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Wearing Jesus

Posted by James Keller on 11/14/16 @ 12:53 AM

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

There is a saying that “Clothes make the man.”  Our Bible verse for this last week says that clothes make us free.  When we put on Christ we are free from sin.  Free from death.  Free from fear.  How does that work?

Baptism connects us to Jesus.  It connects us to his death on the cross.  It connects us to his burial.  It connects us to his resurrection.  When we are baptized, we are covered with Jesus.  Have you ever put on a religious t-shirt and went to the store?  Maybe while you were at the store you were tempted to be impatient, rude or unkind.  But then you remember you are wearing a religious t-shirt.  How would it look to others to see you in that religious t-shirt pitching a fit over something?  That thought stops you from acting out on our thoughts and feelings. 

Galatians 3:27 reminds us that wherever we are, if we have been baptized we are wearing something better than a religious t-shirt.  We are wearing Jesus.  This thought should stop us in our tracks.  “Do I really want people to see me doing this while I am wearing Jesus?”  It is when we forget that we wear Jesus that our sinful nature reigns.  But our baptism is good for all eternity.  When we forget that we are wearing Jesus, we need to ask for forgiveness, confident in the fact that our sins have been washed away in the waters of Baptism.  Not because we deserve to have them washed away.  Not because we can do something to earn our forgiveness.  But because Baptism ties us to Jesus’ death on the cross, the one place where are sins are paid for.

Remember your baptism!  Remember, you are wearing Jesus!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Can’t be Shaken

Posted by James Keller on 11/07/16 @ 12:42 AM

28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe Hebrews 12:28 (ESV)

Many people are worried about the upcoming elections.  People are prophesying doom and destruction if their candidate is not elected.  But the writer to the Hebrews reminds us that we have a kingdom that cannot be shaken.  What is that kingdom?  God’s kingdom.  No matter who wins or loses in any of the elections that take place this Tuesday or in the future, God’s kingdom will last and cannot be shaken.  WE who are followers of Jesus are members of that kingdom.  Our place is assured.  Our inheritance is secured.  Not matter what happens on Tuesday, God is still on the throne.  That is reason enough for us to worship Him with reverence and awe!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

3 Responses When God Rescues Us.

Posted by James Keller on 10/31/16 @ 12:32 AM

Psalm 50:15 (GW)
15  Call on me in times of trouble. I will rescue you, and you will honor me.

This verse seems simple enough.  But really, there are three responses that we can make when God rescues us.

1)       We ignore the fact that God has rescued us.  We think that it was blind luck that got us out of trouble.  Or we think that our ingenuity paid off.  This response is the one that simply refuses to acknowledge that God was involved in our rescue, even if we did call upon Him and ask him for help.  What happens when we do this?  The next time we call on God for help, he may refuse to answer or help us.  Why should he?  We were ungrateful at best and denying his ability at worst.  If we don’t really trust God to help us (or give Him the credit when he does), why do we get so angry with Him when he doesn’t help?   The good news is that God is merciful and will often help us even when we don’t deserve it (which really is all the time).    God’s grace, His undeserved love for us, is just that undeserved.  But the danger is when we take that grace for granted.  When we turn grace into law, “God you have to help me because if you don’t then you really don’t love me.”  We demand His help while denying him the credit for helping.  That is pretty messed up!

2)      We acknowledge that God has helped us but we turn around and start complaining or worrying about the next big trouble that may come our way.  “Thanks God for taking care of this today, but don’t forget I may be in trouble next week.  That is what I am really concerned about.”  If you think about it, that is really a back handed thank you.  We should be rejoicing that we were rescued today.  In fact, the trouble we are worried about for next week (or even tomorrow) may never happen.  Why should we cry to God for help over a problem we don’t have yet?  That almost sounds like the little boy who cried wolf.  Instead of worrying about what might happened, let us rejoice over how God did rescue us today.  Let God worry about tomorrow.  This is really the devil’s way of trying to rob God of honor and us of the joy of being rescued. 

3)      The final response is the simple meaning of the verse.  Thank God for what He has done.  Yes, we can say thank you.  But Jesus often told those whom he had helped, “Go and tell your friends and family what God has done for you.”  That is really bringing honor to God.  Telling others how God rescued you, how awesome He is, is the best way to honor him.  Go brag to your friends about God and his rescue of you!

I suppose there is a fourth response.  That is not asking God for help to begin with.  Trying to do it on your own.  To be honest, most of the trouble I find myself in is of my doing.  So, to rely on myself to get myself out of the trouble that I caused is like a drowning man trying to rescue himself.  It just doesn’t work!  Sure, there are times when the trouble I find myself in is caused by others, but again I don’t want to be the one left alone to face it and overcome it.  Isn’t it great that we have God who doesn’t leave us alone?  Isn’t that what this verse is all about?  God wants us to call on him in our troubles.  He actually wants to get involved in our mess, not to point fingers but rescue us! 

Need a hero?  Call on God!

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

 

5 Points of Keeping God’s Word Alive!

Posted by James Keller on 10/24/16 @ 8:59 AM

2 Timothy 3:16 (GW)
16  Every Scripture passage is inspired by God. All of them are useful for teaching, pointing out errors, correcting people, and training them for a life that has God's approval.

Being a pastor gives me plenty of opportunity to be in God’s word.  I study the Bible in order to write sermons, Bible studies and devotions.  The hazard is that the Bible becomes a textbook.  The Bible is more than just a “how to” manual for life.  The Bible is the living word of God.

How do I as a pastor, or anyone else avoid the trap of seeing the Bible as a textbook? Here are some things you can do to help you keep your focus on the Bible as God’s living word:

1)      Stop reading snippets of the Bible.  We like to read a verse or two at time.  We pull verses out for whatever situation we are in.  Yes, the Bible has application for our daily lives, but it is meant to be read in context.  Think of it as the difference between snacking and sitting down for a meal.  If you just snack on the Bible you will not get the full and deeper application and meaning. But if you sit down to feast on it, you will discover the many different flavors and see how the Bible fits together as a whole.

2)      Read the Bible devotionally.  I have many devotion books.  Most of them take a verse or two from the Bible, tell a short story and then try to apply that verse.  This is not what I mean by a devotional reading of the Bible.  I mean sitting down and reading a chapter or large section of the Bible at a time.  Start with prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to help you understand what you are reading.  Then read a section of scripture.  See if you can work up to reading a whole chapter at a time.

3)      Memorize scripture passages.  This might seem to go against my point one.  But as you memorize scripture passages, they will help you to understand what you are reading.  These memorized passages will also help you to see the unity of scripture.  You will discover that the passage you memorized or the principle it contains, is found elsewhere in scripture.  Memorizing scripture also has the benefit of helping you when you face temptations, uncertainties, and hard times. 

4)      Read the whole Bible.  When we read the whole Bible, we get a better understanding of the overall picture of the Bible.  We see the sweeping narrative of God’s redemptive plan.  We discover how each book in the Bible fits together as a unity.  We discover new insights reading the New Testament after we have read the Old Testament.  Most of us will not be able to sit down and read the Bible cover to cover in one sitting.  That is OK.  There are many good Bible reading plans out there. (click here for one year downloadable plan)

5)      Read the insights of others.  Many Bible scholars, pastors, teachers and others have written some wonderful books that will give you new insight into certain books of the Bible, stories of the Bible, history of the Bible and characters of the Bible.  Reading what others have discovered can enrich your own understanding.  It is true that there are some bad books out there that have flawed teaching.  You might want to ask someone you trust for a recommended reading list before you pick up a book. 

Here are a few books I have read and recommend:

  1. How to Read the Bible with Understanding by Lane A. Burgland
  2. A Man in Christ by James S. Stewart
  3. Has God Spoken? By Hank Hanegraaf
  4. Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey

What other points would you make?

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

 

 

Blind Faith?

Posted by James Keller on 10/17/16 @ 9:10 AM

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (ESV)

An old George Michaels song has a chorus that says:

“Cause I gotta have faith

Mmm I gotta have faith

Because I got to have faith-a-faith-a-faith

I gotta have faith”

(George Michaels: Faith, Columbia Records 1987)

 We live by faith.  Everyone lives by faith to be honest.  Whenever you step into an elevator you are stepping in on faith.  Whenever you get into a car you are riding in faith that the car will get you safely there.  Whenever you eat a Gas Station burrito you are eating by faith (dangerous faith often).  Our lives are lives of faith.  We have faith that we will receive a pay check for our work.  We have faith that our cell phones will work.  And the list goes on.

 What is the basis of all these acts of faith?  Experience.  We have experienced that the elevator got us safely to the top floor in the past.  But for many people who have never ridden on an elevator, they put their faith in the people who have ridden on it before.  I have taken many Burmese refugees into elevators for the first time.  Their eyes are wide open in fear.  Yet they look at me standing calmly and they trust me not to put them into potential danger.

 Very few of us ever really live by blind faith.  It is the same with our faith in Jesus.  You may have heard about Jesus.  You may have admired his teachings and stance against the authorities.  But until you experience Jesus personally, you really have no faith.  Jesus is not an idea.  He is not a role model.  He is a personal God.  He is the one who lives among us. Once you experience that, faith is not blind.  Yes, there are many proofs for the Bible. But those who have not personally experienced Jesus will always find a reason not to believe the Bible and to even doubt it. 

 Our Bible verse for last week challenges us to live out our faith in our daily lives.  We should be living as people of hope.  That hope that there is more to life than what we see and experience now.  That hope that there is something better waiting for us.  That hope that the God who created the universe actually wants to spend personal time with us, that He cares for you and me as individuals. He knows my name! 

 Living with a life of hope is living out our faith.  How does your faith, your hope impact your daily life?  How do others see that?

 Christ’s slave,

 Pastor jim

Evil Clowns and How to Defeat Them

Posted by James Keller on 10/08/16 @ 10:47 PM

2 Timothy 1:7 (GW)
7  God didn't give us a cowardly spirit but a spirit of power, love, and good judgment.

There is a clown scare going on right now.  Children are terrified that they will be captured by evil clowns on their way to the bus stop.  One child refused to use the bathroom alone in his own house for fear that the evil clowns may get him.  A mother locks her door, shuts the windows tight and refuses to let her children go outside for fear that the clowns will come into her house and get her and her family.  Another mother packed up her family’s belongings and moved in with a friend, miles away, because someone had said they saw a clown in her neighborhood.

Why are people so afraid of clowns?

Clowns don’t actually wear a mask.  Instead they paint their faces white and then apply bright make up.  The white of their faces is so much whiter than normal.  Many people and cultures associate that kind of whiteness on a face with death.  They see these clowns as dead people, ghosts or evil spirits.  The peoples from Burma have a long history of deep respect and fear of the nats.  Nats are the spirits of people who have died under terrible circumstances.  They then stay around to torment the lives of the living.  People from Burma believe that nats need to be appeased.  They will build small “nat houses” for them and offer them food and drink.  People can summon these nats to live for a short time in their own bodies.  We would call these individuals mediums.  Many people seek out these mediums for advice and help.

The peoples from Burma understand that our world is made up of more than the eye can see.  They understand that there is a spiritual realm that we often don’t see, yet it affects us.  Americans have been obsessed with this spiritual realm for years.  It is gloried in media.  Ghost hunting has become popular.  Zombie movies and television shows depicting the undead walking among us are a popular theme.  Americans are fascinated with death but especially those things that seem to defy death.

We are now in the month of October.  At the end of October is the celebration of Halloween.  I don’t have the time to go into the history of this celebration.  Google it and you will find out how this celebration came about.  Our current culture celebrates Halloween as a spooky time of fun.  We try to outdo each other in our scary and macabre costumes.  We decorate our houses in creepiness.  Is it any wonder that this evil clown scare started during this month of all months?

 What are you to do about evil clowns?

Our Bible verse for this past week tells us what we should do about this.

2 Timothy 1:7 (GW) 

7  God didn't give us a cowardly spirit but a spirit of power, love, and good judgment.

1)  God does not want us to live in fear.  Yes, we should live in a healthy, respectful fear of God but not of what might or might not happen.  I am sure that there are some wicked people who will take advantage of this evil clown scare.  But God doesn’t want you to be scared of evil spirits.  Why?  Because Jesus is stronger than evil spirits.  If you follow Jesus, you don’t need to fear the evil spirits.  Jesus proved Himself stronger than evil spirits throughout the four Gospels.  Whenever He was confronted by a person who had an evil spirit, He set that person free.  How did He do it?  Simply by commanding the evil spirit to leave.  Jesus never called on a higher power.  He never bargained with the evil spirit.  He simply told the evil spirit to leave. (See Mark 1:21-28.) Jesus also proved himself stronger than an army of evil spirits when He cast out Legion from the man who lived in the cemetery. (See Mark 5:1-20.)

If you have Jesus on your side, you really don’t need to fear evil spirits.  They need to fear Jesus who is with you!

2)  2 Timothy 1:7 tells us that instead of a cowardly spirit, Jesus gives us a spirit of power.  The disciples were given the authority to cast out evil spirits in the name of Jesus. (See Mark 3:13-15.) Notice the power was not their own; rather, it was power given to them by Jesus and in the name of Jesus.  This power only belongs to the followers of Jesus.  If you are not a follower of Jesus, you cannot use the name of Jesus to cast out spirits or be protected from them. (See what happened to the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19:13-16.)

If you have Jesus standing with you and giving you some of His power, you really don’t need to be afraid of evil spirits or evil clowns.  In fact, when you rely on the power of Jesus, fear leaves.  Why? 1 John 4:18 (GW)18  No fear exists where his love is. Rather, perfect love gets rid of fear, because fear involves punishment. The person who lives in fear doesn't have perfect love. It is not that our love is perfect but rather Jesus’ love for us is perfect.  He loves you enough to take your sins upon Himself.  He loves you enough to take your place on the cross.  He loves you enough to pay the price of hell for your sins so that you would not have to.  He loves you enough to defeat death by rising from the dead, never to die again.  He loves you enough to want to spend an eternity with you.  If Jesus loves you that much, will He leave you to the fear of evil spirits or evil clowns?  Of course not!  The same Jesus who loves you enough to die for you still loves you.  The same Jesus who set you free from your sins will set you free from your fear. 

I always thought that when the day came that I was confronted with a person who was demon possessed, I would wet my pants.  But what actually happened was quite different.  My first reaction was disbelief.  I thought someone was playing a joke on me.  When I realized that this person was in fact possessed by an evil spirit, I felt strangely calm.  Why?  Because I trusted Jesus.  I knew that I did not have the power on my own to face this demon.  But I was not alone.  I was unsure what I should do.  But I knew I need to pray.  So that is what I did.  I simply kept praying to Jesus and asking Him to cast out the evil spirit.  I am far from being the poster child of a follower of Jesus.  I am far from being a perfect person.  But that is OK.  I don’t have to be.  Jesus is.  You may not be perfect.  That’s is OK.  Jesus came for imperfect people.  You may not feel strong.  That is OK.  Jesus is strong enough.  Don’t rely on yourself.  Rely on Jesus!

3) 2 Timothy 1:7 also says that God gives us a spirit of love.  We are filled with the love that Jesus has for us. That love in turn motivates us to love others.  Clowns also need to know about the love of Jesus.  So do our family members, our neighbors, our friends, our classmates, our   co-workers, and the grumpy old man at the nursing home.  We don’t tell them about Jesus in order to get Jesus’ love.  We tell them about Jesus because we have Jesus’ love.  We are motivated by love, not by fear.  Love is much stronger than fear.

4)  Finally, we are also told that we are given a spirit of good judgment.  If you think about it, fear clouds our judgment.  We make bad choices because we are afraid.  When fear is removed, we can think clearly.  If you know that evil clowns are living in the deep woods by a pond waiting to eat you, don’t go into the deep woods and certainly don’t go near the pond! Good judgment tells us not to go with strangers regardless of what kind of makeup they are wearing.  Good judgment tells us we are safer if we stay in a group.  Good judgment tells us not to wander off alone.  Good judgment tells us to be aware of our surroundings. 

What do you do if you have a problem of making poor judgment decisions?   James 1:5 (GW) 5  If any of you needs wisdom to know what you should do, you should ask God, and he will give it to you. God is generous to everyone and doesn't find fault with them. There are certain things that Jesus always promises to give us if we ask Him.  One of those things is wisdom.  What would happen if you ask Jesus for wisdom regarding every decision and action you make?  What would happen if you actually listened for His answer?   Luke 11:9-10 (GW) 9  “So I tell you to ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10  Everyone who asks will receive. The one who searches will find, and for the person who knocks, the door will be opened.

Stop living in fear.  Live in the power of Jesus’ name!  Live in the power of Jesus’ love! Live in the wisdom that comes from Jesus!

2 Timothy 1:7 (GW) 

7  God didn't give us a cowardly spirit but a spirit of power, love, and good judgment.

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

Suffering Through Temptation

Posted by James Keller on 10/03/16 @ 1:37 PM

1 Peter 5:9 (GW)
9  Be firm in the faith and resist him, knowing that other believers throughout the world are going through the same kind of suffering.

No one likes to suffer.  Even Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “If it is possible take this cup {of suffering} away from me.” (See Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42).  I find it interesting that Peter calls the act of resisting temptation suffering.

But it really is a form of suffering isn’t it?  You are tempted to do something.  It seems that your very being is craving whatever the temptation is.  Perhaps you are even trembling.  You are agitated.  The temptation consumes your thinking.  To give in to the temptation would bring such a relief – for a short time.  You see there will come greater suffering.  Not only will we suffer the guilt and shame of giving in to the temptation but the next time the temptation comes it will be even more intense.

That is what we need to remember while we are suffering through this temptation.  The pain and suffering that will follow if we give in.  But often this knowledge is not enough.  We just want the temptation to stop. 

That is why Peter first tells us to stand firm in our faith.  Our faith is in Christ.  We must stand firm in Christ.  We must let Christ stand firm in us.  Then Peter tells us that we should remember that there are other followers of Jesus who are also going through this kind of suffering.  We are not alone.  God puts us into spiritual families so that we can walk with each other through these sufferings.  It is comforting to know that we are not alone.  It is comforting to know that someone else is also suffering as we do.  It is not only comforting but also encouraging to know that someone else has suffered this temptation and has overcome it by the power of Christ.

In our church we have a picture on the wall of Galatians 6:2.  It shows a long line of people.  Each person is carrying a burden.  But the person behind them is helping to hold up their burden even while carrying their own burden.  This is what Peter is talking about in 1 Peter 5:9. Each of us helping our brother and sister in Christ who is struggling suffering with temptation even while we suffer. 

The joy comes when the temptation passes and we have not given in to it.  We are then like the first time marathon runner who struggles to cross the finish line.  Triumphantly we hold up our hands towards Christ in victory!

Christ's slave,

Pastor jim

Baptism Again!?

Posted by James Keller on 09/26/16 @ 12:06 AM

Titus 3:5 (ESV) he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,

Did you ever wonder why we talk so much about baptism at New Life?  Why are we so excited about people getting baptized?  The reason is simple.  Baptism is God’s work.  God does some amazing things through baptism.  A person who is baptized moves from death to life.  They are moved from being outside of God’s kingdom to being a member of the holy family of God!  Paul talks about baptism in our memory verse from last week.  “by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” is baptism language.  The only place we talk about washing in the church is at the baptismal font.  Paul tells us that it is all about God’s mercy (mercy means not getting the punishment we deserve for our sins) that we are saved.  Baptism is an act of mercy on God’s part towards us.  Instead of punishing us for our sins, God washes them away in the waters of baptism.  Not only that but God the Father pours on us God the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit then regenerates or renews us, that is He makes us new again. 

Baptism is God’s work in us that makes us a new creation in Christ.  We now have a new way of living.  We have a new life in Christ.  Wouldn’t that make a great name for a church?  New Life!

 Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

A Verse for Life

Posted by James Keller on 09/18/16 @ 10:14 PM

Isaiah 1:17 (GW)
17  Learn to do good. Seek justice. Arrest oppressors. Defend orphans. Plead the case of widows.

My daughter Gwendolyn has a tattoo (ok, actually more than one).  She has a tattoo of Isaiah 1:17. She has decided that this is her life verse.  The tattoo helps to remind her of how she is supposed to live out her life.  This life verse caused her to change her major in college. It caused her to seek out opportunities and experiences where she could put this verse into practice.  She traveled to Ukraine for a summer so she could work with orphans and refugees from the war in Eastern Ukraine.  She has been working at a camp in Michigan so that she could work with families and youth.  She has been trying to live out her life verse.  Below are a few thoughts on the different parts of Isaiah 1:17. They are more idea starters for you as you try to live out Isaiah 1:17.

 1)      Learn to do good.  Where does this happen?  It starts with God’s Word.  God tells us in His Word, the Bible, just what is good and God pleasing. Have you joined a small group yet?  There are a lot of opportunities at New Life.  Just this week, someone from our church gathered food for someone who didn’t have much in her house.  That is doing good!

2)      Seek justice.  How do you do this?  We are surrounded by injustice.  You will not be able to seek justice for all people and in all situations.  But you can start with one person or instance.  What makes you upset?  Instead of complaining, do something about it!  Just this last week one of our members made a few phone calls to straighten out a problem for someone.  It may not have seemed like a big deal on the overall justice scale, but for the individual helped, it brought peace.

3)      Arrest oppressors.  The real meaning is not to send people to jail but rather to bring relief to those being oppressed.  One way of doing this is to stop the oppressor.  You may not be able to physically stop oppression, but you can bring relief to those who are being oppressed.  Just this past week members of New Life helped to bring relief to someone who was oppressed by collecting money to replace what was stolen.

4)      Defend the orphans.  Do you know any orphans?  You probably do.  They may have parents, but they are neglected and feel alone and helpless like an orphan.  They feel like no one cares.  Taking an interest in a child (no matter how old) and giving encouragement can change the course of a young person’s life!  Just this past week some of our members were challenged to find and mentor people younger than themselves.  Some are already doing just that.  They are investing themselves into the lives of others so that those being invested in can in turn invest themselves into the lives of others.

5)      Plead the case of widows.  Just this past week I have had conversations with a quite a few of our members who have shared that they check in either weekly or even daily with older widows to make sure they are safe.  One person asked for the help of our church in meeting a widow’s immediate need. Within 24 hours of asking, the help arrived on the widow’s doorstep.

These are some of the ways that New Life is living out Isaiah 1:17. How are you doing on living it out?  What can you personally do in the areas mentioned in Isaiah 1:17?  How can New Life help you to better live out Isaiah 1:17?

Christ’s slave,

Pastor jim

New Kind of Life

Posted by James Keller on 09/11/16 @ 10:35 PM

Romans 6:3-4 (GW)
3  Don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4  When we were baptized into his death, we were placed into the tomb with him. As Christ was brought back from death to life by the glorious power of the Father, so we, too, should live a new kind of life.

Last week we baptized four people at Camp Lutherhaven.  This was a visible picture of our Bible passage.  They were placed under the water symbolizing their being buried with Christ.  They came out of the water symbolizing their rising again.  White robes were placed upon them symbolizing their new life in Christ.

Last week we also confirmed six people.  Again this was a visible picture of our Bible verse.  These six people had studied Luther’s Small Catechism.  They learned how a follower of Jesus is to live.  They also learned that they were not done learning and studying God’s word.  This is a lifetime event.  They will study and learn God’s word for the rest of their lives.  God’s word will continue to shape and mold them into reflecting more and more of Jesus.

That is a new kind of life!

Christ’s slave,

 Pastor jim

 P.S. Have you signed up for a New Life small group yet? 

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