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: Jesus return

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  

Aftermath of a miracle: the ultimate setup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

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

Finding hope when the light is fading

I really like light.  Never been a big fan of the dark.  I hate how disorienting it is when you can’t make out your surroundings.  Growing up in the desert, there were plenty of creatures who came out only at night.  They were wild animals, but what made them especially dangerous was that they could see in dark, and I could not.  To go tromping through the sagebrush without a light would have been foolish, to say the least.

Even as I’ve lived in other locations, I still don’t like the dark.  I love the long days of spring and summer.  I would even advocate that we stay on daylight savings time year-round.  But every year, mid-summer, a change begins to occur.  We don’t typically notice it right away, yet within a few months, it is undeniable…the days have gotten shorter, there is less light than there used to be.

Even with all the great things that fall brings – changing leaves, football, holidays – I resent that they come when the days are shorter.  When I am paying attention, I also notice a shift in my attitude.  My feelings drift closer towards the cold and darkness I am experiencing through the weather…almost seems like I’m being slowly dragged down by nature.  Typically by November, I am fully aware of the seasonal change around me…and feeling rather depressed that it’s going to continue for a while before it gets any better.  Leave for work in morning, and it’s dark…head home from work in the evening, and it’s dark.  I’ve worked in some places that didn’t have windows – so it felt like either I missed an entire ‘day’ while I was working, or that the ‘day’ never really happened, like it just stayed dark.

The calendar day that has always bothered me the most is the winter solstice; the day gives us the least amount of light every year.  Six-ish hours of daylight.  That’s it.  Bleh…

Only recently did I see the hope that is couched within that particular day.  Once that day has passed, the light will increase.  Little by little, just an extra minute or two per day…the darkness begins to recede.  The darkness has approached the line in the sand, so to speak, and it will go no further.  Although months have passed while the light slowly fades, it turns out that the darkness will not overtake the day, after all.  The light returns, and with it – new life and springtime will soon follow.

Life feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?  Our world seems to be growing darker and darker, little by little.  Some days it even looks like the darkness will overtake the light altogether.  However, as followers of Jesus, we know the darkness will not win.  While on Earth, Jesus predicted His death and resurrection…but He also predicted His return:

John 14:2-3
In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you.  I am going away to prepare a place for you.  If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.

Jesus’ return build upon a promise He had made earlier:

John 8:12
Then Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world.  Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”

The author of Hebrews also echoed the hope found in Jesus’ return:

Hebrews 9:28
so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

Starting tomorrow, the light of the sun will begin to return.  Use this as a reminder that one day, the light of the world will return.  The darkness we see in the world will not win, no matter how dark it seems at the moment.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

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 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 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

Trusting enough

Turn on a news broadcast or read through the headlines on any webpage, and it’s easy to get discouraged about the direction the world is heading in.  Despite humanity’s best efforts and good intentions, we continue to slide down the slope toward self-destruction. 

I am reminded of Jesus’ last words in the Bible, where He says

Revelation 22:20
“Yes, I am coming quickly.”

And I think how quickly is quickly?  How bad does it have to get?  How many more atrocities will God allow us to inflict on one another before He steps in and says “ENOUGH”?  How much more opposition will we have to deal with until God finally rescues us?

Despite warning Timothy about the difficulties, and instructing him on how to deal with them, Paul didn’t want Timothy to totally focus on how hard his task was or how long it would last.

1 Timothy 6:13-14
In the presence of God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good confession before Pontius Pilate, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in His own time. 

Timothy’s “mission completed” point isn’t when he thinks Christ should be coming back, instead it is when God the Father decides…which [He] will bring about in His own time

And why could Timothy trust God’s timing?  Ephesus wasn’t an easy place, it was a melting pot of sinful cultures.  There were popular views about God that were completely false.  There were people in charge that didn’t even acknowledge God.  And there was plenty of opposition to Timothy defending the true gospel message.  I’m sure there were times when he would have thought “Ok, God…You can send Jesus back anytime time now…”

In the next sentence, Paul reminds Timothy of who God is.  Do you think this resume supports God sending Jesus back in His own time?

1 Timothy 6:15-16
He is
the blessed and only Sovereign,
the King of kings,
and the Lord of lords,
the only One who has immortality,
dwelling in unapproachable light,
whom none of mankind has seen or can see,
to whom be honor and eternal might.
Amen.

In addition to remembering our good confession, the way Timothy would keep going with his mission was to remember who gave him his marching orders. 

Since God gives life to all, do I trust Him with what He says I should do with my life?  When I read through the God’s resume in verses 15-16, do those attributes convince me that God also knows what He’s doing when it comes to the timing of Christ’s return?

Instead of wondering “How much longer?”, our question should be “How can I trust Him today?”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken