Another Word…by Gus Keiser

September 18, 2017

“…therefore the Lord sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.

                                                                                                                               Genesis 3: 23-24

As I was reading the story this morning of Adam and Eve’s sinning by eating the forbidden fruit, I found it interesting how this account connected to two of the three books I’m currently reading. One of them is Bruce Feiler’s book entitled The First Love Story – Adam, Eve, and Us, an in-depth study of the story about God’s creation of humankind.  The other book is John Bunyan’s Journey To Hell.  Most people are familiar with Bunyan’s most famous work, The Pilgrim’s Progress, but this look at a fallen individual and his turn away from God is a rather fascinating read.  It’s the account of a young boy who is raised in a strict Christian home but who at a young age and because of his deplorable behavior and total disdain for anything “God” is placed in the hands of a master as an apprentice, the master also being a devout Christian.  His continuing misbehavior (sinning) and disrespect has him transferred to a second master, one whose anti-Christian attitude only further degrades the boys behavior to the point where he, as an adult, is referred to by the two men having an ongoing conversation about this individual as Mr. Badman.  Interspersed with numerous scripture references and insights by the two men (Mr. Wiseman and Mr. Attentive), it presents an interesting picture of the decline and ultimate placement of a person in Hell after the decision to separate himself from God.

The decision to act in direct opposition to what a person knows to be both right and godly is something that can occur on a multitude of levels. For instance, if a person is trying hard to lose weight but consistently binges on ice cream and pizza, they are going to face disappointment.  If and individual commits a crime, the crime victim will suffer and the perpetrator risks jail time.  Should a husband or wife make the choice to enter into an extramarital affair, the marriage will be damaged…sometimes beyond repair…and any children that are a part of that family will suffer the consequences.

What do these three scenarios have in common? Every one of these accounts, as well as countless other failure-filled stories, can trace its origin back to the book of Genesis and the sinful behavior of Adam and Eve.  In the opening verses above, we see the results of the failure to follow a direct command from God and its devastating aftermath for those involved.  We see the repercussions of this disobedience reflected in the news that meets our eyes and ears daily…and, if we’re honest, reflected in our own darkened hearts as well.

But God’s banishing them from the garden, as we know, isn’t the way the story began nor was it God’s original intention. At first, Adam and Eve were sure of God’s instructions.  There was no doubt in either of their minds.  The two of them knew exactly what God expected of them because they received their marching orders directly from their Creator.  Still, all it took was a simple challenge (Did God really say…?) from the serpent to shake Eve’s confidence to the core.  Once she questioned what she knew to be true, she became vulnerable to Satan’s temptation.  When she and Adam then chose to act in violation to God’s direct command, sin invaded what had been an unimaginably idyllic paradise.

From a spiritual standpoint, what are you sure of beyond the shadow of a doubt? What do you know to be true?  From where does your certainty come?  These are some extremely important questions to answer because we face daily testing that is capable of undermining God’s marching orders for us.  And to make matters worse, there are going to be those who may question your mental stability…”How can an educated person believe in intelligent design when there’s so much evidence to support evolution?” And there may be others who will accuse you of being narrow-minded…”How can you say Jesus is the only way to God?” And there are going to be a few who will try to appeal to your sense of freedom…”Doesn’t this God of yours want you to have any fun?” Finally, there are those who may try to attack your source of trust…”The Bible is full of inconsistencies, and you’re choosing to base your life on this book?”

So, just how prepared are you for the assaults that are most certainly going to come your way? Have you got a tight grip on God’s truth?  How are God’s truths going to impact your actions, from the time you set your feet on the floor in the morning to the time you go to bed that night?  Mr. Badman or Mr. Wiseman…which will you be?

Lord, hold on tightly to us as you guide us by your wisdom, power and grace. Amen.   

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

September 11, 2017

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

                                                                                                                        Jeremiah29: 11-14

As the pastor sat as his desk first thing in the morning, he clicked on his computer and opened his email to find the following message:

“I feel condemned no matter what I do. From what I’ve seen, it seems so much easier for others to allow Jesus to change their lives than it is for me. I have no appeal for anything in life as it is. I feel that if God really loved me, the least he could do is end my life. I’m not expecting a response. I do expect you to fail me just as I feel God already has.”

 Here is a person who feels shut out by God. How about you?  Have you ever felt abandoned by God?  Does it sometimes feel to you as if all the breaks in this life go against you?  Do you have that desire to feel close to God, but feel as if your prayers are doing nothing but bouncing off the ceiling?

As human beings, feelings are important to us and play a significant role in our lives. But sometimes our feelings, while very powerful, don’t actually reflect the realities of life.  Sometimes feelings can be completely wrong!  God’s salvation is more than a feeling.  It’s based upon our relationship with God.  In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul wrote: “If you confess with your mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Notice that this verse doesn’t say anything about your feelings rather, “…if you believe…you will be saved.” Also, in this letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” And later he tells the Christians there that “nothing can separate them from the love of God.”

 If you’ve ever felt this sense of abandonment by God, know that you’re not the only one. In fact, most Christians experience this feeling somewhere along the line.  But as those opening verses above remind us, God is always present and his love for us is never going to change.  He loves us just the way we are…imperfect and in need.  Each of us is a unique creation.  According to Paul’s words from Ephesians, “we are God’s workmanship.” God’s love for us is unconditional, unchanging and unending.  So, if we’re willing, God will actually use these dark moments, these “times of feeling abandoned” to help us refine and build our faith.  Today, remember that God is with you… even if conditions make that hard to believe.  So choose to live by faith and not by sight.

Lord, help us to always trust in your presence and your power. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

September 5, 2017

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”

                                                                                    Luke 6:46

It had been a long and difficult week for Mike, both at work and at home. He and Becky had been at odds over finances and some necessary remodeling work at the house, something, because of long work hours, he had little if any time to do.  At work, all he was feeling was pressure to complete a project by what seemed to him to be an impossible deadline.  So between the demands of both his wife and his boss, all Mike wanted to do was simply escape, if only for an afternoon to do what always brought him relief from stress, and that was to sit by a quiet stream with his fishing pole in the water… hoping that nothing would bite.

So, against his wife’s urgings, he threw his fishing gear in the back of his pick-up and backed out of the driveway, determined to head for his favorite, off the beaten track, secret fishing hole. When he reached the winding dirt road that led to his favorite spot, he turned off and proceeded down the road.  But his drive came to a sudden screeching halt as he rounded the last bend, only to discover there in front of his truck’s bumper, lying in the middle of the road, was a woman lying on a blanket, working on her suntan.

Taken by surprise, but also relieved that his truck had stopped without running the woman over, he waited until the dust cleared, got out of his truck, and approached the woman.

Mike (fairly calm given the situation): “What are you doing?”

Women (startled and angry): “What does it look like I’m doing?”

Mike: “You’re lying in the middle of the road.”

Woman: “So?!”

Mike: “I don’t think it’s a great idea to lie in the middle of the road. I could have run over you!”

Woman: “{Bleep} you. I’m not moving!”

Mike: (sarcastically) “Okay. Have a nice day!”

Mike got back in his truck, obviously frustrated, backed down the road a bit, parked his truck, got out and walked the rest of the way to the pond. And as he walked he thought, “Sure there are certainly times when people ought to take a stand for their own rights, regardless of the consequences.”  But this didn’t seem to qualify as a very great example, for either one of them.  For him, it was a moment of stubbornness and will, and while the woman wouldn’t back down, Mike did.

The whole experience caused Mike to reflect on the other things that had been happening in his life lately. It also caused him to think about when he knew God was asking him things of him, and how he, in effect, told God the same thing he’d just been told, “I’m not moving!”  And aren’t we at times just like Mike and that woman?  We want all the good things God has for our lives, but we want our life to be easy at the same time.  Like those two, when our lives become uncomfortable and too difficult for us to obey God, too often, we also become stubborn.

In one way or another, we all have these stubborn moments with God. There’s not a one of us who is immune from them.  So the question then becomes, how can we minimize the times when we won’t budge?  I don’t know that there’s a complete answer to that question.  I guess, as Christians, what we need to do is simply say “yes” to God, whatever the circumstances, and whatever God is asking of us…something we already know, but also knowing that it’s going to be a struggle to carry out his command.

That long journey toward consistently saying yes to God can only be experienced by taking small steps. Perhaps that first small step is in the realization that taking the easy road in life rarely takes us where we want to go, nor does it lead us to becoming the person God wants to make us into.  Obedience to God is rarely easy, but whatever pain it may bring, we also reap the benefits of having been molded into that more complete image of Christ.

So, today, take a few of those small steps, especially when your first response to God becomes, “{Bleep} you, God. I’m not moving!”  Instead, get up off the road, pick up your blanket and walk toward the one who gave his life for you.

Sorry about the stubbornness and disobedience God. Can we get on with life together, you and me?  Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

August 28, 2017

 

When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.  Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”

                                                                                                                                     Exodus 16:15

 Time to do some thinking back…to kid times. When you were a kid, did you ever find yourself thinking about or dreaming about your future?  If you were like most kids, there were those times when just sort of daydreamed about what would happen to you as the years would pass by and you’d grow older.  What would school be like?  Where would you end up going to college?  What would you ultimately do for a living?  Would you find the person of your dreams, get married and have children?

Sounds like the typical thing a child would do, doesn’t it? But that dream world process you find out doesn’t end when you finally reach adulthood, for there is more dreaming to do.  Single people wonder whether there’s a spouse out there for them somewhere.  As parents, you dream about what your child(ren) are going to grow up to be.  You wonder if your children will have children of their own and just how your grandchildren will turn out.  Young adults wonder about their eventual career paths, and as retirement age draws ever closer, you prepare for or, in some cases, worry about how you’ll financially make it through retirement.

But then, isn’t that human nature…that desire to look ahead with wonder? Let’s face it, don’t we all allow those dreams of the future to interrupt the drudgery of our work-a-day world, and to make all that drudgery all worthwhile?  For many of us, it’s that anticipation of future events that gets us up in the morning and that helps us focus on our plans for tomorrow.  It’s what separates us from our best friend, the dog.

In some ways, we aren’t any different than the Israelites in the verse from Exodus above. There, in the middle of nowhere, they were faced with an uncertain future and an immediate need for food and water.  So they began to do what most of us would do when faced with such a situation, they grumbled and complained.  And the majority of their complaints centered around the fact that, while they may have labored hard during their years of slavery, at least in Egypt they always had plenty to eat and drink.  But now here they were, out in the desert, and they and their children were hungry and thirsty.  As I said, put yourself in their place, and try and look at this dilemma from their perspective.  Chances are you’d have few pointed questions and words for Moses as well.

Fortunately for them they were being watched over by a God who wasn’t deaf. He was quick to respond to their needs by providing for them.  You’ve been to Sunday school, so you know the story.  Each morning, flakes of bread (manna) appeared on the ground around their campsite.  And in the evening the ground around them was covered with quail.  But these gifts from God came with a caveat… They weren’t allowed to hoard what they gathered and they weren’t allowed to store it up for later.  Moses instructed them to gather up only what they would need for the day…no more, no less.  This was a tough rule to follow when all they could think about was their current condition and what they would have with which to feed their hungry children.

The question then arises: why would God limit what they could gather? Why not allow them to eat all they wanted?  God did it to teach them the importance of something we all need to learn… that we are to sustain a relationship with God only in the present.

Our past is nothing more than the story of how we’ve gotten to where we are, and dwelling on those past memories are only going to lead us to stagnation and dissatisfaction. We can’t find God by worrying or by dreaming about the future either, because that’s just going to lead us to want to control whatever lies ahead.

Without question, all of us have concerns and hopes and dreams for our futures. But this story is here to remind us that we need to live out our relationship with God only in the here and now.  God longs for us to trust him every hour and every minute of the day.

Another Word….by Gus Keiser

August 21, 2017

In everything do to others as you would have then do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

                                                                                                                       Matthew 7:12

 There it is in black and white, the sound advice of what we’ve come to call The Golden Rule. It has to be one of Jesus’ most famous teachings, right next to “Love one another as I have loved you.” It’s a teaching that’s echoed in every religious tradition, and in every culture.  It’s short, sweet, simple, and to the point.  It invites us to a life of altruism…doing the right thing by and for others because, simply, it’s the right thing to do.  But it continues to be under assault in today’s culture.

Someone once modified its words to fit his own particular situation when he said, “Do unto others as you would have them do to you…only do it first”! And then there’s this crass challenge that is echoed throughout our modern, selfish society… “The Golden Rule means that those with the most gold make the rules,” and, for the most part, that’s true.  A high percentage of those serving in public office are quite wealthy.  Perhaps it’s because wealth has given them the means and the time to do all it takes to run and serve.  We can only hope that they’re driven by a vision for the common good.  However, in some cases, these wealthy folk find themselves caught up in a self-perpetuating system of self-advancement and class protection.

A more subtle, yet quietly pervasive, assault on this idea of Jesus comes cloaked in the writings and philosophy of the early twentieth century philosopher, Ayn Rand. In one of her philosophical writings she argues that the kind of altruistic behavior demanded by the Golden Rule is the problem, not the solution, for many of the ills which befall us.  She writes: The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent. He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves.  The relationship produces nothing but mutual corruption.  It is impossible in concept.  The nearest approach to it in reality…the man who lives to serve others…is the slave.  If physical slavery is repulsive, how much more repulsive is the concept of servility of the spirit?  The conquered slave has a vestige of honor.  He has the merit of having resisted and of considering his condition evil.  But the man who enslaves himself voluntarily in the name of love is the basest of creatures.  He degrades the dignity of man, and he degrades the conception of love.  But that is the essence of altruism.”

Rand’s vision of rugged individualism, every person out for themselves, flies squarely in the face of the words of Jesus. Her philosophy undergirds a way of seeing the world that divides people into “makers” and “takers”, sees those who benefit from public subsidies as “parasites”, and opposes anything that would limit the freedom of people to live out of anything but their own rational self-interest.

Jesus followed his summary of the teachings of faith…”Do unto others as you would have then do unto you”…with a metaphor of divergent gates…a narrow, hard way, and a broad, easy way.  It is very clear that his intention is to help us see that the Jesus way of being is the hard, narrow way.  The hard way is the best way…but it’s probably not going to get too many folks elected.

Understanding God… thank you for your words which challenge us in our selfishness and complacency. Thank you for guiding our lives of compassion and self-giving as we attempt to follow in your footsteps.  Yours is a hard path and yet, trusting in you, that we will be able to do those hard things.  Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

August 14, 2017

 

Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us.  Only then will we be saved.

                                                                                                                                       Psalm 80:3 

 Penn DoT has been threatening for weeks with signs regarding planned work to my primary access route to work. And this week the work’s finally begun and the restrictions have started.  As to how long the work is going to take and just how long the reduced lanes or total closures will exist is anybody’s guess.  What I do know is that…after the original “Oh Great” exclamations cease, I’m going to be forced to find some alternate way of getting to work without having to add on too much extra travel time.

But then again, detours do have there up sides sometimes. Over the years I’ve encountered numerous detours, both in my cross-country travels and in trying to get around locally.  Most of the time, I find myself grumbling and complaining as I travel these “other roads” while usually not paying attention to the “new” surroundings.  Sometimes these alternate routes include roads in the area that I’ve maybe been on once or twice over the years, roads not all that familiar to me.  However, after an incident that occurred several years ago; I’ve become a bit more conscious as I travel these detours.  It was during one of those grumbling, mumbling moments, as I came around a bend in a road, that I was treated to one of the more fantastic fall vistas I’d ever experienced.  There was this small stand of trees that was just exploding with some of the more brilliant color I’ve ever seen.  I actually ended up pulling over to take in its beauty for a few minutes before moving on.

It wasn’t until I was down the road a ways, when it hit me that, given the hurried and less-than-happy state I was in, God had provided that detour so I could once again appreciate the beauty of his creation. Its beauty lifted my spirits, got me out of my “blue-funk” mood, and sent me on my way more determined than I’d been previously to enjoy the rest of my day.

But wait; doesn’t it seem as if God might be just a bit too busy to take the time to create something as insignificant as a detour? Doesn’t he have far better and far more important things to do?  Well, God does have the time (after all, all time is his time, isn’t it?) and even detours are a necessary part of his grand plan for our lives.  He did it to the Israelites and he does it for us.  As they were on their journey to the Promised Land, their story tells us that “God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter… God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea.

 As we know, it was there, at the Red Sea, that one of God’s greatest displays of power took place, the parting of the waters so the fleeing Israelites could pass through on dry ground and escape their pursuers. There’s no question that this was one of God’s planned detours.

But oh, how incredibly impatient human beings we are. We want our minute-by-minute plans uninterrupted.  But then there’s God who factors into our lives, and he often wants us to slow down and to open our eyes to his many wonders.

It’s in the forty-first chapter of Isaiah, that the prophet recounts God’s wonders of nature, and he follows that with these words: “…so that the people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.”

 I don’t know if you may have to travel that same road I take to work, or if you in your travels may encounter some other detour, but the next time you do, immediately pray to discern God’s leading. And then open your eyes as you watch and wait to see if God may be working in some unexpected way.  You may just end up being in store for blessings you never anticipated.

Lord, open my eyes that I may see all of the blessings you share with me. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

August 7, 2017

Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.

                                                                                                           Psalm 30:4

 I want to share a true story with you; one told to me by a leader from North Carolina I met quite a number of years ago at a national youth leader’s conference.

A church group (not his) from New Bern, North Carolina had traveled to the Caribbean on a mission trip. As part of the week’s experience, their host took them to a leper colony on the island of Tobago… proof that cruise ships and exotic getaways are only a small part of what life is like on these tropical “paradises”. 

While there, they held a worship service in the campus chapel. As you can imagine, the sight of emaciated lepers filing into their seats on the bare pews bore deeply into the mind and heart of each visitor to this unfamiliar scene.

 But no memory left its mark like this one: when the visiting pastor asked if anyone in the crowd had a favorite hymn they’d like to sing, a lone patient seated awkwardly on the back row, facing away from the front, turned her body slowly and with great effort in the pastor’s direction.

 “Body” would perhaps be a generous description of what remained of hers. Her face had no nose, no lips…just bare teeth askew within a chalky skull.  And yet, raising her bony nub of an arm to see if she might be called on to make a request, she appealed with croaky voice, “Could we sing Count Your Many Blessings?”

 Leave it to a grotesquely deformed leper to remind us that grateful people are characterized by thankful words, while ungrateful people are given to murmuring and complaining.

 There are those among us who do very little other than to grumble at why God put thorns on roses. But, thank the Lord, there are others who notice, with awe and wonder, that God has put roses among the thorns.  May we still sing our old familiar songs, hopefully to include Count Your Many Blessings, even when overwhelmed by ever-present difficulties.

Lord, help us to count our many blessings, blessings that have come from your hands and your heart. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

July 31, 2017

 

Now the Lord said to Abraham, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”

                                                                                                                                 Genesis 12:1

This year it was the U.S. Navy Blue Angels. In previous years it’s been them, or the Canadian Air Force Snowbirds, or the ever-popular U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds who have fascinated the Westmoreland County Airshow spectators with their close maneuvers, aerial acrobatics and precision flying.

I’ve seen the Thunderbirds three times over the years we’ve lived here in Western Pennsylvania, but have never actually attended the air show. The first time was quite a number of years ago while I was doing some preparatory work for a confirmation camp program.  That day I’m not sure I was even cognizant of the fact the air show was that weekend.  After having gone over to the camp which is about thirty or so miles east of Greensburg, I stopped at St Vincent College on the way back to check out for the first time, Steeler training camp.  While I was standing by the field watching them, the Thunderbirds suddenly appeared overhead, doing a practice performance before the airshow the next day.  The other two times I witnessed them was after I learned about these practice runs that took place mid-afternoon on the Friday before the actual show.  One time I took Sunshine over to watch and the next time it was Jordan, who decided he was going to skip his last day of high school to make the journey.

While watching these close-order maneuvers (with the wingtips at times not more than inches apart), it fascinating me to watch the maneuverability and the capability of these F-16 fighter jets. The F-16 was developed to act as a support weapons system for some of the Air Force’s larger and more expensive fighter aircraft.  They’re able to fly at top speeds of 1300 mph at a ceiling of 50,000 feet, which they are able to reach in about 60 seconds.

And whether it’s in one of their shows or as a combat plane, the F-16 needs one vital element to be effective: a pilot who is complete control. Despite its whiz-bang technology, without a pilot in complete control an airborne F-16 would either fly uselessly in a straight line or spiral out of control.  Either way, a devastating crash is inevitable.

In the same way, if we possess every gift imaginable but don’t allow God to guide us in using those gifts, we as well will be useless. Or even worse, we might spiral out of control, with our lives crashing.  As the ultimate “Pilot” of your life (I guess that means that the “God is my co-pilot” bumper stickers are meaningless), God can do amazing things with us, his own “F-16’s”.

For instance, let’s suppose Abraham had decided to set out on his own way instead of taking the journey God had set before him. What if he had decided to pack up bag and baggage and go it alone?  His journey could well have turned into a meaningless and purposeless disaster.  But he didn’t go it alone; instead he chose to listen to and follow God’s lead.  He chose to let God be the “Pilot”.  And by doing so, Abraham experience God’s blessings…and the rewards were greater than he could have ever imagined.

God’s blessings and God’s piloting will provide the same results for us. When we begin a relationship with him, he calls us to leave behind what’s been comfortable and familiar for us and to set out on a journey filled with wonder, blessings, and his promise of a new life.  It’s on that journey to obedience that we’ll leave behind old habits, old attitudes, old sins, and old ways of thinking.

How about letting God be the Pilot of your life. Allow him to guide you, offering you not only a full and satisfying journey through life but a home for all eternity.  Just like the F-16 pilot, God’s ready and willing to take over the controls of all your potential, placing it in his skillful hands so he can use it to fulfill his ultimate mission.

Lord, take over the controls of our lives as you fly to whatever missions you have for our lives, to the moon, and beyond all existing universes where we’ll ultimately land in your heavenly home.  Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

July 24, 2017

But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent,

                                                                                                                         2 Corinthians 11:3

One of the things I always looked forward to at the end of a worship service was the opportunity to greet people at the door as they were leaving church. While the visits were usually of short duration, it did provide time to gain a snippet of information about what may have been going on in their lives over the past week.  Most of the time, in response to my greeting and my question of “How are you doing;” the response would be the perfunctory “Fine” or “Doing okay”.  But I do remember one person one Sunday morning responding with the words, “Status quo.”

Status quo. Isn’t that the type of life that most of us would like to live? It’s the one we’re drawn toward.  But let’s face it, you and I both know that life is rarely a walk in the park, where the skies are never cloudy, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and it never rains on our parade.  Granted, status quo appears easier.  It’s the kind of life that doesn’t take courage, risk or passion to live.  It’s the lifestyle where we become comfortable with our small, selfish agendas and don’t want anything to upset our apple carts.  Status quo seems safe.

But there’s a problem with that sort of lifestyle. When you settle for living status quo, your salt begins to lose its flavor and your light begins to dim, and then there comes that gnawing feeling within you that’s telling you that you want something more.  Why?  It’s because you’ve probably settled for something less than what God desires for you.  Jesus didn’t live and die so that we could live status quo.  He came to give us life to the max.  Real life doesn’t begin until we reject the lie that status quo is safe and choose a life of devotion to Christ.

Devotion to Jesus makes people come alive inside. Devotion to Jesus shatters that status quo mindset.  Devotion to Jesus causes people to become real change agents in this world.  Devotion to Jesus is the salt that enhances and preserves our world, and it’s the light that illuminates the darkened corners.  Devotion to Jesus creates peace and joy in your heart and provides contentment in the midst of a crazy economy and a lousy job market.  Devotion to Jesus is the foundation to build your life upon.

We all wish for a strong foundation for our lives. Jesus describes that strong foundation this way: “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock.”

One of the things you’ve got to love about God is that he gives us choices. Yet, the choice is pretty clear: Devotion to Jesus leads to real life built on a solid foundation.  Ignore God and all you’ll end up doing is settling for status quo, placing your life in peril, and facing the danger of collapse.

So, ditch the “quo” and grab the “go”, and go out and live a life filled with the all the excitement God can provide and all the joys of that relationship with your Creator.

God, connect us to that excitement-filled life and not one of ho-hum status quo. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

July 18, 2017

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.

                                                                                                                                   Matthew 5:33

 We’ve all heard them and we’ve all been mystified by them. The “them” I’m referring to are those songs with lyrics that often times get misquoted and miss-sung.  Probably the classic example is Credence  Clearwater’s song, “Bad Moon on the Rise.  What a personal financial boon it would be if someone would agree to give us a nickel for each time someone sang, “There’s a bathroom on the right” instead of the actual words to the title.

There’s a song I heard again the other day with certain portions of lyrics that I’ve never been able to understand. The song is by Seals and Croft and it’s “I Really Want to See You Tonight”.  There are two lines in that song that I’ve never been able to understand.  The first is: “I’m not talkin’ ‘bout…?  The other is “I won’t ask for…?”  Well, I finally decided it was time to end my frustration so I logged on to the trusty Internet and went lyric exploring.  What I discovered was that the mystery word in the first of those two lines turned out to be “movin’ in”.  The second mystery word was “promises,” which made the line read: “I won’t ask for promises, so you don’t have to lie.”  So finally I was able to fill in some information that previously I didn’t have and the message in the song actually made sense.

Sometimes (way too often) we come across Bible passages like the one above and immediately we realize that there’s some info out there somewhere that we don’t have. In the second line of the verse above, Jesus instructs his listeners: “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” I don’t know about you, but I know I don’t know enough about this “vow making” thing as it applies to the culture of Jesus’ time.  Just how important was a person’s vow back then?

We can read in other parts of scripture just how important vows were when they were made to God. Take Hannah for instance: she begged, pleaded and prayed to God for a child.  In faithfulness to God for answering her fervent prayers; upon the birth of her son, Hannah promised God that she would dedicate the child’s life and service to God…which she did.  There’s another “promise” passage from the book of Acts regarding seriousness of the Nazirite vows (actually, it first comes up in the story of Samson) of shaving one’s head and purification rights.  But I think the classic Old Testament example, especially since it turns out horribly wrong for him, is that of Jephthah’s vow that he makes to God in Judges 11, that he will offer as a burnt offering to God once he returns from a successful fight, whatever greets him upon his return (only to have it be his daughter).  Each one of these seems to be some exceptional case, so why is Jesus reaching back to these vow-making situations?

His purpose is to help the people of his day (and us) understand the importance of one’s vow to God, something that we too often take too lightly. Jesus wants them and us to understand the reality that promise making and promise keeping are essential for getting along with others (and God) and that promise breaking can serve as a death knell to the human community.

Did you ever do this as a child…sure you did, we all did. As children, we readily learned that if we’d embellish our promises with some word of sincerity, it would prove that we really, really meant it.  You remember all the clever phases, don’t you?  “Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” “I pinkie promise.”  And then there’s the classic… “I swear on a stack of Bibles.” We were convinced that such phrases added to our promise would more than likely get us what we wanted.  Doesn’t it seem like this is what Jesus is going after here?  Vow making is nothing more than a way of manipulating God or others into doing what we want.

But with his words to the people, Jesus is telling them to keep things simple. Let our answers be a simple “yes” or “no”.  And then we need to follow through with our promise.  We need to do what it is we said we were going to do.  We should never use our promises to manipulate others.  We need to live lives of integrity and trustworthiness…the glue that binds relationships together.

God, we’ve learned all too well just how much words matter. Our promises matter as well.  Guide us in our dealings with others so that we might prove to be trustworthy people.  And, Lord, protect us from those who would attempt to manipulate us by promising what they can’t deliver or by appealing to our basest instincts and desires.  Amen.