Author Archives: Pastor Troy Keaton

About Pastor Troy Keaton

Founding pastor at EastLake Community Church at Smith Mountain Lake Virginia.

Stepping out or settling down?

images-6Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us. Eph. 3:20

I recently have been reminded that every so often Christian leaders and Pastors have a very serious choice to make. It seems for me that about every 3-5 years I am faced with this decision. This choice is one that determines our level of effectiveness, the growth of our faith, our level of obedience and ultimately our level of satisfaction in this life.

Regularly through the cycles of life, leadership and ministry ever one of us has to choose between stepping out further on the difficult path of faith or settling down on the well-worn seat of mediocrity.

At some point we are all familiar with both decisions. Somewhere in the genesis of our ministry or at the beginning of a new assignment we have felt our passion and excitement merge with the necessary energy to be bold and courageous enough to pray and work to see God do something bigger than our own abilities. At other times following difficulty, failure or just a lack of vision we have decided to back-off, let up and settle down.

Lest the distinction between these two decisions be misunderstood let me make clear I am not talking about becoming a sleepless work-aholic, one who ignores for the sake of work the greatest priorities in life. Every leader must first rest, spend time in the Word, Pray and lovingly serve their family.

What I am talking about is not exclusively an action it actually has more to do with vision than it does with cluttering our calendars. It’s more about faith than it is about function. Actually one may take the comfortable road of settling down and end up with more “to do” than if had they “stepped out” in bold faith for God. We limit God when we only see the task of life that we perform as his plan. The work of God is not so much about what I can do as it is trusting him for the supernatural work that only he can perform.   One is settling down by marking off a list, being comfortable with weekly accomplishments. Year after year going through the motions of ministry without ever really risking anything for God’s Kingdom. This road is paved with safety, comfort, passivity, is predictable and only performs the maintenance task of life and ministry.   The other is stepping out into an uncomfortable, risky, aggressive, spontaneous, sometimes controversial, yet transformational path. This path is marked by prayer and sincere belief that God wants to do something powerful in this world for the sake of the Gospel and His Glory.

The allurement of settling down has caused many to fall short of the best God has for
them. The ministry becomes a casual routine distracted by a myriad of good, safe, predictable things. The excitement is more about a fulfilling hobby, a relaxing pleasure than the unseen, unfulfilled work of God in their life and ministry. Prayer is scarce, spiritual burdens are light and sermons are little more than a last-minute, inspired download.

At the heart of this for me is the question, “what am I willing to believe God for today in my life, my family and His Kingdom in this world?” I have been blessed to watch God do some really great things.  And yet it seems with each new blessing and experience of God’s grace comes the temptation to “settle down”. Isn’t this enough? Can’t we just be content, Lord? Must we step out again? Do you realize how crazy this sounds?  What about my comfort? What if I fail? These questions and a thousand more are the arrows of the enemy to stifle our faith and chase us to a place of comfortable repose.

So today we are all faced with this choice. By grace let’s resist the temptation to take the broader way. Let’s believe again for the impossible, dream again for our church and it’s Gospel impact in your community. Be burdened for the person it seems is the most hopeless. Expect God to move in our churches this weekend, anticipate the unexpected transformation that accompanies the work of the Holy Spirit.   Be it great or small let’s make today about stepping out not settling down!

“Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God.” William Carey


Maybe the earth is flat

If the title of this article startles you perhaps it should. Although the question over the shape of thimages-5e earth seems to have been answered long ago, (Even the Bible affirmed this in, Isaiah 40:22 It is he who sits above the CIRCLE of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain.”) This past week it made major news when NBA All-Star, Kyrie Irving, made the claim on a podcast that the earth indeed was flat. This created quite a news story with people asking him during all-star weekend if he indeed denied such obvious reality.

He said on the Jefferson and Frye podcast: “This is not even a conspiracy theory,” “The Earth is flat… It’s right in front of our faces. I’m telling you, it’s right in front of our faces. They lie to us.” He later reiterated those beliefs to ESPN’s Arash Markazi when he said.   “I think people should do their own research, Hopefully they’ll either back my belief or they’ll throw it in the water. But I think it’s interesting for people to find out on their own.” He went on to say “I know the science and I don’t mind going against the grain in terms of my thoughts.” http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/18710759/kyrie-irving-cleveland-cavaliers-believes-earth-flat

I know the earth is round, but I fully understand how Kyrie can make such a claim and I am even surprised that people are shocked to hear him say so. You might be asking “under what premise can someone legitimately deny such a proven scientific reality?” It’s very simple, in a worldview that denies absolute truth and where truth is relative, the earth can be flat, and this is the prominent worldview in our world today. Relativism says, According to a Stanford university study in 2015, there can be no framework-independent vantage point from which the matter of whether the thing in question is so can be established. Relativism has been, in its various guises, both one of the most popular and most reviled philosophical doctrines of our time. It is seen as a harbinger of tolerance.”

This is a world where one can believe anything as truth and be tolerated or even celebrated. You see there is no absolute truth so Kyrie Irving believes the world is flat, why are we giving him grief? What happened to the “harbinger of tolerance?” Fortunately for Kyrie his teammate, Lebron James still embraces relativism, he said;if he decides he wants to say the earth is flat, so be it, He’s an interesting guy, and he believes it.”

In a world where facts are fluid, truth is transient through time and morality moves with prevailing cultural shifts, maybe the earth is flat.

If a man can be a woman and a woman can be a man without any scientific evidence, maybe the earth is flat. If a beating heart, a brain, fingers, toes, arms and legs, feelings and sensations are not a human being, maybe the earth is flat.

You see the problem we have is not that there is debate over the shape of the earth, It’s that we no longer know the foundations of truth, morally, scientifically or eternally.   We have created a reality of our own making along with science and morals to back it up. In that world, Kyrie Irving’s claim is totally legitimate so for that matter the world can be square.

This madness comes subtly over time. When we question the creator it won’t be long until we are questioning the creation.   Our country long ago abandoned the source of truth and now we are a ship without a sail on the sea of reality.

The pathway back to real truth is to embrace the one who said, “I am the WAY, the TRUTH and the LIFE.”   The one who was “In the beginning and was with God, and who was God. The one through whom All things were made, and without him was not any thing made that was made. Trust me Jesus Christ knows the shape of the earth and not even an all-star NBA player can change that truth!


The night we met Joseph and Mary

If the title startles you, it should. What a claim. Let me explain

For years, following our Christmas Eve services, my wife, our kids and I would travel downtown Roanoke with a mini-van full of cookies

, coffee, hot chocolate and warm clothing. Our desire was to show a homeless person the love of Christ on Christmas Eve. This was a meaningful time together for our family.

On one occasion, late at night, we were just about finished with our distribution we noticed a couple walking across an empty lot. The kids were eager to stop and distribute our goodies. My parents were with us and as we pulled along side the curb the kids and my wife climbed out of the van and offered the small gifts we had. Our kindness was received with joy and a request for prayer. The kids invited my dad and I to get out so we put the van in park and joined them for a time of prayer. This is when we learned their story. They had been turned away from Rescue Mission, which was already full and ha no beds available for them. They were from North Carolina, she was pregnant, they were not married and they were worried about spending this ni001ght in the bitter cold. We prayed with them got back into our van and pulled away. We didn’t drive very far before we began to discuss their plight and our responsibility to them. Had we really on Christmas Eve met a travelling, expectant, unmarried couple who had no room to stay? Would we do nothing about it?

Immediately we began driving around looking for them determined to get them a hotel room. A few minutes later we found them cuddled up on a park bench a few blocks away. We invited them to get in and took them to a local hotel for the night. We’ve never seen them again since that night.

Had we really met Joseph and Mary? No, not literally. What we had witnessed was the humility of the birth of our Lord. This story drove home a reality that we often lose in the glamor and beauty of the season. We are so good at decorating the manger and articulating the narrative that sometimes we forget the humiliation Christ embraced when he wrapped himself in skin.

Christmas is the message of the Incarnation of God. The amazing thing about Christmas is that the creator of the world wore human flesh, flesh like yours and mine, The flesh of a young unwed mother who had no place to stay the night of his birth. Someone put it like this, “A thousand times in history a baby has grown to become a king, but only once in history has a King stooped to become a baby”.

This is the message and meaning of Christmas. More than just the celebration of his birth Christmas is the epicenter of the human timeline where God entered into this world on a mission to redeem humanity from the universal condition of sin.

Christmas is the promise made and kept about Jesus. Christmas is the arrival of the Incarnate God as a baby wrapped in human flesh. Christmas is the visible unfolding of God’s plan to save the world from sin. Christmas is the dividing line in human history. All of these are centered around and focused upon the one we all love and serve Jesus. He is more than another religious figure who started a religion, he truly is the central figure of time and eternity, the darling of Heaven, the promise of God the creator and the longing of every human soul. This is Christmas!

I don’t know what ever happened to our “Joseph and Mary”.  My prayer is that they have come to know and serve the one, who like they, was homeless on Christmas Eve.

 


Ok, here’s what I am doing Wednesday morning… depending on who wins!

doube-face-palmThis election is different in that there are such polarizing differences in the candidate and particularly in the platforms. So, I have decided to articulate in this article what I intend to do starting Wednesday morning, depending on who wins the presidency.

If Hillary wins. I will be extremely disappointed. Her views on most everything I care about and the things I teach from the Bible, are wrong.  Although I didn’t support President Obama I never dreamed we would move so fast in the wrong direction over the past 8 years. The issues of Life, Liberty and Security have all been attacked at new levels under this administration. If Hillary wins we can expect the continued rapid descent away from truth and morality in our nation.   We can also expect stronger attacks on our freedoms as Christians. As a Pastor who has immutable conscientious views on morality I know my freedom to minister as called by God will be jeopardized.  So if she wins here is my plan.

  • I am going to know that I must rely more on God than ever before!
  • I am going to have to commit to praying more than ever before!
  • I am going to make a personal commitment to studying and following the scriptures.
  • I am going to realize that Washington is not capable of saving us and must make a renewed commitment to proclaiming the Gospel as the only hope for our nation and our world!
  • I am going to have to walk every day under the leadership of the Holy Spirit in my personal life. Making personal holiness and devotion to Jesus my highest priority.
  • I am going to have to provide a Christian world-view education to my children and the children of our community.
  • I am going to commit to making our church a house of prayer for all nations.
  • I am going to walk in confidence and faith and know that Jesus holds my future not the government!

If Trump wins. I will be happy. The reason is, is that the platform and positions he has embraced in this election align best with my own beliefs. In no way do I defend or condone his past behavior but I have only two options and must choose the one who says he will defend babies in the womb, appoint justices that will uphold the constitution, defend my rights to pastor as I feel called and will have a government made up of people who hold more traditional Judeo-Christian values. (Some of my own friends are being vetted to work in a conservative government) So I will be relieved and happy if Donald Trump wins. So if he wins here is my plan.

  • I am going to know that I must rely more on God than ever before!
  • I am going to have to commit to praying more than ever before!
  • I am going to make a personal commitment to studying and following the scriptures.
  • I am going to realize that Washington is not capable of saving us and must make a renewed commitment to proclaiming the Gospel as the only hope for our nation and our world.
  • I am going to have to walk every day under the leadership of the Holy Spirit in my personal life. Making personal holiness and devotion to Jesus my highest priority.
  • I am going to have to provide a Christian world-view education for my children and the children of our community.
  • I am going to commit to making our church a house of prayer for all nations.
  • I am going to walk in confidence and faith and know that Jesus holds my future not the government!

Would love to hear how you will respond to each one being elected!


10 Things you can do to Heal this Nation

broken-flag-2Recently I spoke to a family counselor who told me they are counseling people over the fear and anxiety produced by this election cycle. We are all dealing with some profound questions. How did we get to this point in our nation’s political process? Does my vote even matter?   What will happen to our country if ____________ gets elected? Perhaps the greatest question we are facing is; Is there anything I can do to help this nation? There is! Let me encourage you today that a nation is not great because they have the right president its greatness is always determined by righteous people.

So here are 10 things I suggest we can all do to heal this nation.

TAKE RESPONSIBILITY PERSONALLY. We all need to realize the answer begins with us. I must first do what I desire others to do, be what I want others to be and live out the principles I desire to see in our world. I cannot expect others to do what I myself do not embrace.

UNDERSTAND THE PROBLEM SPIRITUALLY. We live in a world where the spiritual battles are played out in the physical realm. As a Christian I understand that there is a force of evil that longs to kill, steal and destroy my life, my family and our nation. The scripture says we “wrestle not against flesh and blood”.   Failing to realize that there is a spiritual battle going on in the unseen world further distances me from a solution.

LIVE MORALLY. If I want a president, a governor or a neighbor that is moral I need to first model morality. Sadly in our nation we act appalled at the political scandals that recently have played out and yet pornography is a lucrative internet profit-maker. We feign outrage over a candidate that falls below a moral standard and yet buy 125 million copies of 50 Shades of Grey. We’re hypocrites if we have erotic material on our computers, phones and bookshelves and expect that our leaders will be different. Leaders reflect morality more than they direct it.

PRIORITIZE FAMILY. God has created society so that the strength of the family unit determines the strength of a nation. Today I can change this country by being loving and faithful to my wife, loving and modeling holiness to my children and taking full responsibility for their welfare.

PRAY EARNESTLY. In scripture we are told that God gets involved in the affairs of men in two ways. First, by raising up and taking down rulers and secondly, in answer to the prayers of his people. If God is involved in governments and He answers our prayers, now is the time to pray! Prayer does not change things, God changes things and prayer puts us in touch with the one who has the supernatural power to alter our national circumstance.

LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY We need a baptism of divine love in our world. Love is like a flame that melts the hardest steel. Not an explosion but a steady force of melting heat that softens even the coldest heart. I need to realize that I must love everyone regardless of whether they agree or disagree with me. Never let the sign in someone’s yard determine your treatment of them!

WORK DILIGENTLY In our effort to improve our world let us not “grow weary in well doing” (Gal 6). As a pastor I must love, serve, pray and shepherd my people faithfully. If you are involved in the political process work hard till election day.   Whatever your assignment is, make sure it is noble then don’t give up, don’t lose heart and don’t quit.

DISAGREE GRACIOUSLY. When you merge an election cycle with social media we bring out the very worst in all of us. “Let your conversation be seasoned with grace” Col. 4:6

THINK BIBLICALLY. Our nation was founded on a Judeo Christian value system.  If every person would once again embrace a world-view framed by scripture our life would improve, your family would be healthier and our nation would once again prosper.

VOTE CONSERVATIVELY. Either voting matters or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t matter who you vote for then vote because you CAN, It is a right that you should exercise. If voting makes even the slightest difference then vote because you SHOULD. We all agree there are no perfect options in this race. But the reality is that one of these candidates will take several thousand people to DC with them to run the government. These people will either be people with a conservative or liberal ideology. Voting on the issues of religious freedom, protection of the unborn, conservative economic policy and conserving our founding principles will make this country better, so vote conservatively.

As we debate about the issues remember that 3 weeks from now this will all be over,  you are going to still need friends and the world will still need Jesus! Embrace these principles and go change the world!

 

 


The lost art of civility

screaming-1368564297America has for centuries been a shining beacon of democracy for the world. The people of the world want to live here, vacation here and have their medical procedures done here. Our elections have been a model for the world’s governments who too often cannot transfer power without the shedding of blood. With the risk of sounding boastful, our model of freedom, based upon individual rights and responsibility, has made us the greatest nation in the world.

Dr. Oz Guinness shared recently that America has been unique because of our “Civil Public Square”. In the ancient world there was an actual “public square” where people would gather and discuss issues of the day. In more recent centuries that public square was figurative as books, newspapers, magazines and more recently radio and television have been the place of discourse. Today our “Public square” is “virtual.”  With the internet and devices, everyone is everywhere speaking to all people at once.

Dr. Guinness described the three types of public squares in the world, The Sacred public square where government and the church are one. You are only free to embrace the ideas of the prescribed religion. Detractors are punished. Iran, Saudia Arabia are modern examples. The Naked public square where there is absolutely no religion allowed at all. Communism has illustrated this well over the 20th century. In this square all religion is banned and the faithful are persecuted.

America has had a third type of public square that he called the Civil Public Square. This is based upon the first amendment which ensures the freedom for all people to assemble, to speak, to choose and the added freedom of conscience. All views are welcome and respected with civility. One is free to meet with whomever they choose, say whatever they desire , choose to do or not do based on preference and free to do or not do because of deeply held conscientious convictions.

The nature of the civil public square is illustrated with a boxing metaphor. In ancient boxing the boxers had no boundaries and fought until their opponent was dead. They literally boxed all over the courtyard or town. Later an Englishman “civilized” boxing with a ring, rounds of certain length and the respect of one boxer to another that began the match with them touching gloves. An official watched over the match, a winner was declared and everyone went home… alive! Our democracy has been much like that. We have vigorous debate, play by the rules, respect our opponent and then respect the outcome. That is what makes us civil and different from most of the world.

Sadly, civility is disappearing! Just look on your social media feed. This election cycle has brought out the worst in all of us and our respect and tolerance of other opinions can no longer be discussed without vitriol and sometimes hatred itself.  We are systematically removing the boundaries around the “ring” again and “boxing” without rules with the aim of killing our opponents.

Today not all views are respected.   Religious freedom is being pushed out of the public square. We are moving more and more to the “Naked” public square where religion is demonized and labeled as discrimination. Freedom of conscience is no longer regarded and other freedoms will soon be gone as well.

My friend Dr. John Neihoff recently wrote; A free and democratic republic is based upon a freedom of speech which allows a healthy, lively, and civil conversation about a nation, its values, its direction, and its beliefs. When discourse dies, the chains of enslavement clank in the shadows. For when discourse dies, dissent dies with her.

Ideas die with her. Integrity dies with her. Honest quest for truth dies with her. Freedom dies with her!

 So as we enter the final weeks of this election cycle here are three things to remember.

  • In America we win by persuasion not coercion.

If we cannot win out of sound arguments, good logic and rigorous debate we cannot win. Coercion is for the despot not the free.

  • Guard what you say on social media.

Virtual communication is detached from emotional accountability and often is misunderstood. In other words we often will say something on social media that we would never say to someone’s face. This kills civility!

  • Finally as Christians remember we are followers Jesus.

As disciples our behavior should reflect his. Our treatment of others should be modeled after his treatment of others. Our goal is the glory of God not the promotion of a political agenda and our hope is not found in a donkey or an elephant but is found in the Lamb of God!

 


Jesus For President?

13876112_1275860749114813_3324922387622109000_nThis Fall we are launching a Wednesday night Bible Study at our church entitled “Jesus for President”.  Our staff even produced a really eye-catching billboard to promote this concept. Many have asked, “what does this mean?” Here is an article that will publish this week in our local paper to explain.

The Democratic and Republican National conventions have recently concluded and they have both put forth the problems and their solutions for our country. Regardless of your political persuasion we must all agree the problems we face as a nation are bigger than any one candidate or political party can solve. Although I strongly believe in Christians being engaged in our political process I do not believe that the full answer for the problems we are currently encountering in our nation lie in politics. Let me encourage you to pray for our nation, our leaders, our candidates and vote based on who will do the most God-defined good for this nation. There are no perfect candidates, there are no perfect parties and the best they both will do is short of the need that we have in this country.

So what is this “Jesus for President”? The Direct answer is, it is a BIBLE STUDY that we will be doing on Wednesday nights at 6:30 PM beginning August 31 and running to November 16. During this time we will be taking the Top Ten Political issues of this year’s campaign and simply asking “what does the Bible say about this issue and what does Jesus want me to do to fix it?” It will be a Bible Study on issues such as Immigration, Economics, National Security, Social Issues and more. We believe the Bible is true and speaks relevantly to these issues today.

Believe it or not this article is not a back-handed solicitation for the community to come to EastLake. Although you are certainly welcome, on a typical Wednesday night we already are full and overflowing. What this is, is a challenge for every one of us who believes in God to look to the Word of God for answers and then to live out those solutions every day.

As you well know, Jesus is not actually on the United States for President ballot this Fall. (Oh How I wish he were) But what we may have forgotten is that he is on the ballot in a more consequential election every single day. He is on the ballot of our hearts, our minds and our behaviors. I believe that if more of us would choose to follow and obey his plan for our lives this country would be so much better off. The words of Jesus heard and obeyed in the lives of a million citizens will do more good in one day than a single candidate who spends a billion dollars to get elected can do in 4 years.

The beautiful thing about Jesus he not only gives us the path to walk but through his grace he gives us the supernatural ability to walk in obedience to his commands. What we need in this nation is not an external cure but an internal healing of every heart that is full of self-centeredness, lust, deceit, anger, hatred, rage and wickedness. This only Jesus can do. There are not enough laws or law enforcers for a nation whose people’s hearts are turned against what is right and true. We need God to do what he promised he would do in Ezekial 36“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes.”

Elections matter and do have consequences. I will be active and vote, but as we enter into the final leg of this presidential campaign, as we make phone calls, put up yard signs and knock on doors may we never expect a bombastic billionaire nor a perennial power-hungry politician to solve this nations greatest problem, Only Jesus can do that!