Pressing On


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

How to clear the path

“But what does God want me to DO?”

Ever ask that question?  Yeah, me too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But that’s just hard, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What an opportunity!

Keep Pressing,

Our opportunity is larger than you think

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait.  What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,

A warning, some encouragement, and a choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is faithful. 

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

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

Keep Pressing,

Delayed due to illness

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,

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

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

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

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

First, let’s look at the encouragement:

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

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

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

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

Here’s the first one:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,

Free to breathe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,

Having our conscience cleared

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,

Joe Rheney has relocated to Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,

Afraid of the bait-and-switch

I hate the bait-and-switch.

Whether it’s due to someone’s greed, circumstances beyond our control, or our own misunderstanding, we can end up getting less than what we expect.  As a result, we’re constantly on guard against situations that appear too good to be true.  We always have this lingering fear that we won’t fully get what has been advertised…and it makes us suspicious of good things that happen in our lives.

We carry this suspicion into our relationships, even with God.  Life’s changing circumstances and people letting us down can leave us wondering about the basic truths that we hold dear:  Does God really forgive me?  Can I sin “too much”?  Is there a line that I could cross and then God will reject me?  Is believing Jesus enough to have eternal life? 

Questions like these show that we’re nervous about our relationship foundation with God.  Is ok to ask questions, but also know that we can find answers.  We don’t have to sit in the dark wondering if God is going to change the rules or change His mind.

Progressing through his letter to the Hebrew believers, we find that as the author resumes his discussion of Christ’s superiority as our high priest, he shows us an important, bedrock truth:

Hebrews 7:20-25
[The Levites] became priests without an oath, but [Jesus] became a priest with an oath made by the One who said to Him:

              The Lord has sworn
               and will not change His mind,
               “You are a priest forever.”
(Psalm 110:4)

Because of this oath, Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.  Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office.  But because He remains forever, He holds His priesthood permanently.

Therefore, He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them.

There is no concern of Jesus being a temporary representative for us before the Father; instead, Jesus is our permanent guarantee of access to God.  Besides, if Jesus did not live forever…how could I trust His claim that He can keep me alive forever?

Hebrews 7:26-28
For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.  He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do – first for their own sins, then for those of the people.  He did this once for all time when He offered himself.

For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak, but the promise of the oath, which came after the law, appoints a Son, who has been perfected forever.

Jesus, the perfectly-suited high priest, gave the ultimately perfect sacrifice – and because the sacrifice was so great, it fulfilled our sin-debt in one fell swoop.  The Greater Messenger has done something that no one else has ever accomplished.

Hebrews 8:1-2
Now the main point of what is being said is this: We have this kind of high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that was set up by the Lord and not man.

Since Jesus does not need to offer any further sacrifices, His ministry can develop beyond what the Israelites would have witnessed in their high priests’ ministry.  Jesus is therefore worthy of greater honor and is able to go on to greater things.

Oh, and He’s our brother in the Holy family.  And He’s offered to help us with our struggles, if we would only ask.

The most superior person in the universe desires this kind of relationship with us.  No bait-and-switch.

Keep Pressing,

Resolutions about maturity

It’s that time of year again…time to make resolutions to be better at something.  We know the big ones – get in shape, eat better, learn a new skill – and we know that we should do these things and they have lasting, positive benefits to our lives.  But why is it, that by sometime in February, we’ve given up on working towards them? 

When we’re honest – we recognize that we give up on these resolutions because we don’t value the end product highly enough.  We aren’t diligent in pursuing it, and we become lazy.  This doesn’t mean that we do not understand or fully trust the benefits of exercise, a good diet, or learning something new…it just shows that we value them less than other competing priorities in our lives.

Did you know that the same thing happens to us spiritually?  Other things crowd into our lives and we sometimes don’t value our growth as a Christ-follower or our relationship with God like we should.  We can become spiritually lazy.  It’s not a new problem for Christians, either.

After starting a discussion of Christ’s superiority as our high priest and reviewing some of the great benefits available to a believer who partners with Jesus, the author pauses to say:

Hebrews 5:11-14
We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become slow to understand.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation.  You need milk, not solid food.  Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature – for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.

Looking at this passage, it is clear that this letter was written to people who have already accepted Christ as the substitutionary payment for their sins.  The solid food is the teaching that deals with righteousness, or right-living, before God.  Because these “big babies” haven’t progressed to solid food, they cannot grasp the implications of the Greater Message of future partnership with the Greater Messenger.

Hebrews 6:1
Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity

If you could travel into a mother’s womb and speak with the prenatal child, I’m sure he would be very confused as to why he was growing arms and legs and a mouth.  He has no real, tangible need for them so long as he remains in the womb.  However, we would desperately explain that while he sees little use for them in his present stage in life, they will become vitally important for the way he interacts with the world of his next stage of life.

The entire New Testament, except for John’s Gospel, speaks to us like we are the child still in the womb.  The vast majority of the New Testament is written to believers and contains encouragement to put in the effort now to grow towards maturity…because the level of maturity we develop here and now will directly impact how we interact with the world of our next stage of life.

Hebrews 6:11-12
Now we want each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the final realization of your hope, so that you won’t become lazy, but imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance.

Keep at it.  Keep going towards maturity.  Not everyone does, but those who trust Jesus’ offer of partnership and patiently wait for it, they will obtain it.

That’s a resolution worth keeping, one with results that echo into eternity.

Keep Pressing,

Finding hope when the light is fading

I really like light.  Never been a big fan of the dark.  I hate how disorienting it is when you can’t make out your surroundings.  Growing up in the desert, there were plenty of creatures who came out only at night.  They were wild animals, but what made them especially dangerous was that they could see in dark, and I could not.  To go tromping through the sagebrush without a light would have been foolish, to say the least.

Even as I’ve lived in other locations, I still don’t like the dark.  I love the long days of spring and summer.  I would even advocate that we stay on daylight savings time year-round.  But every year, mid-summer, a change begins to occur.  We don’t typically notice it right away, yet within a few months, it is undeniable…the days have gotten shorter, there is less light than there used to be.

Even with all the great things that fall brings – changing leaves, football, holidays – I resent that they come when the days are shorter.  When I am paying attention, I also notice a shift in my attitude.  My feelings drift closer towards the cold and darkness I am experiencing through the weather…almost seems like I’m being slowly dragged down by nature.  Typically by November, I am fully aware of the seasonal change around me…and feeling rather depressed that it’s going to continue for a while before it gets any better.  Leave for work in morning, and it’s dark…head home from work in the evening, and it’s dark.  I’ve worked in some places that didn’t have windows – so it felt like either I missed an entire ‘day’ while I was working, or that the ‘day’ never really happened, like it just stayed dark.

The calendar day that has always bothered me the most is the winter solstice; the day gives us the least amount of light every year.  Six-ish hours of daylight.  That’s it.  Bleh…

Only recently did I see the hope that is couched within that particular day.  Once that day has passed, the light will increase.  Little by little, just an extra minute or two per day…the darkness begins to recede.  The darkness has approached the line in the sand, so to speak, and it will go no further.  Although months have passed while the light slowly fades, it turns out that the darkness will not overtake the day, after all.  The light returns, and with it – new life and springtime will soon follow.

Life feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?  Our world seems to be growing darker and darker, little by little.  Some days it even looks like the darkness will overtake the light altogether.  However, as followers of Jesus, we know the darkness will not win.  While on Earth, Jesus predicted His death and resurrection…but He also predicted His return:

John 14:2-3
In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; 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 back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.

Jesus’ return build upon a promise He had made earlier:

John 8:12
Then Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world.  Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”

The author of Hebrews also echoed the hope found in Jesus’ return:

Hebrews 9:28
so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

Starting tomorrow, the light of the sun will begin to return.  Use this as a reminder that one day, the light of the world will return.  The darkness we see in the world will not win, no matter how dark it seems at the moment.

Keep Pressing,

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,

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,

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,

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,

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:


Have we?

Keep Pressing,

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,

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,