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Both And

Posted by James Keller on 09/04/16 @ 8:09 AM

James 2:18 (ESV) 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. 

We live in a time of either/or.  What do I mean by that?  I mean that too often we take sides when we should be embracing the middle way.  We make life a series of choices, of polar extremes.  Either you like Pepsi or Coke.  But the truth is, you can like both.

It is the same when it comes to the discussion of faith versus works.  Many people side with faith.  They think that he church should only be concerned about spiritual matters.  They think that the church should not be involved in” social” issues.  Then there is the other side who think that he church should be out in the world.  They think that he church should be about making the temporal lives of people better.  They think that the church shouldn’t be about sharing their faith verbally but only through acts of love.

These are really too opposites of the same coin.  Our bible verse for today may seem to indicate the second view.  But actually James advocates faith that is demonstrated through acts of love and is verbal in sharing the good news.  It is not an either or situation but rather a both and situation. 

Our lives together at New Life are marked by times of worship, but they are also marked by acts of love for each other.  We take care of each other. But these acts of love must not and cannot be limited to just those inside our fellowship.  We must carry out our love for Jesus outside the walls of New Life.  But acts of love without the words of love (witness to Jesus) are powerless to truly change lives.  Let us evaluate all of our activities and outreaches to make sure that they are both and not either or.

Christ’s slave,

 Pastor jim

A Heart Like God’s

Posted by James Keller on 08/25/16 @ 1:25 PM

Philippians 2:13 (GW)
13  It is God who produces in you the desires and actions that please him.

 “I always knew there were homeless in Fort Wayne,” Sharon began.  “But I never thought I would care so much!”  Tears were now streaming down her face.  It was clear that God had worked on her heart.  She was now desiring the things that God desires.  She was now desiring mercy and compassion for the least, the last and the lost.  Sharon’s heart was breaking for the same people that broke Jesus’ heart.  Jesus was moved to compassion for them.  He saw them as “sheep without a shepherd.”  He loved them and met them where they were.  He loved them to the point of death.

Our verse for this last week tells us that God produces the desires that lead to the actions that please him.  Compassion for the poor and homeless are among those desires.  I look forward to seeing the action that comes from it.  I know New Life will be a better place because of it.

 Christ’s slave,

 

Pastor jim

Cursed

Posted by James Keller on 08/22/16 @ 12:25 AM

Galatians 3:13 (GW)
13  Christ paid the price to free us from the curse that God's laws bring by becoming cursed instead of us. Scripture says, “Everyone who is hung on a tree is cursed.”

 What we might call a string of “bad luck” here in America, is viewed much more sinisterly in Burma.  Many people in Burma would see this as sign that someone was cursed.  The person experiencing this curse would seek out a Nat Kadaw (a spirit wife).  We would call this person a medium.  The Nat Kadaw would perform a ritual involving rhythmic dancing in order to become possessed by a familiar spirit.  Then the person would proceed with another ritual in order to determine who or what had placed the curse upon the person.  The Nat Kadaw would then tell the person what he needed to do in order to appease the entity that placed the curse upon him.

 Our memory verse for last week tells us that we are placed under the curse of the law.  This curse says that you and I must keep all of the law perfectly all of the time or else we will be sent to hell.  The curse of the law is constantly pointing an accusing finger at us because you and I have not and cannot keep this law perfectly at all.  But unlike the Nat Kadaw, Jesus does not tell us what we must do in order to lift the curse.  Instead Jesus takes the curse upon himself.  This is unheard of.  No Nat Kadaw would ever take a curse upon himself.  Jesus knows that the curse is too strong for us to break on our own.  So he willingly becomes cursed on our behalf.  He transfers the curse of the law from our bodies and places it upon his body. The effects of the curse he experiences by being nailed to the cross.

 You and I are now free from the curse of the law.  But more than just being curse free, we are now blessed.  Jesus blesses us with a new relationship with God.  We no longer are cursed objects of his wrath but are now dear children whom he loves. 

 Christ’s slave,

 Pastor jim

Believe and Confess

Posted by James Keller on 08/14/16 @ 12:46 AM

10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Romans 10:10 (ESV)

For years the culture in America said there were two things that were to be kept private: politics and faith.  These were things we were not supposed to talk about.  We were supposed to keep our views private.  If we did talk about them, we were not supposed to argue about them.  We were not supposed to try to push our viewpoint onto others.

The 2016 presidential election has certainly brought politics out of the private realm and into the public.   It seems that wherever I go, I am asked who I will vote for.  I also get to hear the opinions people have about the candidates.  I don’t ask them to tell me; they just really want to tell me.

Our memory verse for this week says that faith starts in our hearts.  For with the heart one believes and is justified.  To be justified means that God declares us “not guilty.”  Because of Jesus’ work on the cross for our sins, we are forgiven.  Our sin debt has been paid for.  God declares us not guilty of sin because the penalty has been paid.  God does the work, not us.  God also is the one who gives us the faith to accept Jesus’ work of justification for us.  This is a private matter between us and God. 

But faith is never really private.  It starts privately between the individual and God, but faith is lived out publicly.  If your faith does not affect the way you live, you really don’t have faith.  How do you know if you are saved? and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  Faith leads to action, to confession.  You ae either confessing your faith by how you live or using your words to tell others about Jesus.  Really the two go together.  You confess your faith in Jesus by living more like Jesus, and you also tell others about Jesus.

Your faith can’t be kept private.  It will move you to action and speaking.  My neighbors all know that I am a pastor.  They found this out by watching our house.  They asked me why we have so many people always coming to our house.  I tell them that we are holding Bible study.  They ask me what my job is.  I tell them I am a pastor.  Now when I talk to them, our conversations naturally flow toward faith.  I am not usually the one to move the talk that way; they are.  They want to share with me what they believe.  Then they pause and wait for me to either reaffirm them or tell them what God says in the Bible.  They are not ready to come to church yet.  But each time I try to invite them to church or to a special event we are having.  Inviting them to join us for worship at Camp Lutherhaven and spend the day at the lake on Labor Day Sunday is promising.  It doesn’t really sound like church, and the prospect of swimming, boating, and fishing is alluring.

How are you doing when it comes to believing in your heart and confessing with your mouth?  One simple thing you can do is start your day off with this prayer: Dear Jesus, who do you want me to share my faith with today?  Help me to live and confess my faith and love for you.  Amen.

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Miserable Sinner

Posted by James Keller on 08/05/16 @ 10:54 PM

Romans 7:24-25 (GW) 24  What a miserable person I am! Who will rescue me from my dying body? 25  I thank God that our Lord Jesus Christ rescues me!

A few years ago I was talking to a student at Concordia Lutheran High School.  We were talking about some of the teachers that he had and that I had had when I was a student there years before.  I was telling him some of the things I had done as a student.  He looked at me and asked, “Why is it that all the trouble makers grow up to be pastors?”  I answered, “Because we understand God’s grace and forgiveness better than most.”

Being a pastor in the town I grew up in has its advantages.  But it also has its disadvantages.  One is that I am always meeting someone who knew me growing up.  I meet old Sunday School teachers, librarians, and bus drivers of mine.  When I meet them I have to shake their hands and say, “I am really sorry. I hope you can forgive me.  I have changed, I hope!”

When I think back on some of my exploits, I am really quite ashamed.  How could I have been so naughty?  The truth is, even as a pastor, I am not free from sin.  I still say things that are not very “pastory.”  I still do things I shouldn’t.  I still have to ask for forgiveness.  But the difference is that I don’t trust in myself anymore.  I trust in Jesus who forgives me.  I understand that there really is nothing good in me.  I understand that I deserve hell.  But I throw myself on God’s mercy. 

I am forgiven, not because I deserve it or earn it.  I am forgiven because Jesus loves me.  Jesus loves me enough to take my sin upon Himself.  He loves me enough to suffer the pangs of hell for me so I don’t have to.  He loves me enough to pay the penalty for my sins.  He loves me enough to die for me.  He loves me enough to defeat death and the grave for me.  In other words, Jesus loves me enough to rescue me from myself.  Jesus also loves you that much.  He loves you enough to take your sins upon Himself.  He loves you enough to suffer the pangs of hell for you.  He loves you enough to pay the penalty for your sins.  He loves you enough to die for you.  He loves you enough to defeat death and the grave for you.  In other words, Jesus loves you enough to rescue you from yourself!

You and I are poor miserable sinners.  But the Good News is that we are loved unconditionally by the God who saves us!  Because of this great love God has for me, I now want to serve Him and share this good news with others.  Won’t you join me in telling others about His love?

 Christ’s slave,

 Pastor jim

 

The Line in the Sand

Posted by James Keller on 07/31/16 @ 8:15 AM

Proverbs 14:16 (GW) 16  A wise person is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is careless and overconfident.  

 When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray these words, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  Here we call sin trespassing.  The Bible has many words that describe sin.  Trespassing is one of those words.  To trespass means to go into an area where we don’t belong.  I like to think of it as a line of sin drawn in the sand.  As long as you stay on this side of the line, you are fine.  But the moment you cross the line of sin, you have trespassed; you have sinned.

Proverbs 14:16 tells us that a wise person stays as far away from the line in the sand as he can.  But a fool plays as near to the line as he can.  The result: a wise person keeps from trespassing, but a fool finds himself on the wrong side of the line.

 Last week was our Day Camp program at Camp Lutherhaven.  We partner with the camp to hold this program.  High School youth from all over come to camp for this servant event.  We bus up 50+ Burmese children to partner up with the youth.  The youth act as their buddies for the week.  The youth take them all over camp.  They give these children a camp experience except for the overnight stay.  These teenagers also show the love of Jesus to these Burmese children, most of whom do not come from a Christian home.

The very first day we arrived we started to buddy up the high school youth and the children we brought.  We told all the children to stay together.  We told them to get to know their buddies by playing with them as we waited for the last van to arrive.  Suddenly I heard one of the teenage buddies calling after his Burmese buddy.  This Burmese boy was running up the hill, ignoring his buddy. The buddy ran after him.  I also ran up the hill. I caught up with them just as the buddy told this Burmese boy, “You need to stay with the group, ok?”  However, the Burmese boy was determined to head off on his own.  He was pulling against the buddy’s arm trying to get away.

I stepped in and said, “I have a car here that can take you home if you don’t obey the rules.”  He looked at me, then looked at his buddy.  “That’s right,” said the buddy.  The boy took his buddy’s hand and walked back to the group. He had crossed the line.  He was trespassing.  But his buddy brought him back.

I am happy to report that he didn’t get sent home.  His buddy was able to be with him the whole week. His buddy brought him back away from the line many times that week. 

 Jesus is like that buddy.  Jesus sees us dancing by the line of sin in the sand.  He calls us to move away from the line.  When we dance over the line, He comes to find us and to bring us back to where it is safe.  He also pays the ultimate price for our trespassing.  A fool tries to break free of His nail scarred hand and run away.  But a wise person holds His hand tightly and walks away without looking back at the line in the sand.

 Christ’s slave,

 

Pastor jim

Submit first, Then Defeat!

Posted by James Keller on 07/24/16 @ 12:50 AM

James 4:7 (ESV) Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

May people know our memory verse for this last week.  But most people only remember the last part of the verse.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  The problem, of course, is that the devil is not afraid of you.  You and I are not powerful enough to resist the devil on our own.  In fact, when we try to resist on your own, we may have some success, but it is only the devil setting us up for a greater fall.

We forget the first part of this verse which is that we must first submit ourselves to God.  What does that mean?  It means that we need to place ourselves totally under the authority of God.  Only when we rely on God fully in all areas of our lives will we be able to resist the devil.  The devil will flee from us because it is not us who are standing before him but rather Christ who is living in us and through us.

When we fail to submit to God fully, we try to do things on our own.  That is when we are most vulnerable to the devil and his attacks.

 This past week I was sitting at a playground.  A car pulled up across the street from me.  In the front was a mother talking on her cell phone.  In the back of the car was a toddler.  The toddler looked out the window and saw the children playing in the playground.  He wanted to join them.  In fact, that is why his mother brought him to the playground.

He couldn’t wait for his mother to get out of the car, so he opened his door and got out.  He began to walk across the street.  That is when I saw the car coming toward him.  He was unaware of the danger.  He thought he could walk across the street on his own.  He was not submitting to his mother. 

When we think we can do something on our own without submitting to God first, we are like the toddler.  We may think that we are safe to act on our own.  But the devil is like a speeding car that comes out of nowhere.  His intent is to always kill us.  He will not slow down or stop.  In fact, he will probably run us over and then back over us again!

Even the simplest action should be done while submitting to God.  The devil is always looking for an opportunity to attack us. 

What would your life look like if you submitted every part of it to God?  It may be scary to think about doing that, but think for a moment what God could do with your life.  How would you be living differently if you did?

 One way to start submitting each aspect of your life to God is to start each action with prayer.  It doesn’t have to be a long prayer.  It could be just this simple prayer: “Jesus, show me what you want me to do about this.”  It will seem strange at first, but as time goes on, you will get better at praying this prayer and listening to what God answers!

 Christ’s slave,

 

Pastor jim

 P.S.  The car saw the little boy and slowed to a stop as I jumped up, yelled, “Car” and scooped the toddler out of harm’s way.  I kissed the child on the forehead and set him down in the park.  He ran off to play. Thank You, Jesus!

 

Kingdom versus Domain

Posted by James Keller on 07/16/16 @ 9:52 PM

Colossians 1:13-14 (ESV) 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 When I was a seminary student, two classmates and I started a worship service at a retirement center.  The residents were quite old.  Many of them had been members of churches but had stopped attending years ago.  These people were waiting for God yet afraid to meet him.  Why were they afraid?  Because they were carrying around years of guilt.  They knew they were not good enough to enter heaven.  They knew they didn’t deserve God’s mercy.  They were burdened with guilt.  They were living in the domain of darkness.  But each week we would start the service out with a time of public confession of sins.  Then when one of us would announce the forgiveness of sins, one could actually see the people sit up straighter in their chairs as if a great burden had been lifted from their shoulders – because it had!  The weight of their sin was removed.  They were being delivered from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son.  This transfer took place because of grace – God’s undeserved love for them as found only in Christ.  Suddenly they were no longer afraid of meeting God but eager to be with their Savior!

Each week we can experience the same thing at New Life.  Each week we hear how much God loves us, not based on what we do or will do, but based on God’s love for us.  The burden is lifted.  We no longer need to live in the domain of darkness.  We can actually live in the kingdom of his beloved son as His children!

 While I helped to lead this worship service at the retirement center, many staff and family members commented on the change in the residents.  They could visibly see a difference in how they lived out their final years. 

 That is still true today.  Linda Merino once told me that before she knew Larry was a follower of Jesus, she was afraid of him.  She knew something was different about him. 

 Before Timothy publicly declared his faith in Jesus, friends and family members commented on how he was different.

 Think how different a person’s life is when he comes from a dark room into a well-lit room.  He may blink a bit at the brightness.  But he is eager to look around and see what he has been missing. 

 When people come to faith in Jesus, it is like moving from darkness into light.  It is like being blind but now being able to see. 

 Are people seeing the difference Jesus makes in your life?  Are you still living as if you were under the domain of darkness? 

 If you are having a difficult time living in the kingdom of his beloved Son rather than the domain of darkness, try these simple steps:

1)      Ask Jesus to deliver you from the darkness into his kingdom.

2)      Start your day out with a time of prayer and Bible reading. It doesn’t have to be long.  Remember, marathon runners don’t start out running 26 miles.  They build themselves up to it.

3)      Remind yourself throughout the day that you are no longer under the domain of darkness but that you are a child of the kingdom!

  Christ’s slave,

           Pastor jim

We Will Serve the Lord

Posted by James Keller on 07/07/16 @ 7:03 PM

Joshua 24:15b (ESV) But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

 The visitors were on their way home from a trip to Washington, DC, and New York.  They stopped at house to say “Hello” before heading home to Kentucky.  These former refugees were now US citizens and private business owners.  They had been initially resettled in Fort Wayne.  They were among the first Burmese that we had struck up a friendship with over 17 years ago.  They had been instrumental in New Life starting a Burmese worship service.  Yet they remained Buddhist.

 One of the first questions they asked us was, “How are Grandma and Grandpa?”  Grandpa is also known as “Apo” in the Burmese community.  Apo means grandpa in Burmese.  Many Burmese children learned to call him Apo over the years.  Grandma is grandma to so many Burmese children and non-Burmese children.  Apo and Grandma pray for their “grandchildren,” they welcome them into their house; they feed them; they care for them; they love them.

 How is it possible for a small town farming couple to love on such a diverse group of people?  On August 11, 1963, Dick and Lois stood in a country church exchanging promises to be faithful to each other until death should part them.  They chose as the text for their marriage sermon Joshua 24:15.  They wanted to make their house and their family to be God’s house and family.  They have spent their lives in service to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  When children were born to them, they brought these children to church.  They brought these children to the baptismal font and set them apart for Jesus.  They taught their children early on about the goodness of God.  They taught them about God’s love, forgiveness and purpose in their lives.

 They have served Jesus faithfully over the years, sometimes very noticeably but more often in the background.  Grandma served as a nurse in different assisted living situations.  She would often pray with her patients, bringing God’s comfort to those who were dying.  Apo served as an elder in three different churches!

 They came to New Life on a one year loan from another church.  Their role was to help their daughter wrangle her growing family during the worship services while their son-in-law preached.  They caught the vision of New Life: Serving the Least, the Last, the Lost with Christ’s love to grow Christ’s kingdom.  They stayed on past their one year.  They served in the background.  Apo drove the New Life van to pick up Burmese children for various events.  It was there behind the wheel of the van as he greeted each child in the name of Jesus that he was given the name “Apo.”  Grandma can be found in the Fellowship Hall between services.  She greets everyone with a cup of noodles, some crackers, peanut butter and pitcher of cold water.

 Do you want to see what Joshua 24:15b looks like in someone’s life?  Look at Grandma and Apo.  But they are not the only ones at our church living this way.  New Life is blessed to have many Grandmas and Grandpas, aunts and uncles, big brothers and sisters who are all serving the Lord.  Some serve in upfront ways, but many serve quietly behind the scenes.  But all are striving to dedicate their house, their church, and their lives to serving the Lord. 

 What is keeping you from not only saying the words of Joshua 24:15b but also living them?  Try these simple steps today:

 1) Memorize Joshua 24:15b.  Say these words each day when you get out of bed.  Begin your day thinking, “How do you want me to serve you today, Lord?”

 2) Look for ways to serve Jesus at New Life.  If you need help finding your place to serve, talk to Pastor Dave or me.  Or better yet seek out a grandma and grandpa at New Life and ask to join them in serving Jesus.   

 Christ’s slave,

 Pastor jim

Walk by the Spirit

Posted by James Keller on 07/02/16 @ 11:55 PM

Galatians 5:16 (ESV) 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

 There is no such thing as a “Lone Ranger” Christian.  We are called by God to be His children.  Children are placed in families.  Often we call these families, “Church.”  It is much easier to live out our lives of faith in a group rather than alone.  Walking together as God’s people is much easier to walk by the spirit.  We can encourage, admonish and strengthen each other.

 Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a little book called Life Together that talks about the joys of living out our faith together.

 Bonhoeffer wrote:

 “The Physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer….The believer feels no shame, as though he were still living too much in the flesh, when he yearns for the physical presence of other Christians.”

 Bonhoeffer defines the Christian community as “community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ…What does this mean?  It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ.  It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ.  It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.”

 

 I highly recommend this little book for your reading.  It can help you to see what our life together as a church should be.  We are to be more than just a Sunday time of worship!

 I was able to experience this life together over the past two weeks.  We hosted different groups from different churches who were partnering with LAMB to reach the Burmese Buddhists and Muslims living in Fort Wayne.  These groups stayed at a local church.  The policy of the church was that a local pastor needed to stay with them.  That meant that I spent the night at the church with them.  We started each day with Bible study.  We studied what it meant to be a new creation in Christ. (If you would like a copy of these studies, just e-mail me and I will send you a pdf.)  Next, we went out to some apartment complexes to build relationships and share our faith in Christ.  Then we went to a local Lutheran school to help them get ready for the new school year.  We washed windows, moved furniture and even cut out game pieces for educational games.  It was manual labor, but we were doing it out of our love for Jesus.  We were serving Jesus with our hands.  We ended each day with a time of worship and devotion. It is hard to give into your flesh when you are living in such a spiritual environment.

 How tragic if we left this time and went back to our normal lives and only fondly looked back on this time together!  This time together was meant to strengthen us but also to show us what life can be like.  True, great distances separate most of us.  But God has placed us in local contexts where we can still carry out these activities.  We can still start out our day in Bible study and personal devotion.  We can even gather with others to do this.  We can look for opportunities each day to share our faith with others.  We can carry out our daily tasks, whether in the home or in the workplace as the hands and feet of Jesus.  We can still end our day in worship and devotion.  Some of us have families at home that we can do this with.  Others of us go to empty homes and apartments.  But we can gather as God’s people to experience life together.  If not daily, then we should gather as often as we are able. 

 This is my vision (and I think Christ’s as well) for our church: people gathering daily for prayer and fellowship at our church, in their homes and in our community, all of us encouraging each other, strengthening each other and even admonishing each other all in the name and love of Jesus.  To make this vision a reality, it will take all of us figuring out how to live Life Together for Jesus!

 Christ’s slave,

 Pastor jim

Jane Miller said...

Posted on 07/27/16 @ 11:12 PM -
Thank you for this sharing, Jim! Many years ago we read Bonhoefer's LIFE TOGETHER and were very much moved by it! So your applying it to this story about the Summer ministry teams was very meaningful! Yours is a very special church and ministry and an example to us all!
In Jesus,
Bob& Jane Miller

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