Another Word…by Gus Keiser

June 4, 2018

Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is our fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced His perfect love.

                                                                                                                       1 John 4:18

 Housed and displayed in the Louvre in Paris is a painting by Max Gabriel which could serve as a perfect portrayal for the above text from the book of First John. The painting is entitled The Last Token. It depicts a scene from the days when Christians became innocent victims to bloody persecution and even death because of their faith.  One of the individuals in this painting is a beautiful young woman, at the very point of being savaged by a pack of wild animals.  Gabriel portrays her standing against the stone wall of the amphitheater where the persecution is taking place.  Above her, eager for the spectacle to begin, are seated rows of cheering and jeering spectators anxious to see the impending carnage.  The iron gates through which the wild animals will enter the arena have been thrown open.  Through the gates is seen coming a starved and furious tiger rushing toward the woman.

The woman is dressed in white with a dark cloak covering her head and shoulders. A pure white rose lies at her feet, thrown from the seats above by a loved one.  Her eyes are turned upward, gazing only at the one who has thrown her the rose, so she doesn’t even see the rapidly approaching beast

The hatred of those gathered in the arena’s seats, along with their total despising of this Christian woman and her faith has caused them to pronounce this death sentence upon her. So they wait, anxious for the tiger to, at any moment, lunge at the woman, mall her and kill her.  Yet it is that single rose that has entirely changed the scene portrayed in this painting.  This day there would be no wild animal devouring her, there would be no blood-soaked sand on the floor of the arena, and there would be no shrieking and cheering crowd…just a single pure white rose and a love that would allow her to triumph over cruelty and hatred…thus assuring us that love is, indeed, stronger than fear.

God of love, our hearts rejoice when we consider what your love does; that you sent your only Son, that pure white and beautiful rose, to atone for our sins.  Thank you, Lord for this selfless, loving act.  Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

May 28, 2018

You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.

                                                                                                                        Colossians 3:13

It wouldn’t strike me as odd to wake up any given morning to see any of the following news stories on the AOL newsfeed…Father mourns the death of his teenage son who was killed when a drunk driver hit the car he was driving, or, Police officer shot and paralyzed from the neck down by teenagers he was questioning in the park, or, Woman brutally beaten and raped by an unknown attacker. The father of that teenaged boy, the paralyzed police officer, the female rape victim all dealing with trauma related to a wrong done to them.  They were wrongs outside their measure of control.  Still, in all three cases, the people involved made the conscious decision to forgive the perpetrators of these trauma-producing acts.  It never ceases to amaze me how people who suffer such extreme wrongs are able to work through their pain and are willing to offer forgiveness.

If you’ve ever been placed in a position to grant forgiveness (and how many of us have not); there is no question that it can be one of the most difficult acts for us to do. That forgiveness could mean the canceling of a debt or the wiping clean of a slate.  And may we never think that the only reason we need to forgive others is so God will forgive us.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  Rather, we forgive others because God has first forgiven us.  We prove that we understand what forgiveness is all about when we forgive others.  If we regularly harbor grudges against others who have wronged us, it means that we’ve either never understood or never experienced God’s forgiveness.

Forgiveness is more than simply a suggestion from God. It’s a command.  Even though we may feel hurt and angry with others who have wronged us…and although it’s okay to take the time necessary to process those feelings…we need to forgive that person if we’ve ever experienced God’s forgiveness in our own lives.  The act of forgiving others needs to be a hallmark of those of us who profess to follow Jesus.

Loving God, as you have first forgiven us, so let us then be as willing to forgive those who have sinned against us. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

May 21, 2018

Then I said to you, “Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert.  There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.”

                                                                                                                     Deuteronomy 1: 29-31

 Those poor, poor Israelites; having had to travel through the desert many more years than they cared to count. As they approached the land God had promised to them; spies were sent out to inspect the Promised Land.  When the spies returned, they reported that there were giants possessing great strength, which frightened God’s people.  And the people began to cry out to Moses, asking why God had led them here to die

But Moses spoke out to the people, saying to them something to the effect of…”Quit looking forward and being paralyzed in fear. God will fight for you!  Look at all he has done in the past.  He carried you in your time of need.  He guided you in the darkness when you couldn’t find your way and was with you in the light when things seemed easier and clearer.  Trust in Him!”  This is something we all need to be reminded of repeatedly.

I once had a friend tell me, “Life is a lot like rowing a boat. You can only see where you’ve been.”  You know, there’s a lot of truth in those words.  As we row through this life, we may not be able to see what lies ahead, but we know where we’ve been.  Wherever you are on your journey today, whether in times of light or in the midst of darkness, never lose sight of the fact that God is with you.  As the Israelites demonstrated to us over and over, it’s often too easy to forget how frequently God has carried us in the past, especially as we face the challenges that lie ahead.

If in the midst of these times of uncertainty, if you find yourself wondering where God is, or find yourself being paralyzed with fear over what may be coming next, hold tight to these words… The Lord your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, just the same way he did for you in          (I’ll let you fill in the blank).  God will be there to carry you as he has done before, and as he will do again and again.

Lord of all strength, power and protection, into your hands we place our whole being, knowing that as you have taken care of us in the past, so will you do for the remaining days of our lives. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

May 14, 2018

“But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be a slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

                                                                                                                                 Mark 10: 43-45

 Yesterday was Mother’s Day and I would ask you: What act, out of love for her, did you volunteer to do?  In what way did you serve her?  For that matter, when was the last time you volunteered to do something for any other person?  As a parent, you’ve probably done something selfless to serve your child or your children recently.  If you’re a husband, I would hope that yesterday you did something for your wife without her having to ask you to do so.  But if you’re a single person, possibly dealing with your first job, scraping together a living while trying to make ends meet, it’s possible that it’s been a while since you’ve had either the time or the resources to do some act of service.  In our minds, most of us know that we should be serving others, but there are those times when we don’t really know how to go about it, and, after all, talking about serving is always a lot easier that actually doing it.

Jesus served others throughout his ministry. When he served others, that act often involved self-sacrifice.  Ultimately, as we know, he sacrificed his life for our sins.  When we serve others, especially those who have no way of repaying us, we imitate Jesus.  We represent Christ to those we serve.  Author, Ken Leech writes, “Christian spirituality is the spirituality of the Poor Man from Nazareth who took upon himself the form of a servant. To follow the way of the kingdom is therefore to follow him who fed the hungry, healed the sick, befriended the outcast, and blessed the peacemakers.”

Jesus’ disciples were an interesting and eclectic group of volunteers. They came from different backgrounds and each held a different ideology.  And even with Jesus living and serving others right in front of them, often times they just didn’t seem to get it.  They wondered how they could be great.  But in today’s accompanying text we find Jesus answering them this way: “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be a slave of all.”

 What Jesus provides for us here is the paradox of serving. When we choose to give ourselves away in service to others, we find ourselves.  When we empty ourselves in service, we find fulfillment.

At some point in almost everyone’s life, we find ourselves searching for identity and fulfillment. We look for it in repeated highs of promotions, exotic vacations, or with an endless parade of worldly possessions.  But the only real sense of fulfillment we should be feeling should come from serving God when we serve others in his name.  When we give ourselves away in service  to others, it is there that we’ll find meaning and joy in life that selfishness can never equal.

Lord, mold us, fill us, and use us in your name and for your glory. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

May 7, 2018

His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Come and share your master’s happiness!

                                                                                                                             Matthew 25:21

 Do you see yourself as being successful? Have you achieved the goals you may have set for yourself in life?  Unfortunately, so many people strive for success and never attain it, at least not to their satisfaction.  But hey, all we’ve got to do is turn on our televisions or computers and we’re able to purchase success in so many ways.  The marketplace is flooded with products that promise us instant success in everything from weight loss to financial freedom.  Our schools promise their students success by claiming to produce well-educated students who will succeed in college and the working world.  And there’s even a promise floating around that says if you are successful in work, business, education, sports, or the arts, you will have lived a successful life.  If that promise even contains a shred of truth, then sign me up!

Sadly, this false idea of success has also managed to infiltrate the church in almost every aspect. The measure of success for many of today’s churches is determined by the number of people on its membership rolls, Sunday morning attendance figures, the size of its staff, or by the number of people who answered an altar call for commitment and prayer.  It’s with this knowledge that we need to remember that churches aren’t called to be “successful” in the same way that success is measured in our secular world.  Instead, churches are called by God to be faithful.

In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus offers up a parable about three servants who’ve been given responsibility over differing amounts of money, or “talents”.  Two of the servants used what they were given by the Master and made some profit; however, the other one, out of fear of his Master, buried his talent in the ground, returning only what had been given to him when the Master returned.  The servants who invested their talents and brought a greater return were described as “good and faithful,” while the one who hid his talent was described as “wicked and slothful.”

Using today’s standards, there would be those who would describe these first two servants as being “successful”. Jesus, however, simply described them as “faithful”.  Are the two completely separate?  Not necessarily.  Faithfulness can often bring with it success, but more importantly, faithfulness carries with it an eternal reward.  So does this mean that we’d be foolish to strive for successfulness in our ministry to others?  Not really.  Perhaps the better goal for our lives would be to strive to be faithful.  Christ calls us to excellence and to invest whatever we’ve been given, both as a church and personally, for his kingdom.  Therefore, when we’re faithful, God can bring about whatever type of success he desires.

Lord, may our measure of success in this life come about by serving you in faithfulness and in love. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

April 30, 2018

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

                                                                                                                                     Psalm 139:14

 It was Simon and Garfunkel who urged us to “slow down, you move to fast, you’ve got to make the morning last”. It’s just been over the past several weeks that I’ve been taking a little more time to reflect on life and the fast-paced way that so many of us live it.  I find it interesting how so many people (at times, myself included) rip through life at breakneck speed, while all the time looking for one excuse after another to both do it and justify it.  And do you know what I’ve discovered?  In the process of trying to do it all and be everywhere, we are robbing ourselves of so many things that this life has to offer.  And it seems that the faster we push ourselves to go, the more and more we miss

Let’s start by realizing the fact that at the pace we’re going we’re missing many of the wonders of God’s creation around us, things such as sunsets, flowers, the beauty of a smile, and even the awesomeness of the changing of the seasons. It’s spring (finally).  How many flowers have you noticed?  Have you taken advantage of the longer days?  Have you taken even a minute to stop and listen to the birds singing?  But as we blister through life at this hectic pace, we also miss out on one of the greatest wonders of life; the person who God has created us to be.

The world watched this week in anticipation of the birth of William and Kate’s third child…not just another heir to the throne of England…but also the beginning of a new life. Louis now takes his place in this world as yet another incredibly complex being.  Have you ever stopped to consider just how complex you are just in your physical makeup?  When we consider just the physical aspect of humans, we should have every reason to be amazed!  Scientists for instance offer us such facts about the complexity of our human bodies as…

In just one year, the human heart beats forty million times.

 50,000 of the cells in the human body will die and be replaced with new cells, all in the time it took for you to read this sentence.

 Nerve impulses to and from the brain are traveling at a constant speed of 170 miles per hour.

 And this isn’t even considering the complexities of the breathing system, the rest of the nerves in our bodies, the human eyes and ears and the way they work, and countless other bodily functions that we mostly take for granted.

Amazing isn’t it? Why don’t you just stop what you’re doing right now and wonder at who you are!  It was Saint Augustine who once said…”People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of rivers, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”

 Today, why not take the time to recognize and thank God for the wonder of you!

Lord of all creation…stop us, that we might once again wonder in awe at your creative power and the majesty and beauty of all your hands have made…including ourselves. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

April 23, 2018

Thus says the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, to all exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.

                                                                                                                        Jeremiah 29: 4-5

 Here it is, Pirate baseball season again, and after a rather lack-luster Grapefruit League season in Florida, they’ve started out better than most people would have predicted, creating hope for some more glory days after the three-year playoff run they had several years ago; that following twenty plus years of losing seasons. Hopefully this recent good start will bring fans back into the seats at PNC Park.

Every team in professional sports has this cadre of devoted followers, those classified as hopeful fans. Without them, the team probably wouldn’t survive.  These aren’t your rabid fans who are constantly vacillating between intense hatred and delight during each game, or fickle fans who cheer enthusiastically during the team’s winning streaks but who also bail when the team begins to lose game after game.  These are loyal fans, fans who remain true no matter what.  They’re happy to see their team win, naturally, but still proudly wear their team’s colors even when they lose.  For them, there is always next year.

Sure, the Pirates had this record number of losing seasons several years ago, but it paled in comparison to the record of losing seasons posted by the Israelites. Nations and dynasties flourished and vanished while God’s people experienced more losers than winners.  The fact that the nation even continued to exist was a miracle in itself.  You would have thought that God would have gotten tired of losing and might have decided to sell off the team.  But God’s not that kind of God.  He’s not a quitter when things go sour.  He never gave up on his beloved children.  These were his chosen people.  He knew that with his help and guidance, they’d eventually win.  With him on their side, there would always be a next year.

He reassured this people of that fact through the prophet Zephaniah. When the storm clouds of devastation and defeat darkened their nation’s horizon, Zephaniah stood tall for God.  He added words of hope to their vocabulary.  This occurred during the reign of King Josiah, where the people experienced a season of righteousness, thus delaying God’s judgment.  They became the “Pirates” of their time, showing a rebuilding process.  They shed their old habits and eliminated their evil practices.

Unfortunately, the reforms Josiah set in place didn’t last long, and once again losing ways began to run deep throughout the nation. Yet there remained this small group who refused to give up faith.  God’s hopeful team stood fast.  They realized that “next year” might not happen anytime soon, but it would eventually come…because that’s what God had promised them.

And that same God who kept his promise to Israel keeps his promise to you and me. This is something we can always count on.  So let’s keep living as hopeful fans (both of God and the Pirates).  God’s promise describes both his relationship with Israel and the one he longs to have with us.  Zephaniah assures us…”The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”  So hang in there, better seasons are ahead!

Lord of love and faithfulness…even when the losing seasons begin to pile up, we can always find comfort and hope in your presence and your promise. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

April 16, 2018

“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?”

                                                                                                                        Galatians 5:7

 It was a hundred and six years ago this past Saturday the day that unsinkable ship sank. The Titanic was on its maiden voyage under the orders of Captain Edward John Smith.  On the evening of that tragedy, Captain Smith was attending a dinner party given in his honor in the ship’s dining room.  He excused himself and went to the ship’s bridge, having received numerous iceberg warnings throughout the weekend.  After talking to the crew, he gave orders for them to alert him immediately with any weather concerns and then retired to his cabin to sleep.

It was about 11:40 p.m. when he was awakened suddenly by the collision and he rushed to the bridge. After receiving what details were available about the collision, he then made a quick personal inspection of the ship.  He immediately ordered the lifeboats prepared, but wavered when it came to the order to lower and load them.  He eventually gave the order, but after that order was given little is known about Smith’s actions in the first two hours before the ship sank.  His legendary skills of leadership seemed to have left him.  Instead, he was curiously indecisive and unusually cautious.  He was last seen in the bridge area after having given the final order for everyone on board to abandon ship.

So often, as Christians, we, as Paul wrote to the Galatians, start the race well. We run with the greatest of speed, agility, and endurance.  We can feel the air rushing around us and we hear the crowd cheering us on as we sense the energy searing through our body.  Life is good, our faith is growing stronger, and then suddenly the road before us seems to disappear or, like Captain Smith, we smack into an iceberg.  At first, we’re not quite sure what happened and we underestimate the damage.  Soon however, confusion clouds our ability to make decisions, and the excitement of the race is replaced with the fear of never being able to finish.

Paul realized that this was the case with these new Christians so he warned them while challenging them with the question, “Who cut in on you?” They were running a good race, staying faithful to the truth of the gospel…but then something happened.  Does this scenario sound familiar to you?  Where are you in the race you’re running today?  Are you running headstrong?  Do you feel yourself loosing pace?  Or are you seeing yourself standing on the sidelines instead of running with the pack.  Most coaches will agree that anyone can start a race, but what matters is who finishes that race.

The twelfth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Hebrews begins with these words of encouragement, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

 Today, if you’ve left the race, if you’ve given up, may you be challenged to dust off those running shoes, grab your water bottle, take God’s hand, and get back in the race.

God of all power and might…strengthen us for the long run, for we know that life is more a marathon than a sprint. Be our running companion as we run the race you’ve set before us, all the way to the finish.  Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

April 9, 2018

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.

                                                                                                                        Jeremiah 29:11

 It shares the number eight on the regular part of your computer keyboard. It’s the asterisk (*).  Asterisks indicate that additional information has been omitted from the text, or at times, that the information given needs to be qualified in some way.  When you see an asterisk attached to a word or phrase, you search to find the additional information so you can learn the “rest of the story”.

However, when it comes to communicating truths about the Christian life, the need for asterisks is everywhere. Let’s use today’s Scripture text as an example.  This passage is often used to offer encouragement and hope to those who are experiencing crisis, or trial and difficulty in life.  It’s a wonderful passage, with a message that is so true!

Yet, there’s still need for the use of an asterisk here if we just leave the message isolated to verse eleven. Looking at the entire twenty-ninth chapter of Jeremiah, the context of verse 11 practically jumps off the page.  It’s part of a letter Jeremiah wrote to captives in Judah who had been uprooted from their homes and taken as captives to Babylon.  Jeremiah tells them to put down roots in Babylon, to pray and work for peace and prosperity.  This statement is followed by a statement that can be paraphrased along these lines of  “Oh, and by the way, you’re going to be captives here for seventy years and God says that after that he’ll bring you back home again,”  Then comes verse eleven: “I know the plans I have for you…”

 For the vast majority of people who would have heard or read this message of the letter, the bottom line was that they would live and die as captives in a foreign land. I can only imagine that many of them wondered how God could possibly consider this to be a good plan.

Still, it is what God said. What he offered them here was just a longer-term view: God’s good plans for a future and hope were more for the generation that would follow after the exiles and less for the individuals who read the letter.

Many of us live out our lives in a similar context. We face crises, difficulties and trials that we don’t understand.  We wonder what we’ve done to deserve them.  Sometimes, we can’t resolve them; so we begin to question God, asking him why he allows us to live through a season or lifetime of challenges.  And he directs us back to verse eleven…”I know the plans I have for you…”

 Although we may never see our life situations change drastically, how we respond to our challenges (remaining faithful to God and trusting him day-to-day) matters! If we believe in the message of Jeremiah 29:11, we’ll persevere despite the challenges, and we’ll influence those who will follow after us, for it will be they who will ultimately reap the benefits of receiving the future and hope that God promises

I think I can handle that. How about you?

Patient God…ours is not to question why. Ours is to trust you with our lives.  Teach us patience Lord.  Amen.

Another Word…by Gus Keiser

April 2, 2018

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.–Ephesians 2:8

On this Easter Monday, as you continue to nibble at your candy, I thought it might be helpful, in order to keep our minds focused on the events and the feelings associated with yesterday, to share a story with you that I’m sure I’ve offered before, but, for me at least, whose message is timeless.

One Easter Sunday, a local pastor used the following illustration to demonstrate the free gift of God’s grace: he called a bright-eyed, eager three-year-old girl with deep dimples and tight, curly hair to the platform. He then announced that she would receive the first egg of the annual Easter egg hunt. The audience cheered as anticipation of the egg hunt grew.

The pastor then asked the girl what she did to deserve the first egg of the hunt. She began to chatter into the microphone about all kinds of things as a smile grew on the pastor’s face. Then, the pastor explained to her that she did nothing to receive this egg. It was a gift. He proceeded to give her a new Easter basket full of candy and toys. Once more, the crowd cheered with excitement. The pastor asked the eager little girl what she had done to receive the Easter basket and again she began to chatter into the microphone. The crowd was beginning to pick up on the message.

Again, the Pastor told the girl that she did nothing to receive the Easter basket. As if that were not enough, the pastor looked at a brand-new bicycle that was to be given away to one fortunate boy or girl and told her there was one more gift he had for her. As another volunteer brought the shiny new bicycle to her, the audience went wild. The pastor informed the little girl that this bicycle was hers. The audience cheered with delight as the little girl’s face shone with unmistakable joy. For the third time, the pastor questioned the girl about what she had done do to receive this brand-new, shiny bicycle. Before she could begin chattering gleefully into the microphone, the pastor whispered into her ear. She looked at him and then, into the microphone, she timidly said the word “nothing.” Everyone cheered and the egg hunt began.

Grace…God’s unmerited favor toward us. It is a free gift, unearned, undeserved and waiting to be received. The apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the church in Ephesus that salvation is a gift of God. We cannot earn it, work toward it and we certainly do not deserve it. It is simply a gift. And, as with any gift, we must choose to receive it. It sounds too easy and I suppose it is. That is part of the mystery of grace. Today, ask yourself, “Have I accepted the gift of God’s grace or am I working to receive his love and acceptance?” Just like a package that is beautifully wrapped with your name on it, grace is extended to you today… not because you deserve it, but because God loves you. Will you accept the gift?

Have a joyous and happy Easter Season!

Hallelujah, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!  Hallelujah!  Amen!