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 tree and a curse

Because of how broken everything in this world is, I sometimes feel as if it will never end…that the downward spiral will just keep spinning until everything collapses.  But then I remember that Jesus promised He would come back and set everything right…so in the meantime, I really look forward to the day when the weight of this broken world is finally lifted.  Thankfully, we get a preview of what that future life will look like as John continues his description of what he sees inside New Jerusalem:

Revelation 22:1-2
The he
[the angel] showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the city’s main street.

I love this scene.

God previously stated: I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life. (Revelation 21:6), and in a few verses, we’ll see the offer repeated: Let the one who is thirsty come.  Let the one who desires take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:17). 

What the angel shows John at the beginning of Chapter 22 confirms God’s offer…that the river of the water of life flows from God.  The free gift isn’t something that we can earn, borrow, or purchase.  We cannot make ourselves worthy of the gift; we don’t add anything to it.  We aren’t responsible to maintain the river of the water of life.  This is a no-strings-attached offer from God to anyone who wants to take Him up on it.

Revelation 22:2-3
The tree of life was on each side of the river; bearing twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month.  The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, and there will no longer be any curse.

“The end” of the curse sounds like a great thing…but what, exactly, is “the curse”?  To answer that question, we’ll have to back to the beginning…

When God confronted Adam and Eve with their selfish, sinful choice to eat from the only forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, the consequences looked like this:

Genesis 3:16-19
He
[God] said to the woman:
              I will intensify your labor pains;
              you will bear children with painful effort.
              Your desire will be for your husband,
              yet he will rule over you.

And He said to the man, …
              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.

No wonder this is called “the curse”!  A woman’s relationships – both to her children and her husband – became significantly more difficult.  A man’s work also became significantly more difficult.  And at the end of all this difficulty was the inevitable return to useless dust. 

We saw before that the creation eagerly waits for the removal of the curse, and we’ve felt the same longing within ourselves (Romans 8:19-23).  In New Jerusalem, the quality of life we’ve longed for has finally arrived.

What will humanity be able to accomplish when sin no longer interferes with relationships – when you can fully trust everything you’re told, when there’s no agenda in the media, when you know you won’t be cheated, or taken advantage of, or abandoned?

What will humanity be able to accomplish when sin no longer interferes with work – when we can freely partner with God in the things He will do in eternity future…and not have to deal with the influences of selfishness, or ego, or greed?

This is where my heart beats faster in anticipation, and I begin to see how great our God is and how magnificent His amazing plan of history is…

There will no longer be any curse.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Heaven on Earth

Some days I just get tired of people.  Or at least that’s what I say to describe how worn down I feel.  But in all honesty, it’s not so much that individual people that are wearing me down…it’s the clash of their self-tainted agendas with my own self-tainted agenda that leaves me feeling like the ocean has been pounding on the shore of my psyche.

How great would it be if we could just remove everyone’s sin nature from life’s equation?

We get an idea of what it will be like as John moves from describing the exterior of New Jerusalem to what he sees (and does not see) inside the city:

Revelation 21:22-23
I did not see a temple in it, because the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb.

The fact that there was no temple in New Jerusalem is a significant change.  The temple was the central location for the people to meet with and relate to God.  God’s presence resided in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the temple – and it was there that once a year the High Priest would meet with God on behalf of the people.

However, in New Jerusalem God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them (Revelation 21:3).  Access to God is no longer limited to a representative once per year…His presence will be so constant that His glory will negate the need for a sun in the sky!

The Holy of Holies was built in a cube form, both in the tabernacle (Exodus 26) and Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:20).  The cube shape of New Jerusalem also affirms that we have permanently entered into the most intimate of relationships with God – so close that a meeting place isn’t necessary because the entire city is the meeting place.

Revelation 21:24-27
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.  Its gates will never close by day because it will never be night there.  They will bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.  Nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those written in the Lamb’s book of life.

And so the ancient practice of honoring the greatest king by bringing him wealth from your nation will continue in New Jerusalem (e.g. – 1 Kings 10:10, Psalm 72:10-11).  These gifts to honor God will be brought by only those [whose names are] written in the Lamb’s book of life, ones who had previously accepted Christ’s offer of eternal life.

How magnificent will this city be?!?!  No corruption, no lies, no selfishness, no greed, no lust… nothing unclean will ever enter it.  How incredibility freeing would life be, if sin could not interfere?  Think about how smoothly New Jerusalem will function.  When today’s frustrations make you wish a change – your feelings are spot-on.  Our desire for sin’s removal will, one day, be fulfilled.

I hope you are as excited about New Jerusalem as I am…our forever home will truly be “Heaven on Earth”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Does heaven really have pearly gates?

Ever wonder what heaven will be like?  If we were to believe the culture, we’d be wearing bath robes, floating on clouds, and strumming harps.  With lots of chubby babies around – for what reason, I’m not sure.

However, God does give us a description of His holy city.  God reveals this description to the Apostle John, who (fortunately for us) recorded what he saw.  In this part of John’s description, he details what he sees as the angel measures New Jerusalem:

Revelation 21:17-20
Then he measured its wall, 144 cubits according to human measurement, which the angel used.  The building material of its wall was jasper, and the city was pure gold clear as glass.  The foundations of the city wall were adorned with every kind of jewel:

the first foundation is jasper,
the second sapphire,
the third chalcedony,
the fourth emerald,
the fifth sardonyx,
the sixth carnelian,
the seventh chrysolite,
the eighth beryl,
the ninth topaz,
the tenth chrysoprase,
the eleventh jacinth,
the twelfth amethyst.

Some of these stones we recognize, others we may not.  Remember, John is describing what he sees as best he can – relating his observations to things he is familiar with.  Interestingly enough, many of these precious “foundational” stones listed here were also in the breastplate of Israel’s High Priest. 

What we do know for sure is that the city is prepared like a bride adorned for her husband (21:2), and after unveiling the city, when God said “I am making everything new.” (21:5)…and He means it.  These descriptions of Heaven aren’t like the sleepy, harp-strumming, so-boring-I’m-going-to-gouge-my-eyes-out portrayals we get from modern culture. 

Just imagine seeing this as you walk into New Jerusalem:

Revelation 21:21
The twelve gates are twelve pearls; each individual gate was made of a single pearl.  The main street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

The largest pearl found on earth is about 1 foot in diameter and is estimated to be worth about $130 million USD.  What kind of artistry goes into making entire city gates out of individual pearls?  Do they shine, do they glimmer?  How would these gates feel to the touch? 

The magnificence of New Jerusalem certainly overwhelms John.  When I let my imagination play with his descriptions, I can’t help but be filled with awe and wonder at the thought of just being there…

And then I remember what God previously announced to John, that the one who conquers will inherit these things (21:7)…being there, in the New Jerusalem, will be wonderful; however, we are invited to inherit it.  Since inheritance is conditional, our choices now determine if we are an conqueror or not.

What, exactly, can we inherit in the New Jerusalem?  We’re not told “exactly” what that will entail…however, given the overwhelming descriptions of New Jerusalem’s beauty, and God’s promises to those who are conquerors – it would be safe to say that living for Christ now, no matter what cost we pay in this life, has an eternal reward far beyond what we would call “good” or “worth it”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Imagination, Bible reading, and seeing our new home

It’s easy to fall into the habit of just reading through our Bibles, looking for information or some direct word of encouragement.  If we take that approach, we’ll end up missing out on what God has in store for us. 

Imagination isn’t typically a skill that’s promoted when we are taught (if we are taught) how to study our Bibles.  Most preaching looks at the text for nuggets of truth that church-goers can somehow immediately apply to their lives.  However, God gave us powerful minds that can daydream up all sorts of ideas and thoughts.  So why shouldn’t we try and use that skill when we read our Bibles?

Let’s use our sanctified imaginations as John describes our future home in the New Jerusalem:

Revelation 21:15-16
The
[angel] who spoke with me had a golden measuring rod to measure the city, its gates, and its wall.  The city is laid out in a square; its length and width are the same.  He measured the city with the rod at 12,000 stadia.  Its length, width, and height are equal.

Verses like these are fairly simple to read over and keep moving.  Our first impression is probably something like:

Yeah, I’m sure it’s pretty big and impressive.  Jesus said something about there being many rooms in His Father’s house, right?  So, I’m sure New Jerusalem is a decent-sized city.

Let’s put this into a comparison we can relate to – the New York metro area is the largest urban area on the planet, covering about 3,350 square miles.  In comparison, New Jerusalem will cover over 1.9 million square miles…which is over 560 times the size of NYC!

If the boarders of New Jerusalem were placed over a map of the USA, the perimeter would extend from Buffalo, NY to the southern tip of Florida…with the opposite side extending from the Wyoming/Montana border down into Mexico. 

If that’s not amazing enough, New Jerusalem is laid out like a square, so it also extends nearly 1,400 miles up!  It truly boggles the mind to try and imagine how many people could fit in a place that large…and this is also the city that John just described as being prepared like a bride adorned for her husband.

A city that size…decked out and beautiful beyond anything we can even imagine.  This is our future home, prepared by Christ for you, just as He promised:

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.”

Just try and wrap your head around the sheer magnitude of what God is going to do…and the absolutely amazing fact that we believers are going to be a part of it.  Go ahead…imagine…and then marvel at the future God has planned…let these ideas simmer in your mind. 

Thoughts of a future home like this will certainly change our present perspective.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Our desire for peace, fulfilled

There is so much strife and turmoil in our world.  The nightly news is full of what went wrong during the day.  The internet is always ready to show you the ugliness that us human beings can manufacture.  We feel divided by every available category.  We want to see peace, but we just don’t see a way for it to happen.  And yet…our longing for peace suggests that somehow, it’s possible…

Now is the time to use our sanctified imagination.  Try to imagine what John is seeing:

Revelation 21:9-11
Then one of the seven angels, who had held the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues, came and spoke with me: “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
He then carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, arrayed with God’s glory.  Her radiance was like a precious jewel, like a jasper stone, clear as crystal.

John was doing his best to describe to his readers what he was witnessing.  Jasper was a precious stone in Bible times.  As it is known today, jasper’s appearance is more opaque than clear.  Using today’s terms, we would probably refer the New Jerusalem as a brilliant diamond (a stone which was not known as a jewel in Bible times). 

John continues:

Revelation 21:12-14
The city had a massive high wall, with twelve gates.  Twelve angels were at the gates; the names of the twelve tribes of Israel’s sons were inscribed on the gates.  There were three gates on the east, three gates on the north, three gates on the south, and three gates on the west.  The city wall had twelve foundations, and the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb were on the foundations.

Interestingly enough, we see reference to both the Old and New Testament people of God…living in the same place, but yet they are still distinctly identified.  The Holy City will be a beautiful place of peace for those who love God, no matter what age they lived in. 

This is the ultimate fulfillment of what Paul explained to the believers in Ephesus:

Ephesians 2:11-3:6
So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh…at that time you were without Christ, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 
For He is our peace, who made both groups one…so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace.  He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross…the Gentiles are
(now, together with believers from Israel) coheirs, members of the same body, and partners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

The distance from each other the and divide between us and God has been bridged because He is our peace.  The peace we want can only be found in Christ Jesus through the gospel.  That peace we can have right now, when we accept Jesus’ offer of eternal life.  Although we long to live in a peaceful society, we can take comfort knowing that our desire for a peaceful world will ultimately be fulfilled in the New Jerusalem.

For that, I am a very thankful Gentile…and I can’t wait to see Christ’s work of reconciliation and peace displayed in Eternity Future and the New Jerusalem.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Contrast of Eternal Rewards

The goal of Bible study is to think God’s thoughts after Him and to better understand the one who loves us…both of these aims have the ultimate goal of deepening our relationship with God.  Whenever our reading of the Scriptures needs some focused studying to fully understand what God is communicating (as we have been doing with Revelation 21:7), the best next step is to zoom out and add our new understanding to the surrounding context of verses.

Revelation 21:6-8
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.  But the cowards, faithless, detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars – their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

The focus of the paragraph turns on one simple word – but.

“But” is a critical term when studying Scripture.  It lets you know that a contrast is taking place in the text, and these contrasts are important to our understanding.

On the one hand, we have those who did freely drink from the water of life, and from within them, those who conquer.  On the other hand are those who have rejected God and lived life counter to His plan for humanity.  In contrast to the conquerors who inherit in the new Jerusalem, those who have rejected God have their share (other translations – their place, their portion, or their part) eternally separated from God in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur…which the previous context of Revelation 20:10-15 indicates is the eternal destiny of Satan and those who follow him.

This is a serious contrast of eternal consequences. 

Thinking about the original recipients of Revelation, the terms God uses – the cowards, the faithless, etc – would have been descriptive of those who were persecuting the first century believers.  While this contrast does give comfort that God will make everything right in the end, there is another application, one for the here and now:

Remember, we are called to be blameless and pure, children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world by holding firm to the word of life (Philippians 2:15-16).  After all, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us.  We plead on Christ’s behalf: “Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

For those around us, eternal destiny hangs in the balance.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Special rewards for those who conquer

When studying the Scriptures, it is always best to consider the context and author’s word choice with their writing before comparing how a word or phrase is used in another book of the Bible.  Within the English language we recognize that the same word can have different meanings…and the author’s intended meaning is conveyed by looking at the context of the word.  For example:

I ran a marathon.
I ran a meeting.
I ran for political office.

Same word, totally different communication – based upon the context.

Revelation 21:6-7
…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.

When we looked at the term inherit, we had to go outside of the book of Revelation for context…because in Revelation 21:7 is the only time John uses the word.  However, the phrase he who conquers IS used several times within Revelation, and primarily by Jesus himself.

At the beginning of the book of Revelation, John recorded letters that Jesus dictated to each of the seven churches.  These letters were written to believing Christians.  The contents in each letter deals strictly with the actions and choices of the people in the church, there is no mention of Jesus’ saving work on the cross.  These letters were focused on how these believers were living their lives in view of eternity.  In each of His letters, Jesus describes a specific task or obstacle that the church was currently facing.  He then followed up with an exhortation and a specific reward to those who conquer.

Let’s take a look:

Ephesus (Rev. 2:1-7) – Jesus said they had done great things; however He also said: “but I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first…repent, and do the works you did at first…to the one who conquers, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God”

Smyrna (Rev. 2:8-11) – They were warned that persecution was coming, but Jesus also told them to “be faithful to the point of death”, and as a reward for this, Jesus said “and I will give you the crown of life”.  Jesus also encouraged them through a figure of speech called a litotes – which is expressing an affirmative idea by negating its opposite (e.g. – “I am not amused” actually means “I’m really annoyed”).  Jesus said “The one who conquers will never be harmed by the second death”.  The point of the Lord’s promise is that those who remain faithful will experience eternal life to the utmost in the life to come.  Even though the first death might hurt them briefly, the second death (eternal separation from God) wouldn’t hurt them at all.

Pergamum (Rev. 2:12-17) – False teaching had infiltrated this church, as some were teaching that you can live in sexual immorality and recklessness without consequence.  Jesus’ exhortation was just two words before explaining their potential reward: “So repent! …To the one who conquers, I will give some of the hidden manna.  I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

Thyatira (Rev. 2:18-29) – They also dealt with false teachers.  To those who resisted the false teaching, Jesus gave just one command, “Only hold on to what you have until I come.”  However, Jesus followed it up with an amazing promise: “The one who conquers and who keeps my works to the end: I will give him authority over the nations…just as I received this from my Father.  I will also give him the morning star.”

Sardis (Rev. 3:1-6) – Jesus warned them, “Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die, for I have not found your works complete before My God.  Remember, then, what you have received and heard; keep it, and repent…the one who conquers will be dressed in white clothes, and I will never erase his name from the book of life (another litotes) but will acknowledge his name before My Father and before His angels.”

Philadelphia (Rev. 3:7-13) – Jesus said, “I am coming soon.  Hold on to what you have, so that no one takes your crown.  The one who conquers I will make a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will never go out again.  I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God – the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God – and (I will also write on him) My new name.

Laodicea (Rev. 3:14-22) – Jesus reprimanded them, “you don’t realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.  I advise you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire so that you may be rich, white clothes so that you may be dressed and your shameful nakedness not be exposed, and ointment to spread on your eyes so that you may see.  As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline.  So be zealous and repent…to the one who conquers I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I also conquered and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

I love how Jesus used Himself as the example to the believers in Thyatira and Laodicea.  He completed His mission; He conquered the struggle placed before Him.  The world didn’t see Jesus as victorious, but God the Father certainly did – and in the end, His opinion of how we lived our lives is the only one that matters.

After looking at the rest of Revelation to how Jesus intends to reward the one who conquers, we need to be thinking: What is our God-given mission?  Do you have a plan on how you will be one who conquers?  Eternal rewards are available for us…but we must choose to pursue them in the here and now.

Revelation 21:6-7
…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.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

God wants you to be a conqueror

Let’s be honest.  The Christian life is hard, and sometimes we wonder if following God is really worth it.  How much does it matter that we abide by God’s principles as we navigate our days, months, and years?  There’s got to be a larger reason for choosing to follow God, something more than just being “a good little Christian girl” or “a good little Christian boy”, right?

As we take a look at the last chapters of God’s final book of the Bible, we’re finding out that God DOES INDEED have more – much more – in store for those who follow Him.

Revelation 21:6-7
…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.

Inheritance is conditional – it is based upon the choices a person makes in the life they live after they have accepted Christ’s free gift of eternal life.  Knowing this, the next question we need to answer is this:

Since a conqueror is the one who inherits, who are the Christians that God refers to as “the one who conquers”?

The Greek word for conquer is nikao.  In ancient Greece, it was a verb that meant to overcome or overpower; to conquer or triumph.  In legal terms, it meant “to win one’s case”.  The verb was used to describe winners of athletic contests.  It was also used in reference to the victorious ruling Caesars.  When used in its noun-form, the word nike means victory.  It was also the name of a Greek goddess, who was often represented in art as a symbol of personal superiority.  In our modern days, not only is “Nike” a clothing and shoe brand, but the company’s marketed identity purposely conveys an overcoming, victorious attitude.

So, to be a conqueror is to be victorious over any task, obstacle, or arena you are in…and thus have the right to claim the victor’s spoils.  This definition fits in perfectly with what we have learned about a believer’s potential inheritance in the New Jerusalem.  Since inheritance is conditional, those that obtain it are those who have lived a victorious life in Christ.

Paul used similar language as he encouraged the believers at Corinth.

1 Corinthians 9:24-25
Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way to win the prize.  Now everyone who competes exercises self-control in everything.  They do it to receive a perishable crown, but we
[do it to receive] an imperishable crown.

Paul says we should be striving for a crown that lasts forever…and in Revelation 21:7, we are told what the prize is for the one who conquers – it is the right to inherit in the New Jerusalem.

Making wise choices now, living victoriously for Christ through whatever circumstances we face, overcoming the obstacles that are trying to pry us away from our relationship with God…these are the actions that will make us – by God’s definition – one who conquers.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

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