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 Tag: Christian living

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

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

Still searching for comfort

Last week I wrote about finding comfort in God.  It sounds “spiritual”.  It sounds “Christian-y”.  But is it possible?  In this up-side-down, hyper-political, messed up world we live in – life can feel overwhelming, even too big for God to step in and fix.  Every day, we get more than our fill of discouraging news from around the world.

It’s not only us modern-day believers who look at the state of the world and struggle with God’s apparent…(dare we say it out loud?) ...absence?  …lack of involvement?  …delay of justice?

We saw last week that Paul counseled the Corinthian believers regarding God’s involvement in their afflictions.  But we can go further back and still see similar questions being asked of God.  When the psalmist who wrote Psalm 94 looked around at the state of the world and how his fellow Israelites were treated, he had this to say:

Psalm 94:3-7
Lord, how long will the wicked – how long will the wicked celebrate?
They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.
Lord, they crush your people; they oppress your heritage.
They kill the widow and the resident alien and murder the fatherless.
They say, “The Lord doesn’t see it.  The God of Jacob doesn’t pay attention.”

What he sees seems a lot like what we see – wickedness and arrogance ruled the day.  People selfishly acting as if God doesn’t notice or doesn’t exist.  Although he doesn’t see an immediate end to the state of affairs, the psalmist knows where to find some measure of relief…and he still believes, that at some future point, God will come through for Israel:

Psalm 94:12-15
Lord, how happy is anyone you discipline and teach from your law
to give him relief from troubled times until a pit is dug for the wicked.
The Lord will not leave his people or abandon his heritage,
for the administration of justice will again be righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

And while looking forward to a God-fixed future can provide some measure of hope, he didn’t end the psalm there.  The next part of the psalm is what caught my attention:

Psalm 94:16
Who stands up for me against the wicked?
Who takes a stand for me against evildoers?

The emphasis is personal now – Who stands up for me…Who takes a stand for me?  The psalmist knows that rescue and justice and right-ness are all coming at some point, but what about me: right-here, right-now, in all the mess I’m living with?

He continues:

Psalm 94:17-19
If the Lord had not been my helper, I would soon rest in the silence of death.
If I say, “My foot is slipping,” your faithful love will support me, Lord.
When I am filled with cares, your comfort brings me joy.

Earlier, the psalmist acknowledged that God’s discipline and teaching from the law gave him relief from troubled times.  Now, the psalmist affirms that if not for the Lord’s help, he would be overcome by the wicked and evil present around him.

Lastly, we can all identify with the feeling of being filled with cares.  We even have phrases to describe this – When it rains, it pours | Bad things come in threes | That was the straw the broke the camel’s back.  But the psalmist has shown us that it is the culmination of God’s discipline, teaching from the Scripture, and trustworthy help that brings us supernatural comfort and joy.

God will fix it all in the future, but He hasn’t abandoned us.  He hasn’t left us to go at it on our own until the time He finally brings justice to the world.  His comfort is here for us now.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Comfort food

When the world has us feeling tired and worn down, we often seek an escape in what’s comfortable.  Maybe it’s a particular type of music, a favorite movie, a hot bath/shower, or curling up in a blanket on the couch.  Typically, though, when we’re looking for comfort, we go looking for what’s known as “comfort food”.

A family recipe or a dish from a favorite restaurant is what we usually go after.  Living down here in the South, the term takes on a whole new meaning.  They take their “Southern Comfort Food” pretty serious.

A few years back, I was in a men’s Bible study and heard another guy talk about finding his comfort in God.  He said it was kinda weird at first, but that after some practice, he was naturally turning to God when he was feeling battered and tired.  He also said that going to God first helped him rest and recharge faster than the other things he had been previously seeking out for comfort.

To be honest, it sounded a little weird to hear him talk about it.  I had my suspicions that it was just “Christian talk” as opposed to real practice (we wouldn’t say that out-loud, right?).  But really, I think my skeptical thoughts were more out of a deeper concern that he had figured out something that I hadn’t yet.

But maybe he had.

When Paul was writing to a group of believers in the sin-saturated city of Corinth, he acknowledged their difficulties and pointed them toward finding their comfort in God.  However, he also gave them perspective on why God allows us to have afflictions in the first place:

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Notice that God will comfort us in ALL our trials.  That’s a great promise!  In addition, as we learn to lean into God for comfort, we are also learning how to comfort others in their afflictions.  While our afflictions and difficult seasons can be all-consuming in the moment, God sees them as the vehicle to demonstrate His love and comfort to others. 

I find it interesting, too, that while He comforts us in ALL our affliction, we will then be able to comfort those who are in ANY kind of affliction.  We don’t have to have traveled through the exact situation someone else is going through in order to provide care and comfort.

I fully admit, this is a concept that I am still learning.  But maybe that’s why I’ve had the health issues that I’ve dealt with and are still dealing with.  God is teaching me to lean into Him, to find my comfort in Him.  At some point in the future, I can expect to share comfort with someone else, the same kind of care and compassion that I have received from God.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Watching with purpose

Back in the dark ages – before we all had our phones constantly in-hand – I had to pick up my wife and boys from the airport.  The three of them were returning home after visiting her parents for few weeks.  I knew the flight number and expected time of arrival, and so I parked the car and waited in baggage claim.  I was there early and with nothing to do – because nobody stared down at their phones back then – I decided to do some people-watching while I kept an eye out for them.

It doesn’t matter how eclectic your social circles are, when you’re at an airport, you will see all kinds of people you don’t normally run into.  However, one cannot simply “watch people” when they are “people-watching”; there is a certain level of discretion that has to be maintained.  The trick is to observe without others catching you doing what really amounts to some short-term staring.  Locking eyes with an observee can be awkward at the very least, and depending on the person (or their companion), being caught could lead to an uncomfortable scene in a public place.

Between the clothing chosen, the style of walk, and the expression on their faces, each person was making some sort of statement about who they were and what they were about.  There were fashion statements, financial statements, sports statements, political statements, attitude statements – a sweeping variety of stories were being told as I watched them all walk by me.  Some people treat the airport like a catwalk runway, others do their best to go unnoticed.  Some people obviously chose to wear too many clothes, but as this was summertime, many others decidedly wore too few.

As my eyes bounced from person to person and from story to story, I quickly became lost in this time-killing activity.  I hadn’t forgotten why I was at the airport, but watching for my family was no longer my primary task.  After some time, my situation dawned on me.  What would happen if my wife and kids found me and walked up before I even saw them?  Simply missing them because I was watching others would be embarrassing enough, but imagine the kind of reception if they walked up while I was distracted and observing someone who had chosen to wear as little as possible?

With that revelation, I quickly snapped back to the task at hand.  I wasn’t unaware of the other people around me, but my focus was now on what was most important to me.  A short time later, they came down the escalator and toward their baggage carousel.  I was greeted with hugs from my boys and a kiss from my wife – and I was thankful that I had made the right choice before it was too late.

We, as Christians, also have a return to watch for.  Jesus said He will be coming back, and He told many parables alluding to His future return.  However, by our reckoning, it has been many years since He said that, and there are many distractions in this life – fashion, finances, sports, politics, attitudes, and numerous others.  It’s easy to lose focus and start living selfishly. 

So let’s take a look at something Jesus said about His return:

Luke 12:43-46
Blessed is that servant whom the master finds doing his job when he comes.  Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, that servant’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.

While being afraid of getting “caught in the act” should not be our main motivation to avoid selfish behavior, there are certainly consequences to how we spend our time while we wait for Jesus’ promised return.  There are significant opportunities and honors available for those who continue to do the work God has given them; but there are equally dire punishments for the servants of God who neglect their responsibilities and abuse others.

Notice that the servant never forgot that His master was returning, but doing his job and watching for the master’s return was no longer his primary task.  He convinced himself that his master’s delay would continue, so he selfishly took advantage of those around him.  He probably believed he had plenty of time to clean up his mess before the master came back.  He couldn’t have been more wrong – and there wasn’t a chance for a do-over.

We certainly don’t want to end up like that!  We want to be like a soldier found at his post, faithfully trusting the promise of the one who said He would return.  But with all the distractions we face, how can we keep our focus?  Our best option is to take the Apostle John’s advice:

1 John 2:28
So now, little children, remain in Him so that when He appears we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.

When we intentionally spend time with Jesus, we remain in Him and keep His priorities.  Doing so means we will avoid the embarrassment and shame of the wicked servant.  Instead, Jesus’ return will be a joyful occasion, one where we can be confident that He will approve what we have been doing while we watch for His return.

Keep Pressing,
Ken  

Flashback Favorite - Joe Rheney has relocated to Heaven

I can’t believe that it’s been a year.

What a day that was, too.  The funeral was a wonderful representation of the man himself.  People from all walks of life, who wouldn’t have known each other if not for Joe, came together to celebrate and remember.  There were stories, smiles, unity in grief, and hope-filled relief in knowing Joe had finally reached his goal, to be in the presence of his Creator, face-to-face with Jesus.

Joe would have approved of the service, but only for one reason: the clear, good-news message of Jesus Christ was shared.  Over the years, he had lamented to me several times that the best use of a funeral service was to reach people with Christ’s offer of eternal life while they thinking about the big topics of life, death, purpose, and legacy.  The importance of this message, and its life-changing impact, were on full display during the event.

The verses that helped Joe, as a freshman at the University of Georgia, see his need for Jesus came from a letter written by the Apostle John:

1 John 5:11-13
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  The one who has the Son has life.  The one who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

As much as January 11, 2018 was a day of rejoicing and remembrance, it was under a shadow of mourning and grief.  I still miss him, terribly.  But a reunion is coming – either in Heaven or at the Rapture, whichever comes first. The next time I see him, there will only be joy and gratefulness – all because Jesus paid the price for our sins and gave eternal life to anyone who would accept His offer.

As Joe often said: I’ll see you there, or in the air!

Joe Rheney has relocated to Heaven
originally posted on January 11, 2018

On December 29, 2017, Joe Rheney, my father in the faith and the originator of THE WORD, passed on into Heaven.  Today, January 11th, he will be buried with military honors.  His family and friends have gathered to honor the man who loved and shared Jesus with countless people.  I have the double honor of being a pallbearer and speaking at his funeral.  Below is the text of my speech:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
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

The snooze button is a liar

A blaring alarm clock is not the thing you want to hear first thing in the morning.  The alarm tone is purposely loud and obnoxious so we are awakened from our slumber to start the day at the right time.  Even though we’re the ones who picked the time for the alarm, we still resent that the alarm is interrupting our sleep.

We’ve got a ton of things to do, and a schedule to keep if we want to do them well.  Yet, sitting deceptively close to the “Alarm Off” button is another button.  It is usually several times larger than the one to stop the alarm – the Snooze Button.

When the alarm is blaring, the main thing I care about is hitting the button to make it stop…but this other button makes an enticing offer: I could lay my groggy head back down on the pillow for an additional 9 minutes.  The Snooze Button invites me to give up “just a tiny fraction” of my morning so I can get that much more rest before starting my day.  I let it convince me that I will feel better and more active, if I could just get a few more minutes of sleep.

But let’s be honest: I rarely hit the Snooze Button only once.  And when I do eventually get up, the morning is super-rushed because I’m now pressed for time.  I barely have time to shower, dress, grab my work bag, and stuff some food in my face before running out the door, all of which could have been easily managed had I not pressed the Snooze Button.

But I’ve noticed two things – First, I am NOT more rested when I take the Snooze Button’s offer of additional sleep, broken up into 9 minute chunks.  If anything, I feel more tired and frazzled at the start of my day.  Secondly, whenever I “sleep in” the first item on my to-do list that gets dropped is my time reading God’s Word.

All throughout the Bible we see examples of God wanting to spend time with us, but what we also see is that God expects us to put in some effort and desire to be with Him.  Look at the three “IFs” Solomon gives his son, and what result will come if he actually follows through:

Proverbs 2:1-5
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you,
listening closely to wisdom and directing your heart to understanding;
furthermore, if you call out to insight and lift your voice to understanding,
if you seek it like silver and search for it like hidden treasure,

then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.

Why do we need to spend time in the Bible?  Paul reminded Timothy of the Scripture’s usefulness and effect on his life:

2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

One last example.  Peter is reminding his readers of their main source of food for spiritual growth:

1 Peter 2:2
Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow up into your salvation

There are numerous other references and examples I could give, but I think you get the point.  God wants to meet with us, but we need to intentionally set aside time to do so.  Perhaps you need to take the small step I need to take: stop hitting the Snooze Button.  That button lies to us – we don’t get what it promises.  We end up starting our day rushed and feeling bad, while missing out on something much, much better.

Are you skeptical that God couldn’t use 9 minutes with Him to make a difference in your life?  I dare you to try it this next week and find out.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - What's pursuing you?

What’s pursuing you?
originally posted on May 18, 2017

Ever feel as if something is chasing you?  We can have lingering thoughts, feelings, or memories that just won’t let go.  Their pursuit of us is constant, even though it can take different forms.  Sometimes, it’s over-bearing, always-present.  Other times, we’re able to shove it out of our minds, only to have it resurface again later (and usually when we’re drifting off to sleep, right?).

The pieces of our past can hound us in many ways.  Pain, shame, hate, anger, things we said, things we didn’t say…just to name a few.  Antagonistic people, or even those who are out-right enemies, can dominate our thinking and the thought of them can doggedly chase us down.

I’ve said many times that I love the real-ness we find in the book of Psalms.  The various psalmists explore all aspects of life, often laying out their extremely-raw emotions before God.  And we don’t see any lightning bolts striking down the psalmists for their words, either.  Instead, we find that their petitions, questions, and wrestling drive them toward God, not away. 

David is always a good example of one who openly talked with God, and in one of his psalms we find a mindset that can help us deal with the thoughts and people that pursue us.  Read Psalm 23, and pay close attention to the last stanza:

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters. 

He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

David marvels at how God has no problem with settling down for food in the presence of [David’s] enemies.  To us, that’s not the time to sit down to a nice meal.  If enemies are present, then we would think it’s time to take cover or prepare for battle…but with God on his side, David knows he is safe to camp out where God has him.

But it’s one of the lines afterward that really opens my eyes.  Despite being in the presence of [his] enemies, David isn’t chased by them forever.  Because he is with God, David recognizes that only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.

His enemies are around, there are and will be hard situations in life…but when David looks at the bigger picture, the one from God’s perspective, he finds that only God’s goodness and faithful love have been chasing after him.

That’s the key for us, too.  When our thoughts are being overtaken by memories of old sins or difficulties in the present, we need to look at life from God’s perspective.  From His vantage point, we’ll see clearly and be able to trust Him with our present and all the days of [our]life.

A few years back, a Christian band released a great orchestra-rock song about recognizing that our past doesn’t control us anymore, even when we feel pursued by memories and feelings.  The link below is to a video of the song’s lyrics.

Disciple – Dear X, You Don’t Own Me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9yIZnypqBk

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
 

For my son - When it's time to let go

My oldest son has officially finished high school and is getting ready to embark on the next phase of his life.  As I am nostalgically thinking of that time in my own life, I am also thinking of the things God has taught me since then.

This is the third post in a three-part series where I am remembering lessons I have learned later in life that I would love for my son know now...

I chose this post because letting go is hard…for everyone involved.  I don’t know how to be the parent of an adult child.  I’ve never done it before; I’ve never had a relationship like this.  But then again, neither has he.  We both will have to learn to trust God in new ways, as faith can only grow like this when we let go.

When it’s time to let go
originally posted on February 3, 2016

Paul began his letter to Philemon by telling him how he’s being prayed for:

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

These aren’t just words of flattery.  Instead, they are Paul’s acknowledgment of Philemon’s maturity and his deserved reputation for his recognizable love and faith.  It is because of Philemon’s progress in becoming Christ-like that Paul can make a very personal request:

Philemon 8-11
For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal, instead, on the basis of love.  I Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, whom I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me.

We are now introduced to the subject of Paul’s letter.  Onesimus and Philemon had some sort of relationship problem…but at that time, Philemon was a Christian and Onesimus was not.  Since that time, Onesimus has met up with Paul, who then taught him about Jesus.  Under Paul’s guidance, Onesimus trusted Jesus for eternal life and became part of God’s family.

While Paul would often refer to the churches he planted as “his children,” there are only three people in the Scriptures that Paul directly refers to as “his child” – Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus.  Given Paul’s reference to being an elderly man, it’s probable that Onesimus was, like Timothy and Titus, at the other end of the age spectrum.  As the letter continues, it is clear how much Paul cares for Onesimus.

However, as a good father, Paul knows that the next step in Onesimus’ growth and development as a believer is to reconcile with Philemon. 

Philemon 12-14
I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will.

I’m certain that the tough part for Paul is that he will not be present to facilitate their meeting.  Paul won’t be there to make sure Philemon and Onesimus do this right.  He won’t be able to mediate their grievances.  There’s no guarantee they can successfully reconcile on their own, but there little Paul can do about that while he’s in prison.  So Paul does the best he can – he writes a personal letter to his dear friend on behalf of his son – and he sends Onesimus on his way.

He lets go.

Sometimes, as hard as that is…it’s for best.  No matter how great our parents were, we couldn’t have grown like we did unless we left the comforts of their home.  Mentors are beneficial for a season, and the best bosses can develop us for a time…but we grow the most when we have to trust God and apply the lessons we’ve learned.

Paul even admitted his struggle – I wanted to keep him with me.  But he knew that Onesimus and Philemon would benefit more from this opportunity to be Christ-like after previously hurting one another.  They couldn’t hold on to Paul’s hand and toddle around anymore; they needed to trust God and walk on their own.  Both Onesimus and Philemon needed to choose the right thing, not out of obligation, but of their own free will.

I’ve been on both sides before.  I’ve left my childhood home and the church I grew up in.  I’ve had my mentor leave.  I’ve also been the boss who left the team, knowing that my absence would be a catalyst for their growth.  And soon, I’ll be sending my sons out into the world.  Both sides are hard.

When those moments arrive, it’s best to trust God and let go.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

For my son - Swim strokes and the effect of a quiet life

My oldest son has officially finished high school and is getting ready to embark on the next phase of his life.  As I am nostalgically thinking of that time in my own life, I am also thinking of the things God has taught me since then.

This is the first post in a three-part series where I am remembering lessons I have learned later in life that I would love for my son know now...

I chose this post because it reminds us that our biggest and best way of introducing others to Jesus will likely come from what we consider the normal, small portions of life.  The closer we walk with God, the more "His normal" becomes "our normal"...the more His life will stand out to others, even if we don't necessarily notice.

Swim strokes and the effect of a quiet life
originally posted on July 15, 2016

I’ve raced in a handful of triathlons.  No crazy, Ironman distances; but I have completed several of the short, “sprint” distances.  When I started, I figured that biking I can do, running I can do, but it was the first event that scared me the most – the swim.  I had taken swimming lessons as a kid, but as an unpracticed adult, my activity in the water fell more into the “not drowning” category rather than in the “swimming” category.

After a friend lent me a DVD on swimming for triathletes, I began practicing several times a week.  Sometime later, on one particular night, I was at a local gym and was using their lap pool.  A friend of mine was in the first lane, getting his laps in.  I was in the middle lane, just doing my thing.  Shortly after we started, an older lady started using the other outside lane for water aerobics and walking.

During one of my breaks, the lady turned to me and said, “I’ve just got to tell you.  You have a very quiet stroke.”  I chuckled a little bit, and then thanked her.  She had apparently been comparing my smooth stoke to the thrashing around my friend was doing in the next lane over.  My wife had previously told me that at races, my swim sticks out in comparison to the others; she says it looks like I’m moving with the water instead of fighting my way through it, like everyone else.

By the time the older lady gave me the compliment, I had practiced this style of swimming so much that it had become second nature.  I didn’t even notice I was doing it – to me, I was just swimming.  After thanking the lady for her compliment, I informed her that my swim stroke was something I had been taught, it didn’t come naturally.  I also told her that it was a skill that she could learn as well.  She immediately shook her head ‘no’ and said, “I really don’t think so.”

Similarly, Paul gave Timothy instructions for the church in Ephesus that if followed, would stand out to culture around them.

1 Timothy 2:1-4
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

How we live is an indicator of our relationship with God our Savior.  Paul tells Timothy that the best kind of life, one that shows we are walking close to God, is a tranquil and quiet life where our godliness and dignity are on full display.

When we focus on knowing God well and practice ways to imitate Him, our godliness will become second nature.  While our “God-like-ness” will feel normal to us, the tranquil and quiet life we lead will stand out to those around us.

God and His love for us is so big that He wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth – the amazing thing is that we are his main ambassadors for doing so.  Paul says we fulfill our role as God’s representative in two ways: through praying for our leaders and living a godly life.

These two things will give us the platform to reach out to everyone with the same love that has been extended to us.  Some will desire the life they see in us; others won’t believe that it’s possible.  As ambassadors, we’re just responsible to represent God.  It’s not up to us to convert anyone, that’s God’s arena.

We have to keep in mind that the gospel will be communicated through our lives before anyone will likely read the Bible on their own.  Honestly, the people in my life will read the ‘gospel of Ken’ long before they read the Gospel of John.  Living a tranquil and quiet life will not come naturally for us, either.  But with practice, we will begin to inherently reflect God and all His attractive qualities.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

My truck taught me how to share

I had a pickup truck when I was younger.  I used it to haul my stuff to college, help others move their large bulky items, and I and loved driving it around.  But after about a year and a half, I totaled it when I lost control on some black ice.  Ever since then, I’ve wanted to get another one…but we were not in a financial position to make that happen.

After we purchased our first house, there were times we just needed a truck – whether it was to get rid of stuff, to bring home a large item purchase, needing to haul away annual yard waste, loading up firewood every fall, or whatever.  We did the best we could with what we had – clearing out the seats in the back of my wife’s minivan or sometimes renting a U-Haul.  Eventually, however, a good friend offered me the use of his truck whenever we needed it.

I gladly took him up on his offer.  So several times a year, over the course of nearly 10 years, we would car-swap for a day and I would be able to take care of the task at hand.  My friend was generous like this whenever I would ask, simply willing to share what he had and help us out. 

Of course, I would heap thanks upon him and return the truck with a full gas tank…but I would always look forward to the day when I would (hopefully) have a truck of my own.  My friend was a perfect example of what the author of Hebrews encouraged his readers to do:

Hebrews 13:16
Don’t neglect to do what is good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.


As the recipient of my friend’s constant generosity, I understood the first half of the verse quite well.  I reaped the benefit of his willingness to do good to others and to share the resources he had.

However, I had no understanding of the second half of the verse.

As far as I knew, he was only sacrificing his time when he didn’t have the truck readily available.  But my perspective changed recently – when we were finally able to purchase our own truck.

While we were in the process of evaluating vehicles and shopping around for the best deal, I told many friends that I would be more than willing to help others out.  I wanted to follow my friend’s example.  I wanted to share what God has given us and do what is good to those around me. 

Shortly after we made the purchase, another friend asked if he could borrow the truck to pick up a couch someone was giving him.  I told him, “Sure, I will gladly come with you and help you haul the couch.”  However, he said that between him and his wife, they didn’t need the extra set of hands.  They just needed a way to transport the item.  It was in that split second I understood what the word sacrifice meant in this case – I was being asked to give up something I loved, to put total control in the hands of another.  Temporarily give up, sure…but I had no guarantee of what would happen, and I would not be there to prevent anything bad from happening…

I did my best to keep a straight face and not betray the flash of conflict I was experiencing while my friend and I made arrangements for when he could come get the truck.  I’ll even admit to being slightly panged when they drove away, but God had already begun to teach me the value of loosely holding on to the things He gives me and that He is pleased when we act like Him.

When we keep all the things we have close to us or hoard the money God has entrusted to us, our entire worldview becomes very self-centered.  And, of course, when we are constantly looking at ourselves, we’re not looking toward God.

What, then, is the best remedy for our selfishness?

Hebrews 13:16
Don’t neglect to do good and to share, for God is pleased with such sacrifices.


Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

How to take a compliment

We love to receive compliments.  We relish the idea of someone having a high enough opinion about us that they would either say something or write something that commends us for our actions.  “Words of affirmation” is a primary love language for many of us.  But as Christians, I think we struggle a little bit with how to handle compliments when they are given to us.

Towards the end of his letter, the author of Hebrews clues us in on the importance of how we handle compliments and praise – and the direction they need to go:

Hebrews 13:15
Therefore, through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is the fruit of lips that confess His name.


The Greek word used here for praise means to “speak of the excellence of someone or something”.  I think sometimes when we Christians are praised by someone else, we’re not sure how to receive it.  This readily apparent when we are given a compliment from another Christian about doing good to other people – we end up saying something like “I give God all the praise and glory”.  But those eight words tend to sound a little hollow, especially with the way most of us quickly say them with a dismissive tone.

However, compliments we receive in the rest of life aren’t handled that way.  When someone tells us that we are good at fixing things, or good at driving, or a hard worker, we are often quick to point out “You know, my dad taught me that when I was young.” or “Thank you, I had a boss once who showed me how.”.  Statements like that almost always come with a story of us struggling to learn and how grateful we are for the teachers we’ve had.

So now we see what it means to sacrifice our praise.  We’re intentionally putting off the idea that we are “self-made women” or “self-made men”, and placing another person’s recognition ahead of ours – because of their unseen contribution is the true cause of the good result others see in us. 

So when complimented for doing something good, instead of quickly mumbling “I give God all the praise and glory.”, let’s use our words to actually do it.  Rather than saying an eight word phrase that no one outside of Christianity understands (and I’m not convinced all of us Christians really understand that phrase either), we should use our words to speak highly of the One who is making us into something worth complimenting. 

Try something like this instead:

God taught me that when I read <insert Scripture reference or Bible story>”.
or
God taught me that when He helped me through a tough time in my life.  I learned I could trust Him because of how He showed up.”
or
God has always shown love and kindness to me, even when I don’t deserve it.  I’m just trying to do the same thing.

Rather than a blank stare, you’ll probably have an opportunity to share more with the person complimenting you.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Introducing others to Jesus

Growing up, I remember being repeatedly told about the importance of “witnessing” to others.  Our church would sometimes go knocking on peoples’ doors to share the gospel, but for the most part, the congregation was encouraged to “share Jesus” with anyone and everyone we encountered during the week.

I always felt weird about doing it.  I couldn’t drum up the courage to randomly bring Jesus up in a conversation, and I was convinced that I would be super-awkward if I was able to actually say anything.  I also knew I didn’t have the all answers to the hard questions I would face.  So, for the most part, I didn’t say much.  People knew that my family went to church, but overall I resigned myself to being a “bad witness”, figuring that the pastor and any older, braver, and wiser Christians would have to make up for my inability to show anyone who Jesus is.

And now, reading through the Scriptures as an adult, I find out that that introducing others to Jesus is much simpler than memorizing all the good answers to every possible theological question.  Instead, our “witness” has a lot more to do with who we are than what we know.

The author of Hebrews gave his readers this direction regarding their “witness”:

Hebrews 12:14
Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness – without it no one will see the Lord.


Your life is the first gospel that most people will read.  What kind of story are you telling? 

If we want others to look at us and see the Lord, then we should be acting like the Lord acts.  And that kind of behavior doesn’t just happen on its own…which is why the author says these God-like traits must be pursued.

However, when traits are given in lists, it can be easy to gloss over the impact of each quality.  Breaking up the sentence can help with our understanding:

Pursue peace with everyone – without it no one will see the Lord.

We have been forgiven of so, so much.  God made peace with us, and we 100% did not deserve it.  In fact, He took the initiative, and He pursued us in order to make that peace.  But now that we’re in the family…if our actions don’t portray that same reconciliation attitude, then no one else will believe us when we say that God’s complete forgiveness is possible.

Pursue holiness – without it no one will see the Lord.

Living a life marked by holiness means that our actions are pure, free of stain.  However, staying pure doesn’t mean that we must withdraw from “those people” and all the “bad sinners” around us.  Instead, it means our aim is to live life the way we were created to – in relationship with God and without sin.

In order to show people who the Lord is, the author of Hebrews isn’t telling his readers to shout Bible verses from the street corners or to prepare for arguments with non-Christians in the community (or online).  He also doesn’t say to petition the government to pass laws that force people to live according to Scripture.

Instead, a life that “witnesses” about the Lord is actually a byproduct of our desire to be like Him.  We understand that when we think about how these two pursuits affect how others would view us.  Someone who actively seeks peace with others while still living a pure life?  That’s someone who stands out in this world.  That’s someone who will have the opportunity to help non-Christians see the Lord.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

When life gets hard

Let me be honest with you.

If we choose to live our lives with the goal of obtaining God’s promised opportunities for kingdom partnership, it’s not going to be easy.  That kind of life was not easy for any of the ancient faith heroes listed in Hebrews Chapter 11.  It wasn’t easy for Jesus either – the whole world system was against Him.

But that is precisely what we need to keep in mind when it does get tough:

Hebrews 12:3, 7-8
For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up…Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons.  For what son is there that a father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline – which all receive – then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

Perspective matters.  Are we trying to merely endure our difficulties until we find our next moment of rest/pleasure/escape…or are we looking at opposition from other people as useful discipline from the Lord?

Hebrews 12:9-10
Furthermore, we had human fathers discipline us, and we respected them.  Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness.


One Sunday, every year in June, we stop and reflect on all the lessons our human fathers taught us.  We learned lessons directly from him, and we had to learn some the hard way.  Looking back now, we are thankful for all he did and taught to prepare us for our adult life.

Even more so, we can trust God’s discipline to be in our best interest.  The lessons we learn now will carry over to our next life in eternity.

Hebrews 12:11
No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.


Will we allow ourselves to be trained by God’s discipline, trained to be Christ-like in our approach to difficulties?  We will not experience the peaceful fruit of [right-living] unless we are trained by the hard stuff God allows to happen in our lives.

When life gets hard…not if, but when…look at it as training that has a purpose.  And we can have the endurance to learn and grow as we consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that [we] won’t grow weary and give up.

Perspective matters.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

How to clear the path

“But what does God want me to DO?”

Ever ask that question?  Yeah, me too.

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

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

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

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


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

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

But that’s just hard, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What an opportunity!

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A warning, some encouragement, and a choice

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken