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.

Struggling with not knowing God's purpose

Last time, we saw how Jesus’ disciples struggled to trust His plan, even after He explicitly told them what He was planning.  Now we’re going to look at the other side of the equation, the one we’re much more familiar with – struggling to cope when we do not know how God’s plan is going to unfold.

But first, a quick recap of the situation:

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are siblings who live outside of Jerusalem in a town called Bethany.  They also are very close to Jesus.  The Scriptures say repeatedly that Jesus loved them.  One day, Lazarus becomes so sick that the sisters send someone to make the several-days long hike to find Jesus and bring Him back so He can heal Lazarus.  As soon as He gets the news, Jesus says “Lazarus’ sickness will not end in death, but is for the glory of God” (John 11:4).  So that means He immediately gets up and leaves for Bethany, right?  Nope.  Instead, He waits.

John 11:6-7
So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Then after that, He said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  They didn’t get to hear Jesus’ response.  They just knew someone had gone to get Jesus.  Surely, He would come to Bethany as quickly as He could.  Probably only stopping to sleep, definitely moving as quick as possible during the daylight.  I can easily imagine the sisters trying to encourage their brother:

“Just hang on, Lazarus.  Jesus is coming.  When He gets here, he’ll make you better.  Just hold on.”

But what’s going through Lazarus’ mind?  He can feel his body giving out.  He’s likely in pain and suffering.  He wants to hold on, so Jesus can fix him…but he’s not sure how much longer he can keep on holding.  Does he worry about dying?  Does he worry about what happens to his sisters if Jesus doesn’t arrive in time?

And then…Jesus doesn’t arrive in time to perform a healing.  Lazarus dies.  His family and friends go through the Jewish burial ceremonies, prepare the body to be buried, and then put him in a cave of a tomb – sealing the entry with a large rock.

Their emotions had to have been all over the place.  They watched, helplessly, as their brother died.  Did the messenger not reach Jesus in time?  Was He delayed?  Why did this happen?  Why were their prayers unanswered?  They grieved and processed these questions for several days…and then Jesus shows up.

As if their world wasn’t topsy-turvy already, now a new round of emotions flooded over them.  Frustrated, surprised, angry, bewildered…how would you have felt?  While the sisters separately approached Jesus, they both had the same mindset:

John 11:20-21, 32
As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, but Mary remained seated in the house.  Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”…As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and told Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

I believe they were 100% right.  Based upon other comments Jesus makes in this chapter, I am certain that had He been there, Jesus would have healed Lazarus.  Even though it wasn’t what Mary and Martha wanted…He waited, and it wasn’t because He didn’t care:

John 11:33-35
When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, He was deeply moved in His spirit and troubled.

“Where have you put him?” He asked.
“Lord,” they told Him, “come and see.”

Jesus wept.

This moment answers the questions we often struggle with: “Where is God when bad things happen?  Where is Jesus when everything is wrong?  Where is God when it hurts?”

His timing may not be what we would choose, but we’re not abandoned.  He’s not cold and distant.  Jesus is deeply moved and troubled as He sees us struggle.  Jesus weeps right along side of us. 

Jesus cares deeply about what we’re going through.  Jesus weeps at how we are affected by the consequences of sin.  He knows that without Him, both physical and spiritual death is inevitable for all of us.

And although we struggle to see it, He knows exactly what He’s doing.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Struggling with knowing God’s purpose

We often want to know EXACTLY what God is up to.  We look around at the state of the world, or even at a struggle in our own lives and think, “Man, if only God would tell me WHY this is happening, I think I could deal with it all.

The truth is, we may be giving ourselves too much credit.  I’m not so sure that we could ‘handle it’ even if God was blunt and spoke plainly to us.  After all, take a look at the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ revealed plan for Lazarus:

John 11:5-10
Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.  So when He heard that [Lazarus] was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Then after that, He said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”

“Rabbi,” the disciples told Him, “just now the Jews tried to stone you, and you’re going there again?”

“Aren’t there twelve hours in a day?” Jesus answered.  “If anyone walks during the day, he doesn’t stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  But if anyone walks during the night, he does stumble, because the light is not in him.”


The disciples are trying to get Jesus to make a “business decision”.

If you haven’t heard the term before, it’s a straight-forward concept.  A “business decision” usually comes when people want to ensure their own safety, even if it means they end up taking a short-term loss, or even potentially end up neglecting others.  One modern-day example is sometimes seen in college football: a sure-fire top-10 draft pick decides to sit out of his team’s bowl game, because a good performance won’t help his stock any, so playing one last game isn’t worth the risk of injury to his future career.  Similarly, a few years back in the Super Bowl, a team’s starting Quarterback opted to not reach out for the football that was fumbled near him.  Why?  Because there were six 300 lb men also nearby, and they were all diving for the ball at the same time.  He didn’t want to risk injury, even if it meant the other team would recover the ball.  In that split-second, the QB made a “business decision”.

With the disciples, we really can’t blame them for bringing up what happened the last time they were in Jerusalem – the Jewish leaders did try to kill Jesus.  And if they’re ready to kill Him, then they would have no issues killing a disciple, either.  So, I understand their “business decision” argument.  Their line of thinking could have easily gone like this:  Jesus said that Lazarus would get better, and we’ve seen Him heal from a distance before, so why risk death when we don’t have to?  Instead, Jesus rebuffs their argument, reminding them that they will be fine as long as they are walking with Him.  Then Jesus tries to gently break the news to them about Lazarus…but they don’t quite understand:

 John 11:11-16
He said this, and then He told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on my way to wake him up.”

Then the disciples said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well.”

Jesus, however, was speaking about his death, but they thought he was speaking about natural sleep.  So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus has died.  I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe.  But let’s go to him.”

Then Thomas (called “Twin”) said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go too so that we may die with Him.”

Even after explicitly telling the disciples:
where He was going,
why He was going,
and what He was going to do when He got there…

Some of the disciples were still convinced Jesus’ actions were not going to end well.  Just like most of us probably would, Thomas uses sarcasm to cope with and even cover for his fear: “Well, since Jesus is on a death mission, we might as well march along with Him.  What else are we going to do?”

So here we have God telling them EXACTLY what He was up to…and they tried to talk Him out of it.  The important thing to note, however, was that after Jesus confirmed to them that this indeed was the direction He was going – the disciples still went with Him, even though they had reservations, because they trusted Him.  And because they followed, they witnessed the biggest miracle they had ever seen.

That’s our take home message here: Even when God’s chosen path doesn’t make sense, and we would have opted to take another route, we still follow Him because we trust Him. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A 911 call to Jesus

We’ve all been there.  At some point in our lives, the situation is so bad that we feel like we have no where else to turn.  Maybe it is a diagnosis, a car accident, or even a prolonged illness…but we’ve tried everything we know to do to cope, and the only thing left is to hope that God does a miracle.

That’s where we find the people in this story from Jesus’ life.  Two sisters and their brother, all loved by Jesus.  They have an established relationship with each other.  By all indications, Jesus has even stayed at their house, possibly several times.  But something bad has happened to their brother, and the sisters can’t do anything else about it:

John 11:1-3
Now a man was sick, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped His feet with her hair, and it was her brother Lazarus who was sick.  So the sisters sent a message to Him: “Lord the one you love is sick.”


Let’s stop here and think about logistics for a moment.  How did they get in touch with Jesus?  According to the text at the end of chapter 10, Jesus wasn’t in Bethany.  Instead, he was a couple days’ journey away.  Martha and Mary couldn’t text or call to ask Him to come to Bethany or to even find out exactly where He was at the moment.  Someone had to physically make the long journey to go to the last place Jesus was known to be, and then go searching for Him from there. 

How time-consuming and risky!  They would have no guarantee of Jesus still being where He was before or that the messenger would end up asking the right person who knew where Jesus and His disciples had gone to next.  Going to this effort only underscores how sick Lazarus really was.  Mary and Martha must have believed that their brother would not live without some sort of divine intervention.

But also keep in mind that Jesus had performed long-distance healing miracles before.  Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurion without even entering the house.  Jesus then publicly praised the centurion for his faith in Jesus’ authority.  You can read about it in Luke 7:1-10.  Surely, the sisters thought, if Jesus was willing to heal a complete stranger, who was the servant of a leader in a foreign army that was occupying Israel…then without a doubt Jesus would heal a fellow countryman that He knew and loved, right?

We don’t know how long it took, but the messenger did eventually find Jesus:

John 11:4-5
When Jesus heard it, he said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.

The messenger and the disciples likely thought Jesus’ statement meant that Lazarus wouldn’t die.  I’m sure they all took some measure of comfort from thinking this.  However, as the story continues, we will see that Lazarus did die from his illness.  Jesus was still right, though – Lazarus’ sickness did not end in death, but death was part of God’s plan this time.

We need to stop here and wrestle with a few observations, even if they are uncomfortable:

·       Sometimes, God allows really bad things to happen to people, even ones He loves.
·       Just because God healed someone else doesn’t mean healing is coming in the same way for us.
·       God performing healing miracles is more about the glory of God than it is about our preference for comfort.

We trust that God hears us when we pray.  We trust that He loves us.  However, just because those two things are true does not mean that He will swoop in and respond in the way that we think He should fix everything. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

When disease hits too close to home

I’ve been dealing with some annoying health stuff for the last 9 months or so.  Nothing life-threatening, but I’m working with Doctors, changing my diet, taking meds and supplements, evaluating potential causes, blah, blah, blah…you know the drill.  Even though it’s not something that will kill me, it is frustrating that my body isn’t working as well as it used to.  I’m not that old, really.  But when you pile this recent development on top of my near-sightedness, my semi-frequent migraines, and a slightly unstable right shoulder…I get the feeling that it’s not going to get any easier as the years continue to pile up.

When I look around at my family, it seems I’m not the only one.  There’s high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, bi-polar struggles, and a long list of other maladies.  I’m sure you and your family could come up with a similar type of list. 

As we deal with these health issues now, it’s really easy to get frustrated.  I mean, God created everything…and could easily stop any of the health problems that we encounter.  So, why doesn’t He?

We can usually come to some sort of peace about this troubling question by reminding ourselves that we live in a fallen world, that Jesus will make everything right when He returns, and that we have perfectly good resurrection bodies to look forward to.  However, there are some situations when these answers fall short or feel hollow.  The one that really gets to me is my brother.  He has MS.  Wait…before going further, let me re-frame that for you:

My younger brother, who is in his mid-30s, has three kids under the age of 10, faithfully loves his wife, leads in a church that he helped plant, is active in his community, one of the hardest workers I know, a student of the Bible, works in end-of-life hospice care taking care of people who need help, loves Jesus and knows that he is loved by Jesus…he has Multiple Sclerosis.

MS is a failure of the immune system to function properly.  Instead of protecting his body, his immune system attacks him.  He has made adjustments to his life, but the MS has already taken ground – and it doesn’t give ground back.  He could be fine today and be in a wheelchair tomorrow, or he may be fine for many years…but all MS patients end up in the same place.  His body, in the end, will destroy itself.

I can quickly move from frustration to anger over this.  Serious, indignant, vision-blurred-by-tears anger.  God could show up and fix this, RIGHT?  So…what is He waiting for?  Why delay healing my brother?  Why wait for the resurrection?


Did you know…when Jesus was on Earth, He was asked these same questions?

The questions weren’t part of a parable or found in one of His teachings.  Jesus was asked, straight-up.  Real life was happening.  They loved Jesus and He loved them – but they were looking right at Jesus for answers as they dealt with the most unfair moment of their lives.

I need to know how Jesus answered their questions, and there are a few more things I am wondering:

What did Jesus say?
Did He show any emotion?
Did He seem to even care?

We’ll look for answers to these questions as we launch into this next study.  For now, I am clinging to something Paul wrote many years later:

2 Corinthians 4:16
Therefore we do not give up.  Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.

Our current bodies are falling apart, and it is hard to deal with.  The diseases we encounter in this fallen world are vicious, malicious, and ruthless.  It’s especially difficult to helplessly watch the people we love succumb to them.  But no matter how heavy these moments are, God helps us keep the proper perspective:

2 Corinthians 4:17
For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.


Today’s crushing avalanche will be nothing more than a light mist in comparison to the eternal glory to be revealed in us. 

Even if we cannot see it right now, because our eyes are blurred by tears.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Flashback Favorite - Being heard

Preparing the next study is taking longer than I anticipated, so I offer this Flashback Favorite.  I love the reminder that God hears us...always and with everything.  We don't need to hold anything back from Him.  He can handle us - our fears, our emotions, and our messes.

Being heard
originally posted on May 27, 2015

We are social beings, God created us to be in community with Him and with others.  So when a crisis hits and grief wears us out, our natural response is to seek the companionship of others.  The times we get blind-sided, as soon as we recognize that resolution may not come quickly, the next step we typically take is to look for someone to go through it with us.  We tell ourselves “I just need someone to talk to.”

But that’s hard to find sometimes, isn’t it?  There have been times when I didn’t feel like I had someone to talk to, or that my situation was different enough that no one I knew could relate all that much.  In addition to the struggle of trying to process the mess of my situation, I also felt lost and stuck because it seemed like I had to go through it alone.

Perhaps the author of Psalm 119 felt the same way, but instead of looking for another human being to talk with, he seeks out God.  Look for what happens when he approaches God with his grief and sorrow:

Psalm 119:25-32
My life is down in the dust; give me life through Your word.
I told You about my life, and You listened to Me; teach me Your statutes.
Help me understand the meaning of Your precepts so that I can meditate on Your wonders.
I am weary from grief; strengthen me through Your word.
Keep me from the way of deceit, and graciously give me Your instruction.
I have chosen the way of truth; I have set Your ordinances before me.
I cling to Your decrees; Lord, do not put me to shame.
I pursue the way of Your commands, for You broaden my understanding.

There is so much comfort in the phrase I told You about my life, and You listened to Me.  From this, we know that we can bring any grief-filled situation to God, and He will hear us out.  There’s no indication in the text that what the psalmist said about his life was only the good, or only the bad, or only the things that he thought God would want to hear.  There are no limitations on what he feels he can or cannot say about his life, and God doesn’t run away from him because he’s feeling worn out, tired, or stressed from grief.  He can approach God with everything - I told You…and You listened.

The Hebrew word for You listened contains two ideas – of someone being heard and of that person being answered back.  While most translations focus on God answering, it is also reassuring to know that God is actively listening. 

This section of Psalm 119 ends with the author stating what he’s trusting God for as he navigates his grief.  He is looking to God to broaden my understanding, and the literal translation of the phrase is to enlarge my heart

I’ve been told that life’s events can make you bitter or better…that in our difficulties we can shrink back, or we can expand and grow.  But the psalmist knows, as we intuitively recognize, that real growth comes from our relationship with the God who actively listens to us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

For my son - When it's time to let go

My oldest son has officially finished high school and is getting ready to embark on the next phase of his life.  As I am nostalgically thinking of that time in my own life, I am also thinking of the things God has taught me since then.

This is the third post in a three-part series where I am remembering lessons I have learned later in life that I would love for my son know now...

I chose this post because letting go is hard…for everyone involved.  I don’t know how to be the parent of an adult child.  I’ve never done it before; I’ve never had a relationship like this.  But then again, neither has he.  We both will have to learn to trust God in new ways, as faith can only grow like this when we let go.

When it’s time to let go
originally posted on February 3, 2016

Paul began his letter to Philemon by telling him how he’s being prayed for:

Philemon 4-5
I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

These aren’t just words of flattery.  Instead, they are Paul’s acknowledgment of Philemon’s maturity and his deserved reputation for his recognizable love and faith.  It is because of Philemon’s progress in becoming Christ-like that Paul can make a very personal request:

Philemon 8-11
For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal, instead, on the basis of love.  I Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, whom I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me.

We are now introduced to the subject of Paul’s letter.  Onesimus and Philemon had some sort of relationship problem…but at that time, Philemon was a Christian and Onesimus was not.  Since that time, Onesimus has met up with Paul, who then taught him about Jesus.  Under Paul’s guidance, Onesimus trusted Jesus for eternal life and became part of God’s family.

While Paul would often refer to the churches he planted as “his children,” there are only three people in the Scriptures that Paul directly refers to as “his child” – Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus.  Given Paul’s reference to being an elderly man, it’s probable that Onesimus was, like Timothy and Titus, at the other end of the age spectrum.  As the letter continues, it is clear how much Paul cares for Onesimus.

However, as a good father, Paul knows that the next step in Onesimus’ growth and development as a believer is to reconcile with Philemon. 

Philemon 12-14
I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will.

I’m certain that the tough part for Paul is that he will not be present to facilitate their meeting.  Paul won’t be there to make sure Philemon and Onesimus do this right.  He won’t be able to mediate their grievances.  There’s no guarantee they can successfully reconcile on their own, but there little Paul can do about that while he’s in prison.  So Paul does the best he can – he writes a personal letter to his dear friend on behalf of his son – and he sends Onesimus on his way.

He lets go.

Sometimes, as hard as that is…it’s for best.  No matter how great our parents were, we couldn’t have grown like we did unless we left the comforts of their home.  Mentors are beneficial for a season, and the best bosses can develop us for a time…but we grow the most when we have to trust God and apply the lessons we’ve learned.

Paul even admitted his struggle – I wanted to keep him with me.  But he knew that Onesimus and Philemon would benefit more from this opportunity to be Christ-like after previously hurting one another.  They couldn’t hold on to Paul’s hand and toddle around anymore; they needed to trust God and walk on their own.  Both Onesimus and Philemon needed to choose the right thing, not out of obligation, but of their own free will.

I’ve been on both sides before.  I’ve left my childhood home and the church I grew up in.  I’ve had my mentor leave.  I’ve also been the boss who left the team, knowing that my absence would be a catalyst for their growth.  And soon, I’ll be sending my sons out into the world.  Both sides are hard.

When those moments arrive, it’s best to trust God and let go.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

For my son - Influencing generations

My oldest son has officially finished high school and is getting ready to embark on the next phase of his life.  As I am nostalgically thinking of that time in my own life, I am also thinking of the things God has taught me since then.

This is the second post in a three-part series where I am remembering lessons I have learned later in life that I would love for my son know now...

I chose this post because it reminds us that our right-now words, activities, and choices affect more than just "right-now".  There will be a future echo to how we live out today.  I hope that my influence on my son has been both good and godly.  I pray that he intentionally pursues God, and that he is mindful of his echo-influence on future generations.

Influencing generations
originally posted on April 22, 2015

One day, totally unplanned, I looked in the mirror and saw my father looking back at me.  On another day, I caught myself saying something to my boys that I know I’ve heard come out of my mother’s mouth.  I often quote one of my Aunt’s favorite sayings, even though no one outside of my family knows where I learned it from.  And I am certain there are plenty of other things I do and say that were directly influenced by my family and upbringing.

In Psalm 61, there is an attention-grabbing phrase which David wrote to clearly express the kind of shelter and protection he was looking for as he turned to God:

Psalm 61:4
I will live in Your tent forever
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

Now compare that verse, with the first verse of Psalm 57:

Psalm 57:1
Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in You.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of Your wings
until danger passes.

In fact, several other psalms written by David use a similar metaphor to illustrate the close, intimate protection David sought as he physically ran from enemies and spiritually ran toward God.

But where did David learn the idea that God would protect him in a similar manner as an adult bird would protect their offspring? 

From his great-grandparents.

A woman called Naomi was destitute.  She had no husband, no children, no income – just her daughter-in-law Ruth, who was a foreigner.  They had recently returned to Israel, in the hopes of finding food and shelter.  Ruth did what she could to provide for the two of them, gathering the leftover grain from fields as the Law allowed the poor to do.  The owner of the field was named Boaz.  When he found out what Ruth was doing and whom she was doing it for, he had this to say to her:

Ruth 2:12
May the Lord reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.

Later on, when Ruth is petitioning Boaz for help, she said

Ruth 3:9
Spread your cloak over me, for you are a family redeemer.

Another way to translate the verse would be “Spread the wing of your cloak over me.” 

At the end of the story, Boaz and Ruth are married.  They later give birth to David’s grandfather.

Even if the phrase was culturally common for Boaz and Ruth…the concept of being protected under the wing of God was so instilled in their descendants that David repeatedly used that idea when he was in trouble and reaching for God.

We are so focused on today’s agenda, making sure ends meet, and keeping on top of the moment – and those things need to be done.  However, we often do these things without recognizing the long-term influence we have on our families.  Every day, we communicate ideas and instill patterns in our children that will echo for generations, much further down the line than we likely think about.

If you could have one idea, one aspect of your relationship with God burned into your great-grandson’s mind…what would it be?

Then let’s make sure we’re saying that to our children.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

For my son - Swim strokes and the effect of a quiet life

My oldest son has officially finished high school and is getting ready to embark on the next phase of his life.  As I am nostalgically thinking of that time in my own life, I am also thinking of the things God has taught me since then.

This is the first post in a three-part series where I am remembering lessons I have learned later in life that I would love for my son know now...

I chose this post because it reminds us that our biggest and best way of introducing others to Jesus will likely come from what we consider the normal, small portions of life.  The closer we walk with God, the more "His normal" becomes "our normal"...the more His life will stand out to others, even if we don't necessarily notice.

Swim strokes and the effect of a quiet life
originally posted on July 15, 2016

I’ve raced in a handful of triathlons.  No crazy, Ironman distances; but I have completed several of the short, “sprint” distances.  When I started, I figured that biking I can do, running I can do, but it was the first event that scared me the most – the swim.  I had taken swimming lessons as a kid, but as an unpracticed adult, my activity in the water fell more into the “not drowning” category rather than in the “swimming” category.

After a friend lent me a DVD on swimming for triathletes, I began practicing several times a week.  Sometime later, on one particular night, I was at a local gym and was using their lap pool.  A friend of mine was in the first lane, getting his laps in.  I was in the middle lane, just doing my thing.  Shortly after we started, an older lady started using the other outside lane for water aerobics and walking.

During one of my breaks, the lady turned to me and said, “I’ve just got to tell you.  You have a very quiet stroke.”  I chuckled a little bit, and then thanked her.  She had apparently been comparing my smooth stoke to the thrashing around my friend was doing in the next lane over.  My wife had previously told me that at races, my swim sticks out in comparison to the others; she says it looks like I’m moving with the water instead of fighting my way through it, like everyone else.

By the time the older lady gave me the compliment, I had practiced this style of swimming so much that it had become second nature.  I didn’t even notice I was doing it – to me, I was just swimming.  After thanking the lady for her compliment, I informed her that my swim stroke was something I had been taught, it didn’t come naturally.  I also told her that it was a skill that she could learn as well.  She immediately shook her head ‘no’ and said, “I really don’t think so.”

Similarly, Paul gave Timothy instructions for the church in Ephesus that if followed, would stand out to culture around them.

1 Timothy 2:1-4
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

How we live is an indicator of our relationship with God our Savior.  Paul tells Timothy that the best kind of life, one that shows we are walking close to God, is a tranquil and quiet life where our godliness and dignity are on full display.

When we focus on knowing God well and practice ways to imitate Him, our godliness will become second nature.  While our “God-like-ness” will feel normal to us, the tranquil and quiet life we lead will stand out to those around us.

God and His love for us is so big that He wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth – the amazing thing is that we are his main ambassadors for doing so.  Paul says we fulfill our role as God’s representative in two ways: through praying for our leaders and living a godly life.

These two things will give us the platform to reach out to everyone with the same love that has been extended to us.  Some will desire the life they see in us; others won’t believe that it’s possible.  As ambassadors, we’re just responsible to represent God.  It’s not up to us to convert anyone, that’s God’s arena.

We have to keep in mind that the gospel will be communicated through our lives before anyone will likely read the Bible on their own.  Honestly, the people in my life will read the ‘gospel of Ken’ long before they read the Gospel of John.  Living a tranquil and quiet life will not come naturally for us, either.  But with practice, we will begin to inherently reflect God and all His attractive qualities.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

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