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.

Filtering by Category: John

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,
Ken

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
 

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

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 

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
 

Remembering in order to persevere

We all have special moments of truth in life.  These drive-a-stake-in-the-ground moments happen when we discover or decide something to be true, and we choose to change the direction of our lives because of them.  These moments include times like taking vows when getting married, signing to purchase a home or vehicle, and when we accept Christ as our Savior. 

Based upon these declarations, we confirm to ourselves and others that, going forward, we will take action that is dependent upon this truth.  In our three examples above, we are confessing that we choose this person as our spouse above all others, that we’re going to pay off the loan, and that we’re trusting Christ for eternal life.

When times get tough – marital problems, financial issues, spiritual doubts – we can look back to those special moments of truth, remember what we said we would do, and then draw the strength from our initial resolve.

Timothy had moments like that, too.  Given the struggles he was going to face as he dealt with the melting pot culture of Ephesus and the abundance of false teachings, he would need some encouragement.  Paul instructed him to find encouragement in what he already knew to be true.

1 Timothy 6:12
Fight the good fight for the faith;
take hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
and have made a good confession
before many witnesses.

However, this is more than a “you said you would” moment…Paul didn’t want Timothy to think he was the only one.  So, he also gives Timothy an example to remember and lean upon:

1 Timothy 6:13-15
In the presence of God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good confession before Pontius Pilate, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in His own time.

Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, point blank, if He was the King of the Jews (John 18:33).  And when asked, Jesus didn’t shy away from stating his mission.  Earlier, when He was struggling with the impending pain and suffering and death, Jesus’ high priestly prayer was about relying on God the Father.  When He would struggle later as He hung on the cross, Jesus quoted scripture to help Him stay on mission.

Paul’s point is that Timothy, too, can stay on mission…he can keep the commandment to fight the good fight and take hold of eternal life in the here and now.  No matter what life throws at him, and no matter the opposition this young leader would face in Ephesus, Timothy can look back to his own good confession of who Christ is in his life…and find the strength to complete his own mission and calling.  Just like Jesus did.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Worth reading and worth fighting for

Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself a rather embarrassing question:

When was the last time you actually read something?

It’s not that I don’t read at all.  Like most everyone, there are many things every day that I need to look at and read.  Work policies, news stories, sports articles, emails, text messages, magazines, internet searches…we read lots of stuff, right?  Well, sort of.

Truth be told, I don’t read much of what’s put in front of me.  I skim.  And not just a little…I skim everything

Whether it’s the lunch menu or an official document, my tendency is to scan for key words and trust my assessment based upon what I find.  With the amount of information we’re bombarded with on a daily basis, it feels like we’d never make it through a day if we stopped to really, truly read and understood everything.  I’ve managed along through life alright with this method…it only occasionally causes me issues…but I find this habit creeping into my time with God, as well.

When reading the Bible, it’s very easy to fall into the habit of skimming so we can just “get it done” and move on the next task for the day.  And while Jesus did promise that one of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to remind us of everything He taught (John 15:4), it’s really tough to be reminded of something we skimmed and didn’t fully understand in the first place.

So, let’s slow down, for just a moment.  Let’s read the oh-so-easy-to-skim list of characteristics Paul told Timothy to pursue.  Paul said these things were worth fighting for.  We’ll make sure we understand them…and then we’ll make sure we know how to pursue them ourselves.  You with me?

1 Timothy 6:11-12
Now you, man of God run from these things,
but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith,
love, endurance and gentleness.

Fight the good fight for the faith;
take hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
and have made a good confession
before many witnesses.

Now, let’s look at what these terms mean.

righteousness – being in a right relationship with God; living a life according to God’s standards of integrity and purity, with correct thinking, feeling, and action

godliness – reverence and respect towards God, with the desire to imitate God’s qualities

faith – the belief that God is truthful and trustworthy

love – this is agape love, a love that is specific in affection, intention, and benevolence; it is given without condition or requirement of reciprocity

endurance – steadfastness, consistency, and patient continuance; the characteristic of a person who is not swerved from their deliberate purpose and their loyalty to God, by even the greatest trials and sufferings

gentleness – mildness, humility, meekness; strength under control when interacting with others

Now that we’ve read and understood Paul’s words, where do we go from here?  Paul said they’re worth fighting for, so how do we go about doing that?

For you, maybe one characteristic stood out from the rest.  Take the next week, and ask God each day to show you ways to pursue that specific trait in your life.

Alternatively, take one characteristic each day and focus in on that.  Today, tell God you want to increase your righteousness with Him.  Ask Him to point out the areas of your life that are rightly aligned with Him.  And then ask Him to show you what parts need to be cleaned up.  Tomorrow, purse godliness and pray specifically about a characteristic of His that you want to imitate – His kindness, His generosity, His strength.  The next day, talk to God about faith and increasing your trust in Him.  And so on, for each of the six characteristics.

Follow either plan…and in a week’s time, you’ll be amazed at what God has taught you.

Thanks for reading.  Now, take hold of eternal life, to which you were called.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The damage caused by false teaching

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote:

God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

Any attempt to fuel ourselves on anything other than a relationship with God will not work.  This is why the teaching we listen to matters so much.  Even if what the teacher proposes begins with a Scripture, we must be attentive to the content of their message.  When we listen to “Bible teachers” whose teaching does not align with what Jesus taught, we are attempting to use a fuel that we were never made to run on.  We may start out alright, their teaching may seem to work…but the eventual consequences are rather severe, like an engine that was given water instead of gasoline.

Paul warned Timothy about the eventual damage that comes from the application of bad teaching:

1 Timothy 6:4-8
From these come envy, quarreling, slanders, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement among men whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth, who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain.  But godliness with contentment is a great gain.

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out.
But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

What fuels the false teachers isn’t God; therefore, their teachings are not able to point others toward God.  The result of this incorrect fueling is rather nasty and harmful – envy, quarreling, slanders, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement.  These qualities are opposite of what Paul stated at the beginning of his letter:

1 Timothy 1:5-7
Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.  Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion.  They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

When we get right down to their core motivation, many of the false teachers are really doing it for the money and comfort.  They imagine that godliness is a way to material gain, and this greed is what drives them.  They are focused on themselves in the here and now.  Their focus isn’t on God and Who He Is.

However, being in relationship with God has its rewards, just not the way the false teachers are aiming.  Paul is very clear here – there is something to be gained by imitating God.  When we fuel ourselves with God, and so much so that we take on god-like-ness in the way we think, speak, and act….we do end up receiving other rewards and benefits.  However, instead of temporary material gain, we are promised something far greater.  Just as Christ told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36), the great gain that comes from having godliness with contentment right now will not be found in this world, either.

But if we’re not fueling ourselves on the right teaching – the kind of instruction that points us toward God – then we will miss out on both Him and His greater rewards.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Practicing to be like Jesus

“When am I ever going to use this stuff?”

That phrase is the rally cry of every student who has had their fill of theory and talk.  I wondered it when I was a kid, and now my kids have asked it of me.

Earlier in his letter to Timothy, we observed that Paul made the connection between godliness and being like Jesus.  There were three Jesus-like-ness observations we noted:

·        Jesus knew the Scriptures – He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Often during His teaching, Jesus would reference the Scriptures by saying “It is written” or asking the question “Have you not read?
·        Jesus was totally focused on His part in God’s plan and kingdom – He was on mission and would not be deterred.  In John 6:38, He said “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
·        Jesus knew both the Scriptures and His mission well enough that He could impact the lives of others – He cared for others, met them where they were, and pointed them toward God the Father.

Just a handful of verses after Paul made the connection between godliness and being like Jesus, he encouraged Timothy with these words:

1 Timothy 4:12-16
No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Paul’s instructions for Timothy match the three attributes of Jesus-like-ness we noted earlier.  First, Paul told Timothy to know the Scriptures. Through his devotion to public reading, exhortation, and teaching, Timothy would be immersing himself in God’s Word. 

Next, Paul urged Timothy to focus on his part in God’s plan and kingdom.  While he was a unique combination of skills and experience, when you add in the gift given to him by God, Timothy was especially prepared for this work in Ephesus. 

Lastly, Paul encouraged Timothy to practice these things; be committed to them…persevere in these things and his end result would be like Jesus’ – Timothy would know both the Scriptures and his mission well enough to impact the lives of others, or, as Paul put it, Timothy would save both himself and his hearers.  Now Timothy could not add to Jesus’ finished work on the cross, so we know that Paul isn’t referring to an eternal salvation here.  But then what would Timothy be saving them all from?

A few verses back, right after equating godliness with being like Jesus, Paul warned:

1 Timothy 4:1
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons

As Timothy applies what he’s learned from Paul, as he endeavors to be like Jesus – then he, too, will have the opportunity to save both himself and his hearers from the pitfalls of false teachings.  What a great rescue mission!

What could we do if we also imitate Jesus by knowing the Scriptures and using our God-given gifts?  What kind of rescuing could we do?  Will we trust God and find out?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Take this step to be like Jesus

I’ve heard that a person’s character is defined by who they are when no one else is around.

I’m not 100% sure about that definition…instead, what we do with our time when no one else is around is how we develop our character.

When no one is looking, the choices we make will shape us.  Even the passive choice to “do nothing” has a sculpting effect.  Think of our time as spending cash.  How we spend it – either wasting or investing it – will shape who we are.

Paul knew this quite well, which is why he told Timothy:

1 Timothy 4:7-10
But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness, for,

the training of the body has a limited benefit,
but godliness is beneficial in every way,
since it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come.

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance.  In fact, we labor and strive for this, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe.

We understand that musicians practice for hours when no one is looking so when it comes time to perform, they do it perfectly.  We get it that basketball players shoot 100s of free throws a week so they’re ready when they’re fouled late in a game and have to step up to the line.

Training happens when no one is looking – it’s intentional work.  Now, earlier in his letter to Timothy, Paul equated godliness with being like Jesus.  But I think we Christians don’t see how important it is for us to labor and strive to be like Jesus.  So, let’s take an intentional step in that direction and see what God does with our time investment.

Jesus was intimately connected to the Scriptures.  On a regular basis, Jesus would quote or reference God’s Word.  Here’s just a couple of ideas to put some of God’s Word directly into your life:

·        Use a verse as a password – every time you log in to an account, say the verse.  “John3:16” or “Psalm100:1” fulfills most password requirements to have a capital letter, lower case letter, number, and special character.  Perhaps your password at work is a reminder of being faithful or diligent, like Colossians3:23 or Proverbs22:29.  Maybe the password for your online bank account is about being wise with money, like Proverbs21:17 or 2Corinthians9:6.
·        Have a verse for when you start your car, a “key” verse you need to know.  Proverbs3:5 and Ephesians2:8 would be good choices.
·        Have a verse to repeat whenever you wash your hands.  I learned 1 John 4:7-8 in a tune when I was a kid.  The tune is burned into my memory, so I can “sing” those verses at any time.  As often as I need to wash my hands, I’m reminding myself multiple times per day that loving others is important, and God is the one who loved us first.

It’s ok to pull out your phone to look up the verse so you say it correctly.  And…you don’t have to implement all of these suggestions.  The point is to find one thing in your day that you do repeatedly, and attach a verse to it.  Actively invest your time.  God guarantees that this kind of training will be beneficial both in the present life and also for the life to come.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to make an eternal investment in yourself

Once you’re in God’s family, you find there are a lot of words thrown around that everyone just seems to “know” what they mean.  At least it appears that way, as often as you hear Christians use words like faith, justification, hallelujah, and salvation.

One of those terms is godliness.  Other than being told as children that is was close to cleanliness, we make the general assumption that godliness means some sort of “god-like-ness”, where we imitate a certain aspect of God as we meet Him in the Bible.  Honest, though…that definition still feels a little vague, doesn’t it?

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul uses the word godliness eight times in 113 verses.  That’s a pace of about one for every 14 verses.  By his heavy usage and what he says about it, we can see that Paul considered godliness an important point for Timothy and those under his charge.  Here’s an example:

1 Timothy 4:7-9
But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness, for,

the training of the body has a limited benefit,
but godliness is beneficial in every way,
since it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come.

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance.

So Paul considers godliness something we have to be trained in and something that is beneficial both now and in eternity future.  If that’s the case, then we need to fully understand what the word means!

But recognizing the importance of godliness doesn’t clarify the word’s meaning.  It can still feel a little vague.  A few verses back, Paul validates this feeling:

1 Timothy 3:16
And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great

Right after saying something like this, I would expect Paul to give a definition or explanation of the mystery of godliness…but instead, he jumps straight into a description of Jesus:

1 Timothy 3:16
He was manifested in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit,
seen by angels,
preached among the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

What Paul is getting at here is that if we want to have a “god-like-ness” that is valuable in the present life and in the life to come, then we need to train to have a “Jesus-like-ness”.  Jesus is our best example of how we are made to imitate and live like God designed us to.

So, practically speaking, what are some attributes of Jesus that we can imitate?  I suggest these three:

·        Jesus knew the Scriptures – He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Often, during His teaching, Jesus would reference the Scriptures by saying “It is written” or asking the question “Have you not read?
·        Jesus was totally focused on His part in God’s plan and kingdom – He was on mission, would not be deterred.  In John 6:38, He said “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
·        Jesus knew both the Scriptures and His mission well enough that He could impact the lives of others – He cared for others, met them where they were, and pointed them toward God the Father.

Paul’s message to Timothy was that godliness is something infinitely valuable – and that Timothy could develop a “god-like-ness” by training to be like Jesus.

Will we follow Jesus’ example?  Pursuing a “Jesus-like-ness” will beneficial…for the present life and…for the life to come.  Will we trust God and choose to make the eternal investment in the here and now?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

An unexpected example

Prior to Jesus’ death on the cross, we often find His disciples in an ego-driven discussion, debating which one of them was going to be “the greatest” in Jesus’ kingdom.  On His last night, Jesus gave them a powerful example of what a “great” leader does.

John 13:1, 4-5
Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart from this world to the Father.  Having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end…So He got up from supper, laid aside His robe, took a towel, and tied it around Himself.  Next, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around Him.

I’m certain you could have heard a pin drop.  The normal hustle and bustle of conversation and movement as 13 guys reclined at a low table to eat the Passover meal would have come to a standstill when Jesus picked up the basin and the towel.

Does your state’s Governor handle coat check duty at the annual Governor’s ball?  Does your company’s CEO shine your shoes at the annual budgeting meeting?  Of course not.  So why would the Messiah – at the remembrance meal that foretold His coming – wash the filthy, sweaty, gnarled feet of twelve grown men, all of whom were subordinate to Him?

John 13:12-17
When Jesus had washed their feet and put on His robe, He reclined again and said to them,

“Do you know what I have done for you?  You call Me Teacher and Lord.  This is well said, for I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.”

“I assure you: A slave is not greater than his master, and a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.”

The disciples had spent the last three years trying to learn everything they could from Jesus, in order that they might one day be just like Him.  The one who ended up most like Jesus, would be “the greatest” disciple, with all the authority and privilege that would come with that distinction. 

However, Jesus’ actions didn’t negate His title, position, or authority.  Since the disciples had accepted Jesus as their Teacher and Lord, how could they refuse to humble themselves and serve in the menial tasks, like what He had just performed?

As a mentor, we too need to provide a tangible example to our protégé.  Real life examples leave a mark like nothing else can.  Verbal instruction is the foundation for learning and developing others, but they will never forget the example of the time you stepped down and washed their feet.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Your story, as told by others

There is an old riddle that asks the question:

What belongs to you, but everyone else uses more than you do?

The answer is – your name.

All kidding aside, there is a fair bit of truth to that.  However, others rarely use just our names.  Attached to the use of our names is that person’s opinion of us…our reputation. 

Reputations can be broad and widely held, but they can also be held by individuals.  A “good” reputation can take a long time to build, and only a momentary lapse in judgment or selfishness can completely destroy one.  And to top it all off, there’s only so much we can do about them, since we’re not around when our reputation (for better or worse) is communicated to a new someone.

Therefore, our reputations will go ahead of us into places that we’ve never been to.  It may feel strange to think but people miles away from us, whom we’ve never met, could actually have an opinion about who we are.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Philemon, he was in prison, and most scholars believe he was being held in Rome.  As the crow flies, Rome is over 900 miles from Colossae.  If you were to drive a car from Rome to Colossae on today’s highways, it would take you nearly 30 hours to get there.  Now let your mind move back to ancient Bible times….no cars, no social media.  A person’s reputation could really only travel by word of mouth.

And yet, from that far away, Paul hears of Philemon’s reputation:

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

Whenever Philemon’s name comes up in conversation, what Paul also hears about is all the ways that Philemon demonstrates his love and faith.  By his actions and words, people can recognize his priorities.  They can also see which relationships in his life that Philemon considers the most important.  And his reputation of love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints went out for at least 900 miles!

I suppose, however, we shouldn’t be all that surprised at this, since Jesus told His disciples at the Last Supper:

John 13:34-35
I give you a new commandment: love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another.  By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Jesus said all people.  When our love for one another is recognizable to others, it will also become our reputation.  And a reputation like Philemon’s will point others toward Jesus…even if we’re not physically there to share the gospel.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Thwarted maturity

There is one word that strikes fear into the heart of every athlete.  As soon as the referee says this word, all their work, effort, and productivity comes to a screeching halt.  Having this word applied to you feels like a death sentence, and the stigma attached to it – especially when others find out – is equally crushing.

The last thing any athlete wants to hear is that they have been disqualified.  You can critique their form, give them low marks for execution, or even penalize them for their errors; but when an athlete is DQ’d, the competition, for them, is over.  To be disqualified is to be declared ineligible for the prize.

Earlier, Paul explained to the believers in Colossae that Jesus intends to take them from salvation to full maturity.  Our salvation is certain because it depends on Jesus.  However, Paul said that reaching maturity had some limiting factors based upon our choices and actions; there were conditions involved. 

Colossians 1:21-23
And you were once alienated and hostile in mind because of your evil actions.  But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him – if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith, and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard.

The word if shows that they can be disqualified from reaching full maturity.  A few paragraphs later, Paul explains how it can happen.

Colossians 2:18-19
Let no one disqualify you, insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.  He doesn’t hold on to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and tendons, develops with growth from God.

In Paul’s day, Jewish Occultism encouraged prayer to angels for protection, deliverance, or assistance.  They also believed that praying to the “right” angel was needed to thwart the advances of demons who were in charge of particular aliments of the body or problems in the home.  Additionally, the local Greek folk tradition placed significance on visionary experiences in connection with their spiritual practices.  Before we scoff at such primitive ideas, we need to remember that we come across similar teachings within Christianity when people are told to pray to their “guardian angel” or to a particular “saint” for protection.

Paul’s point is that these kinds of beliefs about angels and surface-level practices undermine Jesus’ authority in our lives.  Running to “angels” or “saints” or “visions” shows that we don’t think Jesus can handle what we’re dealing with at the moment.  How can we say that Jesus is the King of the Universe, but then look somewhere else for our well-being?

It’s these kinds of self-contradictions that shift us away from the full maturity Christ desires to develop in us.  We must remember it is not certain that, at the end of all things, we will be presented as holy, faultless, and blameless before Him.  If we are pronounced disqualified, then we are sure to miss out on some eternal rewards and opportunities to serve with Christ in eternity future.  

Unfortunately, it’s easy to get hung up on ascetic, good-looking practices that, in the end, pull us away from His plan for us.  However, we are not without help.  Jesus told His disciples to “Remain in Me” (John 15:4), not “remain in My angels” or “remain in visions”.  The One who was the start of our faith is the One who will mature it as well.  So let’s continue to trust Him and hold tight to Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Recognizing counterfeits

We’d all love to live life to the fullest, as God intends for us – complete, mature, and ready for good use under Christ’s leadership.  But often times it is a tough road to become mature and develop Christ-like character.  If only spiritual maturity were as simple as going a straight line from Point A to Point B, right? 

After describing his desire to have all believers reach maturity, Paul speaks about Jesus, and says

Colossians 2:3
In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

And then Paul gives the Colossians a direct application of this foundational truth:

Colossians 2:4-5
I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments.  For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the strength of your faith in Christ.

Paul is just one man, and therefore his ministry is limited to one place at a time.  At the time of this writing, he cannot be with the Colossians to personally protect them from the variety of nice-sounding, but very dangerous, false ideas about God that would come their way.  So Paul gives them encouragement for the ways they are currently guarding their faith.  However, he also gives them direction for how to continue to mature, despite the reckless ideas about God they will also encounter.

Colossians 2:6-7
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

The path to maturity and the path for protection against false teachings is actually the continuation in the direction they started with, to be in Christ.  Their relationship with God started with their faith in Christ, when they received Him as their Savior from sin’s penalty.  Remember, Jesus said to His disciples:

John 14:6
I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.

Jesus is the way to the Father.
Jesus is the truth of the Father.
Jesus is the life we are given from the Father.

That is why Paul tells the believers in Colossae to walk in Him.  Walk in His ways.  Walk in His truths.  Walk in His life.  This is the way we protect ourselves from false teaching about God.  We know the real God so well that we aren’t swayed away when the counterfeit philosophies come our way.

We don’t have to know all the variations and deceptions out there – we only need to know the truth, and continue to walk in Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Love, in context

Love.  Love.  Love.

We are very fascinated by the word, and the implications of what we think it is supposed to do in our lives.  We write songs that say we could live on love instead of money, or food, or air.  However, I would challenge anyone to pay their light bill with “love” and see how well that goes over.  Or better yet, try to sustain your body on “love” and skip your next 10 meals.  Similarly, we already know what would happen if we gave up breathing air and tried to breathe only “love”.

Each of these examples demonstrate the importance of context.  Nothing can be correctly understood outside its proper context – and “love” is no exception.  In fact, nowadays, we use “love” to mean such a wide variety of things, that our intended meaning can be easily misunderstood:

“I love chocolate.”
“I love your hair.”
“I love my wife.”
“I love politics.” (sarcasm there)

So clearly, “love” is only understood within the proper context.  As you read Paul explain his desire to have all believers reach full maturity, look for love’s context in the life of a believer:

Colossians 2:2-3
I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding, and have the knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ.  In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

When we in God’s family are encouraged and joined together in love, these actions and relationship characteristics are the riches of our assured understanding.  Growing in our own relationship with Jesus means that we grow in our understanding of who He is and what He means to us.  As this maturity happens, our actions will take on the love that He demonstrated.  The outpouring, or riches, of our understanding is found in the love we give to other believers.

And just to be clear…what is our understanding?  The Greek word used here carries the idea of a running or flowing together – much like the visual of two rivers flowing together.  What Paul is trying to convey is our assured understanding comes from our thoughts and choices merging with God’s flow and direction.

Paul’s words for the Colossians are also an echo of what Jesus told His own disciples:

John 13:35
By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

In its proper context of our knowledge of Christ and our relationship with God, love brings forth an unmistakable richness in believers that is so unique that it is recognized by everyone.

Let’s make sure our understanding and knowledge are grounded in Christ, so we can keep the most important love of all in its proper context.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Physical action for spiritual need

Which is more important in life, the physical or the spiritual?

There have been some philosophies which teach that only the spiritual aspect of life matters, and the physical has no impact on our relationship with God.  Others have taught that everything physical is tainted with sin and therefore completely evil.  Then they argue – “If everything physical is inherently evil, how is it possible that a perfect God would pollute himself and put on flesh?”

These kinds of questions have been around Christianity as far back as the first century.  It is likely the believers in Colossae were dealing with these questions from the Greek philosophers of their day.  In his letter to the believers, Paul provides a description of the relationship between the physical and the spiritual…as well as pointing out how God has dealt with both aspects.

Speaking about Jesus, he said:

Colossians 1:19-20
For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him,
and through Him to reconcile everything to Himself
by making peace through the blood of His cross –
whether things on earth or things in heaven.

Paul says that God was pleased that Jesus was both fully God and fully man.  Also, the reconciliation we needed was brought about through the blood of His cross – which is most certainly physical.  Paul then reinforces the concept that our physical lives impact our spiritual existence:

Colossians 1:21-22
And you were once alienated and hostile in mind because of your evil actions.  But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him

It was our evil actions that spiritually separated us from God.  However, it was there that God met us – He has reconciled you by His physical body.  Jesus’ physical death paid the spiritual cost we could never pay.  The purpose of this payment wasn’t just to grant people access to heaven…instead, God has a much larger goal in mind, namely to present you holy faultless, and blameless before Him.

In the second half of the letter, Paul will discuss the practical ways that choices in our physical lives affect our spiritual health and relationship with God.  For now, let’s just marvel at the mystery of God meeting us in the physical arena, in the exact place where we made a mess of everything:

Speaking about Jesus, the apostle John wrote:

John 1:14
The Word became flesh and took up residence among us.

We are grateful because God took physical action in order to address our spiritual need.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Completely rescued

Earlier this year, hundreds of fishermen were rescued from a life of slavery on Thai fishing boats.  These men had been trafficked and sold to work on these boats for up to 20 hours a day.  Some were kidnapped, others were lured there with promises of money or work prospects.  Yet instead of these lies, they were paid with beatings, torture, and sexual abuse. 

When the Indonesian government stepped in and rescued them, the world cheered.  Others had done for them what these fishermen could not do for themselves.  However, once they had been freed, they had nowhere to go and no one to help them cope with adjusting into being part of the real world.

There is a spiritual parallel to this story.  Christ has done for sinners what they are unable to do for themselves – He took the punishment for our sin, because we could not pay that debt.  Since the Father accepted Christ’s payment, those who trust in Christ for eternal life have been rescued from the domain of darkness.  Fortunately, though, we are not left to ourselves.  Our story doesn’t end there. 

As Paul began his letter to the Colossian believers, he reminded them that not only were they rescued from sin’s domain, but they were also rescued to a new domain.  Read the verses below and look for where believers have been transferred to:

Colossians 1:11-14
May you be strengthened with all power according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.  He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

God the Father transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.  While we were removed from sin’s jurisdiction, we also get a complete change of citizenship.  Only those in authority of a country can determine who gets to be a citizen; no other country’s declaration, decision, or complaint can affect a given citizenship.  As such, God can add anyone – from any background, region, or nationality – to the kingdom of the Son He loves.  Those He has chosen to transfer into Jesus’ kingdom are the ones who trust Jesus’ payment on the cross and trust Him for eternal life.

And it’s not like God has rescued us and then placed us into some other far-off area where life is just little better than it was before.  The Father doesn’t just send us on our merry way.  We aren’t left to figure out the question of “What do I do now?” or “How do I deal with the leftovers from my past?”  On the contrary, we have been transferred into the kingdom of the Son He loves.  Given how much the Father loves the Son, then the benefits of that relationship will spill over to those who identify with the Son! 

During His last night on earth, Jesus told His disciples:

John 16:27
For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God.

We have redemption, we have the forgiveness of sins, but we are not left behind as orphans without a country.  Instead, we become part of the one Who is dearly loved by the Father!  We now have both a place and a purpose.  We have a new life as citizens in Jesus’ kingdom.

Never forget where we were rescued from, and always remember where we have been rescued to.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Not knowing

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 

Remembering God's words

Just before Jesus died on the cross, He directly quoted two different psalms.  With everything He had endured in the previous 24 hours, how was He able to keep His mind focused enough to recall something David had written 1000 years previously?

When we think about the various settings around Jesus during His week before the cross, it becomes obvious that He wasn’t spending His time skimming the scrolls or trying to cram in a phrase or two during the Last Supper.  For Jesus to clearly recall God’s Word on the cross, in the midst of such intense trial and pain, He must have spent time previously with the Scriptures available to Him…and not just a little time, either.  To have Scripture at the tip of His tongue, to be able to recall God’s exact words while the whole world is crashing down…would require both preparation and repetition. 

The Jewish education system at the time was founded upon the student’s ability to memorize large portions of the Old Testament, beginning with the first five books of our Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  If a student did well, he would move on to the prophets and wisdom literature. 

Certainly Jesus did well, not only memorizing Scripture but also understanding it.  This was evidenced when He was 12 and went to the temple:

Luke 2:46-47 After three days, they found Him in the temple complex sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all those who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers.

His ability to converse with the teachers of the Law would have come from the amount of time spent in the Scriptures.  A fair assumption would be that a significant amount of time in the Old Testament Scriptures before His public ministry began at age 30.  Doing so helps explain why Jesus was ready and able to quote Scripture when being tempted by Satan…because as a youth, He spent His time preparing for the days ahead when He would need to recall God’s Word.

The same principle is available to us as well.  The more time we spend in God’s Word, the more ready we are when difficulties arise.  When a crisis hits, how comforting would it be to be able to remind ourselves of what God has previously said?  In fact, this coincides with one of Jesus’s last promises to His disciples:

John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit – the Father will send Him in My name – will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.

However, it is more difficult for the Holy Spirit to remind us of what Jesus said, if we haven’t been looking in the first place…

Putting the same Scriptures in front of our eyes often and meditating on them helps commit them to memory.  So let’s do the same with the psalm we’ve been looking at.  Having the promises we’ve learned – that when our hearts are without strength, we can trust God to handle our current circumstances.  We can trust God with our present struggles, as well as our future issues, because we remember how God has protected and strengthened us during previous crises.

Let’s take Jesus at His word and follow His example.  Pay attention to these four verses this week.  Read them often, say them out loud.  Do your best to bury these words deep in your mind, so that when the time comes, the Holy Spirit will be able to bring them to the front of your mind and the tip of your tongue.

Psalm 61:1-4

God, hear my cry; pay attention to my prayer.
I call to You from the ends of the earth
when my heart is without strength.

Lead me to a rock that is high above me,
for You have been a refuge for me,
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken