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.

Making the effort, but struggling in weakness

Christ, the Greater Messenger, has invited us to partner with Him now.  The reward for doing so is entering God’s rest, which is the administration of His future kingdom.  The author of Hebrews is using the example of the Israelites leaving Egypt and their opportunity to participate in the administration of the future county of Israel as a parallel to our own lives:

Hebrews 4:9-11
A Sabbath rest remains, therefore, for God’s people.  For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His.  Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.

Notice that the author is stressing our need to make every effort to enter that rest; as such, he is clearly not taking about Jesus’ offer of eternal salvation from the penalty of our sins.  If the rest discussed here were simply heaven, we wouldn’t have to work for it, because eternal life is an unearned gift (John 3:16; John 10:25; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 22:17).  Effort, however, is needed if we are going to be partners with Jesus and His administration of the universe.  Our efforts now do not affect “where” we will spend eternity, but our efforts now will effect “what” we will be doing in eternity future.

Since the Israelites’ example and Jesus’ superior message are available in Scripture, this is the place we should be looking to see what we must do NOW in order to enter into the future kingdom participation LATER.  However, when we look through Scripture, we discover:

Hebrews 4:12-13
For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart.  No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.

Since an account for my life will be given, all my times of having a sinful, unbelieving heart will be known…and I remember how God dealt with the Israelites for the unbelief (they missed out on participating in the establishment of the kingdom of Israel!)  What am I going to do, then?  Given my mistakes, sins, and all the times I act selfishly…How can I ever be considered qualified to partner with God in the future?

Hebrews 4:14-15
Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens – Jesus the Son of God – let us hold fast to the confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.

This tells me that Christ is on my side, as my brother in the family and the bridge for my relationship between me and God the Father.  I am not alone in my struggles!  Even greater still, we are told:

Hebrews 4:16
Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.

In all honesty, my human mind would not expect this.  We are so weak…so very, very weak.  We do not deserve the first, second, or any chance to partner with God.  And once again, our God blows away our expectations with His mercy and grace.

Jesus is here to sympathize with our weaknesses and to help us in our time of need, so that we can make every effort to enter that rest.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

The effect of a Christian's unbelief

Just because Christians are in the “Holy” family doesn’t mean that we always behave like we are set apart for God.  This fact was also once recognized by a father of an epileptic boy when he told Jesus, “I do believe!  Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24).

The Greek work for unbelief refers to a lack of faith or a wavering amount of trust in someone.  The father believed that Jesus could help his son, but he was wavering on if Jesus would help and how much help He would give.  Unbelief isn’t referring to losing one’s eternal salvation (which does not happen); instead, this unbelief is our difficulty to fully trust what our Heavenly Father says He can and will do.  The author of Hebrews similarly used the same word:

Hebrews 3:12
Watch out, brothers, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that departs from the living God.

The author is telling his readers that for them to not trust God with what He says about Jesus’ coming kingdom is sinful; however, we are also given encouraging direction on how to combat our unbelief:

Hebrews 3:13-14
But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.  For we have become companions of the Messiah if we hold firmly until the end the confidence that we had at the start.

Our initial confidence in Christ came because we trusted Him with our eternal destiny when we believed Him – that He would take the punishment for our sins and reconcile us with God the Father.  If we apply that same type of confidence in His message (that our choices in this life have future, eternal impact), we will not only avoid a sinful, unbelieving heart but we will also become companions [Metochoi] with Christ and the administration of His future kingdom.

As an example, the author sites what happened after God rescued 2 million Israelites from Egypt:

Hebrews 3:15-19
As it is said:
               Today, if you hear His voice,
               do not harden your hearts
               as in the rebellion. 

For who heard and rebelled?  Wasn’t it really all who came out of Egypt under Moses?  And with whom was He “provoked for 40 years”?  Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert?  And to whom did He “swear that they would not enter His rest,” if not those who disobeyed?  So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.

Same Greek word here for unbelief – after being rescued from the slavery of Egypt, those Israelites didn’t trust God with His plan for the coming kingdom.  The author then uses Israel’s unwillingness to act on what they knew of God as a warning for us:

Hebrews 4:1-2
Therefore, while the promise to enter His rest remains, let us beware that none of you be found to have fallen short.  For we also have received the good news just as they did.  But the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith.

The generation that died in the desert was disqualified from participating in the future country of Israel established by Joshua because they did not trust the messenger God had sent.  They did not faithfully act on the message they had received from Moses.

We likewise have an opportunity to partner with the Greater Messenger – become His Metochoi – if we are willing to faithfully act on His message that we have received.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

After the adoption

From the moment we believe in Jesus as our Savior, we are part of a new family.  We are legally adopted as God’s children.  An adoption doesn’t cost the child anything…but it always comes with a price for the parent who adopts the child.  The price God the Father paid was the suffering and death of God the Son.

Hebrews 2:14-18
Now since [we] children have flesh and blood in common, He also shared in the these, so that through His death He might destroy the one holding the power of death – that is, the Devil – and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death…

Therefore He had to be like His brothers in every way, so that He could become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For since He Himself was tested and has suffered, He is able to help those who are tested.

Ever notice how the younger children in the family always seem to pick up traits and actions of their older sibling?  It’s because they have someone on their level to observe and imitate.  It is the same for us.  Looking to Jesus for an example…and not observing from a distance, but rather just like it happens with siblings. 

But, there is more to being “in the family” than just getting in…

Hebrews 3:1-3
Therefore, holy brothers and companions in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession; He was faithful to the One who appointed Him…[therefore] Jesus is considered worthy of more glory…

The author is clearly speaking to those already in the family – and is telling us that we have a heavenly calling!  We have the opportunity, right now, to become more than siblings to Jesus…we can also be His companions

The Greek word for companions is metochos.  A metochos [plural, metochoi] was a partner, associate, or sharer in some venture.  A king would surround himself with trusted friends and advisors – his Metochoi.  Think of King David’s mighty men or those who were known as a “friend of Caesar”.  These were part of the king’s inner circle, based upon trust and shared experiences.  Not only did the Metochoi have special access to the king, but they were entrusted with important tasks and responsibilities.  Many people can live happily under a good king, but not everyone is part of the Metochoi.

We see the same situation in our own society.  Those who faithfully work hard for a presidential nominee are the most likely candidates for important cabinet positions.  We wouldn’t expect someone who has done nothing more than cast their vote to be appointed to a top position.  They did not toil with the nominee on the campaign trail, and they are not known well enough to be trusted with such an important responsibility. 

Jesus was clear that Christians who do “the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 12:50) were the ones closest to Him.  He even told His disciples, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14).  The Metochoi of King Jesus, then, will be those friends, partners, and companions who have endured the trials of life faithfully to the end – just like He did with His mission from God the Father.

While we might feel uncomfortable with the metochoi concept in relation to Jesus, or we feel unsure how to become part of Christ’s Metochoi…don’t worry, the author of Hebrews will expand upon this concept for us.  However, he gives the first step in 3:1 – we need to keep our attention focused, considering Jesus and who He is.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Your new family and your new name

Building on what he established last time…that Christ is superior in both name (identity) and message, the author tells his readers:

Hebrews 2:1-3
We must therefore pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away.  For if the [previous] message spoken through angels was legally binding, and every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment, how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

Greater value requires greater care.  We know this from our own lives – when something is of great value to us, we handle it differently then something we consider common or of low value.

Since Christ’s message is superior to all previous messages, even the ones delivered by angels, we are encouraged to give it the elevated level of attention it deserves.  The previous covenant between God and Israel contained severe punishments for Israel whenever they deviated and disobeyed either individually (they were excluded from the community, some received the death penalty) or disobeyed as a nation (they were inflicted with plagues, experienced military defeat, and even mass deportation from their homeland).  How much more serious will God be when those within the new covenant drift away and treat Christ’s message as something common or of low value?

But Christ’s superior message is more than a contract between two different parties:

Hebrews 2:11
For the One who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father.  That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers

When an adoption occurs, the child enters the family and receives a new last name.  Therefore you share a last name with the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of [God’s] being (Hebrews 1:3).

You now belong to the “Holy” family.  Your brother is Jesus Holy.  As an example, instead of being Ken Clouser, my name has become Ken Holy.

Put your name in there.  Let it sink in.  Try saying it out loud.

How did you feel saying that?

If we paid more careful attention to this, I don’t believe we would drift away.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The superior message of a Superior Messenger

Jesus taught His disciples that there will be significant rewards for those believers who prepare themselves for His return.  One of the best places in all of the Bible to understand what these rewards will be like is found in the book of Hebrews.  But for us to fully understand the implications of living and investing our lives the way God has intended us to, we must start at the very beginning of the letter.

The letter to the Hebrew believers doesn’t start with your typical Biblical greeting and stated occasion for writing.  The author pulls no punches and gets right to his point, almost as if he were giving a thesis statement for the entire book.  He then spends the next 11 chapters fleshing out what he meant by the first verses, before he gets to how it looks when it is lived out.  Once we understand his thesis main point, we will have the correct lens in order to see the author’s intended life-application for his readers.

Hebrews 1:1-2
Long ago God spoke to the [Israelite] fathers by the prophets at different times and in different ways.  In these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things and through whom He made the universe.

The first thing we are to know is that God has upgraded his message-delivery system.  God had previously sent messengers to reach out to the Israelites in a variety of ways – prophets with a wide range of backgrounds, visions, dreams, a talking donkey (seriously!), clouds, a burning bush, even angels – all to get Israel’s attention.  What should really get their attention now is Who has been sent in these last days…the very One that made it all in the first place, the One that owns it all.

For further emphasis, they are reminded of exactly who Jesus is…

Hebrews 1:3
[Jesus] is the radiance of His glory, the exact expression of His nature and He sustains all things by His powerful word.  After making purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. 

His qualifications far exceed that of any messenger previously sent by God, and, on top of that – Mission Accomplished.  Christ fulfilled the mission God the Father gave to Him.  Jesus brought the good news of reconciliation with God through His sacrificial death on the cross.  Jesus announced that new life was available in Him and proved it with His resurrection.  After charging His disciples to spread the word, Jesus left Earth, and rightfully sat down in the place of highest honor in Heaven.

Hebrews 1:4
So He became higher in rank than the angels, just as the name He inherited is superior to theirs.

Wasn’t Jesus, as the second person of the Trinity, already higher in rank than the angels?  God the Son was always superior in his identity (his essence as God); BUT NOW, His humanity has inherited a superior rank.  While Jesus was living in the flesh as the God-man, we was inferior…he joined us in our inferiority.  But by His faithfulness, Jesus fulfilled the words of the angel Gabriel, when he announced Jesus’ birth to Mary:

Luke 1:32
He will be great
and will be called the Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.

The author of Hebrews then presses his point:

Hebrews 1:5-6
For to which of the angels did He ever say
You are My Son, today I have become Your Father
(Psalm 2:7),
or again,
I will be His Father, and He will be My Son
(2 Samuel 7:14)? 

And again, when He brings His firstborn into the world, He says
And all God’s angels must worship Him
(Psalm 97:7).

Christ – in His humanity and through His faithfulness to complete His work – inherited the title of Son, and has been appointed heir of all things.  And as such, He is the Superior Messenger with a message that is superior to all previous messages.

The author states this upfront, because it is the key point to understanding the rest of his letter.  If you boiled it down to one sentence, I’m sure he’d say:

DO NOT FORGET WHO IT IS YOU’RE DEALING WITH NOW.

Have we?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Settling accounts (part 3)

As Jesus’ time on earth was coming to a conclusion, He took His disciples aside and strongly encouraged them to be prepared for His eventual return.  As He often did, Jesus stressed His point through a series of parables.  In this parable, two slaves did well as they prepared for their master’s return and one slave did not.  Last time, we looked at how the two were successful in the eyes of their master.  Now, let’s see what happened to the one who did not prepare:

Matthew 25:14-19
For it is just like a man going on a journey.  He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one – to each according to his own ability.  Then he went on a journey.  Immediately the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more.  In the same way the man with two earned two more.  But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.  After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

After heaping praise on the two servants who worked their talents to the fullest extent of their ability, the master turned his attention to the last slave.  When the time came to settle accounts, the last servant was not prepared…and there was no way to do a last-minute fix.  So this servant did what we often do – he tried to shift the blame for his lack of productivity.

Matthew 25:24-25
Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you.  You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground.  Look, you have what is yours.’

As you can imagine, the master was not impressed with the servant’s actions or words.

Matthew 25:26-27
But his master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy slave!  If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, then you should have deposited my money with the bankers.  And when I returned I would have received my money back with interest.

If that is what the he truly believed about his master (who had just entrusted him with the equivalent of $720k), the servant could have, at a minimum, put the money in the bank and let the interest compound over the long time the master was on his journey. 

The problem with putting it with the bankers is that there would be an official record that the servant had some of the master’s money.  It’s possible that the servant wanted the money for himself and his own desires.  Perhaps he was hoping the master wouldn’t return, or that one day in the future he could declare to the community that he had “found” this large sum of money buried in a field.  Whatever excuse or plan this servant convinced himself with, the master’s promised arrival undid them all.  Instead of the praise given to the other two servants, this evil, lazy servant received a harsh rebuke.

Matthew 25:28-30
So take the talent from him and five it to the one who has 10 talents.  For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough.  But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

When we look at someone who we think God gave more talents to, we tend to get jealous.  We often convince ourselves that we should just quit, saying things like: “I’m not the preacher.”, or “I can’t sing like that.”, or “God didn’t give me lots of finances.  If He had, I could sure help a lot of people.”  None of those self-defeating thoughts help us fulfill the opportunities and mission God gave us.  And these excuses for our lack of effort shift the blame back at God, just like the foolish servant did.

God wants us to fully utilize the gifts He gave us, not stew over how well we’d do with someone else’s.  Don’t convince yourself that your talents are not valuable enough to make an invested impact.  The finances, skills, and abilities you have are specific to you for a reason.  If the servant who received just one talent worked and invested like the other two; he certainly would have received the same praise and rewarding from the master.

Don’t hide your talents

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Settling accounts (part 2)

We were created to work.  God gave Adam and Eve jobs to do, long before Satan ever tempted them.  Even after sin entered the picture and our work became hard, we still retained the internal drive to explore, design, create, and produce.  However, our sin and selfishness will often cloud our reason and motivation to fulfill our innate urge to work.

Being a Christ follower has an advantage when we deal with the inevitable thistles and thorns of modern-day work.  We have perspective.  We understand where the work ultimately comes from and Who enables us to accomplish the goal of our labor.  However, we might too quickly assume that our efforts are only focused on taking care of our family’s immediate needs.  Those responsibilities are important, but have you considered that our work could have even larger implications?

As Jesus’ time on earth was coming to a conclusion, He took His disciples aside and strongly encouraged them to be prepared for His eventual return.  As He often did, Jesus stressed this point through a series of parables.  In this parable, two slaves did well as they prepared for their master’s return and one slave did not.  Let’s take a look at how the two were successful in the eyes of their master:

Matthew 25:14-17, 19
For it is just like a man going on a journey.  He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one – to each according to his own ability.  Then he went on a journey.  Immediately, the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more.  In the same way the man with two earned two more.  After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

These weren’t small amounts of money, either.  If we were handed modern-day lump sums, it would look like this: five talents = $3.6 million, two talents = $1.44 million, one talent = $720,000. 

Jesus didn’t say exactly how these two were able to double their master’s investment, but we do know that they worked within their ability and they did so immediately.  They weren’t messing around when it came time to work. 

However, their results didn’t happen overnight.  They didn’t work a get-rich-quick scheme.  How do we know this?  Because Jesus tells us they settled accounts with their master after a long time had passed.  So, what was the master’s reaction?

Matthew 25:20-23
The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents.  Look, I’ve earned five more talents.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave!  You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Share your master’s joy!”

Then the man with two talents also approached.  He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents.  Look, I’ve earned two more talents.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave!’  You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Share your master’s joy!’

Did you notice?  Both good servants received the same praise and type of reward.  The one with 10 was not praised above the one with 4.  The one with 4 was not compared against the one who had 10.  The master was overjoyed with their results because each one had worked to their full ability

So don’t worry that someone else appears to have received more (or even less) talents than you, we are responsible to handle what God has given us.  We get tripped up when we start looking around and comparing ourselves against the others around us…and we only see the outer portion of their efforts and struggles. 

When we look at someone who we think God gave more talents to, we have a tendency get jealous.  However, if we look at someone who appears to have received less talents than we did, it’s easy to look down on them…or wish that we had it “so much easier”.

These two successful servants remind us to keep our focus on the talents God has given to us, and to make sure that we’re investing them properly and for the long haul.  It would have seemed like the master was gone for a long time while they were putting in the work, but when the master arrived to settle accounts, every drop of effort was rewarded.

Can you imagine?  The Creator of this vast, incredible world – where we still have not exhausted everything to explore, learn, and create – will reward those of us who have been faithful with a few things.  Out of His joy, He will reward us with responsibilities, according to our ability, in eternity future.

What will those responsibilities be?  I don’t know.  But as good as this world is, when God gives out of his joy, you can trust it will be incredible.

So, let’s get to work with the talents we have.  Immediately.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Settling accounts (part 1)

One of the last topics Jesus addressed with His disciples before He went to the cross was how they were going to live after He returned to the Father.  Since the exact time of His return to earth had not been revealed, Jesus told three stories to help them understand their need to be ready at all times.

In the first parable, Jesus contrasted the two paths before a servant who was put in charge of other servants.  When the master returned at an unannounced time, he would find that either the servant continued to be faithful, or he would find that the servant had been derelict in his duties.  The appropriate reward or punishment would then follow.

In the second parable, Jesus contrasted two groups of virgins who were waiting for the groom to return.  When the groom took longer than expected, it became clear that some of the virgins had prepared for a long wait and some of them had not.  When the groom finally did arrive, those that were prepared were welcomed into the wedding feast, while those who were not prepared were excluded from the event.

From these two parables, Jesus teaches that being prepared for His return will lead to significant rewards and opportunities.  The next logical question the disciples must have been wondering is How do I get ready?  What must I do?

Fortunately for them (and for us) Jesus’ next parable answers that question.  Continuing to talk about the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus said:

Matthew 25:14-15, 19
For it is just like a man going on a journey.  He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one – to each according to his own ability.  Then he went on a journey…After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

Notice that elements from the previous parables are here also – namely that the servants had responsibility over a portion of the master’s property, and that the master took a long time before returning. 

Now a talent was a very large sum of money, worth about 6,000 denarii.  That monetary unit doesn’t mean much to us, but a denarii was the equivalent of a day’s wage.  Using today’s median income, a talent would be worth about $720,000.  This wasn’t some dinky gift from the master.  This was a serious investment of resources.

Interestingly, the servants did not receive an equal share…but they did receive an appropriate share, to each according to his own ability.  The master was wise enough to know that some servants could handle more, and some should to be in charge of less.  To give a someone more responsibility than they are capable of handling would be setting them up for failure, and the master didn’t do that.

Just imagine the scene when they received the master’s possessions.  The first servant received $3.6 million, the second received $1.44 million, and the third received $720,000.  That moment when the master looked the servant in the eye and said “I’m entrusting you with my money.  I’ll be back to see how you’ve managed it.”  How would you feel?  

Overwhelmed? 
Nervous? 
Jealous that someone else got more? 
Worried that the master entrusted you with too much?

Very few of us will ever receive a full talent of money as a lump sum in our lifetime.  However, if we look at how much we typically make over our entire lifetime…we’ve been entrusted with a lot of the master’s resources.  Now factor in other talents and abilities each of us have, think about how those could be invested…and if you’re like me, I’m starting to feel like the servants must have felt. 

Jesus has entrusted us with a lot.  And when He comes back, He’s going to settle accounts with us.

Invest wisely.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Wedding preparations (part 2)

Let’s see if we can clear up some confusion…

Jesus’ parable of the 10 virgins has caused some interpretive angst throughout the years, especially when figuring out whom the foolish virgins are representing when the master of the banquet won’t let them into the feast, telling them “I assure you: I do not know you!”.  Since Jesus is represented by the master in this parable – would He really say I do not know you to a believer?

Many commentators and pastors advocate that the foolish virgins represent those who aren’t “true believers”…either they had only acted like Christians and never put their faith in Jesus or they didn’t persevere to the end of their lives doing good works to prove their Christianity.  They tend to take Jesus’ warning of “Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour” of His return to be instructions that you need to make sure you “really believe” and that you keep doing good things until Jesus comes back…otherwise, you’ll be left out of heaven.

Since we weren’t there for Jesus’ original telling of this story, we need to keep two things in mind when we read a parable – first, who is the audience that heard the original story?  The parable’s point was for them.  Second, parables are told for one main point.  There may be additional side points or interesting ideas presented through the story, but we must make sure that any secondary lesson fully supports the one main point.  We should not to press the details of a parable too far, after all, every analogy breaks down at some point, which is why Jesus starts the parable with “The kingdom of heaven will be like…”.  Meaning that it is similar to what He’s about to say, but not identical in every detail.

With that intro (and if you’re still with me) let’s read the parable, remembering that when Jesus was telling this story, He was speaking privately to His disciples:

Matthew 25:1-13
Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom.  Five of them were foolish and five were sensible.  When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them.  But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps.  Since the groom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom!  Come out to meet him.’

Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.  But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’

The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you.  Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’

When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived.  Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet, and the door was shut.

Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’

But he replied, ‘I assure you: I do not know you!’

Therefore be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.

So…the setting for this parable is Jesus talking privately to His disciples about when He would return, and His main point is that they need to be ready at all times, because they don’t know the exact moment of His return.

But what about those who aren’t prepared for Christ’s return?  Will Jesus really tell them I do not know you, and reject their entrance into the kingdom of heaven?

The Greek word Jesus used for know {oida} generally means to understand something or have knowledge of, which is pretty much how we use the term also…“Do you know him?  Yes, we’ve met.”  However, there is a secondary usage of the word we need to consider.  Paul used it when speaking about how elders in the church need to be treated:

1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition {oida} to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.

Paul’s direction is that the believers would recognize, respect, and commend those leaders who work hard.  And our leaders need that encouragement!

And that’s what Jesus is referring to in His parable.  When the master refuses to let them in, saying “I do not know you.”  He is telling them that “I do not esteem you, I do not give you the respect and recognition of being part of the wedding feast.”  Why? Because they did not respect the groom enough to be fully prepared for his arrival.

These foolish virgins were only excluded from the wedding feast, not the entirety of the week-long Jewish wedding festivities.  This rebuke/rejection would be similar to a negative judgement at Christ’s bema seat (see 1 Corinthians 3:15), but we’ll get to that topic in a later post. 

Remember, Jesus’ main point of this parable was to tell His disciples to be ready at all times for His return.  So, what does it mean to “be ready”?  That is the topic of Jesus’ next parable.  His point in this parable is that if we’re not watching and ready for His return, there are great things that we will miss out on.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Wedding preparations (part 1)

So much goes into a wedding.  In our culture, it’s more than just the day-of ceremony between two people.  There’s the decorations and the rehearsal dinner and procession lines and the wedding reception and dancing and eating and gifts and on and on and on.  More than just the bride and the groom, other friends and family members have their “parts” to play in the various events.

In the second of three parables, at the end of what is referred to as ‘The Olivet Discourse,’ Jesus continued with the theme of being prepared for his unannounced return.  He used an illustration from something his disciples would be familiar with – one aspect of the Jewish wedding procession. 

Matthew 25:1-5
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom.  Five of them were foolish and five were sensible.  When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them.  But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps.  Since the groom was delayed they all became drowsy and fell asleep.”

Jesus was a master storyteller, and the disciples would have immediately picked up on the tension in the story.  They knew the Jewish marriage customs: that the bridegroom would travel to the home of his prospective bride, he would pay a purchase price for her, and at that time she was declared to be set apart exclusively for the groom.  The groom would return to his father’s house, for an unspecified time, to prepare their new home.  The bride would prepare herself for his eventual return.  Typically, about a year later, he would lead a procession to fetch his bride and bring her to their new home.  Their return home would be heralded with a shout and a torch-lit ceremony – where all invited guests were ready to attend the wedding feast.

Jesus’ parable takes place at the return of the groom with his bride.  However, there were some waiting for his return that were not completely ready.  They expected the groom to return quickly, and not be delayed.  As Jesus continues, we find that their lack of preparation will certainly cost them.

Matthew 25:6-13
“In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom!  Come out to meet him.’

 Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.  But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’

 The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you.  Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’

 When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived.  Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet and the door was shut.  Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’

 But he replied, ‘I assure you; I do not know you!’

 Therefore, be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.”

The foolish virgins knew the groom was coming back.  They had every right to be out waiting for his return.  They were on equal footing with the sensible ones in terms of position and ability.  It’s almost like they ‘knew’ when the groom would return, so they didn’t make any provision beyond their immediate needs.  They were not prepared to wait for the long haul, in case (according to their plans) the groom was delayed.  Their lack of preparation meant that they missed out on that portion of the joyous wedding festivities.

Jesus re-emphasized the point of His parable with His last sentence: Therefore, be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.

Even though it’s been many years since Jesus gave this warning…His return is still imminent.  His promise still stands.  He is coming back.  We shouldn’t be lulled in to slothfulness, thinking that every day will go on like the last one did.  TODAY could be THE DAY.  Are we watching?  Are we ready?  We don't want to miss out on anything Jesus has in store for us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback favorite - Where is the hope?

I am not immune to irony.  My current line-of-thinking/focus-of-study is on the importance of being prepared for Christ's return.  However, I was not prepared for being sick the last couple of days, which means the next post isn't ready.  As such, I am reposting something that I learned two years ago...something that may be even more relevant now than it was then.

Where is the Hope?
originally posted on July 8, 2015

There is a lot going on in the world today, and much of it isn’t good.  Although humans were created in the image of God, the “news broadcasts" continue to report society’s deterioration as we run further and further from God and the purposes He created us for. 

Oftentimes, the sin-caused crumbling is beneath the surface, stewing at the individual level – things like dads not being fathers, pornography replacing love, or self-centered pursuits of money and power.  Other times, this deterioration appears in massive public displays – things like wars and terrorism, the abandonment of God’s definition of marriage, and government progressively taking on the role of final authority in peoples’ lives.

I have to admit to feeling overwhelmed from some of the sin-affected problems I’ve dealt with lately, both in my own individual life and as a part of our larger American society.  The Bible tells us that the world will worsen before Christ returns, but it is certainly difficult to watch unfold.  Sometimes, it feels like we have front row seats to a car accident that no one else can see coming.

But we have to ask the question: “What are we hoping in?  Where does our hope come from?”

Are we hoping that the lawyers gets it right and all the laws make society behave as it should? 
Are we hoping that the government makes the best decisions and keeps life at a comfortable level?

When individuals, society, or the government runs contrary to God’s design…and we lose hope…it forces us to assess just where our motivation and trust are anchored.

While imprisoned for preaching the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul wrote a letter to a church he had never met.  He knew of them through an associate named Epaphras; however, what he wrote indicates that they had a well-known, Godly reputation.  They had both strong faith and strong love, but to know why they were so good at pointing others toward God, read the verses below and see what their faith and love were rooted in:

Colossians 1:3-6
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.  You have already heard about this hope in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you.

Their anchor wasn’t in the culture around them.  In fact, their anchor wasn’t even in the hope that God would work through their government.  The Colossian believers had faith and love, and had them abundantly, because they were focused on the hope reserved for you in heaven.  Their hope was in Jesus’ promise of eternal life.  Their hope was found within the good news of the message of truth.

So where is our hope?  Are we trusting our culture, our circumstances, our government, or our job security to be the foundation of truth in our lives?  As society crumbles, will our hope and strength go with it?

Although he said it a number of years ago, Chuck Colson’s words still ring true:

“Where is the hope?  I meet millions who tell me that they feel demoralized by the decay around us.  Where is the hope?  The hope that each of us have is not in who governs us, or what laws are passed, or what great things that we do as a nation.  Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, and that’s where our hope is in this country; that is where our hope is in life.”

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

One servant, two paths (part 2)

Jesus is telling a parable to His disciples, explaining to them that they should be prepared for His return.  Within the story, Jesus explicitly states there are great rewards for the disciples who are found doing the work He gave them.  However, you may need to brace yourself for how Jesus’ parable describes His followers who, upon His return, have neglected their responsibilities.

Luke 12:42-44
The Lord said: “Who then is the faithful and sensible manager his master will put in charge of his household servants to give them their allotted food at the proper time? That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded.

Like we saw last time, it would make little sense for Jesus to refer to someone who has not placed their faith in Him as both faithful and sensible, or to put that person in a position of responsibility over those in the master’s household.  After his promotion, this faithful and sensible manager now has a choice as to how he will handle his new responsibilities; and if he continues to be faithful, then Jesus will reward him.

Luke 12:45-46
But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female slaves, and to eat and drink and get drunk, that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.

Notice that the slave still believes the master will return…however, the master is taking longer than the slave expected, so he figures “I’ve got some time before he returns” and begins to act selfishly, mistreating those under his care, becoming lax in his responsibilities and watchfulness.  If he becomes distracted by his own selfish impulses, then the master’s return is sure to catch him by surprise…and it won’t be a pleasant meeting.

Luke 12:46-48
…that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unfaithful.  And that slave who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it will be severely beaten.  But the one who did not know and did things deserving of blows will be beaten lightly.  Much will be required of everyone who has been given much.  And even more will be expected of the one who has been entrusted with more.

Jesus uses strong words in this story in order to make a strong point.  The phrases will cut him to pieces and be severely beaten shouldn’t be taken literally…any more than our own phrases regarding severe discipline: “I’m going to tan your hide.” or “She cut me down to size.”  But Jesus is serious, nonetheless.  When He retells this parable to the disciples on the Mount of Olives, Jesus describes the master’s return like this:

Matthew 24:51
He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It would be easy to try and dismiss this slave as an example of someone who wasn’t “truly saved” or someone who didn’t “really believe” in Jesus as their Savior; however, what we’ve observed in the text doesn’t allow that interpretation.  The servant accepts the master’s authority and believes in his return.  He is faithful and is given additional responsibilities in the household.  However, while his master is gone, he becomes lazy and selfish, likely assuming that he can clean up any mess he makes before master gets back.  Ultimately, though, a lousy servant is still a servant. 

Our own experience bears this out.  It is unfortunate, but we all know of stories or have attended churches where those in charge have misused, or even abused, their authority.  Did the leaders physically beat their congregation?  Likely not, but there are plenty of other types of mistreatment church members have experienced – manipulation, gossip, embezzlement, affairs, among others.  It’s sad, frustrating, and just plain wrong that a believer would treat a fellow believer like this.

But how shall we describe this derelict servant?  What words would you use?  Jesus calls him a ‘wicked slave’ (Matthew 24:48), and says “that slave who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it” will face a severe punishment when He returns.

On one hand, we can take comfort in this, knowing that Jesus will deal with those who have selfishly misused their authority and mistreated their fellow believers.  The wrongs committed within the church family will be rectified and brought to justice, they will not be sweep under rug of eternity.

On the other hand…this parable makes us do a gut-check.  How are we handling our responsibilities within God’s family?  Are we in danger of becoming lazy, selfish, or even wicked?

I know we don’t live perfect lives.  There is a difference between ‘living for God and messing up’ and ‘living for ourselves and messing around’.  God knows the difference, and He knows where you are.  In humility, though, we recognize that even the strongest are tempted to drift away.  Let’s walk in a healthy, reverent fear of the Lord, and do all that we can to make sure we are among those whose master finds them working when he comes [so that we] will be rewarded.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

One servant, two paths (part 1)

The disciples wanted to know when Jesus would return to set up His kingdom.  Near the end of His ministry, just before the Passover, the Last Supper, and the cross…they plucked up the courage to ask Jesus about it.  Matthew 24-25 records His answer.  Jesus finishes with three parables to illustrate the importance of being ready for His return.  But interestingly enough, the first of the three is something He has told them before.  Since Matthew 24:45-51 is a condensed version of His earlier teaching, it will be more instructive for us to look at Luke’s record.

Luke tells us that Jesus was teaching both His disciples and a crowd numbering in the thousands.  His teaching would ebb and flow, with some things directed toward His disciples and other topics were addressed to everyone present.  When Jesus transitioned to the topic of being prepared for His return, He told a story about slaves anticipating the return of their master.  Jesus said that “Those slaves the master will find alert when he comes will be blessed.” (Luke 12:37).  Immediately, Peter asked Jesus for clarification.  He wanted to know who, exactly, was going to be in line for this blessing – the disciples or everyone in the crowd.  I suspect Peter wanted to make sure that he was in the front of the line for this reward.

Instead of directly answering his question, Jesus give Peter a second parable – and this one contained both the promise of a blessing and the warning of punishment.

Luke 12:42-46
The Lord said: “Who then is the faithful and sensible manager his master will put in charge of his household servants to give them their allotted food at the proper time?  That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded.  I tell you the truth: he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female slaves, and to eat and drink and get drunk, that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

Wow.  You asked a big question there, Peter.  And Jesus certainly gave you a big answer.

Let’s use our observation skills and determine who Jesus is referring to and what kind of reward is offered.

The master in this parable clearly refers to Jesus.  It would make little sense for Jesus to refer to someone who has not placed their faith in Him as faithful and sensible, or to put that person in a position of responsibility over those in the master’s household.  So clearly, the slave in this parable refers to someone in the family of God, someone who has responsibility here on Earth towards others in the family.  This servant isn’t in charge of everything on the master’s schedule, but he has an important supervisory job to do – one that directly influences the well-being of his fellow servants.

After this faithful and sensible manager has been given this responsibility, his course of actions have two possible outcomes: either the master will find him dutifully performing his task, or the master will return to find him derelict in his assigned duties.  We’ll examine the negative outcome next time.

However, if that slave is found to be continuously faithful in his allotted tasks until his master returns, Jesus says the slave will be rewarded by the master.  The Greek word for rewarded means to be supremely blessed, fortunate, or well off.  This reward comes in the form of a promotion within the master’s household.  No longer is the slave responsible for mealtime; instead, he going to oversee what the master owns, along with the status and privilege a position like that entails.

Our application is to look at the servant responsibilities God has given us.  Are we doing our part within the body of Christ?  If Jesus came back today, would we be ‘caught in the act’ of doing what he asked us to do?

There is great reward in taking our responsibilities seriously.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Warnings and Preparedness

Natural disasters have dominated the headlines lately – from Harvey to Irma to the fires out West.  If you are not directly affected, there is a good chance you know someone who is.  The hurricanes, especially Irma, have left me marveling at how well prepared we can be when it comes to natural disasters.  Not that long ago, we would have had no clue about the impending danger.  But in our lifetime, the state of Florida just performed the largest mass-exodus in US history, and those that couldn’t leave were given ample warning to prepare themselves for the impending storm.

But why was everyone on high alert?  Because they were warned by someone who had a better vantage point then those on the ground.  Satellite images and projections dominated the news broadcasts.  Prominent politicians repeatedly warned their constituents.  Local police and fire fighters went door-to-door, warning people of the danger.  No one knew the exact hour the hurricane would hit, but those who had seen the satellite images knew that without a doubt, the hurricane was coming.

Even still, some did not heed the warnings.  In the hours leading up to Irma’s landfall, I remember watching one live-on-scene news reporter discussing the worsening conditions – and in the background, you could see people out surfing the increasingly angry waves.  ‘Foolish’ would be a mild descriptive term for these people.

The concept of ‘preparedness’ also got me thinking about our lives, in general.  Jesus promised that He would return for us.  However, when He described His impending return to His disciples, it was as much a promise as it also was a warning.  Jesus was constantly telling them, ”Be prepared for my return”.  Here’s just one example:

Matthew 24:36-39, 42
Now concerning that day and hour no one knows – neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son – except the Father only.  As the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be.  For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah boarded the ark.  They didn’t know until the flood came and swept them all away.  So this is the way the coming of the Son of Man will be…Therefore be alert, since you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.

We’re going to spend some time looking at what Jesus had to say about how He expected His disciples to be alert and ready to see Him again.  While we may not know the exact time for Him to return, we can certainly take steps now to be prepared for it.  We don’t want to be one of the ones who continue to drift through life as if there is always going to be a ‘tomorrow’ just like every day that has come before it…because at some point, there won’t be.

Jesus is coming back, that much is certain.  Our journey through the implications of His return is not meant to scare anyone into ‘proper’ behavior; rather, we will make sure that the promise – and warning – of His return is fully understood.  So as we start this journey, I ask for both me and you:

If Christ’s return was today, what would the face to face introduction be like?  Are we prepared to meet Him, or would we be ashamed at His coming?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - What am I saying?

While I take time away, I decided to not leave you entirely.  I've decided to repost something I've learned, written about, and keep coming back to.  A Flashback Favorite, if you will.  This is one of the lessons that have stuck with me.

What am I saying?
originally posted on November 21, 2014

Matthew 6:7-8
When you pray, don’t babble like the idolaters, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words.  Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.

The Greeks and Romans of Jesus’ day believed that in order to get their god to pay attention to them, they must repeat their requests many times over.  They assumed that the more their prayer was repeated, the better the chance that the god would hear them accurately and being repetitive would also give them a better chance at getting exactly what they wanted.  A modern example of this babbling practice happens when someone advocates saying multiple “Our Fathers” or multiple Novenas to ensure that God gives us the answer we want.

While the pagans (and a few of us modern folks) may think we can arm-twist God based upon long, eloquent, repetitive, formal prayers…it seems that most of the prayers coming from the average Christian tend to babble, but in a slightly different manner. Have you ever noticed that when some people pray, almost every other word is “God” or “Lord God”?

“God, well, Lord God…we thank you God for the things that you, Lord God, have given us.  And, God, we ask you, God, to help our friend, dear God, who’s really sick right now, Lord God”

In cases like these, God’s name has become a filler-word in their prayer, similar to the word “um” when we don’t know what to say next.  When we find ourselves stumbling around in our prayers like this, it’s usually an indication that we’re more worried about what the others around us think of our praying skills than we are thinking about actually talking with God.  If you remove every time God is named…the prayer is small, yes…but it is down to the essential issues of our hearts – and that’s where God wants to engage us in our prayers.

However, if verse 8 is correct, and your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him…why should we bother to pray?  I mean, what’s the point of telling him something he’s already well aware of?

Since God approaches us using a Father-to-child model for our relationship with him, it can be instructive for us to think about our relationship with our own children.  Since I am more experienced in life, as well as more mature and observant, than either of my boys…I know what they need before they even ask.  In fact, most of the time, I am keenly aware of their needs before they even recognize them as actual needs.

While I could just fulfill every need as it comes up, doing so would actually hinder their growth toward adulthood.  The recognition of the need, the struggle to handle the need, and the decision to ask for help with the need are all steps toward maturity.  And all the while, I am ready, willing, and able to help…but my primary aim is not to fulfill all their needs, rather my goal is to shepherd them into maturity.  There have also been multiple occasions where what my son thinks he needs is not necessarily what he truly needs in that moment.

When my boys approach me, I’m not looking for long-winded arguments to convince me, they’re not going to get anywhere repeating “Dad, Dad, Dad” multiple times during our discussion, and yes, I know what they truly need in that moment.  Ultimately though, I love partnering with them as they grow up.

Based upon what Jesus has taught us about prayer, I’m certain that our Father in heaven feels the same way.  We don’t have to dress up our words, and we can trust he knows what’s best for us.  What he’s most interested in is relationship with us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - Not Knowing

While I take time away, I decided to not leave you entirely.  I've decided to repost something I've learned, written about, and keep coming back to.  A Flashback Favorite, if you will.  This is one of the lessons that have stuck with me.

Not Knowing
originally posted on May 1, 2015

David is in trouble.

King Saul is hunting David, and Saul fully intends to kill him when he is found.

The game of cat and mouse between the two of them lasted four grueling years.  On several occasions, the King was very close to capturing David and his men.  We’ve been going through a psalm that David wrote in response to one of those times.

Up to this point in the psalm, David has cried out to God for grace and refuge.  But this time, Saul was pressing in close.  David could even recognize that there were various traps laid out for him:

Psalm 57:6
They prepared a net for my steps;
I was downcast.
They dug a pit ahead of me…

When David says I was downcast, the literal translation is my life bends low.  We’re not told at what point during the four years of running that this psalm was written…but you can almost hear the weariness in David’s voice.  He didn’t know that it would end after four years, so I’m certain that after two, or three, or more years of being on the run…David would have had times when he was feeling very low to ground.

It’s the not knowing that makes the trials so hard.

If David knew that he had to just survive for four years, then he could find a way to rely on himself to make it.  Given his military expertise, David certainly could have drawn up a four year plan to keep himself alive. 

But that’s the problem – knowing how long we need to survive a tough situation puts the focus directly on ourselves. 

God doesn’t tell us the future, or even let us in on how long our current trial will last, because He wants us to trust Him with the future.  Jesus said something similar to His disciples:

John 16:33
I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace.  You will have suffering in this world.  Be courageous!  I have conquered the world.

Jesus didn’t give His disciples a timeline for how long they would experience suffering.  Instead, He gave them Himself.

When we feel our lives bending low to the ground, don’t ask how much longer – just ask Jesus to come in closer.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Taking time

The writer of Ecclesiastes made some rather astute observations about life.  Some of them will ring familiar, but as you go through them...I encourage you to read slowly and identify which ones apply to your current circumstances:

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
There is an occasion for everything,
and a time for every activity under heaven:

a time to give birth and a time to die;

a time to plant and a time to uproot;
a time to kill and a time to heal;
a time to tear down and a time to build;
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance;
a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
a time to embrace and a time to avoid embracing;
a time to search and a time to count as lost;
a time to keep and a time to throw away;
a time to tear and a time to sew;
a time to be silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.

My favorite line out of the list is a time to throw stones and a time to gather stones.  As much fun as it is to go throw rocks sometimes...this dichotomy likely refers to the ancient custom of destroying a farmer's field by throwing many stones on it, whereas the gathering of stones describes the clearing of stones from a field to get it ready to plant.

There are many seasons to a life, and we spend most of our time living in between the polar opposites listed above.  I've been kicking the idea around for a while, and I think it's time for me to take a short break from writing.  I did this in August last year, and it was a good respite for me and my family.  

I'm going to take three weeks to rest, study, and lean into God.  I want to gather stones so I can be prepared for future growth.  Let's just say...it's time.

See you September 14th.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Understanding why God knows the number of hairs on our heads

God knows the number of hairs on your head.  So, He knows what best for you.

I’ve been in church as long as I can remember, and I’ve heard something like that statement more times than I can count.  The preacher means it as encouragement, implying that since God knows such crazy, insignificant details about us, then obviously He must know how to handle all the big stuff that’s going on in our lives.

It’s based on a verse from Matthew 10 (or Luke 12); and if the preacher really wants to drive the point home, he’ll include what Jesus said in the immediate verse before and after:

Matthew 10:29-31
Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent.  But even the hairs of your head have all been counted.  Don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.

And that’s very true.  God does know everything about us, and of course He knows what’s best for us.  But the whole idea of me-being-more-important-than-insignificant-birds-because-God-knows-how-much-hair-I-have has never inspired me to not be afraid.  So I have just shrugged off the metaphor as something useful or motivating for first-century people and not given it much thought, no matter how many times I hear a preacher bring it up.

As I hang out more in the Psalms, one thing I’m learning is that Jesus quoted them – often.  He knew them very well, and the Jewish people did, too.  However, Jesus would also reference the psalms or present familiar passages in new ways.  Two of David’s psalms specifically mentions the hairs of my head:

Psalm 40:12
For troubles without number have surrounded me;
my sins have overtaken me; I am unable to see.
They are more than the hairs on my head,
and my courage leaves me.

Psalm 69:4
Those who hate me without cause
are more numerous than the hairs of my head;
my deceitful enemies, who would destroy me, are powerful.
Though I did not steal, I must repay.

David uses the number of hairs on his head to descriptively exaggerate how overwhelmed he was by his troubles, sins, and enemies.  In both psalms, David is seeking strength and rescue from God.  But how does this relate to Jesus talking about the value of sparrows?  When we pull back into the larger context we find Jesus saying this to His disciples:

Matthew 10:16-18, 21-22
Look, I’m sending you out, like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves.  Because people will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them.  You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations…Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child.  Children will even rise up against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of my name.

Jesus foretelling of persecution, betrayal, and death for Christ-followers?  That’s some pretty heavy stuff.  But Jesus offers this encouragement:

Matthew 10:26, 28-31
Therefore don’t be afraid of them…Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent.  But even the hairs of your head have all been counted.  Don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Jesus wanted to make sure His disciples understood that just as God has authority when the insignificant sparrows die, so He also has authority over when His disciples would die.  Knowing that their lives were in God’s hands – and not in the hands of their enemies – would give them the strength to carry on with the Gospel and God’s Love.  Even if they are outnumbered and feeling overwhelmed.

When trouble comes, and it feels overwhelming, we wrestle with fear.  It’s easy to become afraid in those moments when we are despised, cussed out, shunned, passed over, shouted down, and, in some parts of the world, physically tortured for being a Christ-follower.  When it seems like we Christians have more people against us than there are hairs on our heads and our very lives are on the line, God knows where we are and what’s going on. 

We’re never abandoned. 
God is still in charge.  
So be brave.  
Don’t be afraid.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

When we fall

In 2004, I moved my family to a new state, 1500 miles away from what we knew as home.  The job I was going to was one that I had done before, so I was completely confident that I could hit the ground running.  I was excited to use my skillset in a new environment and among new people.  Of course, before they turned me loose, I had a training program to complete.  What I thought was going to be no big deal ended up having a few bumps in the road.

Maybe it was the time off between jobs, maybe it was nervousness…but I found myself making little mistakes that either made it more difficult to complete the task at hand or it meant that the testing was invalid and had to be repeated.  Internally, I was getting really frustrated with myself.  Externally, I would make weak attempts at joking as I would blame the mistakes on me trying to “knock the rust off”.  But the mistakes kept happening at a pace that made me uncomfortable, and I knew people were watching.

I began to wonder if there was some “unofficial limit” as to how many mistakes I could make before they would just give up on me.  I was being brought in to not only perform testing and provide expertise, but I was also going to be leading my own team.  “How can a supposed leader make this many mistakes?” I worried.  We were new in town, without any family nearby.  What would happen to us if I continued to muck things up and my worst fear was realized?

After one particularly frustrating mistake, looked at my trainer and asked how many more of these was I allowed before they kicked me out.  She just laughed as she walked away and said, “Don’t worry, Ken.  We’re not going to throw you overboard.  We’ve invested too much money in you to do that.” 

Now to her, I’m sure it was just a minor comment.  Too me, it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted.  And then I realized…she was right.  This company had paid for our move and given us three months of short-term housing – they had invested a lot in me and expected to get a return.  They were willing to put up with a few do-overs, especially in training, as I learned the ropes and re-focused my skills.  Because of their patience, I was able to succeed in a variety of roles for the company, even ones that I couldn’t have foreseen at that initial time.

We have the same worries in our relationship with God, don’t we?  Even after we trust Jesus with our eternal destiny, we’re still going to struggle with sin.  That’s just part of life as a redeemed human being.  But we often wonder…What if I screw up too many times?  What if I really blow it in a big way, with one of those “big” sins?  Will God just toss me aside, because that’s what I would deserve.

I love that God is a realist.

We like to sugar-coat our flaws and exaggerate our strengths, but He sees us exactly as we are.  He’s not surprised when we sin.  He knows we’re not going to live out this new life with Him perfectly.  He loves us and trains us like a perfect parent – with patience, support, and guidance.

In the middle of Psalm 37, David recognizes this truth. 

Psalm 37:23-24
A man’s steps are established by the Lord,
and He takes pleasure in his way.
Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed,
because the Lord holds his hand.

An accurate translation of the third line could also read, When he falls, he will not be cast aside.  God knows the path He wants us to walk with Him.  He truly delights in making the journey with us.  And when we fall, He is there to catch us.

Truthfully, He’s invested too much in us to just walk away.  Jesus, the most valuable person in the universe, paid for us to move into God’s family.  The Lord is holding our hand as we walk through this life, learning the ropes and developing our skills.  We are being prepared for life in Eternity Future.  God’s not going to give up on us here.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

How to live rightly, and the benefits from it

We’ve been taking a closer look at David’s instructive Psalm 37.  He spends most of the psalm pointing out that God will take care of the injustices and evil we find in this fallen world.  However, throughout the psalm, David is also constantly referencing the benefits of those who live rightly before God.

Here are a few examples of the many ways David describes the righteous:

But the humble will inherit the land and will enjoy abundant prosperity. (v 11)

The Lord watches over the blameless all their days,
and their inheritance will last forever.
They will not be disgraced in times of adversity;
they will be satisfied in days of hunger. (v 18-19)

I have not seen the righteous abandoned
or his children begging bread. (v 25)

For the Lord loves justice
and will not abandon His faithful ones.
They are kept safe forever,
but the children of the wicked will be destroyed. (v 28)

The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord,
their refuge in a time of distress.
The Lord helps and delivers them;
He will deliver them from the wicked and will save them
because they take refuge in Him. (v 39-40)

The distinctions between evildoers and the righteous are pretty clear in the psalm, as David contrasts how the wicked and the righteous live their day-to-day lives.  Evildoers will eventually face the Lord’s wrath and punishment; while the righteous have the Lord’s favor.  Although the benefits listed above are impressive (the other benefits listed in the rest of the psalm are also impressive), I find myself wondering exactly how the righteous know to live like they do.

Tucked away in the middle of the psalm, while David is extolling another great benefit of the righteous, we find this:

Psalm 37:30-31
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom;
his tongue speaks what is just.
The instruction of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not falter.

Do you see it?  It’s easy to miss when we want to have the awesome benefits of speaking wisdom and what is just.  I’m a big fan of having everything feel stable and steady, so I especially focus the reminder that the Lord won’t let the righteous’ steps falter.  But the key to all these benefits is found in the first part of verse 31:

The instruction of his God is in his heart

We can’t live the right way if we don’t know what the right way actually is.  When life comes at us fast, and detours happen, and we have people watching to see how we respond in the moment – we don’t have the time to stop everything and do an in-depth study of what God has said.  We need our right-living reactions to be as natural as our reflexes, to know them “by heart”.  The only way for God’s instruction about right-living to be in our hearts is for us to purposely and intentionally get them in there.  The benefits that David lists for the righteous are there because they live the way God designed us to live…and they know how to live that way because they have prepared themselves to do so.

What’s God will for our lives?  After we trust Christ as our savior (John 6:29, 11:25-26), God’s will for us is to live rightly – just like He created us to.  How do we know what “living-rightly” looks like?  We take God’s instructions – i.e. the Bible – and purposely put it in front of us, to the point we know it by heart.

So, where to start?  I suggest the book of John, to see how Christ really lived.  After that I would suggest either Philippians or Colossians – both are full of practical, easy-to-understand ways to live a righteous life before the Lord.

Keep Pressing,
Ken