Pressing On

with THE WORD

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

Filtering by Category: John

Imagination, Bible reading, and seeing our new home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John 14:1-3
“Don’t let your heart be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many rooms; if not, I would have told you.  I am going away to prepare a place for you.  If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.”

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Free "Life water"

After the proclamation goes out for the arrival of New Jerusalem city, God himself adds to the announcement:

Revelation 21:5
Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.”

The apostle John has just witnessed this magnificent city’s inauguration event.  Imagine how overwhelmed John must have felt in that moment.  So much to see and take in. For me, I’m sure it would have been a sensory overload. And then…God turns and speaks directly to John…while that alone would have me quaking, look at what God says:

Revelation 21:5-6
He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.”  Then He said to me, “It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.”

The culmination of human history is at hand.  John is witnessing all of it, and God rightfully declaring Himself as the Alpha and the Omega, the A-to-Z.  From Eternity Past, His plan…which began with the Genesis creation has now come to an end…and His path forward will now lead into Eternity Future. 

It’s what God states in the next sentence that is really quite striking:

Revelation 21:6
I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.

Free?  No cost?  If I’m thirsty for life…real life, as we were created to be…then the God of the universe will simply give it to me?

Most certainly, YES!  To start a new relationship with God, to become a new creation, all that is “required” is the acceptance of God’s gift…to accept Jesus’ offer of Eternal Life, which He alone can give because He made the substitute payment for our sins.

No need fix ourselves, no need to prove ourselves worthy (either before OR after accepting the gift), no striving required, no strings attached…this gift is freely given.

Jesus had previously spoken about the water of life, and He also spoke of it in terms of a gift:

John 4:14
But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again.  In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.

Lest we think that this water is only for a select group of people, one of the last proclamations in the book of Revelation declares:

Revelation 22:17
…Let the one who is thirsty come.  Let the one who desires take the water of life freely.

No strings attached.  No restrictions.  All who are thirsty are welcome, and they will be satisfied.

Have you accepted God’s invitation?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Eternal questions

Sometimes being a Christian is tiring, right?  I mean, we may not admit it, but constantly striving to make the right choices, say encouraging things, loving people that we don’t want to, helping others, giving hard-earned money away to church or charity…and on and on and on…all these things are enough to wear us out.  And then throw in sickness and disease and selfishness and greed and all the other bad things we encounter…it can make us want to throw up our hands and fire off a few questions at God.

They were probably something along the lines of

Why am I persevering in the Christian life now?
Is all this trouble worth it in the long run?
What really happens – and does any of this matter – at the end of all things?

Those kinds of questions were not unique us.  Paul answered similar questions in both of his letter to the believers in Thessalonica.  Paul also addressed these topics with the believers in Corinth:

2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Therefore we do not give up.  Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.  For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.  So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Paul then continues his comparison of our present state with our eternal destiny:

2 Corinthians 5:1-2
For we know that if our earthly tent we live in
[our earthly bodies] is destroyed, we have a building from God, and eternal dwelling [a glorified, resurrection body] in the heavens, not made with hands.  Indeed, we groan in this tent, desiring to put on our heavenly dwelling…

Peter also wrote about the same things to believers:

2 Peter 3:10-13
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief; on that day the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, the elements will burn and be dissolved, and the earth and the works on it will be disclosed.  Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, it is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness as you wait for the day of God…But based on His promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

During his last night on earth, one of Jesus’ final instructions to the disciples contained a peculiar promise, but it was a promise that was to motivate the disciples during the time that Jesus would no longer be physically with them:

John 14:1-3
Don’t let your heart be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many rooms; if not, I would have told you.  I am going away to prepare a place for you.  If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.

Mentionings like these are not isolated to the New Testament either.  As just one example, God told Isaiah:

Isaiah 65:17
For I will create a new heaven and a new earth; the past events will not be remembered or come to mind.

These are just a few examples, but they show us that God has a long term course for human history planned out…and these verses confirm what we inwardly desire – relationship and purpose with our Creator.

If the world as we know it will pass away, what kind of lives should we live now?  When we feel troubled and shaken and our bodies are falling apart, Jesus wants us to trust Him and remember that He is coming back for us, to take us to a home that He designed…with us in mind.

When we recognize this longing for eternity that God has placed in our hearts, it helps us keep our present life in perspective.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Either it matters, or it doesn't

Every year, millions of people change their weekly routine to accommodate all the events that happen around Easter.  Eggs must be dyed, baskets need filling, ham dinners are expected, and – if you go at all during the year – you gotta go to church for Easter.

But what are we celebrating?  Pull away the eggs and the games, the chocolates and the bunnies…even take away the extra-special songs and skits that happen during a church’s Easter service – what, exactly, are we doing?

When you get right down to it, we are carving out one weekend of the year, every year, to commemorate one of the most bizarre claims in human history.  And yet, this absurdity is claimed to be part of history.  Not myth, not fairy tale, but a-human-being-really-did-this story.

Christians actually believe that a man (who claimed to be God in the flesh) died in a manner that has eternal, cosmic consequences.  Christians believe that this man’s gruesome death on a wooden cross paid for every single sin the world has ever committed – past, present, and future.  And if that wasn’t fantastical enough, the man who made all these claims is then said to have come back to life.

In his book “God in the Dock”, C.S. Lewis summed up the whole situation like this:

‘What are we to make of Christ?’  There is no question of what we can make of Him, it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us.  You must accept or reject the story.

The things He says are very different from what any other teacher has said.  Others say, ‘This is the truth about the Universe.  This is the way you ought to go,’ but He says, ‘I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.’  He says, ‘If you are ashamed of Me, if, when you hear this call, you turn the other way, I also will look the other way when I come again as God without disguise.  If anything is keeping you from God and from Me, whatever it is, throw it away.  If it is your eye, pull it out.  If it is your hand, cut it off.  If you put yourself first you will be last.  Come to Me everyone who is carrying a heavy load, I will set that right.  Your sins, all of them are wiped out, I can do that.  I am Re-birth, I am Life.  Eat Me, drink Me, I am your Food.  And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole Universe.’  That is the issue.

Lewis was right.  Based upon Jesus’ own words, there is no middle ground here.  Writing to the believers in Corinth, the Apostle Paul put it this way:

1 Corinthians 15:13-19
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith.  Moreover, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified wrongly about God that He raised up Christ…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Those, then who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished.

If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.

Either Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection means nothing, or it is the most important moment in all of human history.  There is no in-between.  The big question for each of us is the same one Jesus asked Martha:

John 11:25-26
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in Me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

Either it matters, or it doesn’t.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Is God a good boss or a bad boss?

I’ve been fortunate to have a number of good bosses throughout my career.  I’ve had my share of lousy ones, too; but looking back, my list of bosses is full of people who used their authority well.

So, what makes a “good boss”?  Someone who is involved, but not overbearing.  Someone who puts in at least as much effort and care into their position as they expect me to put into mine.  Someone who takes an interest in developing their employees.  And while this last item may not be at the top of everyone’s mind, we want a boss that, in fairness, holds their people accountable for their responsibilities and actions.

For a “good boss”, we work in ways that we never consider when we have a “bad boss”.  For a “good boss”, we aren’t afraid to bring up both the problem and our suggested solution.  We put in the extra time at work because we know our manager is putting in the time as well.  We seek out her opinion and want to hear how she will grow us.  We put our best efforts in, because we know that he is appreciative and will reward our efforts.  We wouldn’t consider giving this kind of effort if we are managed by a “bad boss”.  We may be forced or coerced into doing this occasionally, but volunteering it?  Not a chance.

But how does this ideal compare with how our modern culture portrays – or even we sometimes think – about God?  Have you ever been asked these questions?  Perhaps you’ve wondered them, too:

·       If God really cared, why do bad things happen?
·       Is God even paying attention?
·       Why is God letting people get away with their selfishness and evil actions?

These are hard, real questions.  And it’s ok to ask them…no need to watch out for lightning strikes.

However, I want us to look at the sentiment behind these questions – do we think God is a “bad boss”?  Are our assumptions about God getting in the way of how we see Him? 

·       Do you think God is at work in the world?
·       Do you think God is interested in how you learn and grow?
·       Do you think God holds people accountable?

Did you answer yes or no?  What are you basing your answer on?
Did you answer I’m not sure?  Then let me give you a sampling of verses to consider:

When Jesus was asked why He had the authority to heal people on the Sabbath, He gave this response:

John 5:17
Jesus responded to them, “My Father is still working, and I am working also.”

When discussing how He cares for His people, Jesus said:

John 10:10
I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.

When writing to believers, Paul had this stern warning for them:

2 Corinthians 5:10
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may be repaid for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

How do these few verses affect the way you perceive God?  If you’re still unsure, that’s ok…but don’t stay there.  Pursue God.  Search the Scriptures.  Ask Him to reveal Himself to you.  Because when we see God as He truly is – a “good boss” – then our attitude, actions, and aim in life changes greatly.  But if we believe that God is absent and uncaring, we will miss out on the fullness of life He has to offer – the kind that only a “good boss” can give.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

My daddy said "STOP!"

When our boys were small, there were only two ways to get spanked in our house.  First, was for lying.  Didn’t matter what you lied about, that violation of trust received a spanking…and then we would deal separately with whatever had been lied about.  Second, a spanking would occur for blatant, deliberate disobedience. 

Our boys were typical little boys, and they thoroughly tested both of these rules.  After each time, I would pull them into my lap and let them cry into my chest until they had calmed down.  It was in this teachable moment that we talked about what had brought them to this point and how to avoid it in the future.  I would also repeat one of two phrases that I borrowed from Jesus:  “If you love me, follow my directions.” or “Hear my voice and follow my directions.”  The first comes from John 14:15 and the second from John 10:27:

John 14:15
If you love me, you will keep my commands.

John 10:27
My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.

You always hope your children get the lessons you try to teach them, but these verses ended up being applied in an unexpected way:

For our second Halloween in West Virginia, we walked around the neighboring side-street houses with other families that lived near us.  Our younger son was too little to walk the entire distance, so we pulled him in a wagon.  Our older son was Kindergarten-age, and he walked about a block ahead of us with some of the neighbor’s kids and friends who were in upper elementary school.  The kids were told to stay within eye-sight of the parents.  The weather was pleasant and it was a fun, relaxing stroll around the area.

At the very end of the designated Trick-or-Treat time, we started to head back home.  Our group of kids was about two blocks ahead of us, but we could still see each other.  At an empty side-road intersection, the group of kids went left, toward home…except for one, who looked left and then right and then left again.  Even from our vantage point, you could see our son’s mind spinning the options.  To the left, was home and the end of the night…but to the right were more houses with their porch lights on and other kids still getting candy.  So after weighing his options, he booked it to the right.

I didn’t mind his choice.  He was still within eye-sight, but I could see something that he couldn’t, because of the rolling hill the street was on.  There was a car, moving carefully up the road, but heading toward my son.  He was safely off the side of the road, running on the grass, but he was solely focused on getting more candy.  Depending on which house he targeted first, I was afraid he would dart out into the street.

I took a deep breath, barked out his name and gave him a loud, one-word direction: “STOP”.  He immediately stopped in his tracks.  I gave the wagon handle to my wife and ran to our son.  I got there just as the car slowly rolled by him.  He was crying because he didn’t understand why I yelled and likely thought he was in trouble.  The house he had targeted was on his side of the street and turned out to be the home of one of my co-workers.  She told me that she had heard him crying and was worried that he thought they were out of candy.  She called to him, saying, “It’s ok little boy, we still have candy.  You can come get some.”  Through his choked back tears, he gave this response: “No.  My daddy said stop.”

It didn’t hit me until the next day that although I could see him – he couldn’t see me.  While he was focused on something good, something he could have, as soon as he heard my voice…he knew he had to trust me and do what I said.  Even if it didn’t make sense to him in the moment.  Even if it meant missing out on something he wanted.

How well do we know our Savior’s voice?
Enough to recognize it above all the noise of life?
Do we trust Him enough to do what He says?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Trust the Process

Although in recent years the phrase Trust the Process has become a rallying cry for Philadelphia 76ers, I certainly remember hearing it said much earlier in my lifetime.  Typically it’s said by a coach attempting to win over a player’s confidence that the work put in today will reap benefits down the road.

It takes a lot of work to progress from a high school freshman to a college-ready athlete.  And it will take even more work if that college freshman wants to make it to the Pros.  And again, if you want to be among the best and have a long pro career – you better be ready to put in the work.  Few can ascend the ranks on natural talent, and those that do are forever remembered as someone who “never reached their full potential”.

Even if you have the motivation to work hard, you will need guidance.  You need that coach, that mentor, and their system – developed and refined over time to produce results in you that you may not even believe are possible.  You need someone who isn’t swayed by your emotional inner monologue.  You need a plan that takes all areas of your development into account.

However, the full list of what we need to develop is typically a blind spot.  Sure, we know our big weaknesses and a few of the little ones, for good measure.  But then the coach gives you a tough workout today after doing yesterday’s tough workout.  And then you are drilling – yet again – on the fundamentals.  You want to move on to other types of training, but coach won’t let up.  Sometimes, the drills just seem odd or unconnected to what we imagine as what’s best for us.  And it’s frustrating.

It’s in those moments you hear the phrase – Trust the Process.

Did you know that God has a development plan for believers? 

Becoming a Christian is simple enough, even a child can do it – we believe that Jesus will give us eternal life.  His death on the cross paid the penalty for all sin and His resurrection from the dead proved that He can fulfill His offer of eternal life.  Believing means we are persuaded that Jesus can do what He claims He can do; we are taking Him at His word, and we have faith in who He is.

When Paul was writing to the believers in Rome, he started his letter discussing how we are separated from God by sin and the only way to reconcile is by faith – not promises to do better, not dedicating our lives, not by effort, but by faith alone in Jesus.  At the end of this section, he says:

Romans 5:1-2
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

But then Paul transitions his letter from how our relationship starts with God to what God has in mind for this relationship.  He spends chapters 5-8 discussing what this new life in Christ looks like; however, take a look at what idea Paul leads this next discussion topic with:

Romans 5:3-4
And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.

Do you see The Process which God has in mind?  We all want to have hope as we go through this life, looking forward to when God will set everything right…but developing that kind of solid hope has some prerequisites.     

Rather than wondering “Why did God allow this to happen to me?” we need to Trust the Process God has laid out for His children.  Afflictions are hard, but they are worth rejoicing over because we know what’s on the other side and Who is with us the whole time.

Coaches often push us out of our comfort zone, in unexpected ways, in order to develop us further.  John Wooden spent time at the beginning of each season teaching his players how to put on their socks.  Mr. Miyagi gave Daniel-san the wax-on-wax-off chore.  I had a baseball coach insist that I learn how to juggle two baseballs.  None of these situations make sense to the athlete at the time, but they were all intentionally designed by the coach – John Wooden didn’t want his players dealing with foot blisters, Mr. Miyagi was teaching muscle memory, and my coach needed me to improve my hand-eye coordination.

God never promised Christians that life would be easy.  Jesus was quite clear that we will have trouble in this world (John 16:33).  However, our afflictions aren’t meaningless.  God has a purpose for us in them.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Cure for snakebite

Without a doubt, the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16.  If you grew up in the church, it was probably the first verse you memorized.  We also see it at various places in the culture – signs at sporting events, on the bottom inside edge of In-N-Out’s drink cup (one more reason to love that place!), on a Monster Jam truck, in songs on the radio, in comic strips, and even in Tim Tebow’s eye black.

John 3:16 is appropriately hailed as “the gospel in a nutshell” as it succinctly summarizes the Good News of Jesus and His mission here on Earth.  Even better, the verse is a direct quote from Jesus, and obviously, He would be the authority on the subject of the gospel.  As a refresher:

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.

This quote from Jesus comes out of a discussion He had with Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was trying to figure out exactly who Christ was.  Just before He says those famous John 3:16 words, in order to help Nicodemus understand what He was about to say, Jesus curiously references an incident from Israel’s past:

John 3:14-15
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

Jesus compares Himself to a snake?  How does that help?

As Paul Harvey would say – and now, the rest of the story:

When Moses was leading the Israelites away from Egypt toward the land God had promised to the nation, the people routinely became whiny and rebellious.  Each time this occurred, God intervened to bring them back to their senses, forcing the nation to recognize their only chance of survival was to look to God.  This time, God’s “attention grabbing messenger” were poisonous snakes:

Numbers 21:4-9
Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey.  The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness?  There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!”  Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died.

The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you.  Intercede with the Lord so that he will take the snakes away from us.”  And Moses interceded for the people.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole.  When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole.  Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.

There is a lot of symbology here.  Bronze is always representative of judgement.  While the snake represented the present danger, it also harkened back to the Garden of Eden where Satan, in the form of a serpent, helped to usher sin into the world and separate people from God.

But of all the parts of this story Jesus could have referenced to help Nicodemus understand the good news of the gospel, Jesus said “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

What did the Israelites have to do to be immediately rescued from their snake-bitten death sentence?  Only to look at the bronze snake.  Not say a particular prayer.  Not promise to do better.  Not confess all their sins.  No requirement to make God the “Lord of their life” from here on out.  Only to look, because they believed God when He said that was the only thing for them to recover their earthly lives.

Jesus is telling Nicodemus – just like the Israelites looked to the bronze snake – everyone who looks to Him, everyone who believes in Him (no other conditions apply) will have eternal life!

Some may accuse me of “easy believism”, but they’ll have to take it up with Jesus first.

Why would God do such a thing?  Why would Jesus make something so incredibly valuable as eternal life available to everyone who (simply) believes in Him?

It’s the gospel in a nutshell:

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.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - Take this step to be like Jesus

I still do this. I’ve memorized, applied, and been able to share a lot of Scripture because this is something I practice.

I highly encourage you to do this, too.

Take this step to be like Jesus
originally posted on November 24, 2016

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

On suicide and despair

This past week, a news story caught my attention.  A young New York dietitian committed suicide.  By most people’s standards, she was successful and in the prime of her life.  She had earned her Master’s degree and was working in her chosen field.  She had friends and co-workers that valued her.  Her Instagram pictures showed her enjoying a wide variety of food from places all over the world. 

And yet, she felt empty.  Here’s part of the note she left behind:

I have written this note several times in my head for over a decade, and this one finally feels right. No edits, no overthinking. I have accepted hope is nothing more than delayed disappointment, and I am just plain old-fashioned tired of feeling tired. 

I realize I am undeserving of thinking this way because I truly have a great life on paper. I’m fortunate to eat meals most only imagine. I often travel freely without restriction. I live alone in the second greatest American city (San Francisco, you’ll always have my heart). However, all these facets seem trivial to me. It’s the ultimate first world problem, I get it. I often felt detached while in a room full of my favorite people; I also felt absolutely nothing during what should have been the happiest and darkest times in my life. No single conversation or situation has led me to make this decision, so at what point do you metaphorically pull the trigger?

Her words ooze feelings of despair, bleakness, and hollowness.  Usually it takes many years on this earth before we reach a point with this level of emptiness – but most, if not all, of us feel like this at some point.  We look around at the state of the world and find ourselves agreeing with the writer of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself “The Teacher”:

Ecclesiastes 1:2-4, 8-9, 11
Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.  “Absolute futility.  Everything is futile.”  What does a person gain for all his efforts that he labors at under the sun?  A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever…

All things are wearisome, more than anyone can say.  The eye is not satisfied by seeing or the ear filled with hearing.  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun…

There is no remembrance of those who came before; and of those who will come after there will also be no remembrance by those who follow them.

These musings are real, the emotion behind them should not be simply dismissed.  They may hit us in a moment, or they may linger in the back of our mind for years.  If life is only made up of what we see in front of us, then the feelings of despair are accurate and we should do our best to eat, drink, and enjoy our work as best we can for as many trips around the sun we can manage. 

However, there is a flaw to this kind of thinking…what we need to recognize is the limit of our own perspective.  It’s hard to see beyond what is directly in front of us, but that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do.  When He spoke to the woman at the well, Jesus made this incredible statement:

John 4:13-14
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again.  But whoever drinks form the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again.  In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.”

The world’s water never satisfies – it always leaves us thirsty again.  But with one drink from Jesus, our thirst for fulfillment can be satisfied.  And it doesn’t stop there – a full, abundant, eternal life begins at the moment we believe in Jesus.

Walking with Jesus ensures that our perspective contains more than the unsatisfying things in front of us.  This doesn’t mean we will never experience the pain of despair or that we will never feel empty.  But we will know the truth of our place in God’s larger story.

If you are feeling bleak and hollow, turn these over to Jesus.  You don’t have to be afraid, He can handle your feelings.  Also be sure you’re talking with fellow believers about these feelings and your perspective.  We are to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and know that you’re not alone.  Your family is here for you.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Knowing God without seeing Him

My time working for a company once coincided with the last years of the company’s founder being involved in the operation.  He and a friend had started the business over 40 years previous to my arrival. 

I never saw him while at work, our paths never crossed.  I was second shift in the QC lab, and he was managing the Executive Board.  However, within my first few years on the job, while at a dedication event for Chestnut Mountain Ranch, I saw him from a distance.  I was afraid to walk up and awkwardly introduce myself, and I rationalized my fear by thinking that my position was too low to justify me striking up a conversation out of the blue.

Although I never had another chance to speak with him, I did get to know him.  The longer I worked at the company, the more I found that nearly everyone knew Mike.  In previous years, he had purposefully worked closely with many of his employees.  Those who worked with him had adopted his ethos for excellent work and treating your workers with excellence.  I came to know the standards and expectations of the company because the founder had instilled his methods and expectations on those who would pass down those patterns of behavior to me.

On a much larger scale, something similar has happened in God’s family.  In the books referred to as “The Gospels”, we have four separate, but highly complementary, records of Jesus’ life.  John, the youngest of all Jesus’ disciples, would record Jesus telling the disciples at the Passover meal:

John 13:34-35
I give you a new command: Love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.

How will others know that we are followers of Jesus?  It’s not because of the money we make, the car we drive, or the education we have.  We are identified as disciples based upon how we love other believers.

Did you know that Jesus even prayed for us modern-day believers?  That’s right, Jesus specifically mentions us – you and me – during His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, the night before He was crucified.  John also recorded this:

John 17:20-21
I pray not only for [the disciples], but also for those who believe in Me through their word.  May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You.  May they also be in Us, so that the world may believe you sent Me.

Jesus’ words obviously stuck with John.  Many years after Jesus had ascended into Heaven, here’s what John passed on about Jesus in a letter he wrote to other believers…ones who had never met Jesus:

1 John 4:9-12
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His one and only Son into the world so that we might live through Him.  Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another.  No one has ever seen God.  If we love one another, God remains in us and His love is made complete in us.

Notice a theme?  John carried on Jesus’ instruction, that God cares how we love one another, because our love is a reflection of His.  How well we love each other demonstrates how closely we are walking with Him…and as that kind of love is different from what the world offers as love, everyone will know that we are His disciples.

As the global church of believers – those who trust in Jesus for eternal life – we have many ways to get to know our Savior.  Start with what John tells us – choose to love your fellow believers.  Listen to others talk about their relationship with Him.  When we read Scripture, we find out who He is and what He is like.  We can pray and talk directly to Him.

Short of the rapture happening in our lifetime, we won’t meet Jesus face-to-face until we’re on the other side.  But that doesn’t mean we can’t know Him now.  We haven’t missed our chance.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hurricane on the doorstep

Hurricane Florence is barreling its way toward the East Coast.  We’re in central North Carolina, so we’re inline for some weather.  No one really knows how bad it’s going to be or where the worst will end up happening, but we’ve been preparing all week as best as we can.

I’d like to share with you some of the things (among the many thoughts) I’ve been thinking these last few days:

·       On a daily basis, we are rather careless with our words, aren’t we?  This was the best dinner ever made.  That was the worst meeting in the history of meetings.  She’s clueless.  He’s stupid.  This Netflix show is the greatest thing ever invented.  However, for the aftermath of Hurricane Florence…the word “devastation” will not be an exaggeration.  That’s a tough word to say.  It’s tougher to witness.  It’s a word we’re afraid to live through.


·       For some people…eternity will begin this weekend.  No matter how many precautions we take, the unpredictableness and utter ferocity of the storm will certainly lead to people losing their earthly lives.  We’ve been preparing for this massive storm…seeking out information and supplies, and then making our best decision based upon what we’ve found.  But are we prepared for the most important event of our lives?  How have we responded to Jesus’ claims of being the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Me [John 14:6]?  Our acceptance or rejection of Jesus is the most important preparation decision we can make.

·       I keep coming back to the most famous line in Moses’ psalm:

Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days carefully
so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.


·       We may lose possessions when, or even after, Hurricane Florence makes landfall.  However, everything we own is ultimately destined for a garage sale, the garbage dump, or the recycle bin.  Our things won’t last, hurricane or no hurricane.  Even if we lose everything we own…there is a higher, more impactful, purpose for this life.  Sometimes, it takes a tragedy for us to see from that vantage point.  I wish it didn’t.

If you are not in this storm’s path, please petition God on our behalf.  Pray that He will be seen in the way His children handle this event.

If you are in any way affected by this storm – be wise.  Paul wasn’t directly discussing natural disasters, but his direction still applies:

1 Corinthians 10:31, 33
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God…not seeking [your] own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.


How can we ride out, survive, shine, and rebuild from Hurricane Florence for the glory of God?  After all…everything means everything…even the hard circumstances.  So be wise and number your days carefully.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Aftermath of a miracle: the ultimate setup

Nothing in human history “just happens”.  There’s always a backstory, a winding of paths that leads up to the moment when the whole world is captivated by an event.  Think about the recent history of the USA, and how everything seemed to stop for events of both greatness and tragedy: a man lands on the moon or an underdog hockey team wins gold at the Olympics and we’re in awe of what’s possible; yet when a terrorist attack is committed or a space shuttle explodes due to an unexpected malfunction, we stand in stunned silence.

There are always dots to connect, paths to retrace, and decisions to evaluate…all leading up to “that moment when…”.  However, as we live through the days leading up to the event, we are often unaware of how connected everything truly is.

The events of the Scriptures are of the same nature – nothing just spontaneously happened.  But to the people living their lives throughout the times of the Bible, going about their daily business, they didn’t know what was coming next.  They couldn’t predict what God was doing in their time.

One event in Jesus’ life has always seemed to me, well, a little weird.  I know, I know…Jesus’ life was full of unique experiences and happenings – He is the Son of God, after all.  All four gospel accounts recorded it, and we celebrate this particular event every year, like clockwork.  Our calendars have this day marked out for us, just like it has Christmas and Easter.  It was a huge event in the life of Christ, but up until this recent study, I just couldn’t wrap my head around why it happened.

I’m talking about the Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, celebrated in churches each year as Palm Sunday. 

The Passover was the biggest event on the Jewish calendar.  It was the annual remembrance of when God used Moses to rescue His people from their cruel Egyptian masters, and sent the children Israel on the path to having their own land.  Due to the Roman occupation in Jesus’ day, the Israelites would have held this ceremony especially close, since God had promised that He would send someone like Moses – the Messiah – to come and rescue them again…and the Messiah would be the one to set up the Jewish kingdom to rule, forever.  Of course, there were rumors that Jesus was God’s Messiah…but people weren’t quite sure…

John 11:55-57
The Jewish Passover was near, and many went up to Jerusalem from the country to purify themselves before the Passover.  They were looking for Jesus and asking one another as they stood in the temple: “What do you think?  He won’t come to the festival, will He?”  The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it so that they could arrest Him.

Jesus did come.  But first, He went to visit His friends – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  His visit happened not long after He had raised Lazarus from the dead.  Of course they were excited to see Jesus, and they threw a big dinner party for Him to say THANK YOU.

John 12:1-3, 9-11
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead.  So they gave a dinner for Him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him.  Then Mary took a pound of perfume, pure and expensive nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped His feet with her hair.  So the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume…Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there.  They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one He had raised from the dead.  But the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus also, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus.

Can you feel the tension?  The Jews has been oppressed by Rome for nearly 100 years at this point.  The Passover was coming.  The religious leaders feared the nation was on the verge of revolt, with Jesus (and Lazarus) being the tipping point.  And then…this happened:

John 12:12-14, 17-19
The next day when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him. They kept shouting:

“Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!”

Meanwhile, the crowd which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify.  This is also why the crowd met Him, because they heard He had done this sign.  Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see?  You’ve accomplished nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!”

No Facebook event page, no mass text, no TV commercial, no news broadcast coverage…and somehow, a parade breaks out?  While the people’s shouts may have contributed to the crowd swell, did you notice who John said was spreading the news of Jesus’ arrival?  The crowd which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify.

Lazarus’ pain, suffering, and death was what connected others to witnessing him being brought back to life.  These eye-witnesses were the ones who connected to an entire city, testifying that the one the Jews had heard about was, in fact, the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for.  Jesus’ Triumphal Entry didn’t just happen.  God had been coordinating events that were seemingly unconnected, all in the background, until His Plan was brought to light. 

His plan was that the world would stop and see Jesus for who He is – our Messiah, our Savior, our King.

But in order for the Triumphal Entry to happen and for Jesus to be revealed to an entire city…it cost Lazarus his life.  Christians often point to God’s willingness to send Jesus to the cross as proof that God will go to any length for us.  And that is absolutely true, God loves us that much…but the flip-side scares me, and no one ever talks about the flip-side: If God is willing to have Jesus die on a cross, then nothing in my life is untouchable or off-limits. 

Am I more valuable than Jesus?  Absolutely not.  If that’s the case, do I trust God when life hurts?  Do I believe He knows what He’s doing…even as my body fails me?  Am I willing to let God tell His story, even if He expects me to make a Lazarus-level sacrifice?

Am I willing to let my suffering set up Jesus’ Triumphal Return?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Aftermath of a miracle: the rejection

Once a person believes in Jesus for eternal life, one of their early struggles comes when they observe those in the world who flat-out reject a relationship with God.  The Christian’s thoughts often fall along these lines: Why don’t others believe in Jesus?  Why can’t they see that this is what we, as humans, were made for?  Why would someone reject a relationship with the One who knows us the best, and Who offers to make us eternally safe?  Why would anyone pass that up?

Most of the time, when we talk about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, we focus on the miracle. We have learned a lot by doing so.  But looking at what happened afterward can help us think through our current question.

The people who watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead had one of two different reactions:

John 11:45-47
Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him.  But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.  So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and were saying, “What are we going to do since this man is doing many signs?”

The religious leaders didn’t discount the signs and miracles.  Honestly, they couldn’t.  There was a crowd of eye-witnesses that saw a dead man walk out of a tomb.  If it were just one or two people, perhaps the Sanhedrin assembly could scare them into staying silent or even convince them that they had been mistaken in what they “thought” they saw.  But could they prevent a crowd from spreading the news of a resurrection?  Not a chance.

But let’s think about this…why try to stop Jesus?  If He truly is the Messiah that Israel has been waiting for…for thousands of years, generation after generation watching, waiting, praying for God’s deliverance; IF this “Jesus” is the promised Redeemer, then why are they rejecting Him?  Here’s what they said:

John 11:48
“If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

They would have to give up control.  They were concerned they would lose their current position of influence and status.  They were comfortable in their arrangement with Rome.  Sure, they were not the top-dog-in-charge, but they had the ruling freedom to do – and get away with – most whatever they wanted.

Keep in mind that within the previous 200 years, others had come, claiming to be the Messiah.  And obviously, those claims had been wrong.  But Rome would not tolerate any form of authority outside of its own, so Caesar stood ready to crush any attempt at rebellion.

In the minds of the Pharisees, they had three options:

1.       If Jesus was not the Messiah: Rome would put their full force toward stopping Jesus’ movement.  And if the Jewish religious leaders had put their support behind Him, they would also be considered an enemy of the state.  If the Jewish religious leaders had not supported Him, Rome wouldn’t discriminate.  Rome would definitely come in and forcefully remove them from their position of leadership and their attempt to protect what was left of Israel.  And by “remove” it was likely be all of them being put to death.

2.       If Jesus was the Messiah: Rome would still put their full force toward stopping Jesus’ movement.  But even if Jesus was able to remove the Roman authority and governance and rescue Israel…the Pharisee leaders and entire Sanhedrin assembly would not be in power any longer.  How often had they opposed and tried to undermine Jesus?  Why would the Pharisees expect Jesus to keep them around?

3.       Find a way to get rid of Jesus.  This would maintain the status quo and their own control over the situation.

They chose #3.

John 11:53-54, 57
So from that day on they plotted to kill Him.  Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews but departed from there to the countryside near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and He stayed there with the disciples…The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was he should report it so that they could arrest Him.

They chose to be comfortable in what they knew, instead of trusting Jesus with who He said He was.  For most of the Pharisees, they decided that the cost of believing in Jesus was too great.  They were willing to remain subservient to their cruel Roman occupiers in order to keep the status quo, rather than let Jesus rescue them.

When we get right down to it, we find a similar attitude in wealthy 1st world societies.  We look at our careers, our house, our cars, our hobbies, our toys…and…we’re comfortable.  We’re not the top-dog, but for the most part, we can do – and get away with – what we want to do.  People who measure life only by what’s in front of them will never risk losing the amount of control they currently enjoy.  They are hesitant to venture into a relationship with Jesus, because it requires putting their trust in someone other than themselves…and they don’t want to risk being wrong, because being wrong would cost them everything.

We can’t choose for them.  So what’s a Christian to do with those who reject or are even hostile toward God?

Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:43-45
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor” [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Aftermath of a miracle: the response

“Seems like the only time we ever get together anymore is weddings and funerals.”

Sound familiar?  It’s certainly true of me and my extended family.  We’re not only scattered across the entire US, but there are a few of us who live in distant countries at the moment.  It takes a big event to get everyone to coordinate schedules and finances such that we can all be face-to-face for even a couple of days.  If someone has a serious illness or accident, we will call and text to check in on each other.  A few of us that are regionally close to each other might get together for Christmas or Thanksgiving, but for most holidays, birthdays, and graduations our communication is through technology and not in-person. 

But a wedding or funeral?  It would take a lot to keep us from showing up to one of these events.   And our drive to be there in-person isn’t just for our immediate family, but when our friends experience these milestones, as well.  While some might decry this as a negative result of modern society, I don’t think it is the case.  It takes a huge moment of celebration or tragedy to get everyone’s attention and bring people together.

And that is why Jesus allowed Lazarus to die.  Many friends and family showed up for his funeral in his hometown of Bethany

John 11:18-19
Bethany was near Jerusalem (less than two miles away).  Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.

Something tragic had to happen in order to bring everyone out of their normal-daily routine, to ensure they were aware – and present – for the revelation of God’s authority and power that was about to take place.

Jesus had a distinct purpose in the steps He took as Lazarus’ situation would unfold.  Throughout the account, John records several statements Jesus made about His motivation.  Look at what He says:

John 11:4
When Jesus heard [that Lazarus was sick], 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.”

John 11:14
So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus had died.  I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe.”

John 11:40-43
Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father I thank You that You heard Me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”


Did you notice what Jesus included in His prayer?  Because of the crowd standing here.  Would the crowd have gathered if Jesus had arrived before Lazarus died, when was still sick?  Most definitely not.   A few may have shown up out of concern, but, realistically, Jesus would have performed a healing in front of the disciples, the sisters, and an on-looker or two.

Instead, Mary and Martha had to experience their worst nightmare – helplessly watching their brother waste away and die.  Even worse, Lazarus painfully experienced his body failing him…all the way through death.  By allowing these personal tragedies to run their course, a crowd of people became eye-witnesses to the greatest miracle up to that moment in human history.  At Jesus’ command, a man that they all knew was without-a-doubt 100% dead was suddenly restored and standing among them.  As eye-witnesses, how did they respond?

John 11:45
Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him.

A short while later, Jesus returned to Bethany; and look at what happened:

John 12:9-10
Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there.  They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one He had raised from the dead… he was the reason many of the Jews were…believing in Jesus.


The “Tragedy of Lazarus” had become the “Glory of God” that Jesus predicted…but Lazarus still had to suffer before getting there.  If Jesus can use a death to draw others to Him, I’m certain that any disease can also be used for God’s Glory.  This includes my younger brother’s Multiple Sclerosis, my debilitating migraines, your terrifying cancer, your uncontrollable anxiety, and any painful unexplainable failing of our bodies. 

I cannot promise that God will heal any of us.  It is certainly acceptable to ask: He may say yes; He may say no.  What is clear from Lazarus’ story is that Jesus places a higher priority on God’s Glory and drawing others to Him than we do on our current status.

But if we’re talking about changing the eternal destiny of those around us – ones who otherwise would not be eye-witnesses to God’s Glory and Power, if not for our personal tragedies – we can trust God with our sufferings, our illnesses, and our frail bodies.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

First day jitters and the start of a new life

Remember that first day at a new school?  Those feelings of being nervous, curious, not quite sure what was going to happen?  Or how about your first day in a new job?  Probably had flashbacks to being the new kid in school…

Being a rookie, at anything, is rough.  Everywhere you look, you see people who look like they’ve been successful for years.  You definitely don’t want to interrupt the way things seem to naturally flow, and you certainly don’t want to be in the way.  It’s easy to allow the doubt to creep in and cloud our thinking – Do I really belong?  Will they think I’m stupid or ignorant?  Will I mess this up?  Will I even know that I messed something up?  How many times can I mess up before they don’t want me around anymore?

Whenever we venture out into something new, no matter what it is, there’s always one thing we’re hoping for: someone kind enough to help us out and show us around.

We all have vivid memories of that first person to befriend us when we were feeling more lost than we cared to admit.  Their willingness to reach out to the newbie made it easier for us to find our place and figure out the rhythm to our new settings.

Honestly, the Christian life isn’t any different.  Being a newbie is a little scary.  We’re unsure of what to say or what to do next.  Everyone around looks like a spiritual veteran, like they’re a half-step away from perfection…and we’re just sitting here, surprised that God let someone like us into His family.

So, how is this supposed to work for a newbie Christian?  Since Jesus brought us into the family, why doesn’t He immediately take away all the junk and bad habits left over from our previous life?

Tucked away in John’s account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, there is a six word command where Jesus clues us in:

John 11:41-44
So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”

Not to make too much out of a minor detail, but I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t unwrap Lazarus from his burial cloths.  Lazarus didn’t unwrap Lazarus.  Instead, Jesus instructed those closest to the resurrected man to “Unwrap him and let him go.”

Jesus had just brought a man back from the grave, but He gave others the responsibility of helping Lazarus remove the remnants of his old life.  This wasn’t going to be a task Lazarus could do on his own.  He needed someone who was willing to reach in close and help deal with the dirty death-rags left over from his previous life. 

Let’s be clear:
If you were a world-class jerk when you met Jesus and accepted His offer of eternal life, you’re still going to have a lot of jerk-ness that needs to be dealt with, even after being saved. 

Anyone who tells you that you should be immediately perfect after encountering Jesus hasn’t read their New Testament in a while.  Instead of placing perfection-level expectations on a brand-new Christian, us veterans need to be willing to get our hands dirty.  We need to show them around, help them see the rhythm and flow of living a Christ-centered life.

Also note that Jesus didn’t tell Lazarus to go ask someone to help him remove his burial cloths.  Us veterans shouldn’t wait for a newbie to come up and ask for assistance.  We approach them, help them, and then smile as we watch them go in their new, life-long adventure.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Is God ever late?

When I was a kid, I remember the preacher telling us “God is rarely early, never late, and always right on time.” While I don’t think the math quite adds up in his statement, the truth is that “being on time” is a matter of perspective.

But, if you had asked anyone…this time, Jesus was late.

After Lazarus became sick, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, asking Him to come heal their brother.  When He receives the news, Jesus waited two days before heading out on the several-days-long journey to where Lazarus was in Bethany.  When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had already died and had been buried for four days.  Both sisters lamented that if Jesus had made it in time, their brother wouldn’t have died.  Friends and family who had come to mourn witnessed Jesus weeping with Mary and commented:

John 11:36-37
So the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Couldn’t He who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?”

The rabbinic custom said that a body had to be identified by family and/or friends within three days, or else the decay of a person’s face would leave them unrecognizable.  Additional rabbinic belief of the time said that after 3 days, there was zero hope of a person to have been “mistakenly” declared dead and for them to come back to life.  At four days out, Jesus was well-past the time to heal His friend from his illness.

John 11:38-41
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

“Remove the stone,” Jesus said.

Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days.”

Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

So they removed the stone…

While Jewish burial rituals used spices, they did not embalm the corpse, like the Egyptians did or us modern folks do.  A body will naturally decay rather quickly.  Between 24-72 hours, all organs have decomposed.  By the end of 5 days, the body has become bloated and…well, if you want to know the full details, feel free to google them.  They’re not pretty.  Suffice it to say, though, Martha was quite right when she told Jesus not to remove the stone covering her brother’s cave-tomb, saying “Lord, there is already a stench”.

Jesus was too late to perform a healing miracle.  He wasn’t too late for a resurrection, though – in fact, Jesus was right on time:

John 11:41-44
So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard Me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”


There would have been no resurrection without the death happening first.  Where a healing would have been another great display of Jesus’ power and authority – a resurrection was irrefutable proof that God the Father was the one who sent Jesus into the world.

So yes, Jesus was too late to do what Mary, Martha, and even Lazarus so desperately wanted.  But He was on time to show everyone who was there to mourn the glory of God…so that they may believe.

Has it felt like God is running late in your life?  Has society wandered too far away from God’s design?  Are you feeling like you’re out of hope? 

If life seems like that, it’s probably time to adjust our perspective.  Instead of lamenting on ‘what God should have done’, let’s expectantly watch for the greater thing God has in store.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A question of belief

Can I be open and honest with you?

Throughout my decades as a follower of Jesus, I have had several mini-crises of faith.  Times of struggle or tragedy in my own life (or in the lives of those that I love) have caused me to pause and wonder a number of different things, like:

·       Does God really care what happens to us?
·       Is living the Christian life really worth it?
·       Do I really believe all this “Jesus stuff”?

These are hard-core questions, and our pride may make it difficult for us to admit to other people that we wrestle with these kinds of thoughts.  But we wonder, just the same.  And it’s hard to reason through these kinds of questions.  Our feelings can be all over the places, especially when life goes sideways.  Throw in the daily struggle with sinful desires, and we can easily start a mental tailspin.

As our feelings ebb-and-flow and our actions are typically tainted with at least some level of selfishness, we can’t rely on ourselves to answer these questions and doubts.  This is where it is helpful to look at what Jesus explicitly said about us and about Himself. 

John’s record of a conversation between Jesus and Martha can help as we deal with our questions and doubts:

John 11:17-27
When Jesus arrived, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  Bethany was near Jerusalem (less than two miles away).  Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, but Mary remained seated in the house.  Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.  Yet even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give You.”

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her.

Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told Him, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.”


Martha was going through what was likely the toughest time of her life – her brother had fallen sick and she watched over him as he died.  God hadn’t answer her prayers to heal Lazarus.  Jesus didn’t arrive in time to rescue Lazarus from the pain he was suffering.  Martha had been grieving for four days when Jesus arrived.

Martha was looking toward future events for comfort, instead Jesus directed her to look at who was standing next to her.  What Jesus offered was Himself.  It is in this conversation that Jesus states one of His greatest “I am” statements: I am the resurrection and the life.  If we believe this statement, then Jesus guarantees that even if our bodies experience physical death, we will still live – forever.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say to clean up our lives and then He’ll give us eternal life.  He does not tell Martha to examine her life to see if she really does believe in Him.  He also does not tell her to make sure she continues to act a certain way.  In fact, Jesus does not tell Martha to look at herself, at all.

Jesus said that those who believe in Him have eternal life, no matter what else happens in this life.  Based upon what Jesus said, our hope and eternal security are found exclusively in Him – not in our circumstances, not in how we feel, not in how we behave.

Do you believe this?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Struggling with not knowing God's purpose

Last time, we saw how Jesus’ disciples struggled to trust His plan, even after He explicitly told them what He was planning.  Now we’re going to look at the other side of the equation, the one we’re much more familiar with – struggling to cope when we do not know how God’s plan is going to unfold.

But first, a quick recap of the situation:

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are siblings who live outside of Jerusalem in a town called Bethany.  They also are very close to Jesus.  The Scriptures say repeatedly that Jesus loved them.  One day, Lazarus becomes so sick that the sisters send someone to make the several-days long hike to find Jesus and bring Him back so He can heal Lazarus.  As soon as He gets the news, Jesus says “Lazarus’ sickness will not end in death, but is for the glory of God” (John 11:4).  So that means He immediately gets up and leaves for Bethany, right?  Nope.  Instead, He waits.

John 11:6-7
So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Then after that, He said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  They didn’t get to hear Jesus’ response.  They just knew someone had gone to get Jesus.  Surely, He would come to Bethany as quickly as He could.  Probably only stopping to sleep, definitely moving as quick as possible during the daylight.  I can easily imagine the sisters trying to encourage their brother:

“Just hang on, Lazarus.  Jesus is coming.  When He gets here, he’ll make you better.  Just hold on.”

But what’s going through Lazarus’ mind?  He can feel his body giving out.  He’s likely in pain and suffering.  He wants to hold on, so Jesus can fix him…but he’s not sure how much longer he can keep on holding.  Does he worry about dying?  Does he worry about what happens to his sisters if Jesus doesn’t arrive in time?

And then…Jesus doesn’t arrive in time to perform a healing.  Lazarus dies.  His family and friends go through the Jewish burial ceremonies, prepare the body to be buried, and then put him in a cave of a tomb – sealing the entry with a large rock.

Their emotions had to have been all over the place.  They watched, helplessly, as their brother died.  Did the messenger not reach Jesus in time?  Was He delayed?  Why did this happen?  Why were their prayers unanswered?  They grieved and processed these questions for several days…and then Jesus shows up.

As if their world wasn’t topsy-turvy already, now a new round of emotions flooded over them.  Frustrated, surprised, angry, bewildered…how would you have felt?  While the sisters separately approached Jesus, they both had the same mindset:

John 11:20-21, 32
As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, but Mary remained seated in the house.  Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”…As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and told Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

I believe they were 100% right.  Based upon other comments Jesus makes in this chapter, I am certain that had He been there, Jesus would have healed Lazarus.  Even though it wasn’t what Mary and Martha wanted…He waited, and it wasn’t because He didn’t care:

John 11:33-35
When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, He was deeply moved in His spirit and troubled.

“Where have you put him?” He asked.
“Lord,” they told Him, “come and see.”

Jesus wept.

This moment answers the questions we often struggle with: “Where is God when bad things happen?  Where is Jesus when everything is wrong?  Where is God when it hurts?”

His timing may not be what we would choose, but we’re not abandoned.  He’s not cold and distant.  Jesus is deeply moved and troubled as He sees us struggle.  Jesus weeps right along side of us. 

Jesus cares deeply about what we’re going through.  Jesus weeps at how we are affected by the consequences of sin.  He knows that without Him, both physical and spiritual death is inevitable for all of us.

And although we struggle to see it, He knows exactly what He’s doing.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Struggling with knowing God’s purpose

We often want to know EXACTLY what God is up to.  We look around at the state of the world, or even at a struggle in our own lives and think, “Man, if only God would tell me WHY this is happening, I think I could deal with it all.

The truth is, we may be giving ourselves too much credit.  I’m not so sure that we could ‘handle it’ even if God was blunt and spoke plainly to us.  After all, take a look at the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ revealed plan for Lazarus:

John 11:5-10
Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.  So when He heard that [Lazarus] was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Then after that, He said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”

“Rabbi,” the disciples told Him, “just now the Jews tried to stone you, and you’re going there again?”

“Aren’t there twelve hours in a day?” Jesus answered.  “If anyone walks during the day, he doesn’t stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  But if anyone walks during the night, he does stumble, because the light is not in him.”


The disciples are trying to get Jesus to make a “business decision”.

If you haven’t heard the term before, it’s a straight-forward concept.  A “business decision” usually comes when people want to ensure their own safety, even if it means they end up taking a short-term loss, or even potentially end up neglecting others.  One modern-day example is sometimes seen in college football: a sure-fire top-10 draft pick decides to sit out of his team’s bowl game, because a good performance won’t help his stock any, so playing one last game isn’t worth the risk of injury to his future career.  Similarly, a few years back in the Super Bowl, a team’s starting Quarterback opted to not reach out for the football that was fumbled near him.  Why?  Because there were six 300 lb men also nearby, and they were all diving for the ball at the same time.  He didn’t want to risk injury, even if it meant the other team would recover the ball.  In that split-second, the QB made a “business decision”.

With the disciples, we really can’t blame them for bringing up what happened the last time they were in Jerusalem – the Jewish leaders did try to kill Jesus.  And if they’re ready to kill Him, then they would have no issues killing a disciple, either.  So, I understand their “business decision” argument.  Their line of thinking could have easily gone like this:  Jesus said that Lazarus would get better, and we’ve seen Him heal from a distance before, so why risk death when we don’t have to?  Instead, Jesus rebuffs their argument, reminding them that they will be fine as long as they are walking with Him.  Then Jesus tries to gently break the news to them about Lazarus…but they don’t quite understand:

 John 11:11-16
He said this, and then He told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on my way to wake him up.”

Then the disciples said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well.”

Jesus, however, was speaking about his death, but they thought he was speaking about natural sleep.  So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus has died.  I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe.  But let’s go to him.”

Then Thomas (called “Twin”) said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go too so that we may die with Him.”

Even after explicitly telling the disciples:
where He was going,
why He was going,
and what He was going to do when He got there…

Some of the disciples were still convinced Jesus’ actions were not going to end well.  Just like most of us probably would, Thomas uses sarcasm to cope with and even cover for his fear: “Well, since Jesus is on a death mission, we might as well march along with Him.  What else are we going to do?”

So here we have God telling them EXACTLY what He was up to…and they tried to talk Him out of it.  The important thing to note, however, was that after Jesus confirmed to them that this indeed was the direction He was going – the disciples still went with Him, even though they had reservations, because they trusted Him.  And because they followed, they witnessed the biggest miracle they had ever seen.

That’s our take home message here: Even when God’s chosen path doesn’t make sense, and we would have opted to take another route, we still follow Him because we trust Him. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken