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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?

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

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