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: Luke

A 911 call to Jesus

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

The superior message of a Superior Messenger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The author of Hebrews then presses his point:

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

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

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

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

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

Have we?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

One servant, two paths (part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

One servant, two paths (part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is great reward in taking our responsibilities seriously.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Understanding why God knows the number of hairs on our heads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to be rich and live richly

We discovered last time that we’re rich.  Richly rich.  That if we make over $32,400 per year ($15.59/hour)…we’re in the top 1% of the world.  But we also found out that no matter what our income amounts to, we shouldn’t feel guilty that we have wealth, because God richly provides us with all things to enjoy

God gives good gifts, and gifts are given for the enjoyment of the one receiving it.  Maybe someone got a better gift than you, and it doesn’t seem fair…however, our jealousy tends to evaporate once we expand our comparison circle to include the rest of the world.

So now that we know we’re rich, what do we do?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught:

Matthew 6:19-21
Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

A few observations:
·        Jesus gave no indication that being wealthy in this life (or the next) is wrong.
·        What is considered valuable now is not going to be what is considered valuable in the next life.
·        How we obtain wealth in this life is not how we store up treasures for the next life.

During his ministry, Jesus met many rich folks who didn’t handle their wealth very well in light of eternity.  A few examples include the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22), also the Pharisees and their scribes (Luke 5:29-31).  The rich were also featured in Jesus’ parables as bad examples of how to live life in the present age (Luke 12:13-21, Luke 16:19-31, and Luke 18:9-14).

So, what should us rich 1%ers do?  What does God consider the right way to handle the wealth He’s given us?

Paul addressed that topic in his instructions to Timothy:

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

Being rich in the age to come means being other-focused in the present age.  Whether we make $15,000 a year or $1,500,000 a year – what we do with what God has given us will determine the foundation of our lives in the next life.

That thought just blows me away, so dwell on it for just a moment with me.  Everything in this life is building *only* the foundation for our lives in eternity.  What we build, the work we do, the experiences we will have in the next life…are going to be based upon the choices we make in the present age.

My mentor, Joe, would tell me often “This life is just boot camp for the next.”  C.S. Lewis wrote that our present lives are simply the cover and the title page…when we enter Eternity future, we will begin Chapter 1 of the Great Story that never ends, where each chapter is better than the one before.

Partnering with God now affects how we can partner with God in Eternity.  We should absolutely enjoy the gifts God has given us, but don’t enjoy them selfishly.  Do goodBe rich in good worksBe generousBe willing to share.

Lay a good foundation for the age to come.  Find and take hold of life that is real.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Stomaching the misconduct of leaders

I think Dr. Thomas Constable was right when he wrote in his notes on 1 Timothy, “Criticism of leaders is a favorite spectator sport.” 

Let’s face it – not everyone is going to agree with or “like” every pastor they come across.  But how should an accusation of misconduct be handled?

As Paul continued his instructions for Timothy regarding the appointment of church leadership, he takes a realistic, yet extremely serious, approach to dealing with leaders who may not be living up the standards their position would require.

1 Timothy 5:19-21
Don’t accept an accusation against an elder unless it is supported by two or three witnesses.  Publicly rebuke those who sin, so that the rest will also be afraid.  I solemnly charge you, before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to observe these things without prejudice, doing nothing out of favoritism.

Paul’s directions fit in perfectly with what Jesus taught his disciples about church discipline (Matthew 18:15-17).  Timothy must thoroughly evaluate an accusation against an elder.  One person’s word isn’t sufficient.  However, if the charge proves true – if the elder isn’t living up to the qualifications set forth a few verses back in 1 Timothy 3, then a public rebuke and/or removal from office may be in order.  These steps would correct the issue with the elder in question…but also keep the other elders from falling into the same trap. 

Paul could not have been more serious regarding the importance of going through this process without any prejudice or favoritism.  When Jesus referred to his return with the Father and the elect angels, it was in regard to judgment (Matt 25:31; Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26; Rev 14:10).  While we might be tempted to think that a public rebuke is too harsh, it is better for an elder to be confronted now than for them to go on unchecked and then be confronted later by Jesus at the Bema judgement.

In order to avoid these kinds of situations, Paul gives Timothy some additional guidance:

1 Timothy 5:22-25
Don’t be too quick to lay hands on anyone, and don’t share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.

Don’t continue drinking only water, but use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.

Some people’s sins are evident, going before them to judgement, but the sins of others follow them.

Likewise, good works are obvious, and those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden.

Paul’s water vs. wine comment might seem a little strange to us, but keep in mind that wine was used for medicinal purposes in the ancient world.  Purified water from a faucet wasn’t readily available like it is for us.  Even though their water may look fine, there was a decent chance that it was contaminated.  Using a small amount of alcoholic wine would have been beneficial in keeping his digestive tract in working order.

It seems to me that Paul is taking a practical step from Timothy’s life and using it as an example of how to manage the appointment of leaders.  Timothy needs be cautious about appointing someone to represent God and lead others in their relationship with Jesus.  Just because someone seems like a “nice Christian guy” and he can quote a few Scriptures doesn’t mean he should be leading the congregation.  The importance of Timothy taking preventative measures to keep pure would also ensure that the church family would also avoid having to stomach elder-judgement issues in the future.

Bottom line for us?  We need to recognize that our leader’s lives matter.  We can’t expect them to be perfect, but their position mandates a level of blamelessness in order for them to handle this kind of influence on God’s family.  Just like Timothy needed to take appropriate steps in evaluating a leader, we need to do the same when we are considering who we get our Bible teaching from.  Just because they’re on the radio doesn’t mean they are “good” and their teaching is accurate.  Just because they are “really nice” doesn’t mean that we should be submitting to their leadership.  We need to do some work on the front end to avoid being misled.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The pressure of being young and in charge

New leaders often feel the pressure to “prove” they belong in their position.  New young leaders feel this pressure even more.  If left unchecked, this pressure will kindle a leader’s internal worries of public failure.  Their fear of failure normally manifests itself in a variety of bad ways – becoming bossy, refusing counsel, trusting only themselves, stubbornness, condescending actions, or even expectations of special treatment because “I’m the boss”.

A boss who behaves this way will undermine the aim and purpose of the organization they are supposed to lead.  Don’t think these fears and actions are isolated to just business leadership.  You’ll find them in any organization – volunteer groups, military, even your local church. 

When Paul left Timothy in charge of the church in Ephesus, he knew that he was leaving the congregation in capable hands.  However, Paul also understood some of the challenges that Timothy would likely face. 

Throughout his letter, Paul warns about the kinds of disputes Timothy will face as he leads the church in Ephesus.  When disagreements came up, it was certainly possible that someone would try to use Timothy’s age as a reason to discredit his leadership.  At this time, Timothy is likely in his late 20s, or possibly his early 30s.

So Paul gives this instruction to his protégé:

1 Timothy 4:11-12
Command and teach these things.  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.

Whenever I get the chance to encourage other fathers, especially fathers of young boys, I use phrases like “more is caught than taught” and “you must be the man you want them to be”.  In the long run, parenting is easier if we model the lessons we insist our children learn.  The same goes for leaders in the church.

Additionally, as Timothy did his best to emulate Jesus, there was a specific scene in Jesus’ life that he could have found reassuring.  Recall that at age 12 – still considered a child by Jewish society standards – Jesus was conversing with the teachers of the law in the temple, astounding them with his understanding and answers (see Luke 2:41-50).

Timothy couldn’t stop someone from questioning his position due to his youthfulness.  However, he could proactively prevent many concerns by how he conducted himself in his position.  The limitations other perceive in us are always overcome by our actions.  As Timothy modeled Christ-like behavior, his example would give him the credibility that his youthful age would not.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The importance of focusing on Jesus

After discussing how the church body should act and what expectations there should be for church leadership, Paul moves on to tell the Ephesian believers what will happen when their focus on God is shifted.

1 Timothy 4:1-3
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, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.  They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods that God created to be received with gratitude by those who believe and know the truth.

An infiltration of deceitful, demon-influenced teaching being peddled by hypocrites from within the church itself?  I’m not sure about you, but that sounds like some pretty scary stuff.

The first observation we can make from Paul’s statement is that this is actually going to happen: the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith.  As human history continues on its downward spiral to the inevitable moment when only Jesus can correct the sinful disaster we’ve made, the Spirit says that some will depart from the faith.

The second observation is that God isn’t surprised by this.  He already sees it coming.  He knows how and when his church will be inundated with false teachings.  We can take comfort in the fact that He isn’t caught off-guard, and He’s preparing us by giving warning ahead of time.

But who are those that depart from the faith?  Some commentators think that these people were never “true believers” in Jesus.  I don’t think that’s the case, though.  Why give believers a warning about a group of people leaving who weren’t really part of them anyway?

Instead, Paul is giving Timothy a warning to pass along to the church in Ephesus – that it is possible for believers to be deceived, and those who will be deceived got there because they paid attention to teachings other than what lined up with God’s revelation.

But that leave us to wonder…what happens to those believers who depart from the faith?  Does their “departing” mean they lose their salvation?

The Greek word Paul uses here for depart is different from the word translated as depart in other areas of Scripture when Paul refers to his departing Earth to go to Heaven.  Here, the word aphistemi means to withdraw, to remove, or desert.  It’s the same word Jesus used to describe the seed that fell in the rocky soil:

Luke 8:6, 13
Other seed fell on the rock; when it sprang up, it withered, since it lacked moisture…And the seed on the rock are those who, when they hear, welcome the word with joy.  Having no root, these believe for a while and depart in a time of testing.

They trust God for eternal salvation, but when times get tough, they don’t trust God with their circumstances.  Their choice leaves them withered; however, there’s no indication that God abandons them.  These believers do not lose their salvation, but they lack the life-giving relationship Christ offers because they have no roots.  They have departed from their connection to Him.

Luke uses the word aphistemi (translated to English as deserted) to describe John Mark’s abandoning of Paul and Barnabas:

Acts 15:38
But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not done on with them to the work.

John Mark had left the mission at that point, but his departing didn’t permanently banish him from fellowship with Paul, Barnabas, or the rest of the church.  Instead, he was considered not worthy of a later opportunity to serve.

So did Timothy convey Paul’s serious warning to the Ephesians?  Did they take heed?

Years later, while dictating a letter to the Apostle John to send to the church of Ephesus, Jesus said

Revelation 2:2
I know your works, your labor, and your endurance, and that you cannot tolerate evil.  You have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and you have found them to be liars.

They took the right steps to avoid listening to the liars who were peddling the ideas and teachings of those who oppose God.  Paul sent them a warning, Timothy delivered it, and the believers kept their focus on Jesus. 

In doing so, they did not depart from the faith in a time of trial.  And for their faithfulness, they received praise and approval from the Creator of the Universe and became an example for us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

What a leader should NOT be

When it comes to choosing the person who will manage the overall activities of the church family, Paul listed qualities an overseer should have – as well as some qualities an overseer should definitely not have.

1 Timothy 3:2-5
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy…

One way to understand the importance of each of these not characteristics is to consider what it would be like if our leaders actually had these qualities:

not addicted to wine – Notice Paul doesn’t say “thou shalt not drink”.  Instead, Paul wants Timothy to ensure that the prospective overseer does not allow himself to be controlled by alcohol.  The line between appropriately handling and not appropriately handling varies from person to person.  Does he “need a drink” every time stress starts to build?  If he is regularly turning to alcohol for comfort, escape, or pleasure…then this is a huge warning flag.  Think of the damage a man with this addiction in an overseer position would do.  Personal and private issues would eventually become public incidents – divorce, DUI, financial disaster.  There is room in God’s family for anyone dealing alcohol and with the problems it can cause.  However, while they are being dealt with, that person should not be leading a congregation.

not a bully – We’ve seen this in other areas of life.  Someone is really successful at “getting the job done”, but when you look beneath surface, you find that they stepped all over people to actually get the job done.  Several times in His ministry, Christ said that the greatest in His kingdom was the one who was the servant of all (see Matthew 23:11, Luke 22:26).  As such, there is no place in leadership of God’s family for someone who physically intimidates others, is always ready for a fight, or who treats others belligerently.  An overseer is there to guide and direct others toward Jesus.  Since Jesus never led way, a church leader has no excuse to do so, either.

not quarrelsome – In addition to telling Timothy to avoid appointing leadership to someone who relies on being physically intimidating, Paul also tells Timothy to watch out for those who are verbally intimidating.  Does he love arguments because he relishes to chance to prove someone else is wrong?  Is he always on the defensive?  It’s impossible to lead others toward the God who loves them if the one leading them does not speak out of love toward them.

not greedy – Greed cuts into the attitude of both the poor and the rich.  It is a consuming desire for what you don’t have.  This is probably the most common visible vice for those in church leadership.  The low hanging fruit is to make sure that they are not lovers of money and not materialistic.  However, Paul doesn’t limit their greed to money here…greed could manifest itself in other ways, in their desire for authoritative power, or increased church attendance, or in the approval from people.

When we begin to breakdown Paul’s list, we find that these qualifications are rather exhaustive and to find all of these characteristics in one man might even be difficult.  However, I believe that is Paul’s point.  Look at how he finishes the qualification list:

1 Timothy 3:2-5
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy – one who manages his own household competently having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?)

A man’s family is his proving ground.  Since the church family is made up of our individual families, the same kind of leadership is needed at the church-level.  If I cannot handle my family of four…then I should not expect to be able to oversee 40 other families.  Paul knew that any one of these not characteristics had the potential to inflict severe damage to an individual family, and the damage would only be magnified when they crop up in church leadership.  Timothy had to be careful in who he selected for the job.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

The heart condition of our teachers

Have you ever listened to someone giving a presentation or a training and realize that they don’t know what they’re talking about?  How frustrating is it to recognize that they haven’t completely thought through the plan they are advocating…and, in fact, what they plan to implement will be detrimental or even harmful?

Unfortunately, this kind of thing can even happen in the church.  Paul warned Timothy about fellow believers acted in this manner:

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.

Why do they want to be teachers of the law?  Given Paul’s comments, they were likely after the things that come with leading and teaching, namely status, popularity, and authority – all of which are easily self-focused and not God-focused.  The goal of their instruction would be the promotion of themselves, which is the exact opposite of agape love.  Instead of leading for the benefit of others, these wannabe leaders are focused on themselves. 

If you replace the word ‘love with ‘self-focus’ you quickly realize that Paul’s statement becomes almost ridiculous:

Now the goal of our instruction is self-focus from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

Their self-focus betrays the true condition of their heart.  Jesus similarly cautioned His disciples about inter-family relationships:

Luke 6:43-45
“A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit.  For each tree is known by its own fruit.  Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. 

A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart.  An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”

Since these wannabe teachers in Ephesus have deviated from their pursuit of God via a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, what comes out of their mouths isn’t agape love – it’s just fruitless discussion.

Later on, Paul tells Timothy that it is a good thing to desire a leadership position and that those in charge reap extra rewards from God.  However, Paul will also caution against appointing someone before they are ready.

That’s the situation here – this group that want to be teachers has an incomplete knowledge base, an incorrect understanding, and as a result, they are focused on themselves.  Because of all this, the logical conclusions of what they are insisting on is either harmful to others or contradicts what God actually meant.

After we believe in Jesus for eternal life, the early steps of Christian living are more focused on us “being” rather than us “doing”.  God cares more about our character as a reflection of Him than He is about us doing “big things” for Him.  After we have the foundation of a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, the agape love pouring from that character will give us opportunities to lead – at church, at work, or in the home – and then we will produce good fruit

However, without that character foundation, we are prone to self-centeredness, fruitless discussion, and teachings that misrepresent God.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The good old days

The “good old days”. 

They always sound rather ideal, don’t they?  Or at the very least, better than now?

Times were simpler.  People were better.  Life was easier.  And we didn’t know how good we had it.

At least, that’s how our over-romanticized memories go.

A small scratch on the surface of any “golden age” reveals that the gold coloring is merely an overlay.  What lies underneath looks all too familiar.  In any time period, we find greed and lust, selfishness and hoarding, exploitation and lying, jealousy and promiscuity.  The human condition has not changed - we have the same struggles as our relatives did thousands of years ago.  The only difference is that now we have more technology…which we use to hide, or in some cases magnify, our sinfulness.

Read through this section of Psalm 119.  There are particular pitfalls that the author wants to avoid.  Find them, and see if they resonate with you also.

Psalm 119:33-40
Teach me, Lord, the meaning of Your statutes, and I will always keep them.
Help me understand Your instruction, and I will obey it and follow it with all my heart.
Help me stay on the path of Your commands, for I take pleasure in it.
Turn my heart to Your decrees and not to material gain.
Turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless; give me life in Your ways.
Confirm what You said to Your servant, for it produces reverence for You.
Turn away the disgrace I dread; indeed, Your judgments are good.
How I long for Your precepts!  Give me life through Your righteousness.

The dangers which the psalmist wanted to avoid are found in the center of this section.  He asked God to Turn my heart to Your decrees and not to material gain and Turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless.  The psalmist didn’t think material gain and worthless sights were just minor distractions, either.  He viewed them as being complete opposites of both the vision and goal that the Lord had for his life.

Even 1000 years later, Jesus said to those who would listen:

Matthew 6:24
No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot be slaves of God and of money.

Luke 12:15
He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”

When we see these same sin struggles in the world around us, it does us no good to lament about how previous times were better.  We’re simply fooling ourselves if we think down that path.  A thousand years for before Jesus came, the psalmist had the best response – asking God to turn my heart to Your decrees and turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless.

That can be our prayer, too.  Focusing on God’s ways, as He has revealed them in the Scriptures, will bring about the quality and depth of life we desire…which is much better than trying to console ourselves with over-romanticized memories of years past.

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

Prayerful conclusions

When I started this journey to discover how to pray, I had no idea where it would lead.  I began with the premise that if becoming like Jesus is the Father’s aim for us, then if we want to learn to pray…we should pray like Jesus did.

Surprisingly, Jesus spoke a lot about prayer.  He covered a full range of topics – from praying for enemies to what it would be like for His disciples to pray “In Jesus’ name”.  Jesus warned us about praying with the wrong motives, said that how we forgive others will affect our own prayer life, and told us to watch out for leaders who make long prayers for show.

However, there were two qualities of How Jesus prayed that stood out even more than What Jesus taught about prayer.

The first major observation was that throughout the gospel accounts, we found that He was heading off to quiet places to spend time with the Father in prayer.  Whether the crowds were large, or it was only Him and His disciples…Jesus set aside chunks of alone time for prayer. 

Matthew 14:23 After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray.  When evening came, He was there alone.

Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place.  And He was praying there.

Luke 5:16 Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.

Luke 6:12 During those days He went out to the mountain to pray and spend all night in prayer to God.

The second major observation was found in Jesus’ main focus when He prayed.  From the beginning of His model prayer to His ‘High Priestly’ prayer found in John 17, we found that Jesus was consistently focused on the Father.  His primary concern was the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory.  Jesus’ aim was to increase the Father’s glory – which means to enhance the Father’s reputation and honor in the world, and this was primarily achieved as Jesus completed the mission that the Father gave Him to accomplish.

If we imitate Jesus in these two ways, we are guaranteed to grow closer to the Father.  We become what gaze at.  Therefore, spending chunks of our time focused on the Father’s desires and glory will certainly lead us to act, think, and relate like Jesus.

Lastly, as Jesus was dying on the cross, His final cries to the Father found their root in Scripture.  I find it extremely interesting that when everything was a bad as it could get, Jesus’ prayers were direct quotations from two different Psalms.

This final observation will direct our next steps after this study on the Prayers of Jesus.  If we are going to pray like Him when it seems like everything goes wrong, we need to be prepared.  As such, we’re going to look at a couple of psalms and find some spiritual truths that we can grab on to.

For now, though, our best course of action is to purposely dedicate some time with the Father to focus on His glory and His mission.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Staring death in the face

Recognizing that the time had come make the payment for humanity’s sins, Jesus said one last prayer to His Father.

Luke 23:44-46 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three, because the sun’s light failed.  The curtain of the sanctuary was split down the middle.  And Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit.”  Saying this, He breathed His last.

This is Jesus fully trusting the Father all the way to the end.  Staring death in the face, Jesus’ confidence in the Father’s provision and plan never wavered.  It wasn’t enough for Jesus to suffer through beatings.  It wasn’t enough that He was nailed to a cross and hung there for six hours.  As brutal as Christ’s suffering was, our sin-debt would not be paid unless His death occurred. 

But why must it be death?  Why couldn’t the Father accept some other form of payment?

We were made for relationship with God.  We were created such that God was both our purpose and our fuel.  However, our rebellion separated us from the source of life.  Justice would expect that for the choices a person makes, that person should experience the natural consequence of his or her actions.  Since we cut ourselves off from our one source of life in all the universe, the natural consequence for our rejecting our Creator…is death, a complete separation from God.

However, God chose to be merciful and delayed the natural consequences that we deserved.  Although our physical bodies were now corrupted and we would experience physical death, God allowed for a substitute to take our place so that a person’s spiritual death (eternal separation from God) would not occur.  Israel’s sacrificial system was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.

Jesus summed it up like this:

John 3:16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Jesus knew that His death was to be a substitute for ours.  His sacrifice took the natural consequences of what our sinful choices warranted.  But it had to be death…because that’s what we deserved. 

Earlier, Jesus quoted Psalm 22 as He dealt with the conflicting emotions of despair and hope.  Jesus’ last words, His last prayer – Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit – underscored His complete trust in the Father as He completed the sacrifice, and His words find their source in Psalm 31. 

Psalm 31:1-5 Lord, I seek refuge in You; let me never be disgraced.
Save me by Your righteousness.
Listen closely to me; rescue me quickly.
Be a rock of refuge for me, a mountain fortress to save me.
For You are my rock and my fortress; You lead and guide me because of Your name.
You will free me from the net that is secretly set for me, for You are my refuge.
Into Your hand I entrust my spirit; You redeem me, Lord, God of truth.

All the way to the end, Jesus was trusting the Father.  Because of His death, our opportunity for relationship with the Father has been restored.  Eternal life is available to anyone who believes in Him, which means that you understand who He is, why He died, and you trust Him when He said that He will give you eternal life.

That is why today is a Good Friday.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Interceding on our behalf

Most Christians are familiar with the story of Peter denying Christ three times.  This event happened at arguably the worst possible time – after Jesus had been arrested and then brought before the Jewish religious leaders at a secretive, illegal nighttime tribunal.  Even though Jesus being deserted by all of His disciples was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, none of them saw it coming.

During the Last Supper, Jesus had given this warning:

Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, look out!  Satan has asked to sift you like wheat.  But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.  And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

The “you” in Satan has asked to shift you like wheat is plural.  Sifting wheat was a filtering process that removed dirt, rocks, and chaff from the valuable wheat kernels.  Satan certainly wasn’t advocating that the disciples be purified and have the chaff of their lives removed – rather, Satan was accusing the disciples of being useless chaff, and he wanted the opportunity to prove it. 

The you” in the rest of Jesus’ words are singular.  The upcoming denial of knowing Jesus is going to severely shake the guy who has been known among the disciples as “the rock”.  Jesus is specifically telling Peter that He has interceded for him, not to the exclusion of the other disciples, but because he will need to know this information.  Later on, Peter will be able to look back and remember Jesus’ encouraging words.

When speaking of God’s unfailing love toward those who believe, Paul also mentioned a similar situation to the believers in Rome:

Romans 8:34 Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.

Christ’s prayerful intercession between Peter and God the Father wasn’t a one-time thing.  He now acts on behalf of all believers.  Jesus hears the accusations of Satan, knows our weaknesses, and then intercedes on our behalf to God the Father.

How incredible is that?

There are troubles on the horizon that we don’t see coming.  When our failures in those situations shake our faith, we need to remember that we have an advocate.  We haven’t been abandoned due to our mistakes.  We can take a lot of encouragement from remembering that Jesus is on our side…just like Peter did.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Humble prayers

The contents of our prayers to God reveal a lot – especially about how we view ourselves in relation to God.

Luke 18:9-14 [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else:

“Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people – greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me – a sinner!’

I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The prayers of both men revealed their basis for relationship with God.  Everything the Pharisee said was true – he wasn’t committing the sins that he saw others do, and he gave a fraction of his life and money to God.  However, he expected God to accept him based upon these “good” things, based upon his terms.

On the other hand, the tax collector’s prayer was simple and direct.  When he said God, turn Your wrath from me, the phrase could also be translated as God, be propitious.  The word propitious isn’t used much anymore, but in this context the tax collector is asking God: May Your wrath be appeased and turned aside by the sacrifice.  The tax collector was looking to God to determine if his relationship was acceptable.

These conflicting ideas for the basis of our relationship with God go back a long way…so far, in fact, that we find them in Cain and Abel. 

Genesis 4:3-7 In the course of time Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the Lord.  And Abel also presented an offering – some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions.  The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering.  Cain was furious, and he was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you furious?  And why are you downcast?  If you do right, won’t you be accepted?  But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Cain knew how to “do right” and approach the Lord in manner He required – with a blood sacrifice, not with Cain’s best work.  However, Cain wanted to approach God on his own terms…and his offering was rejected.  Similarly, the Pharisee went home without being justified because he wanted God to accept him for the good deeds he had done, rather than asking God to accept a substitutionary sacrifice.

The hearts of the men in Jesus’ parable were revealed in what they prayed.  One was self-focused, the other was God-focused.  One exalted himself and would eventually be humbled, either by correction or rejection from God.  The other humbled himself and would eventually be exalted, because of his relationship with God.

Let us also, then, pray humble prayers…because we know that Jesus’ blood sacrifice on the cross is the basis of our relationship with God, not anything we have done or will do.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Unfulfilled promises (part 2)

After being asked when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus informed His disciples that life would go on for some time before days of the Son of Man would arrive.  He used several examples of what life would be like in the meantime, with an emphasis on the suddenness of the Son of Man’s arrival:

Luke 17:26-30 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man: people went on eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage until the day Noah boarded the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

It will be the same as it was in the days of Lot: people went on eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building.  But on the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all.  It will be like that on the day the Son of Man is revealed.

The Jews were anticipating the Kingdom of God within their lifetime.  Jesus knew that this new information would be disappointing for his disciples to hear.

Luke 18:1 He then told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not become discouraged.

After telling the disciples the parable, Jesus concluded with a couple of questions:

Luke 18:7-8 “Will not God grant justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night?  Will He delay to help them?  I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice. 

Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?”

When Jesus returns, will He find those that are expectantly praying and living in preparation for His arrival?  Since Jesus pointed out that His return will come suddenly, are we preparing ourselves for the possibility that our generation will be the one He returns to?

Our instructions for preparation are the same that Jesus gave to His disciples – that no matter how normal, mundane, or disheartening the circumstances around us become, we need to pray always and not become discouraged.  God will follow through on His promises…but do our choices show that we believe Him when He says that Christ will return?

Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He find that faith on earth?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Unfulfilled promises (part 1)

Since Jesus was constantly teaching about the kingdom of God, people in his audience were naturally curious as to when the kingdom was going to be established.

Luke 17:20-21 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God will come, He answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable; no one will say ‘Look here!’ or ‘There!’  For you see, the kingdom of God is among you.”

Jesus then turned to his disciples to give them additional details, but he did not specifically give a start date for the kingdom.  Instead, Jesus told them that life would go on for a while, and when everything seemed to be ‘normal’ for quite some time, then the kingdom would arrive.

This answer would have both disappointed and discouraged His disciples.  The Jews were looking forward to a Messiah that would liberate them from Roman rule and immediately setup the long-awaiting kingdom of God.  Continued waiting or an apparent delay to the kingdom was not what they were looking for.  Recognizing this, Jesus continued:

Luke 18:1-8 He then told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not become discouraged:

“There was a judge in a certain town who didn’t fear God or respect man.  And a widow in that town kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’  For a while he was unwilling, but later he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or respect man, yet because this widow keeps pestering me, I will give her justice, so she doesn’t wear me out by her persistent coming’”

Then the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.  Will not God grant justice to His elect who cry out to Him day and night?  Will He delay to help them?  I tell you that He will swiftly grant them justice. 

Typical modern-day teaching from this parable tends to focus on the persistence of the widow and then uses her badgering as evidence that we should likewise wear God out with our requests.  However, that aspect of the story is not Jesus’ focal point.

The main idea of the parable is given in verse 1:

Luke 18:1 He then told them a parable on the need for them to pray always and not become discouraged

So, what discouragement does Jesus want them to avoid?

Within the parable, we see that the widow is seeking justice from her adversary – just like the nation of Israel was seeking justice and relief from their Roman oppressors.  The Old Testament was full of prophecies where God tells Israel that they will one day shake off their oppressors and the kingdom of God would be established; however, those predictions had not yet come true.

This type of parable uses a lesser-to-greater argument.  Jesus’ point is this – if the lesser, unjust judge gives justice to those who ask, how much more reliable will the greater, just God in heaven be to give the justice that He promised?

With this parable, Jesus is encouraging His disciples to continue to seek God in prayer and to continue to expect that He will fulfill His promise of justice for the nation.  Even when their circumstances seem to indicate that God has forgotten them – Jesus is reminding them that all God’s prophecies are reliable, and that they should not give up talking to God about any of His promises.

That’s something we can rely on as well.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Praying to the Lord of the Harvest

Later on in his ministry, Jesus would send heralds ahead of Him to prepare the town for His teaching.  Whether the townspeople accepted the heralds or not, their message was to be the same: The kingdom of God has come near you.  The goal of this preparation work was very similar to John the Baptist’s mission to prepare hearts and minds for when the Messiah would arrive.

Jesus gave these followers specific instructions on how to carry out their portion of His ministry.  We’re going to focus in on just one part of the instructions they received.

Luke 10:1-2 After this, the Lord appointed 70 others, and He sent them ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place where He Himself was about to go.  He told them: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Harvest time was always a joyous time in Jewish society.  Much work needed to be done, but the benefits were well worth the effort.  Hearts were ready to receive the good news of the Messiah’s arrival, but someone had to get the word out to them.  Those who were willing to spread the message had a significantly large task ahead of them.  In comparison to the task at hand, there were too few workers.

Jesus’ first direction to the 70 was to pray that God would send out even more workers to help spread the good news of Jesus’ arrival, to bring in the abundant harvest of those who would respond and belong to God.  The 70 were going to need all the help they could get!

Jesus’ directions to the 70 heralds was very similar to what He has previously taught to the 12 disciples.  While journeying through Samaria, Jesus spoke to a woman at Jacob’s well and told her that He was the Messiah.  She immediately ran back to her village to tell others.  While she was gone, the disciples urged Jesus to eat…but as the Samaritans made their way toward Jesus and His disciples, He used their arrival as a teaching moment:

John 4:34-35 “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work,” Jesus told them.  “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’?  Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest.”

Our application is to do the same – open our eyes, see their need, and participate in the harvest.  There is more work to be done than we can handle on our own.  So ask God to send out even more workers…the benefits of this work is worth it because this harvest is of eternal value.

Keep Pressing,
Ken