that contaminates us. 

Here is the kicker, one of His promises is that He will do the cleansing.  You see, we are really too weak to do any cleansing of our lives.  We like our sin too much.  That is why God sends the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit makes us spiritually alive.  The Holy Spirit washes us clean.  The Holy Spirit begins making the changes necessary in our lives so that we can live as God’s redeemed children. 

What is our part?  Stop fighting against the Holy Spirit.  It seems easy but oh is it hard to do.  Our selfish pride gets in the way.  We think we can do it on our own.  We think we know what is best.  But that is really our sinful nature rearing its ugly head.  That is why Luther talks about daily drowning our old Adam (sinful nature).  How do we do that?  By remembering our baptism.  God made some promises to us in our baptism.  He promised to wash us clean from our sin.  He promised to write His name upon us.  He promises never to leave us alone.  Which brings us back to our memory verse: Since we have these promises…

Live in the promises of God!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jm

[1] An Explanation of the Small Catechism, Question 22 A.  (1991 Edition) http://www.mtolivelutheran.info/uploads/5/9/1/6/5916933/explanation.pdf

Following His Footsteps

Posted by James Keller on 05/15/17 @ 1:08 AM

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21 (ESV)

There are many tours of the Holy Land that offer you a chance to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.  Many who have gone on these tours have expressed how much they have grown in their understanding of Biblical geography.  They have a newer appreciation of the New Testament and the Old Testament.  But that is not what Jesus calls us to do.

Jesus does not call us to go back to the old ways, to the old places.  No, He calls us to follow Him.  Jesus doesn’t call us to the familiar but rather to be familiar with Him.  We are not to stay around those people and places we know, but rather to go to those people who do not Him.  That is the Great Commission.  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. 20  Teach them to do everything I have commanded you. “And remember that I am always with you until the end of time” Matthew 28:18-20 (GW).  Notice that the verb in verse 19 is go, not stay.  Jesus did not stay, but He went.  He did not stay in heaven, but He came to earth.  Why did He come? 28  It's the same way with the Son of Man. He didn't come so that others could serve him. He came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many people. Matthew 20:28 (GW)

Jesus came to serve.  He came to save.  He came to give up His life for us.  Peter tells us in our memory verse that we are to follow in His steps, following the One who leaves the place of comforts, following the One who serves, following the One who suffers, following the One who dies for us.  Following is not easy.  But it is rewarding.  Following His example means living the way He lives, doing the things He does, and being with the people He is with. 

Being a Christian is not walking an aisle, making a promise, memorizing a book or even performing a rite.  Being a Christian is following Jesus.  It is a way a of life.  It is living differently than the world.  It is living in the footsteps of Jesus.  Being a Christian is literally being a little Christ.  It is a good thing that Jesus does not leave us alone. We follow in His footsteps.  He leads.  But He also walks beside us and even carries us. 

When Jesus calls us to follow Him, he literally means follow, with our entire being, our entire life, all that we have.  But if we keep our eyes on Jesus, we will be able to walk in His footsteps.  And the world will never be the same!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Devoted

Posted by James Keller on 05/08/17 @ 2:08 AM

Acts 2:42 (GW)
42  The disciples were devoted to the teachings of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.

What are you devoted to?  Some people are devoted to their pets.  Others are devoted to sports teams.  But as followers of Jesus we are to be devoted to the teaching of the apostles, the fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and to prayer. Let’s take a moment to look more closely at these four things.

The Teachings of the Apostles -  This is simply the Bible.  The apostles’ teachings can all be found in the Bible.  What does it mean to be devoted to the Bible?  It means to make Bible reading, study and learning a priority.  Each day you should set aside time to read your Bible.  You should be involved in a Bible study.  We at New Life call these small groups.  We offer small group Bible studies throughout the year.  We encourage you weekly to read a chapter of the Bible.  We encourage you to memorize a Bible verse each week.  Your pastors at New Life try very hard to include many Bible verses in the sermons.  We try very hard to explain these verses and show how they apply to your everyday life.  The Bible is a living and breathing thing.  It is not a cold dead book.  Rather it is the very word of God.  God speaks to us personally through His word.  His word still applies to us today.  Hebrews 4:12 (GW) 12  God's word is living and active. It is sharper than any two-edged sword and cuts as deep as the place where soul and spirit meet, the place where joints and marrow meet. God's word judges a person's thoughts and intentions.

Fellowship – This includes worshipping together.  It also includes just spending time together.  Every week we gather for worship.  We also have ties when we can just be together.  Times of sharing food, laughter and friendship.  As followers of Jesus we should want to be together.  We should want to spend time with each other.  We should enjoy each other’s company.  We should be concerned about each other.  We should look out for each other. Galatians 6:2 (GW) 2  Help carry each other's burdens. In this way you will follow Christ's teachings.

The Breaking of Bread – This is referring to the Lord’s Supper.  Here is the meal we share together, the meal that strengthens our faith.  This meal provides us the supernatural strength to go out into the world and live out our faith.  1 Corinthians 10:16-17 (GW) 16  When we bless the cup of blessing aren't we sharing in the blood of Christ? When we break the bread aren't we sharing in the body of Christ? 17  Because there is one loaf, we are one body, although we are many individuals. All of us share one loaf.

Prayer – This is simply talking with God.  We talk with God about whatever is on our hearts.  If we are truly devoted to the first three things, these are the things we will be talking with God about. If we are truly devoted to these things, we will be talking with God on behalf of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  We will be crying out to god on behalf of these who do not know Jesus, who are not part of our fellowship.  We will be concerned about the things that God is concerned about. Ephesians 6:18 (GW) 18  Pray in the Spirit in every situation. Use every kind of prayer and request there is. For the same reason be alert. Use every kind of effort and make every kind of request for all of God's people.

What would it look like if our church, every member, was devoted to these four things?  Wouldn’t you want to be a part of church like that?  Let us encourage each other to be devoted to these things.  Let us not stop until we are!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

P.S.  What can New Life be doing to help you to be devoted?

Two Words

Posted by James Keller on 04/30/17 @ 11:14 PM

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Peter 1:8-9 (ESV)

There are two key words in this verse that describe the life of a follower of Jesus.  Or at least they should describe the life of the follower of Jesus.  What are these two words?  Love and Joy.

A follower of Jesus is one who loves.  First, we love Jesus.  We love Jesus because of His great love for us.  Our love for Jesus then is demonstrated by our love for others.  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. 11  Dear friends, if this is the way God loved us, we must also love each other. 1 John 4:10-11 (GW)

Our lives as followers of Jesus should be marked by love.  When people describe you, do they describe you as a person who loves others?  If not, why not?  God has proven His love for us by sending us Jesus.  He has filled us with the Holy Spirit.  This means that we have God living inside us.  God can’t go against His character.  16  We have known and believed that God loves us. God is love. Those who live in God's love live in God, and God lives in them. 1 John 4:16 (GW)  If God’s character is love, we as His children, as temples of the Living God, should also have characters of love.  To say, “That is not who I am”  is really saying, “I am not God’s child.”  God’s love is so great that if you really are filled with Him, you can’t help but love.  To not love would go against your very being. 

Secondly, we are joyful people.  There is a difference between having joy and being happy.  Happiness is a moment by moment feeling.  Joy is much deeper.  Joy can transcend sorrow.  Joy can be found even in suffering.  12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 1 Peter 4:12-13 (ESV)

Being joyful doesn’t mean that we walk around with a fake smile on our faces.  Being joyful does have to do with our outlook on life.  We see God’s joy in His creation.  We take joy in doing God’s will.  We rejoice in our salvation while at the same time grieving over our sin. 

We enjoy life, but we are not attached to life to the point of forsaking Jesus.  Our true joy comes from Jesus.  Our joy is not based on externals but on the eternal One.  External happiness is fleeting.  Jesus is forever! 

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

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?

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