Another Word…by Gus Keiser

August 29, 2016

And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man… And his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he did prosper in his hands.

                                                                                                                             Genesis 39: 2-3

 You may not be aware of its existence, but there is a rather dangerous doctrine that has infiltrated God’s church, brought about by a terrible misunderstanding of our Lord’s teaching. It’s called prosperity theology or the prosperity gospel.  It had its origins in the 1950’s but has grown in popularity in recent years partly due to economic issues that have been plaguing our society for quite a few years.  One of its biggest proponents has been the Rev. (?) Joel Osteen, through his mega church and TV ministry out of Houston, Texas.  This false teaching or belief is practiced by some Christians who believe that financial blessing and physical well-being is always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations will increase their material wealth.  Based on traditional interpretations of the Bible in Judaism, it is less of belief in Christianity.  Prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans, but only if humans have faith in God, then he will deliver.  This doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment, proposing that it’s God’s will for his people to be happy.  This atonement (reconciliation with God) is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which followers of this gospel view as curses to be broken only by faith.  They believe that this can be achieved through donations of money, visualization and positive confession.

We live in a world where prosperity has become the yardstick by which we often measure a person’s success. Usually we think of prosperity in terms of money or other material possessions (the more you’ve got, the more prosperous you are).  But in the passage above we read about a man who was prosperous, but in a different sense.

Joseph was the pampered son of a wealthy family. Angry at his perceived arrogance, his brothers sold him into slavery, where he finally ended up in Egypt, serving Potiphar’s house.  But in this story we also read that he was personally prosperous… prosperous because God was with him…”And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man… The Lord made all that he did to prosper in his hand… He experienced the “prosperity of God’s presence.”

 God had a genuine interest in Joseph, so he watched over him and cared for him. And even though he may have been homesick and lonely, God remained with him, closer to him than any member of his family had ever been.  So, instead of pitying himself and feeling sorry for himself, Joseph remained cheerful and in such a way that those who were around him were readily aware of God’s presence in his life.  I’m certain that there had to have been times when Joseph experienced discouragement, defeat, depression and bitterness.  But even during those times his life reflected the strength of his faith.  It wasn’t until later, however, that Joseph was able to look back on his experiences and was able to say to his brothers, “But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God made it all good.” Through it all, Joseph was able to experience God in all his circumstances.

While God doesn’t promise we will always prosper in all circumstances, what he does promise is that he will always be with us. So, while we may not always experience “prosperity,” we can always experience the “prosperity of God’s presence with us, because, as the writer of Hebrews reminds us… “…for he has said, I will never leave you, or forsake you.

 Lord, may the greatest riches we ever possess be those of your love, mercy and forgiveness. Amen.

 

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

May 2, 2016

 

The Lord your God… will take delight in you with gladness…he will rejoice over you with joyful songs.

                                                                                                                         Zephaniah 3:17

 

I’m not a big praise song person. While I understand why many churches make them a part of their worship; I find them to be too repetitive and lacking a solid message.  For me, and many people benefit from this, they are nothing more than “feel good” songs.  There is one however, that proclaims a very fundamental but powerful message.  Perhaps you’ve heard it or even sung it.  It’s based on the words of Philippians 4:4…

 

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!

Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice!

Rejoice, rejoice, and again I say rejoice!

 

We hear a lot about rejoicing in the Lord, finding our joy in him, and being glad in his presence. And the very presence of God gives a lot with which to be delighted.  But doesn’t it seem rather odd to hear that God delights in us?  Hearing such words should carry our joy to a whole new level.  Think about it… our God and Lord, Maker of heaven and earth, the One worthy of more praise than we could ever give, that sovereign ruler smiles and sings over us. I don’t know about you, but I find that hard at times to comprehend.

 

We go about our lives busying ourselves with responsibilities and immediate cares, interrupted from time to time by that realization of God’s love as it sort of steals over us at unexpected moments… a brush of peace, a sigh of contentment, a whispered sentiment that our inner heart recognizes as its source…the Holy Spirit. It is these moments that bring relief to our scattered selves because we know that it’s God reminding us of his ever-present love.

 

But in addition to sharing his love, God is also letting us know that he is smiling on us. His smile not only shows love, but it also shows that in this world of dubious and shaky relationships, someone honestly likes us.  God by his very nature is love; but we too often conjure up this mixed-up view of him that paints him in a haze of frowns and angry-browed expressions toward us.

 

How unfair can we be to assume that he prefers grumpy instead of joyful toward his children? How many parents do you know who wear a chronic frown for their precious child who messes up every now and then but who earnestly wants to please their mom and dad?  God loves to smile on us as he helps us to grow.  Our behavior may not always earn a smile from him, but our identity as his children always does.  Some wise person once said…”God’s smile sets the flowers in bloom, the sun to shine, and his children at peace. How true, how true, how true

 

So, as God calms your soul for yet another day, let your mind adopt a new picture of him…as your heavenly Lord who smiles on you…his delight.

 

Lord, the thought of your smile makes us want to live more fully for you. May we bring that smile to your face more often.  Thanks for delighting in us.  Amen.

 

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

March 7, 2016

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

                                                                                                                                     1 John 4:16

 

Following the reports of tornadic activity in Lancaster County the other day; I called my good friend Beetle to make sure that he and his wife hadn’t been affected by the storm. Fortunately, the storm struck about twenty miles from where they live, so they were fine.  In order to place that call, I had to look up his number in a copy of our fiftieth class reunion book that I keep by the computer.  After having looked up his number, I found myself glancing through some of the other pages and came across an “in memoriam” page, listing all those from our high school class that have died since the time of our graduation.  About in the middle of that list I saw Earl’s name.  Earl was probably the quietest and least assuming of our class of a hundred and twenty-four.  He was never picked on for being different, but was never really made to feel a part of our class either.  One of the things that singled out Earl from the rest of us was that, every day, he carried openly and very visibly, along with his books for class, a Bible.  To the best of my knowledge no one ever teased him about it and he sort of kept to himself, often reading his Bible while eating his lunch.  He kept his religious convictions to himself, never trying to witness to or convert others.

 

After I’d put that reunion book back in its place; I reached up on shelf above the computer and pulled down my senior yearbook so that I could look once again at the faces of those who had passed, including Earl’s. But as I was closing the yearbook, my eye caught on the inside front cover some of the personal remembrances and signatures from many of my classmates, and among them was one from Earl.  Truthfully, I don’t even remember approaching Earl on those last several days prior to our graduation to ask him to sign my book, but I must have, because he left the following simple but profound remembrance for me… “Jesus loves you. Earl.”

 

Here was a guy that no one chose to spend much if any time around and who was inadvertently ignored. He was one who seemed to be unloved by the rest of our class, but one who chose not to return like for like.  Instead he chose in his own quiet way to give to others the love that was in his own heart.  What divine power must have flowed through his body to be able to overcome the negativity and separation that he experienced each day.

 

Being attracted to others is a biological ability. It comes naturally and doesn’t require a bit of discipline or effort.  To love someone as he or she loves us is something warm and fuzzy.  It should be extremely hard for us to dislike someone who treats us with love and kindness.  To love as Earl loved is difficult for most of us.  His was and should always be the kind of love that is mature enough to empathize and not merely sympathize.  It should be the kind of love that asks, “What is it like for that person?” Or, “What could I do to help that person live a better life?”  It should be the kind of love that makes us most like God.

 

So how do you and I love God today? We love him by treating someone well when he or she “appears” to be of no immediate value to us.  Is our desire this day to be great?  Then we need to start looking for someone to love and encourage, someone whose generous soul may be hidden in a quiet and unassuming persona.  Loving the “unlovable” can turn them into the prince or princess that God meant for them to be, thus turning that person’s lover into a King.

 

Lord, help us to become lovers to those whom you have first loved. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

February 29, 2016

“…for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all that she had to live on.”

                                                                                                                                         Luke 21:4

 

A young man was walking down the sidewalk one day when he encountered a rabbi who had taught him years before. By now the rabbi was a very old man, but they were still able to recognize each other.  The rabbi asked the young man, “What have you done with your life?”  The young man answered, “I have a lovely wife, beautiful children, and an excellent job.”

 

The old rabbi then repeated his question, “What have you done with your life?” The young man assumed that the old teacher had grown deaf so he loudly repeated his answer.  Then the rabbi said, “I heard you the first time.  I asked you the question again because you did not answer my question.  You told me what God had done with your life.  Now tell me what you have done.”

 

How would you answer that question? As you give thought to your answer, let’s take a look at the encounter from which the opening scripture passage comes.  This is the scene where a poor widow goes to the temple and deposits the very last of her monies.  Jesus marvels at her and asks the disciples to open their souls to her example. “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.” There is no reason to believe the woman even realized Jesus had singled her out.  But we do have every reason to believe she left the temple as quietly as she had come…being careful not to disturb the important men and temple leaders around her.

 

Christ calls upon us to serve not from our leftovers but from the main course of our life. So what does that mean for you and me?  Perhaps it means that we need to be more generous with our material possessions… or maybe with our time for our family, friends and strangers, maybe with our praise, thanksgiving, and pleas to our Lord, or maybe taking that hour on Sunday to truly dedicate ourselves to our worshiping of our God.  So before you decide to nod off to sleep tonight, give yet one more thought to the old rabbi’s question.  Hopefully, you’ll be able to truthfully answer it so you won’t have to hear it twice!

 

Lord, may what we really have to do with our lives be witnessed in our service to you and to your creation. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

November 23, 2015

 

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faiths save him?

                                                                                                                                      James 2:14

 

It’s a battle that continues to be fought within God’s church, often varying, based on denominational guidelines and orthodoxy.  By what are we saved?   By grace through faith?  By works?  James appears to muddy the waters just a bit with his remarks.  But what exactly does the Bible say about the whole issue?

 

When the Bible speaks of faith, what exactly does it mean?  The word faith could mean a body of belief or an adherence to a creed, or it could mean a warm personal trust toward God.

 

In the book of James, it’s the last definition that applies.  There is no question that figuring out the connection between belief and behavior has been a long and spirited debate within the church.  Sincere believers have been talking about this issue for thousands of years.  Entire denominations have been formed and split as a result of these discussions.

 

As part of his comments and opinions on the subject, James asks two questions.  First, he asks: “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?”  Or to put it another way, “What good are good works?” In order to drive home his point, James offers up a compelling example.  “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food.  If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?”

 

But by way of his second question, James wants to know something else: Can such faith save him?”  Can a person present a long list of good deeds to God as the basis for an eternal relationship with him?  Will good conduct, benevolence, and philanthropy be enough to satisfy the demands of God and define a person’s relationship to him?

 

Here is where we need to also consider some words from the Apostle Paul.  His response… a very hearty “no”.  He reminds us… “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith… and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God… not by works, so that no one can boast.”

 

Where do you stand with regard to all this?  Have you been relying on your “good works” as a basis for your eternal relationship with God?  If so, why not confess to God right now that you would like to receive his gift of salvation, based not on your works, but on Jesus’ once-for-all, completed sacrifice.

 

Lord, may our salvation always be based on our faith in You through your grace.  Amen.