My New Year’s Resolution

“But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (James 1:22)

I’m not one to make many New Year’s resolutions. I’ve never really seen the point. Most people I know who make them end up breaking them within a few days — which means they weren’t committed to it to begin with.

As we approach 2014, I want to challenge you to make a commitment AND also keep it! Let’s commit ourselves to be DOERS this year. Now before anybody writes me and suggests that I am preaching a salvation of works — let me be clear. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone — period. 

I’m talking about living a life that points people to Christ in 2014. My life verse is Proverbs 3:5-6 — “Trust in the Lord with all tour heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” (Pause here for a shameless commercial message) — You can hear my sermon on that passage by visiting http://www.goodhopechurch.org and clicking on the link to 10:30 sermons

I challenged our congregation yesterday to live at what I call a LEVEL 3 life in 2014. It appears to me there are three levels on which people can and do live their lives. 

Level 1 says, “I will do what I want to do.”

Level 2 says, “I will do what I think I ought to do.”

Level 3 says, “I do what God leads me to do.”

We are told in the Bible that God is always there to direct my path — no mater where I end up! I want to live a LEVEL 3 life in 2014. In order to do that, go back to the verse I chose for today — James 1:22. In order for God to lead me, I need to read and study His Word and when He speaks, I need to be a DOER and not just a hearer of that word.

People are always wanting to know which version of the Bible is best. I’m not about to start a debate here today. We could discuss endlessly this question with considerable controversy, depending on the backgrounds, doctrinal positions, and personal tastes of those debating the issue.

Would you agree with me however that the most desirable translation of the Bible is the one that can be “read” in the lives of Christians who are obedient and are DOERS of what the Bible teaches? You see, I believe that there are people out there who refuse to look at a written version of the Bible of any kind. There are some who won’t accept it even if they were to read it. But almost everyone will pay attention to a person who demonstrates the character and conduct of a true Christian – living out the message of the Bible in their every day life.

What difference would it make in our homes if the Bible not only was READ but LIVED in our family? Many children who are confused because they hear one thing from their parents and see something entirely different would begin to make better choices. Suppose we actually started DOING what we claim to believe! It doesn’t matter what translation you read if your life doesn’t reflect the character of the Lord Jesus Christ. Consistency of life must square with orthodoxy of doctrine and Godly conduct must match our morality.

Again, I know we are saved by God’s grace. I’m not remotely suggesting that we can do anything to affect our salvation. What I propose is that once we ARE saved — we start acting like it. I expect lost people to act like lost people. I don’t expect Christians to act like lost people!

D.L. Moody said, “The Christian’s life is the world’s Bible.” I pray that will be the case in 2014 for me. I want to live my life at Level 3 — DOING what God LEADS me to do! I want 2014 to the be year that we all become true DOERS of the Word!

Happy New Year everyone. Thanks again for your prayers and support of this ministry.

Have a great Monday.

Focusing on the Right Person

“The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” (Luke 2:20)

In Luke’s account of the birth of Christ, we are introduced to different people whose main focus is the baby Jesus. I challenge you over the next few days to simply go back and read Luke’s account beginning Luke 1.

We are introduced to Mary, the mother of Jesus. She magnifies the Lord because through the coming of this baby — the Messiah, His mercy is extended. She says, “His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear Him” (Luke 1:50).

We meet Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. He learned a very important lesson about faith and when he is finally able to speak after the birth of his own son, he said, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has visited and provided redemption for His people.” (Luke 1:68)

The shepherds, who I like to think of as the first missionaries, came and saw the baby, then returned “glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard, just as they had been told” (Luke 2:20).

And who can forget Simeon and Anna? The Bible says that Simeon was “righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him” (Luke 2:25). When Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms, he said, “For my eyes have seen Your salvation. You have prepared it in the presence of all peoples — a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to Your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32).

Anna was an “older woman.” She had been married for 7 years and her husband died. She remained a widow for 84 more years. The Bible says that she remained at the temple — serving God day and night. Of Anna, the Bible says, “at that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

“Hey Pastor! What’s the point?”

It quite simple really. Every person in the Christmas story focused their attention on the right person — the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m getting to the age when I find myself saying, “Back when I was a kid…” I had hoped I wouldn’t do that — but I’ve found it is absolutely necessary. When I was a child — there was never a doubt as to what Christmas was about. It was the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. If you had asked my sister or me what Christmas was about — we would not have said “SANTA!” We had “Santa” at our house — but it was just part of the fun of Christmas — we KNEW Jesus was the reason for the season before that saying became so popular. 

How did we know? My parents, my neighbors, my Sunday school teachers and my pastors all made sure that they talked about Jesus. They made sure we kept the focus on the right person. I long for those days again. I remember my daddy reading the Christmas story from the Bible every Christmas. I remember being taught that the reason we gave and received gifts is because the Wise Men brought gifts to JESUS. My sister, Brenda and I are forever grateful for parents, grandparents, friends and neighbors who never let us lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas.

As you celebrate Christmas with your family over the next few days, I pray that you will also focus the attention of the celebration where it belongs. Perhaps one of my favorite Christmas carols says it best…

O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
O come let us adore Him,
Christ the Lord.

That should be our focus this Christmas — and every day of our lives — to adore the virgin-born Son of God, for it is He who brought salvation to this lost world. Even the angels were focused on Jesus when they said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14).

Edna joins me in wishing for you and your family a most blessed Christmas. As always, I appreciate your continued support and prayers for this ministry. Since I began this blog in January of this year, we have had over 10,000 visitors from all over the world to visit the site. I hope you will tell you friends about http://www.preacherkeith.com and encourage them in the new year to join us Monday-Thursday for a daily verse from God’s Word. Thanks for sharing. Thanks for your words of encouragement. 

Most of all — I am thankful to day for JESUS! Merry Christmas everyone. I’m taking a little hiatus of sorts until the first of January — so, I’ll see you next year!

God bless and have a wonderful day.

Giving Our All

“Summoning His disciples, He said to them, ‘I assure you: This poor widow has put in more than all those giving to the temple treasury. For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she possessed — all she had to live on.'” (Mark 12:43-44)

In order to fully understand the significance of these verses, you really need to read Mark 12:38-40. It says, “He also said in His teaching, ‘Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes, and who want greetings in the marketplaces, the front seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers just for show. These will receive harsher punishment.'”

Do you see what Jesus did? He warned the people (and us) about people who are proud and self-important religious leaders who take advantage of other people. In particular, Jesus said the scribes “devour widows’ houses.” Immediately following this — who should show up but a widow who proceeds to give an offering that Jesus says is better than any of the other offerings received.

A.W. Tozer said, “In God’s sight, my giving is measured not by how much I give, but by how much I have left after I make my gift. Not by its size is my gift judged, but by how much of me there is in it. No one gives at all until he has given all! No one gives anything acceptable to God until he has first given himself in love and sacrifice.”

I think the giving that Tozer is talking about was exemplified by the gift given by this widow. Using her gift, Jesus stated a timeless principle about giving — God weighs the heart of the person making the gift, not the amount being given.

I am thankful to know today that my giving can make such a difference in the kingdom of God. This widow reminds me also of the wonderful Christians in Macedonia in II Corinthians. Paul said of them that they gave liberally BUT FIRST they gave themselves to God (II Corinthians 8:1-14).

In order to truly experience the blessings of God, we must first give ourselves to Him and then the material things that we are given can be used to make an eternal difference in the lives of others. I pray you will make a commitment in your life to grow in your giving to God. There are untold blessings awaiting those who truly understand the principle of giving our all!

 

Preach the Gospel — USE WORDS

“For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

Christians seem to love to quote somebody famous in order to make a point. One of our favorites is this…

“Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”

We attribute those words to St. Francis of Assisi and people are constantly encouraging, rebuking and often justifying our own behavior when it comes to our witness for the Lord. 

There are two problems with the above quote. First and most importantly — St. Francis of Assisi NEVER SAID IT. I understand why people like the made-up quote so much. They use it to say, “Make sure your actions match your words.” Good sentiment, but here is the second problem — it is not faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Let me explain.

I sometimes think that we Christians believe that if we are good enough and live the right kind of life and give the right kind of example, somebody might get saved. While all those things are important to your spiritual life, living a good life saves no one. In other words, when you preach the Gospel — YOU HAVE TO USE WORDS! And the words we use are simple ones.

Jesus Christ is God

Jesus Christ came to this earth, born of a virgin, and lived a completely sinless life.

Jesus Christ voluntarily died on the cross in order to satisfy the debt owed to God by sinful humanity.

Jesus Christ victoriously arose from the dead on the third day  — victorious over sin and the grave.

ANY person who confesses their sin, repents, and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ WILL BE SAVED.

It is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin and to draw a person to Christ. Therefore, it is not MY LIFE or MY LIFESTYLE that causes anyone to come to Christ — it is the work of the Holy Spirit in their life.

We have the Bible which we use to present the Gospel message to lost people. God hates sin — all sin. We can’t redefine it to suit our own beliefs or tastes. We simply call it what it is and let the Holy Spirit do His work. When we use the Bible, we are not just using a collection of words FROM God — we are presenting the very words OF God. In the Bible, we find the living, life-changing and dynamic message of how a Holy God loves sinful man and how HE paid the price so that I (and anyone else who repents and believes) can have everlasting life. The Word of God is able to discern what is inside of an individual — both good and evil. The searching light of the Bible penetrates our heart and reveals the hidden sin within it.

There is an old story about a man who began to read the Bible with his wife every night. After reading one chapter in Johns’ Gospel on one particular evening, he stopped and looked at her said said, “Honey, if this book is true, we are wrong!” A few nights later, he said, “Honey, if this book is true, we are lost!” Fortunately, he kept reading in the midst of his deep concern. The next evening, in the middle of another chapter in John, he said, “Honey, good news! If this book is true — we can be saved!”

The Bible not only points out our sin, but it points us to our Savior. The process doesn’t stop once we are saved. It continues as we grow in our faithful obedience through life. Our testimony — the way we live our lives — should enable us to speak the truth, in love — ALWAYS pointing people to the Savior — not to my life.

We used to sing a little song when I was growing up in VBS at the Potecasi Baptist Church. The words were…

The bible is a treasure book
it tells how long ago;
Christ Jesus came to live on earth,
His Father’s love to show

I encourage you to allow the Bible and its teachings to shine through your life every day. The Bible is the original “truth detector!” So…today PREACH THE GOSPEL AND USE THE WORDS OF THE BIBLE TO DO IT!

An Eternal Impact

“Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless.'” (Genesis 17:1)

I think it was Longfellow who wrote…

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.
(“A Psalm of Life”)

I love Abraham! He’s one of my favorite characters in the Bible. As you study his life, you see how God used him to make an eternal impact on his world. After 30 years of pastoral ministry, I realize that I probably have more years behind me than I do in front. That’s not morbid — it’s just factual. I spend more and more of my time thinking about what I have done that will leave an everlasting mark on the world where I live. When I read about Abraham in our verse for today, I’m reminded of a couple of things God wants all of us to do.

First, God calls us to “be blameless.” Some translations might say we are to be “upright.” That simply means that God wants us to take what each day brings and use it to our very best advantage recognizing that every good thing is God’s gift to us. We can’t hold back everything for tomorrow, nor can we dwell too much on some past event. We must walk with God in the life He gives us RIGHT NOW.

The second lesson I have learned (often through hard lessons) is that God desires us to walk IN FAITH. I can’t live a blameless life apart from faith in God and His promises. Abraham was obedient and he trusted God. He acted on God’s promises in faith. Abraham’s whole life story is the story of acting and obeying in faith. 

Somehow our American culture has missed this whole idea of obedience in faith and the desire to do something today that will outlive myself. Years ago, I heard Dr. Adrian Rogers say (and I’ve said it over and over throughout the years) — “We continue to spend more and more money we don’t have to buy more and more things we don’t need to impress more and more people we don’t like.” The motto of too many people (including many who call themselves Christians) is “Get all I can, can all I get, sit on the lid and poison the rest.” Everything we do is about me, me, me and me. That’s sad.

God has wonderful things in store for us if we will be blameless and walk in faith. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” We will never realize our full potential in God until we look forward in faith and believe the promises of God. That’s exactly what Abraham did.

Because of our relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ, we have the opportunity to be blessed by God in order that we might in turn be a blessing to others. As you go through your day today, and every day — ask yourself this question…

What am I doing today that will live on after I am gone? Am I using the blessings of God to be a blessing to someone else?

Life will be much more rewarding if we will live for others and in obedience to God.

Have a great Wednesday.

Who Am I?

“Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him?” (Psalm 144:3)

Have you ever stopped and just pondered that question? Why in the world would the God of the universe pay any attention to me? Why would God extend His mercy and grace to any of us? I’ll tell you right now, that question has been asked and debated by greater minds than mine for hundreds of years. In fact, David, the only man in the Bible who is referred to as a “man after God’s own heart,” asked that question. “Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him?”

Just think about that. Are you smart? You may be, but you don’t know EVERYTHING! (I know that comes as shock to someone reading this — but you really don’t know everything.) Are you strong? Maybe you are, but are you stronger than a bear or a lion? Probably not. Are you sinless? Definitely NOT! In fact, David said in Psalm 51:4, “Against You, You only have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge.” How about faithful? If you are like me, sometimes you are obedient, but many times you aren’t. No matter how I look at it, I can’t find a reason why God would ever bother to pay attention to me.

WHO AM I?

As we approach Christmas in just a few days, I hear people constantly reminding me that “Jesus is the reason for the season.” I truly believe that and I’m convinced that most people in our culture have not given as much attention to that fact as they should. Without JESUS, there would be no Christmas. I get it.

Now don’t start throwing rocks just yet. Follow my logic. If I’m wrong — I’m sure somebody will use their spiritual gift of “correction” to let me know…

In one sense, YOU and I are the reason for the season. If God hadn’t known that we needed Him to come to earth and die for us, He wouldn’t have done it. If I didn’t need what Jesus has to offer, He wouldn’t have wasted the effort. I realize that the death of Christ satisfied the wrath of God and paid the debt I could not pay — and I’m not minimizing that AT ALL. But I also know that the Bible says God loves us and He loved us so much that He came to this earth as a little baby so that we could have a personal relationship with the God of all the universe! That’s pretty special.

I realize I don’t completely understand it, but I accept it! I don’t understand why the God of creation would pay any attention to ME, but I KNOW that Jesus came to this earth to demonstrate and prove God’s love for me. Jesus died on the cross to demonstrate the love of God for mankind. Jesus now lives in Heaven and intercedes on my behalf because God loves me. That is the magnificent message of Christmas.

God pays attention to us for no other reason than this — HE LOVES US!

I pray that you will share that message with everyone you meet this Christmas. There are plenty of people who need to know that God is not mad at them — HE LOVES THEM! And the most special part of it is — you and I are the very ones who should be telling them.

I pray you have a great day!

PS — How about just a little Christmas humor to brighten this Tuesday?

What did Adam say on the day before Christmas?
It’s Christmas, Eve!

What disasters might happen if you drop the Christmas turkey?
The downfall of Turkey, the break-up of China and the overthrow of Greece!

How do snowmen travel around?
By icicle!

One more (I’m on a roll)…

It was the night before Christmas when Santa Claus’ sleigh team became one member short because of a sudden illness. When an inflatable plastic reindeer was used to fill the void in the team so no one would take notice of the missing animal, Regis, Chief of Elves, asked Santa…

“Is that your vinyl Prancer?”

Get it? VINYL PRANCER! REGIS the Elf!!! 

For the Glory of God

“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24)

Whether you like it or not, we were created by God to work. I’ve heard many people say that work was a part of the curse upon Adam after the fall, but that’s just not true. In Genesis 1:28 (prior to the fall), the Bible says, “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Even before the fall of man, Adam was taking care of the garden and of all the things God had created. Work has always been a part of God’s plan for us.

Andrew Carnegie said, “The average person puts only 25 percent of his energy and ability into his work. The world takes off its hat to those who put in more than 50 percent of their capacity and stands on its head for those few and far between souls who devote 100 percent.”

I suppose the old saying is true — “The devil finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” Too much free time and too little work leads to all kinds of trouble and misery. We are seeing the results of this in our country today. Too many people have the entitlement mentality and don’t believe that they should have to work for anything. That is contrary to Scripture. And laziness is not limited to non-Christians! There are plenty of Christians who don’t give a flying flip about the quality of their work.

Walt Kelly was the originator of the comic-strip character Pogo. In one of his comic-strips, Pogo is seen fishing in a swamp. By and by a duck comes along and sits down beside Pogo. The duck says, “Hey Pogo, has you seen my cousin?” Pogo says, “your cousin?” “Yeah, my cousin. He’s migrating north by kiddy car.” Pogo asks, “By kiddy car?” “Yet. He’s afraid to fly. He’s afraid he’s gonna fall off.” “Then why don’t he swim?” Pogo asks. “Well, he don’t like to swim ’cause he gets seasick.” After thinking for a minute about this strange conversation, Pogo responds, “When your cousin decided to be a duck, he sure chose the wrong business!”

I challenge you to view your work that way! Whatever you are doing today, do it well. If you are a duck, then act like a duck and do what a duck is supposed to do. Productive people who do their work well for the betterment of man and the glory of God are usually happier people.

I read that Noah Webster worked for 36 years writing his dictionary. John Milton got up at 4:00 AM every morning in order to have sufficient hours to write his poetry. There are plenty of other examples of people who enjoyed their work because they put all their energy into producing things that would be pleasing both to God and man.

I know it’s Monday — but what are you doing today? The lesson from the Bible is clear. Do your work for the glory of God and let the world know that you are thankful that god gave you your job!

Have a great Monday!

Keeping Our Promises

“She made a vow and said, ‘O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and a razor shall never come on his head.'” (I Samuel 1:11)

Have you ever made a promise to God? Of course you have — we all have. That’s really not the question that we should be asking. The question is NOT have we made a promise — the question IS did we fulfill the promise we made to God. Did you keep your promise?

I Samuel 1 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. This story introduces us to one of the most humble and sincere people in the Bible — Hannah. This woman wanted a son in the worst kind of way. She promised God that if He would give her a son, she would give him back “all the days of his life.” That’s a promise made in a pretty desperate time I would say. 

As you read the story, you remember that Hannah’s anguish was so great that Eli, the priest even noticed it. In fact, he thought she was drunk! I Samuel 1:12-14 says, “While she continued praying in the Lord’s presence, Eli watched her lips. Hannah was praying silently, and though her lips were moving, her voice could not be heard. Eli thought she was drunk and scolded her, ‘How long are you going to be drunk? Get rid of your wine!'”

When you make a commitment like the one Hannah made — you are taking desperate measures. Many people would say that a promise made under those conditions should not even be expected to be kept. Some people would say, “We really wouldn’t blame Hannah if she ‘forgot’ about the promise after little Samuel was born.” Our rationale would be — she made a promise out of desperation and God wouldn’t hold her to it. That’s exactly what the world would say.

Thankfully that’s not what the Bible teaches! When Samuel was just a little toddler, his mother REMEMBERED the commitment she had made to God and she brought little Samuel to Eli at Shiloh. She didn’t let God’s answer to her prayer give her some kind of amnesia concerning her promise. It surely wasn’t easy for Hannah to leave her little son with the priest — but she had made a promise. 

I guess my question becomes — how in the world was she able to do it?

The Lord revealed the answer to that question to me by directing my attention back to I Samuel 1:3. It says, “This man would go up from his town every year to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of Hosts at Shiloh, where Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were the Lord’s priests.” If you keep reading you will see that every time Elkanah went to Shiloh to worship — Hannah went with him.

Do you see it? Before Hannah was a mother, she was a worshiper of God! She was no stranger to God. She had been to the tabernacle many times before and when she made a promise to God — she kept it!

Tomorrow (12/13), Lord willing — I will begin my 51st rotation around the sun. From my earliest recollection, I remember my mother and father telling me that when I was born they gave me to God. They did the same thing with my sister. They believed that God had blessed them to entrust Brenda and me to their care — but they knew we belonged to him. I’m thankful that before my parents were parents — they were servants of God. Because of that, Edna and I made the same promise to God when He gave us Danielle and Dustin.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. IT AIN’T ALWAYS EASY! But we have seen that when you make a promise to God and you are obedient in that promise — God ultimately blesses you beyond anything you could have imagined.

How about you? Are you a stranger to God? When you make promises to God, do you keep them or do you get creative amnesia that somehow allows you to justify why you don’t have to keep the promises you have made?

Hannah was a faithful servant of God, and God heard her prayer and gave her a son — and she REMEMBERED her promise and gave her son to God. I’m thankful for women (and men) who are like Hannah and remember their promises and keep them.

Have a great Thursday and a wonderful weekend. Worship in church on Sunday. I’ll see you next week.