Author Archives: Pastor Troy Keaton

About Pastor Troy Keaton

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

Peace, Where are you?

emotional man listening his inner voice over grey backgroundWhere is Peace? There is spirit of division in the air. In every arena of life it seems that hostility is raging.

The powers of the world are teetering on the edge of conflict and technology has made it more vocal than ever.   It seems that rage and anger are the spirits of the day.

It’s hard to even get decent news coverage anymore. The broadcast voices have all taken up sides and each program is their latest and sharpest attack on the other. Entertainment is filled with hostility. Awards shows that used to be speeches of gratitude to God and Grandma are now used as an opportunity to stir up hostility towards people and policies that we despise.

Sports was at one time a place where we could get away from the craziness of the world and unite around our favorite logo. Now the spirit of anger and division has entered this arena. From protesting the anthem, to the private lives of our heroes there is an abundance of anger and division. Last week in one issue of USA TODAY there were 7 stories on the sports page of violence on and off the field, from children’s sports to the pros.

And we all feel it. Our social media feeds display our own level of angst. We live with a sense of anxiety over the condition of our world. It has entered our homes, our places of business and penetrated our lives at every level.

So where is Peace? Humanism says humanity is on a path of evolution. Modern culture is pushing towards equality like never before and yet it seems that our “progress” has only elevated the self-centered nature of mankind and the product is more and more division among us.

The reality is that there is no peace without the source of peace. In our humanistic pursuits of harmony we have evicted the “Prince of Peace” from our lives. Our world is now reaping the results of living without the one who alone has the power to heal, restore and unite.

Hostility with one another is the guaranteed outcome of hostility with God. Whenever we try to live in our own human strength we always end up in self-centered pursuits which place us at odds with others.

As Christians we are called to be agents of peace. 2 Cor. 5:18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation The first step in knowing and living a peaceful life is to be reconciled to God our creator through Christ. Then as believers we are to work to bring the world into this same experience of peace with God.

As Christians we are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to live out practically a life of peace. Romans 12:14-21 literally gives us the practical application of a life of Peace.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

The world is living in exact opposite to these powerful words and we are suffering the consequences of our neglect.

If you consider yourself a follower of Jesus let this passage be your rule and guide everyday. Start blessing your enemies and stop cursing them. Empathize with people in good times and bad. Refuse to take every opportunity to disagree. Embrace humility, do not return evil for evil, resist the temptation to avenge yourself, do every good thing you can possibly do to our enemy and as much as it depends on you live peaceably with everyone! This would change the world.

So let’s all begin today to put this world back together, start by ensuring you are reconciled to God, then get up and determine to change the spirit of this hostile world by living out the timeless truths found in God’s word.

In the words of Harry Connick Jr. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me!

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Don’t despise the brook

dried-up-creek-bedWithin just a few sentences of being introduced to the great prophet Elijah we find him isolated, alone and siting by a brook. This colorful prophet who became a powerful instrument of God was first hated and sought after by the wicked King and Queen of Israel. His earliest assignment was a place where he had to be fed by the birds who brought him his meals twice a day.   What an entrance into ministry. Attempting to do what God had spoken he found himself afraid and alone. To make matters worse due to the severity of the drought, his only source of water dried up.

I am sure he had questions. What about my future? I thought I was doing the work that God wanted me to do? Why am I suffering when I believed this was my calling? Does God know where I am? Does anyone where I am? Does God care? Does anyone care? Is this my destiny?

Elijah isn’t the last person to ask these questions. As I study history and the lives of people who have made a difference in this world it seems they have all at one time or another been left by a dried up “brook”. Although they know they have calling to do something significant the twist and turns of life leave them in a difficult place. Show me a successful person and I will show you someone who has wept beside a dry creek-bed.

It seems that on the journey towards fulfilling God’s call we often find ourselves in a place of hardship. Perhaps you are someone who wants to have a successful business and you can even envision what it might be, but today you are wrestling with cash flow problems, troubled employees or a lack of work. Maybe you are a retired person who has dreamed and saved for the joy and fruitfulness of retirement. Only to be facing your brook experience, loneliness, confusion or the feeling of irrelevance. Perhaps as a young mother your “brook” is the duties of nurturing or caring for your family where the demands are greater than the returns. As a missionary you may be sitting thousands of miles from home with these questions. Many a pastor has labored in obscurity with the eerie silence of a dried up brook.

Today I want to encourage us all that long before God can trust us with success, possessions or people he must first prove our character in failure and difficulty. If you find yourself today sitting alone beside a dried up brook here are some things to remember.

Remember that you are never actually alone. God who created you and has called you to live out his will in this world is with his children in the most difficult of times. As a child of God he is living within you through the Holy Spirit and you have this promise that he will “never leave you nor forsake you”. It to the brook that the Lord directed him, by the brook that the Lord provided for him and at the brook that the Lord spoke clearly to him.

Remember these moments are the preparation for the next. The lessons learned and embraced in the times we often regret are some of the greatest lessons we will ever learn. There is a biblical principle that is true at every stage of life. “If we are faithful over a few things (in the lean times) the Lord will make us ruler over many”. In other words what we do when things are hard and no one is looking will determine how much we can be trusted in the future.

Remember these moments are not forever. The reality is that in everyone of our lives there are times of difficulty, times of obscurity, times of pain and tears. Be assured that these are not your destiny. Keep doing what the Lord has commanded you to do. Keep doing what is right. Keep believing in the plan God has for your life. Keep listening for the voice of the Lord.

It was in Elijah’s darkest moment that he began to hear the word of the Lord again. God knows where the brook is and he speaks clearly by it. “The word of the Lord came to him” (I Kings 17:8) It is often in our darkest moments that we will hear God speak. Keep listening for his voice. Remember the brook always precedes the blessing. Don’t despise the brook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Did you use the correct lenses?

landscape-1502913760-gettyimages-467000032Do you see the eclipse this past Monday? I accidentally did. I was doing some work on our house and had to make a run to CAPPS Home Building Supply just about the time it was at maximum coverage. Several of the employees were in the parking sharing glasses to view this “once in a lifetime” cosmic phenomena. They were kind enough to give me a look using the right lenses.

In the days leading up to this event one of the things that really stood out to me was the importance of making sure you had the correct lenses. There were warnings everywhere that you must have certified ISO 123-12-2 rated lenses or else you could severely and permanently damage your eyesight.

In the days just before the eclipse Amazon had to recall a bunch due to the fact that they were not certified.

As I thought about this I have been reminded of the crazy times in which we are in as a country. Over the past 2 weeks our country has ripped open wounds of division, racial animosity and hatred and it seems that we are as polarized and divided more everyday. You can’t watch a sporting event without seeing the political and cultural overtones of our day.

What took place at Charlottesville was a disgrace to this country. These are difficult days in America.   It’s very hard not to be forced into choosing sides in times where it seems that no side is speaking truth about all of this. Talking heads on TV, bloggers and self-declared experts on Facebook force us to a judgment. Just like the Eclipse of 2017, how we view what is going on in this world, what set of “lenses” we use to gain perspective is critically important.

I think there is a lesson in this for all of us.

Whenever we look at the problems in our world with the wrong set of lenses we destroy our ability to accurately see.

So what lenses are you using to look at the world?

Let me give us a warning about some lenses that if used can prevent us from seeing clearly the events unfolding in our world.

POLITICAL LENSES – Christians must not see the events of our world merely from a political perspective. With political lenses you only see what is good for your favorite party or elected official. Regardless of the truth or morality we care that our political ambitions and preferences come out looking good.

There are also CULTURAL LENSES – Cultural lenses are nothing more than grown up peer pressure. Cultural lenses dictate we see everything based upon what the culture accepts, idolizes, or despises then make our decisions based upon this.

With these lenses we get caught up in believing that if we can take down a monument or change our view of something we can change the way we all live and get along.  Some people worship at the altar of cultural norms others in the sanctuary of political advantage.

As Christians we should view these things through a different pair of glasses, a set of lenses that allow us to look directly at the problem, see if for what it is and respond to it accurately and in a way that brings about change and true healing.

As Christians we should see this through a GOSPEL LENS!   As men and women who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ we cannot afford to look through inferior lenses.

The Gospel is the supernatural work of God’s grace in our lives through Christ that when received by faith transforms us from the inside out. It is the Good News that we can be forgiven and delivered from sin and given eternal life.   This should be our view.

Racism, hatred and division are Spiritual and Theological issues rooted in the heart of every human being and resolvable ultimately only by the supernatural work of God’s grace in Christ through the Gospel.

The remedy is not in another roundtable discussion but in repentance and redemption.

With a Gospel lens we have a perspective that is rooted in our relationship with Christ and our new found affection for things that he loves and that honor Him.   What is honoring to Christ? What is holy and pure? What matters in Heaven and eternity? The Gospel lens is an eternal lens, a righteous lens, a Christ-honoring lens, not a political or cultural lens….

The Gospel lens removes from our hearts the things that create division and animosity. The Gospel lens allows us to see every person as equal and valuable. The Gospel lens provides the power for us to live out the life of Christ to this broken world.

On these issues the Christian living out the Gospel transcends culture and politics and provides a Christ-like grace that truly heals.

Church we must live this out! We need the church today to be first and foremost Christian. Seeing the problems of our world through any other set of lenses will get us burned and could damage our ability to see clearly in the future.

To contact pastor Troy pastorkeaton@gmail.com


Don’t be scared of fear!

bigstock-Frightened-and-stressed-young-41736385Perhaps fear has gotten a bad rap. I know fear has had some bad days and there are some things that fear does that are not good. Fear can be crippling, it can cause people to react in ways that are bizarre or even dangerous. Fear has been known to keep a lot of people from reaching their full potential. A president once notably said “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” (FDR)

But perhaps there is something to fear that we are missing.   Amy Bucher said, “People’s natural instinct when confronted with a scary situation is to avoid it. On reflection, most of us realize the downside to running away from fear: Avoidance just intensifies the feelings of anxiety and makes it hard to focus on anything else.”

Researchers say that a certain amount of fear can prove helpful in exceptional performance. “Fear signals there’s something of consequence on the line, a reason to exert effort which often produces greater results.” (AB)

Whenever we are forced out of our comfort zone or challenged to a new level there will instinctively be fear that comes along. It is in this moment that our level of discipline, faith or determination will direct our response. Fear either paralyzes or motivates, it either creates a state of frozen intimidation or drives us to whole-hearted action. This is not a fear problem but rather a me problem.

I have recently been pondering this thought as I have been challenged at a whole new level or personal, spiritual and leadership growth.   After all what great things have ever been accomplished in this world that weren’t first an intimidating fearful idea to a person? Show me something great, and I’ll show you something scary. Show me a person of great influence or accomplishment and I’ll show you a person who knows what it is to be afraid.

When we consider that we are all called to be on mission for God and his Kingdom there are a few considerations that underlie our involvement.

God’s work is always God-sized. God is up to something exceptional in this world.   God’s work is always done in a unique and exceptional ways and God’s work is only accomplished through God’s supernatural power. What is remarkable about this is that God has chosen to accomplish his work with human hands. When we understand this the only appropriate response is to reverently fear and tremble before God.

As I thought more about this it dawned upon me that just about every great leader, whether in the Bible and down through history, somewhere early on in their endeavors stood with fear and trembling before the Lord.  David ran from Saul and the throne that God had anointed him for, in fear.  Paul, was humbled at the calling of God and considered himself the worst of sinners, least among Apostles. Mary had to be told by the Angel to “fear not” when God’s plan for her life was revealed. Even Jesus trembled in the garden before the greatest act ever performed in human history and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

It seems to me that before God does something great his first order of business is to scare someone really good.

Although fear is often the entrance into the calling of God on our lives and is often the first emotion when we are tackling something new, fear is never to be our final destination. Fear that comes from hearing God’s voice and being called of God ultimately leads to great strength and courage.   The same presence that caused Moses to fear at the burning bush was later his source of strength and courage as he stood face to face with Pharaoh. The song writer of the famous hymn put it this way….’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved.

So today perhaps you read this article and are surrounded by fear. Take heart choose to respond in faith and courage. Remember you are in good company and it may just mean something great is about to happen! Don’t let fear scare you!


The Responsibility of Freedom

freedom-and-responsibility-graphic_opt

Happy Birthday America! Today we celebrate the freedom given to us by God, our founders and the brave men and women who fought and died to ensure freedom for all Americans.

It seems that nothing is more American or more attractive to people in general than the concept of freedom.   TV Commercial try to sell us their goods with the promise that it will make us free, Countries celebrate their independence with robust songs and ceremonies of freedom. Christian writer Roger Olsen states, “Politicians, businesspeople, advertisers, salesmen, military leaders and recruiters—all know how to use “freedom” to attract attention and draw interest. Few words are so common while carrying so much weight.”   Freedom is a universal desire placed in us by God Himself. And yet, there seems to be a disconnect from the concept of Biblical freedom and the freedom that is so often pursued in our culture.

As paradoxical as it may sound true freedom actually comes with restrictions. True freedom is the balance of my independence and the understanding of my responsibility to the purpose for which I was created. I am constrained to freely do what God intended me to do in this world. It is best illustrated by a train which is free only so long as it stays on its tracks; a train that jumps the tracks is “free” of the rails but no longer free in the most important sense of the word. It’s a freed wreck that leads to disaster. It is “Free,” but no longer free indeed. The rails simultaneously restrain and set the train free.

When we misunderstand freedom and abandon the “rails” upon we have been founded, We risk losing the very freedom we love so much. Ultimately unchained freedom leads to bondage.

In order to be free we need rails of restraint firmly laid in our lives. Individual responsibility is a rail upon which freedom rides. When we take responsibility for our families, our survival, or success and our failure we are closer to experiencing freedom. When we expect and demand others or a government to meet our needs or find reason to blame someone else for our problems, we relinquish the freedom we ultimately seek.

Self-Restraint is a rail upon which freedom rides. Freedom is not life without laws or limits. That is a train wreck. Until we find the grace demanded to restrain ourselves there will never be enough laws or law enforcement officers to keep us in line. The debates over gun control, drugs and sexual crimes would be solved in a moment if men and women were able by God’s grace to control their own appetites. Lives committed to “free indulgence” of everything they desire demand a society where freedom is limited by law and government. The Apostle Paul says in I Cor 10:23-24 23 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. 24 Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being. By grace he gladly enchained his own freedom for the glory of God and the benefit of others.

 Transcendent truth is a rail of freedom. In our modern attempts at liberation, we have systematically removed absolute morality and we wonder why we cannot control our society. In a world that says there is no absolute right and wrong we mustn’t wonder why freedom disappears. Where there is no God, No transcendent truth the heavy hand of government must rule. Communist regime’s both past and present have illustrated this well.

Christ and His Gospel are the answer to freedom crisis in our world. When he reigns in a life that life will find power to reign itself. A Christian embrace of freedom is the blessing of any society. By the grace of God in Christ a life is simultaneously set free and restrained by grace. This is the only hope for true freedom. Jesus said, “He who the son sets free is free indeed! John 8:36.

In his treatise On Christian Liberty the Reformer Martin Luther summed this up well: “A Christian man is the most free lord of all, and subject to none; a Christian man is the most dutiful servant of all, and subject to everyone.”


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!