Pressing On

with THE WORD

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

A believer's biggest choice, this side of Heaven

A key to understanding Revelation is to keep in mind that John assumes his readers know their Old Testament.  Oftentimes when a new concept or symbol is presented, an interpretation is immediately provided (like the explanation of the seven stars and seven lampstands in Revelation 1:20).  However, when describing the throne room of God in Revelation 4:3, John states that a rainbow…surrounded the throne.  He doesn’t interpret the rainbow’s significance; he expects that you already understand it from knowing Genesis 9:8-17.

Last time we started to look at this verse:

Revelation 21:7
The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be my son.

Since this is the only time the word inherit is used in Revelation, to understand what is going on here, we’ll take a look back to the Old Testament.

Throughout the Old Testament there were two kinds of inheritance – an inheritance of God himself (e.g. – Psalm 16:5) or an inheritance was the right to a possession.  However, with this possession-inheritance, the ownership wasn’t automatic, there were conditions involved.  The land of Canaan was the nation of Israel’s promised inheritance.  However, the ability of a particular Israelite generation to actually inherit, or physically own, the land was dependent upon their obedience to God’s commands.

After God rescued the Israelites from slavery and bondage to Egypt, they rebelled and grumbled when they got their first look at the work to be done in order to possess the promised land of Canaan.  They even claimed that the Lord hated them and that they were better off back in Egypt.  Moses recounted this event:

Deuteronomy 1:34-38
“When the Lord heard your words, He grew angry and swore an oath: ‘None of these men in this evil generation will see the good land I swore to give your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh.  He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land on which he has set foot, because he remained loyal to the Lord.’

“The Lord was angry with me also because of you and said: ‘You [Moses] will not enter there either.  Joshua son of Nun, who attends you, will enter it.  Encourage him, for he will enable Israel to inherit it.’

The easy response to this passage would be to say that the generation of Israelites that died in the desert must not have been “saved”, or they weren’t “true believers”.  But…that can’t be the case, because these were the same people that trusted God and performed the first Passover.  They took the blood of a perfect lamb and spread it on the doorposts of their homes – doing so demonstrated their trust in God’s promise that they would be passed over when the destroying angel came by to take the life of the firstborn son.  The Passover prophetically foretold of Christ’s perfect blood sacrifice for mankind on the Cross.  This was also the same generation Paul later used as an example for other believers:

1 Corinthians 10:1-5
Now I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.  Nevertheless God was not pleased with most of them, since they were struck down in the wilderness.

According to Paul, the people of the Exodus generation of Israelites were right (positionally) with God, on the basis of their faith in the foreshadowed Christ.  However, their disobedience later in life marred their relationship with God and prevented them from physically inheriting the Promised Land. 

Now that we have the Old Testament context for the word inherit, we can see that God takes possession-inheritance very seriously.  Fortunately, a believer’s potential inheritance is also discussed in the New Testament.  While there are many passages we can look at (and perhaps that’s a future study), the following selections help us understand what God is talking about in Revelation.

1 Peter 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Because of His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.

Notice that Peter says God the Father has given us new birth into two things – a living hope and an inheritance.  Some have argued that heaven will be a Christian’s inheritance; however, Peter is indicating that this inheritance is something found in heaven.  So this means that the inheritance can’t be heaven itself…either it is a part of heaven or something else, in addition to heaven.

Jesus also gave similar instructions during the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6:19-20
“Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.”

Jesus states that the treasures are in heaven, and not heaven itself.  Also important is the contrast Jesus presents here (store up treasures on earth OR store up treasures in heaven).  He wouldn’t give us these directions if they weren’t necessary.  So from this we can conclude that it is possible for a believer to not store up treasures in heaven, and whether or not we have treasures in heaven is dependent upon our choices here and now.

So what is this inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade and these treasures in heaven that cannot waste away or be stolen?

Revelation 21:6-7
I will give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.  The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

Having a relationship with God can be had without cost to us because Jesus already took the punishment for our sins.  Remember that to inherit these things refers back to the New Jerusalem.  And from looking at other scriptures, we understand that inheriting New Jerusalem is dependent upon the choices we make here and now.

Choose wisely.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Owning a slice of Heaven

Throughout the Bible, God continually talks about the general and then gets to specifics.  An example of this is seen in the broad, sweeping creation account in Genesis 1 being further explained with more specific details during creation starting in Genesis 2:4.  Another example can be seen during the Sermon on the Mount, where several times Jesus taught principles and then gave focused examples of how these principles were to be fleshed out in our daily lives.

We see a similar narrowing of focus in this section of Revelation 21 also.  As we saw last time, God begins verse 6 proclaiming that he is both the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  Then He states that a relationship with Him begins with the acceptance of His free gift, and that this gift is available to anyone.  In verse 7, God gets even more specific:

Revelation 21:6-7
Then He said to me, “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.  The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”

In order to fully understand what God is saying in verse 7, we need to remember the context of both the situation at hand, the book of Revelation as a whole, and the historical context of the original recipients.

Revelation 21:7
The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

Exactly what God is referring to by saying these things can be understood from the immediate context.  John has just witnessed the arrival of the New Jerusalem – the Holy City, the city Abraham was looking forward to.  This is this place that will be inherited by the one who conquers.

Let’s consider that statement for a minute. 

God is telling us that it will be possible to obtain actual “ownership” within the New Jerusalem.  With inheritance comes possession, and there is certainly a difference between living in a city and possessing property in a city. 

So what does “inheriting” consist of?
And who is it that “conquers”?

Those are excellent questions.

For the moment, though, it’s pretty exciting to think about inheriting/owning part of this magnificent future God has planned.  God says that He will look at certain believers and say, “This belongs to you.  You own it.

The New Jerusalem – Heaven on Earth – will obviously be more than just showing up and being happy to be there.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Free "Life water"

After the proclamation goes out for the arrival of New Jerusalem city, God himself adds to the announcement:

Revelation 21:5
Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.”

The apostle John has just witnessed this magnificent city’s inauguration event.  Imagine how overwhelmed John must have felt in that moment.  So much to see and take in. For me, I’m sure it would have been a sensory overload. And then…God turns and speaks directly to John…while that alone would have me quaking, look at what God says:

Revelation 21:5-6
He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.”  Then He said to me, “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

The culmination of human history is at hand.  John is witnessing all of it, and God rightfully declaring Himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the A-to-Z.  From Eternity Past, His plan…which began with the Genesis creation has now come to an end…and His path forward will now lead into Eternity Future. 

It’s what God states in the next sentence that is really quite striking:

Revelation 21:6
I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.

Free?  No cost?  If I’m thirsty for life…real life, as we were created to be…then the God of the universe will simply give it to me?

Most certainly, YES!  To start a new relationship with God, to become a new creation, all that is “required” is the acceptance of God’s gift…to accept Jesus’ offer of Eternal Life, which He alone can give because He made the substitute payment for our sins.

No need fix ourselves, no need to prove ourselves worthy (either before OR after accepting the gift), no striving required, no strings attached…this gift is freely given.

Jesus had previously spoken about the water of life, and He also spoke of it in terms of a gift:

John 4:14
But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again.  In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.

Lest we think that this water is only for a select group of people, one of the last proclamations in the book of Revelation declares:

Revelation 22:17
…Let the one who is thirsty come.  Let the one who desires take the water of life freely.

No strings attached.  No restrictions.  All who are thirsty are welcome, and they will be satisfied.

Have you accepted God’s invitation?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Announcing our new home

The right announcer for an event makes all the difference, doesn’t it?  Memorable moments in the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup Finals, and all the other great sporting events are accentuated by memorable calls by a great announcer.  Even our level of engagement in a sporting event changes drastically depending upon the announcer’s passion and delivery as they describe the events as they unfold.

While John is watching the new Jerusalem, the Holy City, come down to the new earth, a proclamation accompanies its arrival:

Revelation 21:3
Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and will be their God.

I’m willing to bet that this wasn’t a monotone, stuffy delivery either. 

In what’s commonly referred to as the “love chapter”, Paul told the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 13:12
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; but then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.

Do you see what is being proclaimed about the new Jerusalem?  That the dwelling of God is with humanity, and He will live with them.

The Presence which you have only felt up until now…will be the Person in front of you.  Living in the same city as you.  Even walking down the same streets…but it won’t be like God is a distant celebrity that you can only occasionally get a glimpse of, either.  No, you’ll have personal access and interactions: 

Revelation 21:4
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.

Try to imagine this life without the fear of death hanging over humanity, people having no reason to mourn or cry, no situations of anguish.  A removal of those things now would bring about what we would be happy to refer to as “heaven”…but God has more in mind:

Revelation 21:5
Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.”

Everything. New.

Just let that sink in…everything…every thing…all that we know…made new…

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Rewind / Fast-Forward

We’re going to rewind human history – not quite to the beginning – but back to someone who was given a fantastic promise: 

Hebrews 11:8-10
By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and set out for a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance.  He went out, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, coheirs of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God

And then the author describes the mindset of Abraham and his family:

Hebrews 11:13-14, 16
These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised.  But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. 

Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland…But they now desire a better place – a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

That desire for a homeland isn’t unique to Abraham’s family.  All Christians have felt it.  Deep down, we recognize that there is more to this life…that God has something planned, a future place for us to live.

A little later, the author of Hebrews confirms our inklings:

Hebrews 13:14
For we do not have an enduring city here
[presently on Earth]; instead, we seek the one to come.

What is this city?  What is it like?

In order to view the city Abraham was looking forward to, the city whose architect and builder is God, we must now hit fast-forward on human history.

Past the Rapture of believers, past the Tribulation, past Christ’s second coming, past Christ’s 1000 year reign, and after the Great White Throne Judgment…

God gave the apostle John a preview of our home in eternity future.  John discussed what he saw and heard in the last two chapters of the final book of the Bible, Revelation.

Today’s Christians are typically hesitant to read Revelation.  We’re hampered by our own thoughts of “It probably won’t make any sense” or “The discussion of judgments and punishments on people makes me uncomfortable” or “Only mentally unstable people and crazy preachers discuss what’s in that book”…and yet, God saw fit to include this prophecy.  His always fulfills his prophecies…even if the people he gave them to didn’t fully understand what they were hearing or if it takes a couple thousand years for the prophecy to be fulfilled.

In previous posts, we’ve seen that numerous Old Testament and New Testament writers – and even Jesus himself – discussed eternity future.  We’ve looked at a small selection of passages which confirm our longings for that time, and there are plenty more that we could have looked at.

God desires for us to see what eternity future will be like, so let’s not be afraid to look at it, even if we don’t fully grasp every detail.  We can read Revelation and walk away knowing one thing, with absolute certainty:

God wins.

He is not overtaken by the evil in our world.  His command of the universe is not diminished.  And the believers from all ages are magnificently included in His eternal plans…

Revelation 21:1-2
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  I also saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

Finally…the place that every believer in history has desired, it has arrived.  Everything new, everything different.  The Creator has re-created…and if He called the first creation “good”, I don’t know if we have an adequate word on this planet to describe the beauty of the new heaven and the new earth.

Pause for just a moment and think about the Holy City...prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  Guys, was there ever a time when your wife was more stunningly beautiful than the day of your wedding?  Ladies, remember how much attention to every detail and how much assistance was given, in order that you would be the most prepared, most lovely bride ever to walk down the aisle…and how much your mere reflection radiated beauty?  Combine those observations, and we get a sliver of a sample of how spectacular the Holy City will be.

And that place is our home.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The tunnel-vision trap

Tunnel vision is almost never a good thing, and it can be an easy trap to fall into if we get wrapped up in the troubles of this world.  Politics, in all nations, is a mess – but we fret and twist and turn and argue about them.  Overall, humans haven’t taken great care of the environment, and we can get sole-focused worried about correcting our influence.  We inflict pain on each other, on a scale that ranges from our nearby neighbors and that reaches other countries – and they do the same back to us.  Watch any news broadcast, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in someone else’s tunnel-visioned issue being presenting at that moment.

Christians are also capable of falling into this tunnel-vision trap.  We can get so wrapped up in church issues, community issues, and even just the day-to-day grind that we forget about the larger picture God is painting.  God’s plan for humans started at Creation and stretches all the way into Eternity Future. 

Thankfully, God left us reminders.  During his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul discussed how our present identity in Christ relates to our Eternity Future:

Romans 8:16-18
The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children also heirs – heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.

The troubles of this world and the suffering we all encounter – personal, health, and for being a Christian – can really bog us down.  We can easily become tunnel-visioned on all that is wrong with the world and wonder if any of this “Christian stuff” is worth it.  But when we keep this glory-filled future in mind, our perspective changes and we begin to see the world around us differently.  If fact, Paul also tells us that the creation itself is also looking forward to the revealing of that glory in us:

Romans 8:19-21
For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it – in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

When Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world, all of creation was frustrated, muted, and corrupted – and it hasn’t been fixed yet.  At times in nature, we seem to get a glimpse of a deeper beauty, or the potential for something greater…but that notion is fleeting at best.  However, when God brings humans back to the perfection we were created for, the creation will be liberated as well.

Romans 8:22-23
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.  Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as firstfruits – we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Both the creation and Christians are yearning for this future renewal.  This longing for newness will be fulfilled.  Until then, it is good to recognize our desire for our eternal home with Christ.  It keeps today’s difficulties in perspective:

Romans 8:18
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Eternal questions

Sometimes being a Christian is tiring, right?  I mean, we may not admit it, but constantly striving to make the right choices, say encouraging things, loving people that we don’t want to, helping others, giving hard-earned money away to church or charity…and on and on and on…all these things are enough to wear us out.  And then throw in sickness and disease and selfishness and greed and all the other bad things we encounter…it can make us want to throw up our hands and fire off a few questions at God.

They were probably something along the lines of

Why am I persevering in the Christian life now?
Is all this trouble worth it in the long run?
What really happens – and does any of this matter – at the end of all things?

Those kinds of questions were not unique us.  Paul answered similar questions in both of his letter to the believers in Thessalonica.  Paul also addressed these topics with the believers in Corinth:

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Therefore we do not give up.  Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.  For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.  So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Paul then continues his comparison of our present state with our eternal destiny:

2 Corinthians 5:1-2
For we know that if our earthly tent we live in
[our earthly bodies] is destroyed, we have a building from God, and eternal dwelling [a glorified, resurrection body] in the heavens, not made with hands.  Indeed, we groan in this tent, desiring to put on our heavenly dwelling…

Peter also wrote about the same things to believers:

2 Peter 3:10-13
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed.  Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, it is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness as you wait for the day of God…But based on His promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

During his last night on earth, one of Jesus’ final instructions to the disciples contained a peculiar promise, but it was a promise that was to motivate the disciples during the time that Jesus would no longer be physically with them:

John 14:1-3
Don’t let your heart be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many rooms; if not, I would have told you.  I am going away to prepare a place for you.  If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.

Mentionings like these are not isolated to the New Testament either.  As just one example, God told Isaiah:

Isaiah 65:17
For I will create a new heaven and a new earth; the past events will not be remembered or come to mind.

These are just a few examples, but they show us that God has a long term course for human history planned out…and these verses confirm what we inwardly desire – relationship and purpose with our Creator.

If the world as we know it will pass away, what kind of lives should we live now?  When we feel troubled and shaken and our bodies are falling apart, Jesus wants us to trust Him and remember that He is coming back for us, to take us to a home that He designed…with us in mind.

When we recognize this longing for eternity that God has placed in our hearts, it helps us keep our present life in perspective.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - It's all good

Work has been kicking my tail lately, so I need this reminder. Hopefully, it’s something useful for you as well.

It’s all good
originally posted on October 20, 2016

It’s all good!

I might be giving away my age here, but that phrase became pop culture slang in the middle of my teenage years.  Typically said with twang that made the “all” sound like “awl”, the person who used the phrase was telling everyone that they were not going let a situation bring them down or derail their direction in life – even if the circumstances or news was really bad.

As cool as we thought we were for saying it, we didn’t realize that the Apostle Paul said it almost 2000 years before we did.

While instructing Timothy on how he needs to lead the church in Ephesus, Paul informs him of the following:

1 Timothy 4:4-6
For everything created by God is good, and nothing should be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, since it is sanctified by the word of God and by prayer.  If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.

Did you catch that?  Everything God created is good.  Going back to original creation and the Garden of Eden, at the end each day, God looked at what He created and saw that it was good (See Genesis 1).  Despite the ways sin has corrupted the world, we can still approach everything through the lens of the word of God and by prayer When we use these two tools, we can see God’s original design and intent for our lives. 

Paul wants the believers in Ephesus to know this, but he also knows that they must be reminded of it.  Why does Paul tell Timothy to point these things out to the brothers?  Because he knows that the troubles of this sin-soaked world will skew our vision.  We must keep coming back to God’s word and prayer if we’re going see properly.

Can I be honest, though?  Sometimes I tire of hearing that message, even though I know it is right.  It happens to all of us.  Our sin-nature gets emboldened, and we resent the messenger who reminds us of our need for God’s word and prayer.  Being resented can be difficult for our church leaders, even though they are correctly doing the things God has asked them to do.  Paul knows this and encourages Timothy:

if you point out these things, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus

Paul uses the same word for good here that he did earlier.  So he’s essentially saying that as good as God made the initial creation and design, that’s how good of a servant Timothy will be when he carries out his mission and points the believers back to the importance of God’s word and prayer.

So we should ask ourselves:

Do I see today as something good?
Do I see my home, my family, my work, my food, and my responsibilities as something good?
Am I thankfully receiving everything from God, seeing it all through the lens of His word and prayer?
Am I resentful when someone reminds me that I need to see life through this lens?

Despite what sin-soaked mess comes our way, when we see this world from God’s vantage point, we can honestly say

It’s all good.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Adam wasn't from Eden

When I was studying for last week’s post, I found something in the text that I hadn’t noticed before.  I have read or heard the Creation account numerous times, but I had missed a certain detail about Adam’s beginnings:

Genesis 2:7-9, 15
Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.

The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He placed the man He had formed.  The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.

So looking at these verses – we find that Adam was created out of the dust from the ground in one place and then was taken east to where God had planted the beginnings of what would become the famous “Garden of Eden”.  Adam’s creation location also comes up after Adam and Eve disobey God and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  After God kicked them out of the garden, look for where Adam and Eve went:

Genesis 3:22-24
The Lord God said, “Since the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.  He drove the man out…

When I finally noticed these references to Adam’s land of origin, I began thinking about the God’s theme, throughout the Bible, of choosing individuals and people groups for specific service – and that their origins do not negatively impact the kind of work God has for them.

To be clear – I’m not talking about “salvation” here.  God didn’t “save” Adam when He took [him] and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.  (Nor was Adam “unsaved” when he was kicked out)  God was calling Adam to a specific type of work and service, and this call-to-work theme repeats itself countless times in Scripture.

Look at what God told Abram when He called him:

Genesis 12:1-3
The Lord said to Abram:
Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

God had a mission for Abram – start a new nation in a new land.  And from one of Abram’s descendants, a nation would be chosen to serve.  God corporately called them to work:

Exodus 19:5-6
Now if you will carefully listen to Me and keep My covenant, you will be My own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine, and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.

Paul also mentioned Israel’s purpose in the beginning of his letter to the believers in Rome:

Romans 2:19-20
and if you are convinced that you [being a Jew] are a guide for the blind, a light to those in darkness, an instructor of the ignorant, a teacher of the immature, having the embodiment of knowledge and truth in the law…

There are numerous examples of God calling on individuals (Noah, David, Jeremiah, Paul) and corporate groups (Aaron’s priestly family, David’s kingly descendants, Jesus’ 12 disciples) to do specific work.

While I do not know what specific work you may be called to, or even if you’re not sure if God has personally given you a “specific mission”…know that we, corporately as believers, have been chosen by God:

2 Corinthians 5:19-20
That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us.  We plead on Christ’s behalf: “Be reconciled to God.”

I’m certain that your backstory doesn’t begin in Eden.  But it doesn’t matter how your origin story began – we have a job to do.  God has called us to work, so let’s get to it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Work and a hobo’s paradise

The Big Rock Candy Mountain was a song made famous by Harry McClintock in 1928.  Every few years, it finds its way back into pop culture; with some versions a little more cleaned up than others.  The gist of the song is a hobo singing about his version of paradise – a land of ease, described in fanciful terms.  There are cigarette trees, lemonade springs, and hens that lay soft-boiled eggs.  The cops have wooden legs and bulldogs have rubber teeth, and if you happen to get caught doing something you shouldn’t, then don’t worry about it – because the jails are made of tin and you can leave just as soon as you get there.  I think my favorite line is hobo’s boast that in the Big Rock Candy Mountains “there’s a lake of stew and of whiskey too, you can paddle all around it in a big canoe.

While it is a cute little song, no one would take it seriously when considering their eternal destiny.  However, there is one line in the song that stuck out to me when I first heard it.  Out of all the cartoonish imagery, there was one sentiment that made me think: “Wow.  That’s kinda funny and would be nice.”  Here’s the line:

I'm goin' to stay, where you sleep all day, where they hung the jerk, that invented work, in the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Because work is…well, “work”…right?  It’s often a pain.  We view it as some “necessary evil” that we must endure because we like to eat food and have working light switches.  Given the choice between going to work and not going to work – I’m pretty sure that 99% of us would not go.  Throw in the idea that someone, somewhere may have invented the concept of work?  Yeah…nobody would care much for that guy.

But is work really our problem?  And who invented it, anyway?

I think most Christians and Jews would place the blame solely on Adam.  After he and Eve blew it, here’s what God had to say about Adam’s curse:

Genesis 3:17-19
And He said to the man, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’:

The ground is cursed because of you.  You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. 
It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it.  For you are dust, and you will return to dust.

Adam and Eve sinned by eating – from here on, they would suffer in order to eat.  Notice that God didn’t hand out working assignments.  He didn’t have to explain what “work” was; instead, God said that work would now become painful labor.  While his efforts would be able to feed his family, Adam would have to contend with thorns and thistles.

We have to go a little further back in Adam and Eve’s story to find the origin of work:

Genesis 1:27-29, 2:15
So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He create them male and female

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.  Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”  God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree who fruit contains seed.  This will be food for you…

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.

To fulfill these directions from God, Adam and Eve would have to do some work!  But since this was before sin corrupted everything – including the ground – what do you think their work was like?  What would you do if all creatures and plants cooperated with you and your efforts? 

Don’t think of the garden of Eden as being a little vegetable plot.  This “garden” was more like an arboretum.  So in addition to their responsibility to rule over the world, Adam was also God’s official landscaper…and there wasn’t a weed, thistle, or thorn to be found.  Imagine what a master gardener could do if they didn’t have to fight off the weeds!

This was how paradise started – not with lakes of stew and all-day sleep-fests, but with Adam and Eve partnering with God.  They worked and managed creation.  They walked and talked with God.  The land readily produced food for them.

I look forward to the day when Paradise Lost becomes Paradise Restored.  In Eternity Future, we’ll be able to live and work without sin and selfishness thwarting our efforts.  Just like we were created to do.

Keep Pressing
Ken

Flashback Favorite - How to avoid the sin cycle

I’m reposting this one based upon a conversation I had recently. Even though our family no longer lives in West Virginia, there’s still a lot of truth to be found in this observation.

How to avoid the sin cycle
originally posted on November 3, 2016

Do you know which plant grows best in West Virginia?

Weeds.  The weeds grow best in West Virginia.

We get a lot of snow and rain here, and the ground is rather fertile.  However, if a piece of land is cleared, the grass and flowers in the area do not take it over.  The weeds do, and quickly.

There’s a spiritual lesson in there, if we’re open to seeing it.  It’s not enough for Christians to just clear out the “bad” portions of our lives.  Clearing out sinful actions, bad habits, and distractions does take monumental effort.  Taking steps to avoid going back to those old ways will be a significant challenge.  But if we forget to take the next step, we’ll wear ourselves out, only to be caught in a sick cycle of clearing out the weeds and then letting them creep back in and take over…only to have to clear out the weeds (again) to then let them creep back in (again) and take over (again)…and again…and again…

Paul knew this, too.  He wanted Timothy to instruct the believers in Ephesus on how to avoid being stuck in this perpetual cycle.  Take a look at what “next step” Paul says they should take after avoiding the things that will distract us from God and His purpose:

1 Timothy 4:7
But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness,

When we clear out the ungodly distractions in our lives, we MUST refill the time and use the effort we would previously spend on those distractions.  If we want grass and flowers to grow in our cleared-out land, then we must plant them immediately after doing the work of clearing out the garbage weeds.  It is at that moment that the ground (and our lives) are most willing to accept the change in direction.  If we wait to fill the void – the world will gladly fill it for us…

Paul knows it’s not enough to just avoid the irreverent and silly myths out there.  So, he tells Timothy to replace any time previously spent on those things with a specific plan that has a Godly focus.  His focus is to be on the things that have a “God-like-ness”, the things that point himself and others toward the God of the Universe.

Paul’s use of the phrase train yourself is no accident, either.  The Greek phrase means to exercise vigorously.  Given the city’s prominence in Greek culture, this is clearly a reference to the effort and dedication a Greek athlete would put toward his training to compete in the Ancient Olympic Games. 

Lastly, notice how Timothy had to choose to do the training.  No one else could do the work for him.  No one else is going to develop his relationship with God.  No one else can focus Timothy’s thoughts on God’s words and direction for his life.  As he chooses to plant the seeds of godliness, the growth that comes will fill up the area that was previously overrun with any irreverent and silly ideas.  Timothy’s training will become the long term investment that will keep him out of the sin cycle.

There’s a life lesson in there, if we are open to seeing it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Buyers vs Sellers

The concept of buying and selling is inescapable in our culture.  There are shops set up everywhere we look, trying to entice us with items we may (or may not) need.  Radio, TV, and internet commercials are strategically placed to get a product in front of those most likely to be persuaded to buy them.  Even if you can’t afford to pay for something at the moment, there are traps…I mean, offers…to help you instantly increase your purchase ability.

But when you get right down to it, everything has an associated cost.  Even if we’re not talking about money, we view our time and effort in terms of being “spent” or “sold”.  We judge ourselves based upon how well we believe we have “spent” our time.  That’s also the concept behind getting paid for doing work.  I agree to “sell” you my time and efforts in exchange for $10/hour, $20/hour, or $100/hour…all depending upon the value you and I agree to for my labors.

The exchange of money or time or effort for something else comes down to a question of value.  And what we, as individuals, place value on will vary greatly.  How we perceive the value of an item or an experience is inherently subjective…and then throw in the clamoring of the marketplace, the influence of social media, on top of our own inner monologues…it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all of our choices and options.

As always, God has stepped in to give us direction.  Toward the end of the book of Proverbs, we find this statement:

Proverbs 23:23
Buy – and do not sell – truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

The proverb has a genuine wisdom-feel to it, does it not?  Whether you read it or hear someone say it, it’s one of those statements where we can all solemnly nod in agreement…and then move on with our lives…

But how do we actually apply this concept of buy and selling when it comes to these elements? 

The easier of the two is the idea of buying.  So much so that you can probably answer right away.  The first way we can buy truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding is with our time.  Do we spend our time securing the truth, seeking wisdom and instruction, or prioritizing understanding?  Another piece of purchase power we have is our finances.  Would our spending habits reflect the pursuit of these things?

The idea of selling can be a bit of a head-scratcher until we remember that the act of selling is just like buying – it is an exchange of something we have in order to obtain something else.  Looking at our actions, do we find times where we’ve decided that life would be a little more convenient if we glossed over the truth?  Have we ignored wisdom because we really want the shiny object in front of us?  Have we replaced instruction and understanding with so-called “blissful” ignorance?

Additionally, whatever we would exchange truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding for would not be worth as much as those elements.  Could money or fame or more shiny stuff really make you better off if they were purchased at the cost of our truthfulness or good judgment?  In the long run, I think not…

The worst Biblical example of selling something valuable comes in Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome.  Paul is stating that those who reject God and His truth are living under His wrath now, in this present life.  In the midst of his discussion of those who make self-centered, unchecked-passion-driven choices, Paul gives this selling analogy:

Romans 1:25
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator…

What we prioritize and how we spend our time, talent, and treasure matters greatly.  Solomon wants us to recognize it and make choices accordingly:

Proverbs 23:23
Buy – and do not sell – truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - When we don't learn God's lessons

When we don’t learn God’s lessons
originally posted on May 24, 2018

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 repeatedly, 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 righteousnesspositively 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 Isaiah came along, 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

Either it matters, or it doesn't

Every year, millions of people change their weekly routine to accommodate all the events that happen around Easter.  Eggs must be dyed, baskets need filling, ham dinners are expected, and – if you go at all during the year – you gotta go to church for Easter.

But what are we celebrating?  Pull away the eggs and the games, the chocolates and the bunnies…even take away the extra-special songs and skits that happen during a church’s Easter service – what, exactly, are we doing?

When you get right down to it, we are carving out one weekend of the year, every year, to commemorate one of the most bizarre claims in human history.  And yet, this absurdity is claimed to be part of history.  Not myth, not fairy tale, but a-human-being-really-did-this story.

Christians actually believe that a man (who claimed to be God in the flesh) died in a manner that has eternal, cosmic consequences.  Christians believe that this man’s gruesome death on a wooden cross paid for every single sin the world has ever committed – past, present, and future.  And if that wasn’t fantastical enough, the man who made all these claims is then said to have come back to life.

In his book “God in the Dock”, C.S. Lewis summed up the whole situation like this:

‘What are we to make of Christ?’  There is no question of what we can make of Him, it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us.  You must accept or reject the story.

The things He says are very different from what any other teacher has said.  Others say, ‘This is the truth about the Universe.  This is the way you ought to go,’ but He says, ‘I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.’  He says, ‘If you are ashamed of Me, if, when you hear this call, you turn the other way, I also will look the other way when I come again as God without disguise.  If anything is keeping you from God and from Me, whatever it is, throw it away.  If it is your eye, pull it out.  If it is your hand, cut it off.  If you put yourself first you will be last.  Come to Me everyone who is carrying a heavy load, I will set that right.  Your sins, all of them are wiped out, I can do that.  I am Re-birth, I am Life.  Eat Me, drink Me, I am your Food.  And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole Universe.’  That is the issue.

Lewis was right.  Based upon Jesus’ own words, there is no middle ground here.  Writing to the believers in Corinth, the Apostle Paul put it this way:

1 Corinthians 15:13-19
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith.  Moreover, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified wrongly about God that He raised up Christ…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Those, then who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished.

If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.

Either Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection means nothing, or it is the most important moment in all of human history.  There is no in-between.  The big question for each of us is the same one Jesus asked Martha:

John 11:25-26
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

Either it matters, or it doesn’t.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Is God a good boss or a bad boss?

I’ve been fortunate to have a number of good bosses throughout my career.  I’ve had my share of lousy ones, too; but looking back, my list of bosses is full of people who used their authority well.

So, what makes a “good boss”?  Someone who is involved, but not overbearing.  Someone who puts in at least as much effort and care into their position as they expect me to put into mine.  Someone who takes an interest in developing their employees.  And while this last item may not be at the top of everyone’s mind, we want a boss that, in fairness, holds their people accountable for their responsibilities and actions.

For a “good boss”, we work in ways that we never consider when we have a “bad boss”.  For a “good boss”, we aren’t afraid to bring up both the problem and our suggested solution.  We put in the extra time at work because we know our manager is putting in the time as well.  We seek out her opinion and want to hear how she will grow us.  We put our best efforts in, because we know that he is appreciative and will reward our efforts.  We wouldn’t consider giving this kind of effort if we are managed by a “bad boss”.  We may be forced or coerced into doing this occasionally, but volunteering it?  Not a chance.

But how does this ideal compare with how our modern culture portrays – or even we sometimes think – about God?  Have you ever been asked these questions?  Perhaps you’ve wondered them, too:

·       If God really cared, why do bad things happen?
·       Is God even paying attention?
·       Why is God letting people get away with their selfishness and evil actions?

These are hard, real questions.  And it’s ok to ask them…no need to watch out for lightning strikes.

However, I want us to look at the sentiment behind these questions – do we think God is a “bad boss”?  Are our assumptions about God getting in the way of how we see Him? 

·       Do you think God is at work in the world?
·       Do you think God is interested in how you learn and grow?
·       Do you think God holds people accountable?

Did you answer yes or no?  What are you basing your answer on?
Did you answer I’m not sure?  Then let me give you a sampling of verses to consider:

When Jesus was asked why He had the authority to heal people on the Sabbath, He gave this response:

John 5:17
Jesus responded to them, “My Father is still working, and I am working also.”

When discussing how He cares for His people, Jesus said:

John 10:10
I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.

When writing to believers, Paul had this stern warning for them:

2 Corinthians 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

How do these few verses affect the way you perceive God?  If you’re still unsure, that’s ok…but don’t stay there.  Pursue God.  Search the Scriptures.  Ask Him to reveal Himself to you.  Because when we see God as He truly is – a “good boss” – then our attitude, actions, and aim in life changes greatly.  But if we believe that God is absent and uncaring, we will miss out on the fullness of life He has to offer – the kind that only a “good boss” can give.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

My daddy said "STOP!"

When our boys were small, there were only two ways to get spanked in our house.  First, was for lying.  Didn’t matter what you lied about, that violation of trust received a spanking…and then we would deal separately with whatever had been lied about.  Second, a spanking would occur for blatant, deliberate disobedience. 

Our boys were typical little boys, and they thoroughly tested both of these rules.  After each time, I would pull them into my lap and let them cry into my chest until they had calmed down.  It was in this teachable moment that we talked about what had brought them to this point and how to avoid it in the future.  I would also repeat one of two phrases that I borrowed from Jesus:  “If you love me, follow my directions.” or “Hear my voice and follow my directions.”  The first comes from John 14:15 and the second from John 10:27:

John 14:15
If you love me, you will keep my commands.

John 10:27
My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.

You always hope your children get the lessons you try to teach them, but these verses ended up being applied in an unexpected way:

For our second Halloween in West Virginia, we walked around the neighboring side-street houses with other families that lived near us.  Our younger son was too little to walk the entire distance, so we pulled him in a wagon.  Our older son was Kindergarten-age, and he walked about a block ahead of us with some of the neighbor’s kids and friends who were in upper elementary school.  The kids were told to stay within eye-sight of the parents.  The weather was pleasant and it was a fun, relaxing stroll around the area.

At the very end of the designated Trick-or-Treat time, we started to head back home.  Our group of kids was about two blocks ahead of us, but we could still see each other.  At an empty side-road intersection, the group of kids went left, toward home…except for one, who looked left and then right and then left again.  Even from our vantage point, you could see our son’s mind spinning the options.  To the left, was home and the end of the night…but to the right were more houses with their porch lights on and other kids still getting candy.  So after weighing his options, he booked it to the right.

I didn’t mind his choice.  He was still within eye-sight, but I could see something that he couldn’t, because of the rolling hill the street was on.  There was a car, moving carefully up the road, but heading toward my son.  He was safely off the side of the road, running on the grass, but he was solely focused on getting more candy.  Depending on which house he targeted first, I was afraid he would dart out into the street.

I took a deep breath, barked out his name and gave him a loud, one-word direction: “STOP”.  He immediately stopped in his tracks.  I gave the wagon handle to my wife and ran to our son.  I got there just as the car slowly rolled by him.  He was crying because he didn’t understand why I yelled and likely thought he was in trouble.  The house he had targeted was on his side of the street and turned out to be the home of one of my co-workers.  She told me that she had heard him crying and was worried that he thought they were out of candy.  She called to him, saying, “It’s ok little boy, we still have candy.  You can come get some.”  Through his choked back tears, he gave this response: “No.  My daddy said stop.”

It didn’t hit me until the next day that although I could see him – he couldn’t see me.  While he was focused on something good, something he could have, as soon as he heard my voice…he knew he had to trust me and do what I said.  Even if it didn’t make sense to him in the moment.  Even if it meant missing out on something he wanted.

How well do we know our Savior’s voice?
Enough to recognize it above all the noise of life?
Do we trust Him enough to do what He says?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Trust the Process

Although in recent years the phrase Trust the Process has become a rallying cry for Philadelphia 76ers, I certainly remember hearing it said much earlier in my lifetime.  Typically it’s said by a coach attempting to win over a player’s confidence that the work put in today will reap benefits down the road.

It takes a lot of work to progress from a high school freshman to a college-ready athlete.  And it will take even more work if that college freshman wants to make it to the Pros.  And again, if you want to be among the best and have a long pro career – you better be ready to put in the work.  Few can ascend the ranks on natural talent, and those that do are forever remembered as someone who “never reached their full potential”.

Even if you have the motivation to work hard, you will need guidance.  You need that coach, that mentor, and their system – developed and refined over time to produce results in you that you may not even believe are possible.  You need someone who isn’t swayed by your emotional inner monologue.  You need a plan that takes all areas of your development into account.

However, the full list of what we need to develop is typically a blind spot.  Sure, we know our big weaknesses and a few of the little ones, for good measure.  But then the coach gives you a tough workout today after doing yesterday’s tough workout.  And then you are drilling – yet again – on the fundamentals.  You want to move on to other types of training, but coach won’t let up.  Sometimes, the drills just seem odd or unconnected to what we imagine as what’s best for us.  And it’s frustrating.

It’s in those moments you hear the phrase – Trust the Process.

Did you know that God has a development plan for believers? 

Becoming a Christian is simple enough, even a child can do it – we believe that Jesus will give us eternal life.  His death on the cross paid the penalty for all sin and His resurrection from the dead proved that He can fulfill His offer of eternal life.  Believing means we are persuaded that Jesus can do what He claims He can do; we are taking Him at His word, and we have faith in who He is.

When Paul was writing to the believers in Rome, he started his letter discussing how we are separated from God by sin and the only way to reconcile is by faith – not promises to do better, not dedicating our lives, not by effort, but by faith alone in Jesus.  At the end of this section, he says:

Romans 5:1-2
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

But then Paul transitions his letter from how our relationship starts with God to what God has in mind for this relationship.  He spends chapters 5-8 discussing what this new life in Christ looks like; however, take a look at what idea Paul leads this next discussion topic with:

Romans 5:3-4
And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.

Do you see The Process which God has in mind?  We all want to have hope as we go through this life, looking forward to when God will set everything right…but developing that kind of solid hope has some prerequisites.     

Rather than wondering “Why did God allow this to happen to me?” we need to Trust the Process God has laid out for His children.  Afflictions are hard, but they are worth rejoicing over because we know what’s on the other side and Who is with us the whole time.

Coaches often push us out of our comfort zone, in unexpected ways, in order to develop us further.  John Wooden spent time at the beginning of each season teaching his players how to put on their socks.  Mr. Miyagi gave Daniel-san the wax-on-wax-off chore.  I had a baseball coach insist that I learn how to juggle two baseballs.  None of these situations make sense to the athlete at the time, but they were all intentionally designed by the coach – John Wooden didn’t want his players dealing with foot blisters, Mr. Miyagi was teaching muscle memory, and my coach needed me to improve my hand-eye coordination.

God never promised Christians that life would be easy.  Jesus was quite clear that we will have trouble in this world (John 16:33).  However, our afflictions aren’t meaningless.  God has a purpose for us in them.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Still searching for comfort

Last week I wrote about finding comfort in God.  It sounds “spiritual”.  It sounds “Christian-y”.  But is it possible?  In this up-side-down, hyper-political, messed up world we live in – life can feel overwhelming, even too big for God to step in and fix.  Every day, we get more than our fill of discouraging news from around the world.

It’s not only us modern-day believers who look at the state of the world and struggle with God’s apparent…(dare we say it out loud?) ...absence?  …lack of involvement?  …delay of justice?

We saw last week that Paul counseled the Corinthian believers regarding God’s involvement in their afflictions.  But we can go further back and still see similar questions being asked of God.  When the psalmist who wrote Psalm 94 looked around at the state of the world and how his fellow Israelites were treated, he had this to say:

Psalm 94:3-7
Lord, how long will the wicked – how long will the wicked celebrate?
They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.
Lord, they crush your people; they oppress your heritage.
They kill the widow and the resident alien and murder the fatherless.
They say, “The Lord doesn’t see it.  The God of Jacob doesn’t pay attention.”

What he sees seems a lot like what we see – wickedness and arrogance ruled the day.  People selfishly acting as if God doesn’t notice or doesn’t exist.  Although he doesn’t see an immediate end to the state of affairs, the psalmist knows where to find some measure of relief…and he still believes, that at some future point, God will come through for Israel:

Psalm 94:12-15
Lord, how happy is anyone you discipline and teach from your law
to give him relief from troubled times until a pit is dug for the wicked.
The Lord will not leave his people or abandon his heritage,
for the administration of justice will again be righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

And while looking forward to a God-fixed future can provide some measure of hope, he didn’t end the psalm there.  The next part of the psalm is what caught my attention:

Psalm 94:16
Who stands up for me against the wicked?
Who takes a stand for me against evildoers?

The emphasis is personal now – Who stands up for me…Who takes a stand for me?  The psalmist knows that rescue and justice and right-ness are all coming at some point, but what about me: right-here, right-now, in all the mess I’m living with?

He continues:

Psalm 94:17-19
If the Lord had not been my helper, I would soon rest in the silence of death.
If I say, “My foot is slipping,” your faithful love will support me, Lord.
When I am filled with cares, your comfort brings me joy.

Earlier, the psalmist acknowledged that God’s discipline and teaching from the law gave him relief from troubled times.  Now, the psalmist affirms that if not for the Lord’s help, he would be overcome by the wicked and evil present around him.

Lastly, we can all identify with the feeling of being filled with cares.  We even have phrases to describe this – When it rains, it pours | Bad things come in threes | That was the straw the broke the camel’s back.  But the psalmist has shown us that it is the culmination of God’s discipline, teaching from the Scripture, and trustworthy help that brings us supernatural comfort and joy.

God will fix it all in the future, but He hasn’t abandoned us.  He hasn’t left us to go at it on our own until the time He finally brings justice to the world.  His comfort is here for us now.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Comfort food

When the world has us feeling tired and worn down, we often seek an escape in what’s comfortable.  Maybe it’s a particular type of music, a favorite movie, a hot bath/shower, or curling up in a blanket on the couch.  Typically, though, when we’re looking for comfort, we go looking for what’s known as “comfort food”.

A family recipe or a dish from a favorite restaurant is what we usually go after.  Living down here in the South, the term takes on a whole new meaning.  They take their “Southern Comfort Food” pretty serious.

A few years back, I was in a men’s Bible study and heard another guy talk about finding his comfort in God.  He said it was kinda weird at first, but that after some practice, he was naturally turning to God when he was feeling battered and tired.  He also said that going to God first helped him rest and recharge faster than the other things he had been previously seeking out for comfort.

To be honest, it sounded a little weird to hear him talk about it.  I had my suspicions that it was just “Christian talk” as opposed to real practice (we wouldn’t say that out-loud, right?).  But really, I think my skeptical thoughts were more out of a deeper concern that he had figured out something that I hadn’t yet.

But maybe he had.

When Paul was writing to a group of believers in the sin-saturated city of Corinth, he acknowledged their difficulties and pointed them toward finding their comfort in God.  However, he also gave them perspective on why God allows us to have afflictions in the first place:

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Notice that God will comfort us in ALL our trials.  That’s a great promise!  In addition, as we learn to lean into God for comfort, we are also learning how to comfort others in their afflictions.  While our afflictions and difficult seasons can be all-consuming in the moment, God sees them as the vehicle to demonstrate His love and comfort to others. 

I find it interesting, too, that while He comforts us in ALL our affliction, we will then be able to comfort those who are in ANY kind of affliction.  We don’t have to have traveled through the exact situation someone else is going through in order to provide care and comfort.

I fully admit, this is a concept that I am still learning.  But maybe that’s why I’ve had the health issues that I’ve dealt with and are still dealing with.  God is teaching me to lean into Him, to find my comfort in Him.  At some point in the future, I can expect to share comfort with someone else, the same kind of care and compassion that I have received from God.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Cure for snakebite

Without a doubt, the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16.  If you grew up in the church, it was probably the first verse you memorized.  We also see it at various places in the culture – signs at sporting events, on the bottom inside edge of In-N-Out’s drink cup (one more reason to love that place!), on a Monster Jam truck, in songs on the radio, in comic strips, and even in Tim Tebow’s eye black.

John 3:16 is appropriately hailed as “the gospel in a nutshell” as it succinctly summarizes the Good News of Jesus and His mission here on Earth.  Even better, the verse is a direct quote from Jesus, and obviously, He would be the authority on the subject of the gospel.  As a refresher:

John 3:16
For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

This quote from Jesus comes out of a discussion He had with Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was trying to figure out exactly who Christ was.  Just before He says those famous John 3:16 words, in order to help Nicodemus understand what He was about to say, Jesus curiously references an incident from Israel’s past:

John 3:14-15
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

Jesus compares Himself to a snake?  How does that help?

As Paul Harvey would say – and now, the rest of the story:

When Moses was leading the Israelites away from Egypt toward the land God had promised to the nation, the people routinely became whiny and rebellious.  Each time this occurred, God intervened to bring them back to their senses, forcing the nation to recognize their only chance of survival was to look to God.  This time, God’s “attention grabbing messenger” were poisonous snakes:

Numbers 21:4-9
Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey.  The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness?  There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!”  Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died.

The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you.  Intercede with the Lord so that he will take the snakes away from us.”  And Moses interceded for the people.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole.  When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole.  Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.

There is a lot of symbology here.  Bronze is always representative of judgement.  While the snake represented the present danger, it also harkened back to the Garden of Eden where Satan, in the form of a serpent, helped to usher sin into the world and separate people from God.

But of all the parts of this story Jesus could have referenced to help Nicodemus understand the good news of the gospel, Jesus said “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

What did the Israelites have to do to be immediately rescued from their snake-bitten death sentence?  Only to look at the bronze snake.  Not say a particular prayer.  Not promise to do better.  Not confess all their sins.  No requirement to make God the “Lord of their life” from here on out.  Only to look, because they believed God when He said that was the only thing for them to recover their earthly lives.

Jesus is telling Nicodemus – just like the Israelites looked to the bronze snake – everyone who looks to Him, everyone who believes in Him (no other conditions apply) will have eternal life!

Some may accuse me of “easy believism”, but they’ll have to take it up with Jesus first.

Why would God do such a thing?  Why would Jesus make something so incredibly valuable as eternal life available to everyone who (simply) believes in Him?

It’s the gospel in a nutshell:

John 3:16
For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken