Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to find out who God is, what is He like, and how to partner with Him now.

When we don't learn God's lessons

Hard times are called that for a reason…they’re hard to deal with.  But the author of Hebrews gave his readers a better perspective on how to handle the difficult times in life:

Hebrews 12:7, 11
Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons.  For what son is there that a father does not discipline?...No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

And yet I wonder…What happens when we don’t embrace God’s discipline?  What happens when we refuse to learn the lessons God is trying to teach us?

When we look back in Scripture, we find this theme of God instructing His people repeated, over and over.  Below is just one example of what He said to the Israelites after they had spurned Him and His ways.  In Hebrews, the end result of God’s teaching is the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  Keep an eye out for that here:

Isaiah 48:17
This is what the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel says:

I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you for your benefit,
Who leads you in the way you should go.

If only you had paid attention to my commands.
Then your peace would have been like a river,
and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Your descendants would have been as countless as the sand,
and the offspring of your body like its grains;
their name would not be cut off or eliminated from my presence.


God says His teaching would have resulted in peace as steady and calm like a river, and righteousness that is as massive and powerful like the waves of the sea.  What a beautiful (almost paradoxical) comparison…imagine your life…where you handle any/all situations with calmness and peace, and your life’s actions are so undeniably in tune with God’s plan for living that you move with power as your righteousness positively affects the people around you.  A life like that would be a huge comfort to us personally and even more so to those around us.

But let’s be honest…we know that we cannot grow to that level on our own.  So God offers to intentionally teach the Israelites how to be this way – how to reflect Him to the world.  It’s the same offer in our Hebrews passage, where God is training us to produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Teaching, training, and developing His people was God’s intention for the Israelites – both individually and as a nation.  It’s also His intention for us – both individually and as the church. 

But, like the Israelites, we are
hard-headed
stubborn
selfish
slow to trust God
slow to learn
prone to really messing things up
afraid

The Israelites rebelled so many times and ran so far from God, that He allowed their nation to be overtaken and plundered by other nations.  By the time they got to that point in their history, they certainly were not experiencing peace or righteousness themselves.  In addition, God says the course of the following generations was also affected – their families’ descendants and offspring were heavily impacted by the foreign invasion, to the point where family names and bloodlines were cut off or eliminated.

And when we look objectively back at the times we’ve stiff-armed God, trying to keep Him at arm’s length, we can still see some of the lasting effects in our lives and the lives of our family.  Perhaps we even say to ourselves like what was said about the Israelites: if only I had payed attention to God’s commands.  Regret and depression are heavy burdens…and we are unable to undo the past.  What do we do now?

Look back at the Isaiah passage.  Right at the top, how does God describe Himself?

Your Redeemer.

He is the one who buys back, delivers, and protects those who cannot do so for themselves.  The ones who have messed up beyond what they could ever fix or repay…they find rescue in Him. 

Yes, there were heavy consequences for how far the nation of Israel ran from God – but He did not abandon them.  Yes, God disciplines His church – but we’re still part of His family.  Our loving father is also our redeemer.  He loves us enough to show us how to live rightly, how to live well.

Even if we don’t get it right the first time.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Follow the leader (part 2)

When the Scriptures give us a direction, it’s always best that we pay attention.  If we observe God talking about the same subject more than once…well…then He’s putting down some emphasis that we need to linger on.

Twice in his closing statements and encouragements, the author of Hebrews mentions how the church body should be acting toward our church leaders.  The second one reads as follows:

Hebrews 13:17
Obey your leaders and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.


Some days, it’s great to be the leader.  You get to help people understand God and His purpose.  You see the fruit of your efforts paying off as your people mature.  People say ‘thank you’.  Sometimes, they do something to say ‘thank you’.  The sun shines and you can see God moving in the community through the work of those you lead.

Other days…being the leader doesn’t feel all that good.  People who are supposed to care about each other end up selfishly hurting each other.  They want you to fix it.  Maybe they blame you for it happening – or they blame God and you just happen to be a more convenient place to blow up.  You offer a helping hand to the community, and instead of taking it, they reject it…and you.  To the surprise of many, your own family has struggles and issues.  The pressure to be ‘perfect’ is constant.  You are always ‘on call’ – expected to effortlessly represent God and be the calm voice of reason in any situation that happens.

As members of the church body, we need our leaders.  We need them to guide us when we are walking close to God, and we need them to correct us when we are wandering (or running) away from Him.  We look to our leaders for acceptance and love, even when life has gone completely sideways and we feel like a hopeless mess.  Their reliance on God helps us believe that we can trust God, too.

To those who lead a church, in any capacity, God takes their role very seriously.  He expects the leader to maintain His perspective, so that they can keep watch over your souls.  One day, those who lead will give an account of all they taught others about Jesus – through their words and their actions.  Remember how Jesus’ harshest criticisms and biggest frustrations were because of the hypocritical Pharisees?  When it comes time to give an account, God is not going to be any easier on today’s leaders who take a similar, selfish path.

So, let’s be honest – Being a church leader is not an easy job, but the author of Hebrews says there a couple of ways we could make it easier on them.

First, he says to obey your leaders and submit to them.  I will guarantee that your church leadership will not always ‘do church’ exactly they way you want them to.  But before we go to complain, we need to check our motivations and make sure we’re not just advocating for our personal preferences.  There are likely other factors influencing your leaders’ decisions, and if God is leading them – then you don’t want to be fighting against God’s direction for your church.  By all means, we should feel comfortable bringing issues and concerns to our pastor’s attention; however, let’s be very careful and selective in what we find fault with.

Second, he says our interactions with our leaders should help them do their job with joy and not with grief.  A leader who dreads dealing with those he is responsible for is someone who will lead others as little as possible.  Certainly, a hands-off pastor would be unprofitable for you

When we obey our leaders and submit to them, we show that we trust them to follow God’s lead.  While that trust is a big responsibility, being trusted by the congregation gives our leaders confidence to do God’s work with joy and profitable to those who follow them.

So how can we support our leaders in their all-important (and sometimes draining) work?  The New Living Translation of Proverbs 11:25 is a good place to start:

Proverbs 11:25
The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.


Let’s be refreshing to our leaders when we interact with them.  Don’t bring them the unnecessary burdens of self-centered complaints.  Trust them enough to obey and submit to them.  If you don’t need something at the moment from them, then show/tell your leaders they are appreciated.

Let’s love on them, so that they can do this with joy.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Follow the leader (part 1)

When the Scriptures give us a direction, it’s always best that we pay attention.  If we observe God talking about the same subject more than once…well…then He’s putting down some emphasis that we need to linger on.

Twice in his closing statements and encouragements, the author of Hebrews mentions how the church body should be acting toward our church leaders.  The first one reads as follows:

Hebrews 13:7
Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you.  As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith.

When looking for a mentor, role model, or Godly example, those who lead in the church should be at the top of our list.  However, the author does not give his approval to cast a wide net and grab ahold of any church member in any leadership position.  He says to focus on the ones who have spoken God’s word to you.  Does your preacher teach from the Bible, or does he only teach from pop-psychology to keep the audience engaged?  When you ask a question, does your teacher point you toward God’s perspective, or she rely on feel-good statements and stories?

The leaders who have spoken God’s word to you are the ones worthy of observation and imitation

Learning to be like Jesus is a lifelong journey.  We’re not going to figure out whose lives and faith are worth imitating by only checking them out at a surface level.  It will be impossible for us to evaluate the outcome of a leader’s relationship with God if our only interaction is by watching him online or reading her books.  This is why it is best to be involved with our local church.  Find a leader there who is worth partnering with and learning from.

Once you’ve found a good example, how should we follow them?  Notice the author says to imitate their faith.  Now, let’s be clear – he doesn’t tell his readers to act out their faith in the same way their leaders have done.  They don’t also have to be preachers, teachers, worship leaders…instead they should be trusting God as they use the gifts He has given them. 

They are to imitate the leader’s character and reliance on God – not to try and do the exact same skill in the exact same way their leader operates.  This is why the author says to carefully observe the outcome of their lives.  When we are able to watch closely, we can see the strength of their faith in God…which drives their ability to lead (instead of us guessing about their relationship from afar).  We must also keep in mind there are many ways to exercise our faith and demonstrate our reliance on Him.  God does not expect us to be carbon-copies of our pastor, teachers, and other leaders.

So, the first part of following church leadership looks like this:

·       Stay local
·       Find a leader who points you toward God’s Word and God’s perspective
·       Observe their lives
·       Imitate their faith in God as you act out your own

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

My truck taught me how to share

I had a pickup truck when I was younger.  I used it to haul my stuff to college, help others move their large bulky items, and I and loved driving it around.  But after about a year and a half, I totaled it when I lost control on some black ice.  Ever since then, I’ve wanted to get another one…but we were not in a financial position to make that happen.

After we purchased our first house, there were times we just needed a truck – whether it was to get rid of stuff, to bring home a large item purchase, needing to haul away annual yard waste, loading up firewood every fall, or whatever.  We did the best we could with what we had – clearing out the seats in the back of my wife’s minivan or sometimes renting a U-Haul.  Eventually, however, a good friend offered me the use of his truck whenever we needed it.

I gladly took him up on his offer.  So several times a year, over the course of nearly 10 years, we would car-swap for a day and I would be able to take care of the task at hand.  My friend was generous like this whenever I would ask, simply willing to share what he had and help us out. 

Of course, I would heap thanks upon him and return the truck with a full gas tank…but I would always look forward to the day when I would (hopefully) have a truck of my own.  My friend was a perfect example of what the author of Hebrews encouraged his readers to do:

Hebrews 13:16
Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.


As the recipient of my friend’s constant generosity, I understood the first half of the verse quite well.  I reaped the benefit of his willingness to do good to others and to share the resources he had.

However, I had no understanding of the second half of the verse.

As far as I knew, he was only sacrificing his time when he didn’t have the truck readily available.  But my perspective changed recently – when we were finally able to purchase our own truck.

While we were in the process of evaluating vehicles and shopping around for the best deal, I told many friends that I would be more than willing to help others out.  I wanted to follow my friend’s example.  I wanted to share what God has given us and do what is good to those around me. 

Shortly after we made the purchase, another friend asked if he could borrow the truck to pick up a couch someone was giving him.  I told him, “Sure, I will gladly come with you and help you haul the couch.”  However, he said that between him and his wife, they didn’t need the extra set of hands.  They just needed a way to transport the item.  It was in that split second I understood what the word sacrifice meant in this case – I was being asked to give up something I loved, to put total control in the hands of another.  Temporarily give up, sure…but I had no guarantee of what would happen, and I would not be there to prevent anything bad from happening…

I did my best to keep a straight face and not betray the flash of conflict I was experiencing while my friend and I made arrangements for when he could come get the truck.  I’ll even admit to being slightly panged when they drove away, but God had already begun to teach me the value of loosely holding on to the things He gives me and that He is pleased when we act like Him.

When we keep all the things we have close to us or hoard the money God has entrusted to us, our entire worldview becomes very self-centered.  And, of course, when we are constantly looking at ourselves, we’re not looking toward God.

What, then, is the best remedy for our selfishness?

Hebrews 13:16
Don’t neglect to do good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.


Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

How to take a compliment

We love to receive compliments.  We relish the idea of someone having a high enough opinion about us that they would either say something or write something that commends us for our actions.  “Words of affirmation” is a primary love language for many of us.  But as Christians, I think we struggle a little bit with how to handle compliments when they are given to us.

Towards the end of his letter, the author of Hebrews clues us in on the importance of how we handle compliments and praise – and the direction they need to go:

Hebrews 13:15
Therefore, through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is the fruit of lips that confess His name.


The Greek word used here for praise means to “speak of the excellence of someone or something”.  I think sometimes when we Christians are praised by someone else, we’re not sure how to receive it.  This readily apparent when we are given a compliment from another Christian about doing good to other people – we end up saying something like “I give God all the praise and glory”.  But those eight words tend to sound a little hollow, especially with the way most of us quickly say them with a dismissive tone.

However, compliments we receive in the rest of life aren’t handled that way.  When someone tells us that we are good at fixing things, or good at driving, or a hard worker, we are often quick to point out “You know, my dad taught me that when I was young.” or “Thank you, I had a boss once who showed me how.”.  Statements like that almost always come with a story of us struggling to learn and how grateful we are for the teachers we’ve had.

So now we see what it means to sacrifice our praise.  We’re intentionally putting off the idea that we are “self-made women” or “self-made men”, and placing another person’s recognition ahead of ours – because of their unseen contribution is the true cause of the good result others see in us. 

So when complimented for doing something good, instead of quickly mumbling “I give God all the praise and glory.”, let’s use our words to actually do it.  Rather than saying an eight word phrase that no one outside of Christianity understands (and I’m not convinced all of us Christians really understand that phrase either), we should use our words to speak highly of the One who is making us into something worth complimenting. 

Try something like this instead:

God taught me that when I read <insert Scripture reference or Bible story>”.
or
God taught me that when He helped me through a tough time in my life.  I learned I could trust Him because of how He showed up.”
or
God has always shown love and kindness to me, even when I don’t deserve it.  I’m just trying to do the same thing.

Rather than a blank stare, you’ll probably have an opportunity to share more with the person complimenting you.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Is Jesus boring?

One of the keys to good parenting that I’ve discovered over the years is to be so predictable that I’m boring…at least when it comes to discipline and behavioral expectations – first for myself, and then for my children.  While it may have looked ‘boring’ at a surface level or even felt ‘boring’ to me, the consistency of my character provided the foundation for relationship with my children.

Especially through their younger years, our relationship always seemed to go smoother when I was most consistent.  It’s as if they took a measure of comfort in knowing not just the boundaries, but who their dad is as a person.  When I was out of sorts, they could sense it, and they became unsteady.  Looking back, the season when I was traveling extensively for work certainly took a toll on our family dynamic.  Dad wasn’t consistently there, and it showed.

However, the flip side also rang true.  The times when I was consistently tuned in to both who I am with God and what my purpose is for my children – those seasons have resulted in some of our best family memories.  (Notice I didn’t say easiest, I said best…and there is often a difference)

My consistency came directly from my connection to God.  He is our ultimate example for the parent-child relationship, such that His consistency of character (from the surface level) may even appear ‘boring’.  But when we lean into His consistency of character, we find the things we cannot achieve anywhere else in life – identity, perspective, foundation, and purpose.

But it’s hard to rely on God for those things.  We struggle with the idea that we must earn everything, including relationships.  We don’t want to admit dependency or, quite frankly, our inner-most need for it.  And this is where the recipients of the letter we call Hebrews were in danger of slipping.  The author had already shown them Jesus’ fulfillment of Mosaic law and superiority over its decrees, but there would be the temptation for them to go back to trying to build a relationship with God based upon what actions they choose.

The author addressed this concern both as a warning and an encouragement:

Hebrews 13:8-9
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Don’t be led astray by various kinds of strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be established by grace and not by foods, since those involved in them have not benefited.

The author says his readers cannot establish their relationship with God due to the ceremonial foods they would eat, or rituals they follow.  The people’s activities were shadows that pointed to Jesus and the relationship with God only He could provide. 

Jesus hasn’t changed.  Jesus doesn’t change.  Who He was in the Old Testament, who He is in the New Testament, and who He will be in eternity future is the same Great God who loves us unconditionally, entirely based upon grace.

If you come across any teaching that even suggests otherwise, don’t be led astray.  Reject such foolishness.  We cannot earn God’s love, by cash now or on credit later.  We cannot do enough good things today to earn the start of a relationship with Jesus.  We cannot do enough good deeds later to justify His investment of eternal life in us.  No matter what we’ve done, are doing, or will do – our standing with God is entirely established by grace.

We will not find His consistency boring; rather His consistent character will show us our true identity, proper perspective, a solid foundation, a life’s purpose, and a heart established by grace.  Most of all, His consistent character shows us…Him.

Don’t be led astray.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

To stay eternity-focused, you must be free from this

Last time, we read the author of Hebrews’ warning about the significant consequence to sexual impurity in a believer’s life.  Unfortunately, that is not the only trap we must be aware of…there is something else that loudly clamors for our attention:

Hebrews 13:5
Keep your life free from the love of money.  Be satisfied with what you have


If the author stopped right there, we could nod our heads in agreement and talk about all the times we won and lost in our struggle with the priority of money.  The consumerism of our modern culture puts an especially tough spin on this topic.  We are constantly barraged with the mantras “You need this in your life.” and “You deserve to have that.”  Advertisers strategically manipulate our emotions to convince us that whatever someone else has, or whatever new thing comes along, we should have it in our hands.

However, the author of Hebrews didn’t stop with just these two statements.  Instead, he did as he has throughout the entire letter – he referred us back to the Old Testament, providing a map to the solution of our not-so-modern problem:

Hebrews 13:5-6
Keep your life free from the love of money.  Be satisfied with what you have, for He Himself has said,

“I will never leave you or abandon you.”

Therefore, we may boldly say,

“The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?”


Although his readers would have understood these Old Testament references, we need to step back and grab some context so we can fully understand his lesson:

The first quote is from Deuteronomy 31:6, where Moses is giving God’s marching orders to the Israelites as they get ready to take over the Promised Land.  They didn’t need to worry about having “enough” possessions as they went to the Promised Land, because they had God and He would take care of them.  This reassurance, I will never leave you or abandon you, is given to those Israelites who are going to enter “God’s rest”.  These are the ones that are going to partner with God to establish the future country of Israel.

The second quote comes from Psalm 118:6 and maintains the same idea.  Just like with the Deuteronomy reference, the author points to the psalm to show that we can confidently trust the Lord to come to our aid.  As the original recipients of Hebrews were Jewish Christians, they would have recognized the context of the first quote, and they would have known that Psalm 118 deals entirely with God coming to rescue and protect His own people when the entire world is against them.

However, when we love money, we are distracted from the reality of God providing.  We don’t trust Him with our future.  Our security becomes dictated by the size of the bank account and reserves.  Don’t get me wrong, saving money is extremely important, and God even tells us many times in Scripture that saving money for future use is a wise activity.  But it matters where we are getting our security from. 

A personal example: as our family finances have changed over the years, my wife and I sometimes catch ourselves worrying about how much is in the savings account.  We save for a while, make a big purchase, and then have to catch our breath when we look at the “little” remainder left.  However, one of us is always quick to remind the other that God has always provided, even when the savings was much, much smaller than the “little” we are currently fretting over. 

We all need regular reminders that our security in this life is not in the size of our bank account, but in the One who has entrusted us with the money in our account.

Perhaps we should refer back to Psalm 118 on a regular basis.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

The biggest threat to your eternal rewards

Nothing wrecks a believer’s life faster than sexual immorality.  The author of Hebrews knew that, and he gave this warning to his readers:

Hebrews 12:16-17
And make sure that there isn’t any sexually immoral or irreverent person like Esau, who sold his birthright in exchange for a single meal.  For you know that later, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, even though he sought it with tears, because he didn’t find any opportunity for repentance.


There are portions of our lives where there are no take-backs.  We can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.  Sexual purity is one of them.  The author equates sexual immorality with godlessness (i.e. – acting like there is no God).  Both of these behaviors are selfish; they can completely wreck a believer’s life and witness.  By using Esau as an example, the original recipients of this letter would have recognized the seriousness of our choices in these areas.

As a first-born, Esau was automatically entitled to a double portion of his parents’ estate and guaranteed that he would inherit the role of patriarch in the family’s lineage and decision making.  However, Esau thought so little of this inheritance that he was willing to trade all the future rights and privileges of a firstborn son…to fill his immediate, temporal appetite.  Sexual temptation is also like that.  The immediate appetite is satisfied…but the actions cannot be undone, our life’s course is altered, and the inheritance is lost…no matter how many tears we shed.

Does that mean if a Christian indulges in an affair that he or she are out of the family? 
Will God stop blessing them? 
Will they lose all inheritance?

No, they are not cast out of the family, but there will be permanent consequences – in this life, and in eternity future.  Esau is still our example for how we resolve our questions:

After trading away his future inheritance to fulfill his right-now appetite, Esau eventually returned to his father and repented of his actions, saying he would be content with any remaining blessing his father was able to grant him. 

From there, we find that Esau went on in life and was blessed by God – he even has his own chapter of family lineage and prosperity in Genesis 36.  However…Esau never regained his rights of firstborn inheritance.  Throughout the entire Bible and for all of eternity, the nation of Israel does not list Esau as one of their patriarchs.  Additionally, we consistently find God identifying Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…but we never find God describing Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.

Because of his choices, Esau missed out on blessings and opportunities – both in this life and in eternity.  And the author of Hebrews is telling us that OUR sexual purity has that level of importance in God’s eyes.  However, if we blow it…all is not lost…some inheritance will be, but not all opportunity to earn more in the future.

Remember what the author taught us earlier:

Hebrews 4:15-16
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.  Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.


There is grace to help us when we are being sexually tempted and we can receive mercy when we fail.  Our relationship with God will remain intact; however, the consequences of our sexual sin will echo throughout eternity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Introducing others to Jesus

Growing up, I remember being repeatedly told about the importance of “witnessing” to others.  Our church would sometimes go knocking on peoples’ doors to share the gospel, but for the most part, the congregation was encouraged to “share Jesus” with anyone and everyone we encountered during the week.

I always felt weird about doing it.  I couldn’t drum up the courage to randomly bring Jesus up in a conversation, and I was convinced that I would be super-awkward if I was able to actually say anything.  I also knew I didn’t have the all answers to the hard questions I would face.  So, for the most part, I didn’t say much.  People knew that my family went to church, but overall I resigned myself to being a “bad witness”, figuring that the pastor and any older, braver, and wiser Christians would have to make up for my inability to show anyone who Jesus is.

And now, reading through the Scriptures as an adult, I find out that that introducing others to Jesus is much simpler than memorizing all the good answers to every possible theological question.  Instead, our “witness” has a lot more to do with who we are than what we know.

The author of Hebrews gave his readers this direction regarding their “witness”:

Hebrews 12:14
Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness – without it no one will see the Lord.


Your life is the first gospel that most people will read.  What kind of story are you telling? 

If we want others to look at us and see the Lord, then we should be acting like the Lord acts.  And that kind of behavior doesn’t just happen on its own…which is why the author says these God-like traits must be pursued.

However, when traits are given in lists, it can be easy to gloss over the impact of each quality.  Breaking up the sentence can help with our understanding:

Pursue peace with everyone – without it no one will see the Lord.

We have been forgiven of so, so much.  God made peace with us, and we 100% did not deserve it.  In fact, He took the initiative, and He pursued us in order to make that peace.  But now that we’re in the family…if our actions don’t portray that same reconciliation attitude, then no one else will believe us when we say that God’s complete forgiveness is possible.

Pursue holiness – without it no one will see the Lord.

Living a life marked by holiness means that our actions are pure, free of stain.  However, staying pure doesn’t mean that we must withdraw from “those people” and all the “bad sinners” around us.  Instead, it means our aim is to live life the way we were created to – in relationship with God and without sin.

In order to show people who the Lord is, the author of Hebrews isn’t telling his readers to shout Bible verses from the street corners or to prepare for arguments with non-Christians in the community (or online).  He also doesn’t say to petition the government to pass laws that force people to live according to Scripture.

Instead, a life that “witnesses” about the Lord is actually a byproduct of our desire to be like Him.  We understand that when we think about how these two pursuits affect how others would view us.  Someone who actively seeks peace with others while still living a pure life?  That’s someone who stands out in this world.  That’s someone who will have the opportunity to help non-Christians see the Lord.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

When life gets hard

Let me be honest with you.

If we choose to live our lives with the goal of obtaining God’s promised opportunities for kingdom partnership, it’s not going to be easy.  That kind of life was not easy for any of the ancient faith heroes listed in Hebrews Chapter 11.  It wasn’t easy for Jesus either – the whole world system was against Him.

But that is precisely what we need to keep in mind when it does get tough:

Hebrews 12:3, 7-8
For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up…Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons.  For what son is there that a father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline – which all receive – then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

Perspective matters.  Are we trying to merely endure our difficulties until we find our next moment of rest/pleasure/escape…or are we looking at opposition from other people as useful discipline from the Lord?

Hebrews 12:9-10
Furthermore, we had human fathers discipline us, and we respected them.  Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness.


One Sunday, every year in June, we stop and reflect on all the lessons our human fathers taught us.  We learned lessons directly from him, and we had to learn some the hard way.  Looking back now, we are thankful for all he did and taught to prepare us for our adult life.

Even more so, we can trust God’s discipline to be in our best interest.  The lessons we learn now will carry over to our next life in eternity.

Hebrews 12:11
No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.


Will we allow ourselves to be trained by God’s discipline, trained to be Christ-like in our approach to difficulties?  We will not experience the peaceful fruit of [right-living] unless we are trained by the hard stuff God allows to happen in our lives.

When life gets hard…not if, but when…look at it as training that has a purpose.  And we can have the endurance to learn and grow as we consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that [we] won’t grow weary and give up.

Perspective matters.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

How to clear the path

“But what does God want me to DO?”

Ever ask that question?  Yeah, me too.

We are now at the start of Hebrews 12.  From here to the end of the book, the author gives specific details about the doing of a Christian’s life.  And we’re prepared to fully understand what he recommends…because we have traveled with the author as he directed the orchestra of examples, warnings, and encouragement around the one central theme – the importance of our life choices now and how they affect our participation with Christ in the future.

We are ready to ask, “So what does this type of life look life?  What are we supposed to DO?”  Now that we have the context, the WHY behind the author’s direction to DO will make more sense than if we just plopped the Bible open to Hebrews 12 and began to read.  Even better, knowing the context always makes the text easier to apply.  So, let’s take a look:

Hebrews 11:39-12:1
All these [Old Testament heroes] were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us.  Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us


The ancient heroes of the faith act as courtroom witnesses who testify that living for God now is worth the sacrifice.  We can, by our actions now, participate in the fulfillment of what the ancients longer for.  It is almost as if the author is asking:

If God sticks to His promises, why wouldn’t we want to avoid sin altogether…but also avoid anything that may hinder us in our pursuit of the life Jesus has laid out for us?

But that’s just hard, isn’t it?

Not only do we have to contend daily with the nagging desire to sin…there are a lot of things that clamor for our time, many ‘good’ things that can take up a lot of our day.

Social media, hobbies, app games on our phones, sports, TV shows, and movies can quickly take up our free time.  Let’s be honest – we watch a ton of TV, and if we’re not watching TV then we’re probably on our phones.  (Or maybe we’re doing both at the same time?  Yep, I'm guilty of this, too.)

We start ‘relaxing’ and oh-so-easily slide into indulgence.  Is it time to set a timer on our TV?  Is it time to delete that app? (You know the one.) How can we use our hobbies to invest in others and contribute to God’s purposes, not just our own?

It’s a mental shift.  It’s a purposeful decision.  It is a constant, day-by-day choice, which is why the author says to do it, we must run with enduranceEndurance is only needed for hard things, but he says that it is worth it in the end.  Even if I have to give up a ‘good’ thing now, in order to do the ‘best’ thing for eternity future.

But we’re not left hanging with a simplistic ‘you should do this’ statement, either.  Not only does the author give us that WHAT to do, but the HOW to accomplish this lifestyle:

Hebrews 12:1-2
Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.  For the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

We end up where we look.  Our focus determines our direction.  We aren’t the first one to walk this path.  With Jesus as our example to imitate, we know what success looks like.  As we focus on Him – there is nothing that can deter us from our task, no earthly hindrance that will keep us from completing our race.

And as we are among those who complete this race, we will also participate with God when He fulfills the trust of the Old Testament heroes.

What an opportunity!

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Our opportunity is larger than you think

After giving several serious warning throughout his letter, the author of Hebrews refreshes us with examples of regular people who have actually lived the kind of life he is urging his readers to choose – a life that is marked by actions that show we trust the Greater Messenger; that we are living for participation in a future kingdom.

We have now arrived at what is commonly referred to as the “Hall of Faith” or the “Faith Hall of Fame”.  Hebrews 11 contains Old Testament examples of those who by faith trusted God with the message He gave them – and then they made life choices with that end in mind.

One thing to keep in mind here is that the words translated faith and believe are the same word in Greek, and are best defined as – to trust, with implications that the one who is trusted will do actions because of that trust placed in them

And in this context, the action to follow is the expectation that God will fulfill His promise of participation in a future kingdom.

Hebrews 11:1-2, 6
Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.  For by it our ancestors won God’s approval…Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.


If we do not believe the importance of the message, we won’t draw near to God.  All the faith heroes listed in this chapter are being commended for the actions in their individual lives that corresponded to their belief in the coming future that was promised by God.

Hebrews 11:13, 32-33, 39
These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised.  But they saw them from a distance…And what more can I say?  Time is too short for me to tell about [all of those] who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises…All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised


Wait.  What?

What do you mean, they didn’t receive it?  God promised it, so why didn’t they get it?

However, the author did says they obtained promises.  He continues:

Hebrews 11:40
God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.


Made perfect can also be translated to reach a goal, be fulfilled, or completed.

Let verse 40 sink in…read it a second time…and a fourth time…

God has decided to allow us (you and me!) participation in bringing about what Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Samuel, and all the OT heroes were longing to see, the fulfillment of their faith in God’s promises.

You are invited to participate in the greatest story ever told.  Will you?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A warning, some encouragement, and a choice

Be careful here.  The author of Hebrews has an important warning to give his readers, but if these next 14 verses are taken out of context or read individually…not only would the reader miss the intended point, but it could cause significant confusion about God’s dealing with humanity.  HOWEVER, since we have traveled through the author’s major points of the letter, we are less likely to have a misinterpretation.  But we sill must approach the text with our thinking caps on and with the preceding context in mind…

Remember that the author is writing to eternally secure believers.  Also remember his previous warnings about what happened to the Israelites that disregarded their generation’s messenger:

Hebrews 10:26-31
For if we deliberately go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries.

Anyone who disregarded the law of Moses died without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, who has regarded as profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know the One who has said,

Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay
(Deuteronomy 32:35)
and again,
The Lord will judge His people.
(Deuteronomy 32:36)

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


Like any of us who selfishly choose to go against our parents’ directions, those of us in the “Holy family” who purposely choose to continue a sin-filled life are going to have a very angry Heavenly Father to deal with.  This is the same warning the author gave in Chapters 2 and 3 – the consequences of failing away, of having a sinful and unbelieving heart – but now we know the full ramifications of intentionally making sinful choices since we now understand the Greater Message that Jesus has delivered.

Recognizing the implication of their choices, the author then encourages his readers:

Hebrews 10:32-36
Remember the earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings.  Sometimes you were publicly exposed to taunts and afflictions, and at other times you were companions of those who were treated that way.  For you sympathized with the prisoners and accepted with joy the confiscation of your possessions, because you know that you yourselves have a better and enduring possession.

So don’t throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised.


What Jesus has promised is the opportunity to participate in His future kingdom.  Just as they were confident in Christ’s authority to forgive their sin debt and bring them into the family, the author encourages them to put that same level of faith and trust in the future which Jesus has promised is available to them.  To do so, the author relies again on an Old Testament passage:

Hebrews 10:37-39
For yet in a very little while,
the Coming One will come and not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith;
and if he draws back, I have no pleasure in him.
(Habakkuk 2:3-4)

But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and are saved.


These three verse require the most care.  Do not read our modern-day assumption that the words “destroyed”, “have faith”, and “saved” always mean “sent to Hell”, “saving faith”, and “eternally secure, going to Heaven”.  A look into the multiple Greek words that go into each of these three words reveals the following:

destroyed = into ruin, waste
have faith = trust, with implications that the one who is trusted will do actions because of that trust placed in them
saved = into gaining, sharing in life

Given that the author includes himself when he says “but we are not those who draw back” and also remembering the context of him encouraging believers, a good paraphrase of verse 39 would read:

But we are not of those who shrink back now into a wasted life, but we are those who trust and act upon the Greater Message now and will therefore gain the rewards in the next life that have been promised.

The same choice is available to us today…will we draw back rom the Greater Message, or will we trust Jesus and act on His word?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The Christian life, in 3 steps. Seriously. (part 3)

The author of Hebrews gave his readers a three step description of what Christian living looks like.  Each step begins with the phrase “let us”.  After drawing near to God and then holding on to our reliance on Him, the next step is this:

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

We can’t do this alone.  We need to be watching out for one another.

How many times have you heard (…or said) the following:

I don’t need to go to church.  I can be with God just fine by myself out in nature.
I don’t need to go to church.  Everyone there is a judgmental hypocrite.
I don’t need to go to church.  I don’t really get much out of it.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it is very, very self-centered.

What if we viewed our weekly gatherings as an opportunity to help others in God’s family?  Try this line of thinking instead:

I need to go to church because a little boy needs to know that God loves him.
I need to go to church because a teenage girl needs to know that God accepts her, just as she is.
I need to go to church because a struggling mom needs a smile and someone to talk to.
I need to go to church because a man doubting his marriage needs reassured in order to keep at it.

I need to go to church because we will all encourage each other while we wait for Jesus to return.

We must watch out for and encourage each other.  The perspective we develop when we give Godly encouragement is just as important as the perspective we develop when we receive Godly encouragement.

The rest of the Scriptures certainly bear this out, too:

Acts 20:35
…remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Proverbs 11:25
A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water.

Mark 10:45
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.


If we’re going to live the Christian life…If we’re going to live the Christ-like life…then we need to take the focus off of ourselves.  Encouraging each other is a great way to put our focus on others.

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The Christian life, in 3 steps. Seriously. (part 2)

The author of Hebrews has boiled down the Christian life into three basic steps.  He wrote this to believers regarding the first step:

Hebrews 10:22
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.

If we are going to live the way we were created to live, then we must know life’s author.  Drawing near, spending time one-on-one with God, is the only way to do that.

The second step can only happen after we take the first step.  But if we do draw near, then the next step will be both normal and natural.

Hebrews 10:23
Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since He who promised is faithful.

What is your anchor when life goes sideways?
What do you hold on to when an unwanted situation becomes the norm?

We’ll say that “God is my rock”, but we often rely on other tempting options to get away and regain our footing: the internet, TV, and our phones all offer mild escapes… before we get to the often condemned but equally tempting ones like alcohol, drugs, and inappropriate relationships. 

When life doesn’t go like we wanted it to, or we find it hard to follow Jesus, we need to hold on to the confession of our hope.  What that means is we anchor ourselves on the truth that we know.  We remind ourselves that He has promised what we do with His Greater Message in this life is the most important thing for us.  If God is faithful (and He is), then we can confidently expect that our choices now will have eternal significance – no matter what life throws at us.

God is faithful. 

Do we trust that statement?
Do our action show that we trust that statement? 

If Yes – then hold on, without wavering
If No – then go back to step 1 and draw near to God, so that you can know Him to the point you can trust His faithfulness.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Delayed due to illness

I was unexpectedly sick today and, as such, unable to complete this week's post.

In the meantime, I intend to continue practicing the first step in the Christian life - drawing near to God - as detailed in last week's post:

Hebrews 10:22
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water

It can feel frustrating to "repeat" lessons in life; we often want to learn quickly and then move on to the next lesson.  However...baby steps, in the right direction, are still good steps.

We'll take a look at part 2 next week.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The Christian life, in 3 steps. Seriously. (part 1)

Seems like every other day I see an article telling me that someone has figured out how to boil down a daunting life scenario into simple, easy-to-do steps.  We find stories with titles like: “5 steps to a successful marriage” or “8 things that will get you promoted this year” or “10 best vacations on a budget”.  When I read the title, I typically roll my eyes, mutter a ‘yeah right’…and then click to see if they really have something useful to say.

But can following Christ really be broken down in to easy-to-do steps?  Apparently many Christian authors think so, because their Bible-referenced lists are just as prevalent as anything else online.  But do any of them…well…work?  Or are they just peddling pop-psychology wrapped in a Bible verse?

While I’m not so sure about the internet, I know I can rely on the Bible.  In the later sections of his letter, after the author of Hebrews has fully demonstrated his initial thesis point from Chapter 1 – that Jesus truly is the Greater Messenger of the Greater Covenant – he proceeds with encouragement, a warning, and an example from Old Testament scripture.

First, let’s look at the encouragement:

Hebrews 10:19-21
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus – He has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through His flesh) – and since we have a great high priest over the house of God,

Because of these three things, which the author previously covered:

·        We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place (4:16)
·        By Christ’s sacrifice (9:11-12)
·        And we have a great high priest (8:1)

From this launching point, we are encouraged to follow through in three ways, and each one begins with the phrase let us.  It is in these three steps that we find essence of Christian living. 

Here’s the first one:

Hebrews 10:22
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.

Since Christ’s sacrifice was so great, He has given us – the muddy, messy, undeserving us – access to God.  And not just sneaking-in-the-backdoor access, oh no.  Instead, because Jesus identified with us and paid our sin-debt, we can boldly enter into God’s presence at any time and from any place.

When we enter God’s presence, we don’t need to become wallflowers, either.  We don’t have to hide or avoid eye contact.  Through Christ’s approval, we can draw near to God…we can get up close and personal. 

And if our shame has us worried about coming in close to God, remember that our sins aren’t just covered up or glossed over by Jesus’ sacrifice…our sins and their stains have been wiped out, erased, removed.  Our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies have been washed in pure water

If Jesus can cleanse the Heavenly tabernacle, then our individual guilty consciences and physical acts of sin are well within His cleansing ability. 

So, our first step in Christian living is to draw near.

But how do we draw near?  We need to intentionally spend alone time with God.  We’ll get to the ‘with others’ stuff later.  The first step is to make sure we each develop our relationship with God.  I can’t do it for you, and you can’t do it for me.  Drawing near means one-on-one time.

How much time?  I suggest we start with just a little more that whatever time we’ve been giving Him.  Maybe we go from 0 minutes to 5 minutes, maybe that’s 15 minutes at night before bed.  Maybe it’s as simple as shutting off the radio the next time we drive a car so we can talk with Him (trust me, other people won’t think you’re crazy…).

What should we do with that time?  Talk to Him.  Ask God a question and then be silent, waiting for an answer.  Read a psalm.  Think about what the psalm tells you about God.  Ask Him to show you how and where He’s active in your life. 

For the next week, intentionally practice drawing near.  Then we’ll be ready for what the author of Hebrews says is our next step.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Free to breathe

Remember the moment when your last head cold cleared up and, suddenly, you could breathe again?  It almost caught you by surprise, didn’t it?  And the very next thing you wanted to do was tell everyone “I can finally breathe free!”

After demonstrating Jesus’ superiority over the earthly priesthood and the earthly tabernacle, the author of Hebrews presents his ultimate theological point – that Jesus is superior to the Mosaic Law.  Since Jesus fulfilled the Mosaic Law, His followers are now free to interact directly with God.  To prove his point, you’ll see the author’s reliance on Old Testament scripture…

Hebrews 10:1-10
Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to come, and not the reality itself of those things, it can never perfect the worshipers by the same sacrifices they continually offer year after year…For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  Therefore, as He was coming into the world, He said:
               You did not desire sacrifice and offering,
               but you prepared a body for Me.

               You did not delight in whole burnt offerings and sin offerings.

               Then I said, “See –
               it is written about Me
               in the scroll –
               I have come to do Your will, O God.”
(Psalm 40:6-8)

After He says above, “You did not desire or delight in sacrifices and offerings, whole burnt offerings and sin offerings” (which are offered according to the law), He then says, “See, I have come to do Your will.”  He takes away the first to establish the second.  By this will, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.

The author of Hebrews then provides evidence that Jesus – the Greater Messenger – has not only fulfilled the duties of the high priest, but in doing so, He has also fulfilled the requirements of the entire Law:

Hebrews 10:11-18
Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins.  But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.  He is now waiting until His enemies are made His footstool.  For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this.  For after He says:
               This is the covenant I will make with them
               after those days,
the Lord says,
               I will put My laws on their hearts
               and write them on their minds,
(Jeremiah 31:33)
and:
               I will never again remember
               their sins and their lawless acts.
(Jeremiah 31:34)

Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.

The burden of following the Mosaic Law is no longer needed since the sin has been permanently removed.  We are free to breathe and partner with God(!) – and from this point on, the author examines what that freedom-based partnership looks like in the life of a believer who seriously takes up God’s offer to pursue maturity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Having our conscience cleared

Ever feel like God won’t accept you because you’re not being good enough?

Have you ever been afraid that if you do one more bad thing God will reject you?

The truth is…those feelings do not represent reality.  Why?  It’s all because of Jesus, and the effects of His significant sacrifice.  Check this out:

After establishing that Jesus the High Priest is greater than any high priest which served under the old covenant, the author moves on to another example – this time an illustration using the tabernacle:

Hebrews 9:1-7
Now the first covenant also had regulations for ministry and an earthly sanctuary.  For a tabernacle was set up…with these things prepared like this, the priests enter the first room repeatedly, performing their ministry.  But the high priest alone enters the second room, and he does that only once a year, and never with out blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance.

This is the way the old covenant worked.  One mediator, one messenger, the high priest (on one day per year), who had to offer sacrifices for both his sins and the peoples’ sins.  The author then points out that

Hebrews 9:8-10
The Holy Spirit was making it clear that the way into the most holy place had not yet been disclosed while the first tabernacle was still standing.  This is a symbol for the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshiper’s conscience.  They are physical regulations and only deal with food, drink, and various washings imposed until the time of the new order.

Just as Jesus’ priesthood is greater than previous high priests, so is his interaction with the original, Heavenly tabernacle:

Hebrews 9:11-14
But Christ has appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come.  In the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands (that is, not of this creation), He entered the most holy place once for all time, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 


For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God?

And that is the point – the old covenant’s sacrifice was essentially skin-deep, its activities were done for the purification of the flesh and to maintain the relationship with God.  However, since Jesus gave his own, most-valuable blood, His sacrifice has a greater, deeper effect.  Christ’s sacrifice isn’t just skin-deep, it cleanses all the way down to the level of our consciences.

Because of Jesus, we can now live life free from the guilt of our dead works that were never good enough, because everything we did was always tainted with our selfishness.  Notice too, the author’s contrast to the dead works – instead of doing dead activities, we’re now free to work for and with the living God!

Complete service to and partnership with God was obstructed under the old covenant, due to its limitations.  The previous covenant was limited in that it couldn’t remove sin from humanity, it only covered the sin…until the Greater Messenger of the Greater Covenant came.  In case you missed the author’s point in verse 14, he reiterates:

Hebrews 9:15
Therefore, He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called might receive the promise of the eternal inheritance, because a death has taken place for redemption from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

Remember that the author has previously established in this letter that the promised eternal inheritance is the future partnership with Jesus in His kingdom.  And it is possible to aim for it only because our high priest has fully paid for and removed our sins. 

With our sins fully removed, we can have our consciences cleared from dead works…leaving us ready and available to do everything God created us to achieve.

What has Jesus freed you to do?  How will you serve the living God?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Joe Rheney has relocated to Heaven

On December 27, 2017, Joe Rheney, my father in the faith and the originator of THE WORD, passed on into Heaven.  Today, January 11th, he will be buried with military honors.  His family and friends have gathered to honor the man who loved and shared Jesus with countless people.  I have the double honor of being a pallbearer and speaking at his funeral.  Below is the text of my speech:

I first me Joe in 2004.  By anyone’s standards, he had already lived a successful, fulfilling life.  He had honorably served his country.  He had been married to his sweetheart for decades.  They had raised a son who was also married, with his own honorable service and thriving career, and they had grandkids.  Retirement was near, and he was entering the time of life when most everyone looks forward to putting their feet up and taking it easy.

I was at the other end of the spectrum.  25.  Married for almost 5 years.  The father of two young boys.  Just starting to get traction in my career.  And more naïve than I realized.

Joe was teaching Sunday School at Chestnut Ridge Church in Morgantown, WV, and my wife and I regularly attended his class.  One day, as the class time was wrapping up, he stated that the burden of teaching was too much for him to do alone and asked if anyone would be interested in teaching with him.  Now I had grown up in the church, and while I enjoyed tutoring and teaching during my schooling and for my job, I knew I was unprepared to stand in front of a class and teach the Bible.  However, I felt prompted to tell him, very specifically, “I would like to help you teach, but first I need to learn to study.” 

Looking back, this was clearly the Holy Spirit making sure I said the right thing, at the right time to start our relationship.  Joe began coaching me through the process of Observing, Interpreting, and Applying Scripture.  For nearly 9 years, Joe was my father in the faith – he mentored me through many of life’s early storms – ones that I didn’t even know were on the horizon.

He didn’t have to take me under his wing.  No one would have blamed him for coasting the rest of his years.  But Joe knew the value of mentoring and training the next generation of disciples.  He was the one who taught me how to study the Bible.  He taught me how to love my wife when she was rather unlovable or when I was stubborn (or when both were happening).  He constantly stressed the importance of being a Godly example for my boys, and making sure they saw me do Godly things.  He warned me about the temptations that arise when traveling for work.  My wife deals with some of the same health issues his wife has…while he couldn’t tell me how to fix them, he helped me love her and support her as she went through it.

Joe was a great mentor because he lived all these things.  He would smile that sly grin and tell me, “I’ve already made the mistakes.  If you listen you me, you won’t have to make them too.” 

I eagerly played the part of Timothy while he played the part of Paul.  Timothy was an outsider with a good reputation, potential, but someone in need of a mentor.  The Apostle Paul took him under his wing and guided him to become his eventual replacement.  Paul told Timothy do the same.  In one of his letters, Paul said, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). 

It wasn’t just me, either.  I have encountered many others over the years that refer to Joe as “my mentor”.  His openness and eternity-focused example resonated with so many.  Another one of the Apostle Paul’s protégés was a young man named Titus.  And when Titus died, his successor in the ministry referred to him as “the exalted echo of Paul’s own voice”.

As I have told friends and family of Joe’s passing on to Heaven, I have struggled with conveying everything that he meant to me, everything that he taught me, and everything did for me.  You and I would have to sit down and talk for days if I were to really attempt it.  The best way I’ve been able to quickly communicate his impact on my life is to say, “If you know me, then you’ve met him.”  I would not be the man I am today if not for his voice in my life.  Joe reflected Jesus so well that it rubbed off on anyone who spent time with him.  And that’s what Christian discipleship looks like.  This is what Jesus meant when He gave His disciples The Great Commission.  We teach the next generation how to connect with God.  We partner with them, so they learn how to partner with God.  In the end, the protégé reflects his mentor, but they both have been reflecting Jesus all along.  That is how the world will see Jesus.

Keep Pressing,
Ken