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: Matthew

A believer's biggest choice, this side of Heaven

A key to understanding Revelation is to keep in mind that John assumes his readers know their Old Testament.  Oftentimes when a new concept or symbol is presented, an interpretation is immediately provided (like the explanation of the seven stars and seven lampstands in Revelation 1:20).  However, when describing the throne room of God in Revelation 4:3, John states that a rainbow…surrounded the throne.  He doesn’t interpret the rainbow’s significance; he expects that you already understand it from knowing Genesis 9:8-17.

Last time we started to look at this verse:

Revelation 21:7
The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be my son.

Since this is the only time the word inherit is used in Revelation, to understand what is going on here, we’ll take a look back to the Old Testament.

Throughout the Old Testament there were two kinds of inheritance – an inheritance of God himself (e.g. – Psalm 16:5) or an inheritance was the right to a possession.  However, with this possession-inheritance, the ownership wasn’t automatic, there were conditions involved.  The land of Canaan was the nation of Israel’s promised inheritance.  However, the ability of a particular Israelite generation to actually inherit, or physically own, the land was dependent upon their obedience to God’s commands.

After God rescued the Israelites from slavery and bondage to Egypt, they rebelled and grumbled when they got their first look at the work to be done in order to possess the promised land of Canaan.  They even claimed that the Lord hated them and that they were better off back in Egypt.  Moses recounted this event:

Deuteronomy 1:34-38
“When the Lord heard your words, He grew angry and swore an oath: ‘None of these men in this evil generation will see the good land I swore to give your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh.  He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land on which he has set foot, because he remained loyal to the Lord.’

“The Lord was angry with me also because of you and said: ‘You [Moses] will not enter there either.  Joshua son of Nun, who attends you, will enter it.  Encourage him, for he will enable Israel to inherit it.’

The easy response to this passage would be to say that the generation of Israelites that died in the desert must not have been “saved”, or they weren’t “true believers”.  But…that can’t be the case, because these were the same people that trusted God and performed the first Passover.  They took the blood of a perfect lamb and spread it on the doorposts of their homes – doing so demonstrated their trust in God’s promise that they would be passed over when the destroying angel came by to take the life of the firstborn son.  The Passover prophetically foretold of Christ’s perfect blood sacrifice for mankind on the Cross.  This was also the same generation Paul later used as an example for other believers:

1 Corinthians 10:1-5
Now I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.  Nevertheless God was not pleased with most of them, since they were struck down in the wilderness.

According to Paul, the people of the Exodus generation of Israelites were right (positionally) with God, on the basis of their faith in the foreshadowed Christ.  However, their disobedience later in life marred their relationship with God and prevented them from physically inheriting the Promised Land. 

Now that we have the Old Testament context for the word inherit, we can see that God takes possession-inheritance very seriously.  Fortunately, a believer’s potential inheritance is also discussed in the New Testament.  While there are many passages we can look at (and perhaps that’s a future study), the following selections help us understand what God is talking about in Revelation.

1 Peter 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Because of His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.

Notice that Peter says God the Father has given us new birth into two things – a living hope and an inheritance.  Some have argued that heaven will be a Christian’s inheritance; however, Peter is indicating that this inheritance is something found in heaven.  So this means that the inheritance can’t be heaven itself…either it is a part of heaven or something else, in addition to heaven.

Jesus also gave similar instructions during the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6:19-20
“Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.”

Jesus states that the treasures are in heaven, and not heaven itself.  Also important is the contrast Jesus presents here (store up treasures on earth OR store up treasures in heaven).  He wouldn’t give us these directions if they weren’t necessary.  So from this we can conclude that it is possible for a believer to not store up treasures in heaven, and whether or not we have treasures in heaven is dependent upon our choices here and now.

So what is this inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade and these treasures in heaven that cannot waste away or be stolen?

Revelation 21:6-7
I will give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.  The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

Having a relationship with God can be had without cost to us because Jesus already took the punishment for our sins.  Remember that to inherit these things refers back to the New Jerusalem.  And from looking at other scriptures, we understand that inheriting New Jerusalem is dependent upon the choices we make here and now.

Choose wisely.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - My first assignment

My first assignment
originally posted on April 20, 2016

Wait, I’m going to teach what?

That was my mental reaction to my first teaching assignment from my mentor, Joe.

Our mentor-protégé relationship began when he was teaching a Sunday School class and had asked if anyone was interested in team-teaching with him.  I was eager to teach, but I knew that I had to learn how to better handle the Scriptures if I was going to take on the responsibility of teaching God’s Word to others.  Joe pointed me toward Howard Hendricks’s Living by the Book and, with his guidance, I began to learn how to Observe, Interpret, and then Apply the Bible.

I figured that my first teaching lesson would cover one of the passages I had just learned from…instead, Joe said that my first teaching experience would come from teaching the class how to study the Bible, like I had just learned.  I was instantly nervous and gave Joe a weak “You sure about this?”.  But he assured me that this was the best topic for me to start with.

I profusely prayed over every lesson.  I did my best to communicate the three steps, as well as provide good examples and practice exercises – some lessons went well; others didn’t feel like they went anywhere.  To anyone who was in those first classes of mine, I say thank you for your patience!  That experience was a huge step for me and my growth – both in my relationship with God, as well as in learning how to organize and teach.  It certainly helped to have my mentor’s example, his directions, and his confidence in me.

Reading through the gospels, we find that Jesus did something similar with his protégés:

Matthew 9:35-10:1
Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.  When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.  The He said to His disciples,

“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Summoning His 12 disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness.

When Jesus told them to pray that the Father would send out workers to reach the people of Israel, I’m sure they agreed that would be a good thing to do…but then Jesus turns around and tells them that it is time for them to go out and participate in the harvest, by doing what they had only previously watched Jesus do!  Imagine everything that must have been going through their minds – anticipation, nervousness, excitement, tension?  Trust me, it was all those and then some.

Matthew 10:5-8
Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town.  Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  As you go announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons.  You have received free of charge; give free of charge.”

Notice how Jesus gave them parameters and direction for their first assignment.  They weren’t supposed to go outside of Israel.  They had a very specific message to proclaim.  They were also given authority to do what Jesus did – heal, raise the dead, cleanse, and drive out demons – and they were not to charge the people for these acts, just as Jesus hadn’t charged anyone.

The disciples would eventually be ready for the larger assignment of the Great Commission, where they were instructed to go make disciples of people from all nations.  They were not ready for that yet, though.  The disciples were still going to do what they had seen Jesus do, but their first assignment was on a much smaller scale.

As a mentor, we need to give our protégé assignments that will begin to stretch them now and incrementally prepare them for later.  On the flip side, when our mentor gives us an assignment that seems like a very large leap, we need to trust them. 

Looking back, it was that first assignment that propelled me closer to God and sharpened my teaching ability.  Joe was making sure that I was not going to be just another teacher who can only feed people The Word, but he wanted me to be able to show others how to feed themselves.  Following through on that first assignment, despite how rough it may have been on me and/or the class, has paid many dividends over the years since.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Dance floors and lampstands

On a busy Monday afternoon, a second shift co-worker walked into the open office the four of us shared, looked right at me, and with an accusing tone she said, “I saw you.”

My confused look didn’t deter her.  She said it again, but this time with more emphasis: “I saw you!”  And then, it hit me.  I knew exactly what she was talking about. 

The previous Saturday evening had been the company’s annual Holiday party.  Most years, our family’s schedule had prevented my wife and I from going.  However, this year we had decided to get dressed up and attend.  This was no small event, either – there were fancy drinks, several buffets of rich foods, and lots of dancing.

I have to admit, I felt a pang of self-consciousness when we decided to hit the dance floor.  Not because I was afraid to dance with my wife – we always have a great time, and her dance moves make mine look good – but I was fully aware that almost none of my co-workers had ever seen me in this type of setting.  At work, I was the reliable answer-guy you brought your investigations to, a professional to help you figure out your industry-regulated best next step – not exactly the type of person you would expect to groove through the songs of the decades.  I wasn’t so much worried that they would think less of me, but I was certainly curious as to what their reaction would be.

As we made our way to the floor, I had an important realization.  Under no circumstances should I look around for people’s reactions.  As much as I was either self-conscious or curious, focusing on anyone else while dancing with my wife would give the complete wrong impression.  So as we started to move with the music, my attention was focused solely on enjoying the moment with my bride.  We danced the night away, had a blast, and I completely forgot my curiosity surrounding my co-workers’ potential reactions.

Apparently, we were noticed.  And talked about.  Even to the point where a co-worker was excited to point out, two days later, that she had been a witness to the event.  But what, exactly, did they see?  They saw a couple totally focused on each other and enjoying the moment at hand.  It stood out from what they expected.  Watching it unfold was attractive.  Seeing it first-hand was something they thought about, and even talked about days later.

But I think there’s an even bigger lesson here, one that pertains to how we, as Christians, actually show others that we are Christ-followers.  It seems that every ten years or so, there’s a new witnessing technique or life-story-sharing strategy that comes out.  But “witnessing” is much simpler than we make it out to be, because we tend to forget what Jesus said near the beginning of His ‘Sermon on the Mount’, when He looked at disciples and said:

Matthew 5:14-16
You are the light of the world.  A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

The disciples would best represent Christ – shine their light – through the lives they would lead and the choices they would make.  Jesus said that their good works would be what would stand out to and attract others to their Father in heaven.

It can be hard to wrap our heads around how doing good works makes that much of a “witnessing” impact; however, demonstrations of patience, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness are not things the world is used to seeing.  Imitating Jesus will cause others to take notice…but we cannot be concerned if anyone has noticed our light.  Instead, our focus should be solely on the fuel for our light – our relationship with Jesus.  As we spend time with Jesus through prayer and studying the Scripture, our good works will be naturally fueled so they shine brightly from the lampstand location we find ourselves in.

In order for Christians to tell others about Jesus, the world doesn’t need us to be schooled in the latest witnessing techniques or debate programs.  We don’t have to have all the answers to the tough theological questions people will ask.  But in order for others to come to the point where they give glory to your Father in heaven, they need to see us Christians doing good works from the platform of our day-to-day lives.

So make sure you spend time with Jesus so you can shine your light today.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Finding true rest

2018.  What a year…

When the last week of the year rolls around, like many people, I become reflective.  My family has had its share of ups and downs, celebrations and heartaches, favorite parts and not-so-favorite parts.  I’m sure you have, too. 

And to cap it all off, we’ve just survived the “Holiday Season”.  The hustle and bustle of church events, school events, family events, and weather events have finally come to close.  Unless you have significant New Year’s Eve plans (we intentionally never do), then this last week of the year is a great time to find something we’ve all been looking for…rest.

We need rest.  Mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually – we need a break from time to time.  We need to stop the normal ebb and flow of our lives so we can recover and collect our strength.  A space to breathe and relax.  A moment to stretch out.  A place to regroup.

We know we need this, but we don’t often give ourselves permission to take this kind of time.  Perhaps it’s because we believe that “true rest” will only be found in a fancy vacation to the beach, the mountains, or any place that isn’t home.  However, when we are at home, we look for rest when we escape into a hobby, our phones, the TV, food, or something else – and to some degree, we’re successful.  But those things are not nearly as satisfying as we would like.

We want…we crave…a deeper rest.  But where to find it?  

The rest we are looking for isn’t found in an event, a location, or a schedule.  Instead, the fulfillment of our need for rest is found in Jesus.  While that might sound like a cop-out, “Sunday school” answer, Jesus actually made the offer:

Matthew 11:28-30
Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

If 2018 didn’t have moments that left you feeling weary and burdened, then I suppose you can just keep moving along.  However, in our honest reflections on this past year, we do find weeks and seasons that left us feeling ragged.

Jesus’ offer isn’t for relaxation from busyness, instead, He offers rest for your soul.  Core-deep, soul-level rest.  That is what a relationship with Jesus does for us.  First, when we trust Him for eternal life, He gives us rest from the burden of sin.  Second, in our continuing relationship with Jesus, we can learn from Him – how life is to be viewed, handled, and recovered from.

If I have a New Year’s Resolution about my relationship with Jesus in 2019, I think it should be that when I feel tired…instead of escaping to my phone, the TV, or something else, that I make the choice to go to Jesus. 

I encourage you to do the same.  Take Him up on His offer.  Jesus says that being a disciple (taking up His yoke) and learning from Him is easy and He won’t overburden us.  As complicated as life can be, discipleship simply means walking with Jesus in the real world and having Him teach us moment by moment how to live life His way.

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
 

After the adoption

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Settling accounts (part 3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t hide your talents

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Settling accounts (part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Settling accounts (part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invest wisely.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Wedding preparations (part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Wedding preparations (part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

One servant, two paths (part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

One servant, two paths (part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is great reward in taking our responsibilities seriously.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Warnings and Preparedness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - What am I saying?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

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

Running away

We all had moments like this as kids.  We saw the danger coming, and it was coming in fast.  Maybe for you it was a schoolyard bully, or the neighbor’s large dog, or the owner of a property that you were not supposed to be on.  Whatever it was, the adrenalin kicked in and you instinctively knew what you had to do next…

RUN!

Adrenaline is not called the “fight or flight” hormone for nothing.  When it starts pumping through our body, we are suddenly stronger, more focused, and significantly faster than we have ever been.  But we must decide, and decide quickly, how we are going to use our enhanced capabilities.  Some things aren’t worth fighting over, it’s best just to get away…and get away as quickly as possible.

As he was wrapping up his letter of direction and encouragement to his protégé Timothy, the Apostle Paul warns:

1 Timothy 6:9-11
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Now you, man of God, run from these things;

For Timothy to try balancing the pursuit of riches and being a man of God would have been completely futile.  Not only would he waste his time, but he would risk becoming trapped or falling into ruin and destruction.  A chasing after money leads to all kinds of compromises he would have never thought possible…it would lead him away from the faith and his reward would be many pains.

Jesus gave a similar warning:

Matthew 6:24
Not 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.

No wonder Paul’s advice to Timothy was to RUN.

But Paul doesn’t leave Timothy hanging either.  God isn’t just handing out a set of rules “Don’t do this.  Don’t do that.”  Whenever you find a “don’t” in Scripture, it’s almost always accompanied by an alternative “do”.

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

Earlier, Paul told Timothy that godlinessholds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). 

So, we see the contrast here: Paul says to run from what the world sees as lifegiving now and to pursue what God says is lifegiving both now and in eternity.

Timothy had to choose what he was going to run from and what he would pursue

We must make the same choice.

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

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