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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? 

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

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