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: application

My daddy said "STOP!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - My first assignment

My first assignment
originally posted on April 20, 2016

Wait, I’m going to teach what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

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

Worth reading and worth fighting for

Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself a rather embarrassing question:

When was the last time you actually read something?

It’s not that I don’t read at all.  Like most everyone, there are many things every day that I need to look at and read.  Work policies, news stories, sports articles, emails, text messages, magazines, internet searches…we read lots of stuff, right?  Well, sort of.

Truth be told, I don’t read much of what’s put in front of me.  I skim.  And not just a little…I skim everything

Whether it’s the lunch menu or an official document, my tendency is to scan for key words and trust my assessment based upon what I find.  With the amount of information we’re bombarded with on a daily basis, it feels like we’d never make it through a day if we stopped to really, truly read and understood everything.  I’ve managed along through life alright with this method…it only occasionally causes me issues…but I find this habit creeping into my time with God, as well.

When reading the Bible, it’s very easy to fall into the habit of skimming so we can just “get it done” and move on the next task for the day.  And while Jesus did promise that one of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to remind us of everything He taught (John 15:4), it’s really tough to be reminded of something we skimmed and didn’t fully understand in the first place.

So, let’s slow down, for just a moment.  Let’s read the oh-so-easy-to-skim list of characteristics Paul told Timothy to pursue.  Paul said these things were worth fighting for.  We’ll make sure we understand them…and then we’ll make sure we know how to pursue them ourselves.  You with me?

1 Timothy 6:11-12
Now you, man of God run from these things,
but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith,
love, endurance and gentleness.

Fight the good fight for the faith;
take hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
and have made a good confession
before many witnesses.

Now, let’s look at what these terms mean.

righteousness – being in a right relationship with God; living a life according to God’s standards of integrity and purity, with correct thinking, feeling, and action

godliness – reverence and respect towards God, with the desire to imitate God’s qualities

faith – the belief that God is truthful and trustworthy

love – this is agape love, a love that is specific in affection, intention, and benevolence; it is given without condition or requirement of reciprocity

endurance – steadfastness, consistency, and patient continuance; the characteristic of a person who is not swerved from their deliberate purpose and their loyalty to God, by even the greatest trials and sufferings

gentleness – mildness, humility, meekness; strength under control when interacting with others

Now that we’ve read and understood Paul’s words, where do we go from here?  Paul said they’re worth fighting for, so how do we go about doing that?

For you, maybe one characteristic stood out from the rest.  Take the next week, and ask God each day to show you ways to pursue that specific trait in your life.

Alternatively, take one characteristic each day and focus in on that.  Today, tell God you want to increase your righteousness with Him.  Ask Him to point out the areas of your life that are rightly aligned with Him.  And then ask Him to show you what parts need to be cleaned up.  Tomorrow, purse godliness and pray specifically about a characteristic of His that you want to imitate – His kindness, His generosity, His strength.  The next day, talk to God about faith and increasing your trust in Him.  And so on, for each of the six characteristics.

Follow either plan…and in a week’s time, you’ll be amazed at what God has taught you.

Thanks for reading.  Now, take hold of eternal life, to which you were called.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Do you see what I see?

The three rules of real estate are Location, Location, and Location.

Similarly, the three rules of Bible Interpretation are Context, Context, and Context

Whenever we’re trying to understand God, His plan, or the world He created, we must keep in mind the Context of His initial, intended design for the world. 

As Paul warned Timothy about the coming false teachers and the believers who would follow them, their lens of context would protect them – or be their downfall:

1 Timothy 4:1-3
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.  They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods that God created to be received with gratitude by those who believe and know the truth.

While the false teachings come from forces outside of the church – from deceitful spirits and demons – the actual teaching of their false doctrine comes from within church – through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.  Later on, Paul will address how these believers became deceived, but for now, his focus is on what they are teaching.

These teachers would take their incorrect understanding of God and then instruct others to apply their teachings in ways that God never intended us to live.  From Paul’s two examples here, we see that these false teachers are advocating rules that fully separate the believer from the world around them.  It is likely that their seared consciences has allowed them to think that the only way to avoid the sinful lifestyle around them was to completely remove themselves from participating in any corrupted part of creation.

On the surface, the application sounds noble.  But that kind of thinking does not produce the kind of life God designed us to live.

1 Timothy 4:4-5
For everything created by God is good, and nothing should be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, since it is sanctified by the word of God and by prayer.

Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden.  At the end of each day, God saw that what He created was good.  It wasn’t until after sin corrupted everything that God’s intended design for creation was perverted.  Marriage – as created by God – is a good thing.  Food – as created by God – is a good thing.  However, the false teachers aren’t looking at God’s creation within that context.  Instead, they are only seeing the current corrupted state of the world.  Rather than understanding God’s initial design and use for marriage and food, they are advocating the outright rejection of them in order to prove their status with God.

However, those who believe and know the truth understand that we are not made holy because of the rules we follow or the things we do.  We are holy because through Jesus, God has made us holy and our relationship with Him has been restored to the good that it was before Adam and Eve sinned.

Despite the sin-corruption of the world, our food can still be received with gratitude since the believer can understand in the proper context as a gift from God.  Marriage, in all its difficulties and struggles, can still be lived out under God’s design.  In fact, a proper use of both will do a better job of pointing others toward God than an outright rejection of marriage or abstaining from particular food.

It all depends on the Context we use to live our lives.  Will our focus be on trying to manage the sin-corruption we see, or will we look at the world around us through the lens of God’s intended design?

The first one puts us in charge, while the second one reminds us that God is really in charge.

It’s all a matter of Context.

Keep Pressing
Ken
 

The importance of focusing on Jesus

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

1 Timothy 4:1-3
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.  They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods that God created to be received with gratitude by those who believe and know the truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Getting specific

Sometimes when I am presented with an important teaching, I need a little help to flesh out exactly how this new concept applies to where I’m at.  As such, I love it when a speaker moves from the theoretical to the practical. 

Paul has just given Timothy instruction on the importance of the believers in Ephesus to lead a tranquil and quiet life, a life that is characterized by both godliness and dignity.  This kind of life will stand out to those outside God’s family and will serve a launching pad for telling others about Jesus.  (see 1 Timothy 2:1-7).

Thankfully, Paul moves quickly to give Timothy instruction for how the believers in Ephesus can display these characteristics.

1 Timothy 2:8
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.

The first task for the men is to lead in prayer.  The importance of this task in each family and within God’s family cannot be understated.  Since the men are to act as the leader and High Priest for their family, as well as provide leadership within the church, their individual connection to God must be a top priority.

Paul’s practical instruction also comes with specifics about their posture and attitude in prayer – both of which reveal the focus of their heart toward God and others.  While lifting up…hands in prayer was a common “prayer position” in ancient days, it was more of a symbolic gesture meant to convey the person’s inner openness to God.  Throughout Scripture, a person’s hands are also symbolic of their activities, and Paul description of lifting up holy hands suggests that as the men pray, the offering of their daily actions are undefiled by sin and free from wickedness.

When a man focuses on devotion to prayer and godly conduct, and does them without anger or argument, the world will plainly see the difference God can make in a man’s life.

Paul also has specific instruction for the women in the Ephesian church so that they, too, know how to best represent God to the culture around them.

1 Timothy 2:9-10
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

Keep in mind that these instructions were written to believers.  These women, especially the wealthy ones, would set an example within the church family.  If an unbeliever comes in with little means, they could begin to wonder if you have to be rich in order to be saved.  Another potential issue could arise if another believer has little means, they could conclude that they aren’t favored by God because others have so much more to display.  Additionally, there is a risk of division among even the affluent believers.  The exorbitant displays of wealth among them will cause problems as egos rise as they try to outdo one another in dress, hairstyle, and jewelry.

Paul’s contrast here is really between works and wardrobe.  How is a woman displaying her understanding of value within God’s family?  The ancient upper class women would spend an excessive amount of time on their elaborate hairstyles and expensive apparel; these things would draw attention to themselves rather than to the God they claim to serve.  Paul says that a woman’s value isn’t in the perfection of her outward appearance, rather her beauty comes from her decency and good sense.  Both of these lead to a reputation of good works and point others toward God.

Paul’s directions to both groups cut against our natural, self-promoting tendencies…which is precisely why the world will notice the difference God makes in a person’s life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Fulfilling His plans for us

Ever wish that God would just tell you what He has specifically planned for your life?  Maybe not all the details, but at least how He desires for us to partner with Him?  Very rarely was God that clear and specific with anyone in Scripture; however, God did foretell some details to one of Paul’s young protégés.

At some point while he was growing up, Timothy was told by God that he would do great things in ministry.  Paul knew of these prophecies; however, he also knew that Timothy still had work to do in order to fulfill what had been foretold about him.

1 Timothy 1:18-19
Timothy, my child, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you, so that by them you may strongly engage in battle, having faith and a good conscience.

Paul gave Timothy pointed instruction – both previously and in his current letter – for a specific reason: Paul wanted to encourage his child so that he could fulfill what God had designed him to do. 

Paul wasn’t trying to build Timothy up just so he felt good about himself, either.  Paul was looking forward to the time when Timothy was able to strongly engage in battle.  This phrase was spoken of a commander who would lead soldiers to war.  Timothy was to take Paul’s instructions, combine them with the special knowledge God had revealed to him, and then choose to apply them as he led an entire congregation of believers.

Timothy’s fulfillment of the prophecies previously made about him were conditional on his choices and actions.  Notice the Paul used the word may.  He had every confidence that Timothy could courageously lead the church in Ephesus, otherwise Paul would not have left him there and in charge.  But Timothy was still responsible to make use of the instruction and spiritual gifts that had been given to him.

Now I’ve never been given a prophecy about how I would serve God and point others to Him.  I suspect you haven’t, either.  Yet we do have special knowledge from God that even Timothy didn’t have – we have the entire Bible.  We can hold in our hands the complete revelation from God which details His plans both for and with humanity.

Our ability to achieve what God has planned for us to do is also contingent, just like Timothy.  If we are willing to take the instructions of our mentors, combine them with God’s revelation, and then choose to apply them…God’s design for us will be fulfilled.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

My first assignment

Wait, I’m going to teach what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Learning how to listen for God

Over the years I’ve encountered many Christians who want to “hear from the Lord.”  We desire God’s guidance for our lives, but we tend to be rather unfocused in how we go about finding it.  We know that listening for God’s guidance is something that we need to learn and practice, but what we fail to realize is that means we’re going to need someone to teach us how.

We see an example of this at the beginning of Samuel’s career as God’s prophet:

1 Samuel 3:1-11
The boy Samuel served the Lord in Eli’s presence.  In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.  One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room.  Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was located.

Then the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.”  He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call,” Eli replied.  “Go and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Once again the Lord called, “Samuel!”  Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call, my son,” he replied.  “Go and lie down.”

Now Samuel had not yet experienced the Lord, because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  Once again, for the third time, the Lord called Samuel.  He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the boy.  He told Samuel, “Go and lie down.  If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’ ”  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”  Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder…”

Then the Lord went on to give Samuel his first prophetic insight into God’s plans for the nation of Israel.

Notice how Samuel had to be taught how to respond to God’s voice.  Even though Samuel had been serving the Lord under Eli’s guidance, recognizing the word of the Lord wasn’t a skill Samuel just naturally had.  He had to be taught how to listen and how to respond to God’s call.

We’re like that, too.  We believe Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and we accept His offer of eternal life, so we’re in His family.  We may even be serving – and serving well – within our local church congregation.

But if God called out to us right now, would we know that it’s Him talking?

For our current stage of human history, God doesn’t talk through prophets like He did in Samuel’s time.  Instead, we have the recorded words of Jesus and those who interacted directly with Him.  Perhaps the same question needs to be put into our modern context:

Do we know the Bible well enough to recognize God’s voice and direction?

When Joe began to mentor me, the very first thing he taught me was how to read and understand Scripture.  Learning how to properly observe, interpret, and apply Scripture was the major catalyst for growth in my relationship with God.  As I studied the Bible, I learned to recognize how God works and what He expects from His children.  I began to know Him better as He revealed Himself to me through the pages of the Bible.

Interacting with God’s word isn’t a one-and-done type of thing, either.  We don’t learn to handle the Scriptures and then consider it checked off our list of “ways to grow”.  We need to continually go back to where God has revealed Himself to us, because that is where our relationship with Him is found. 

Samuel had the same kind of experience:

1 Samuel 3:19-21
Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let nothing he said prove false.  All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the Lord.  The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.

I love that last sentence, where God revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.  We have the same opportunity, to have God reveal Himself to us if we take the time to learn how to handle Scripture.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The tension is real

I’m sure I’m not the only one, but there have been times that I have felt as if the message being delivered by the preacher to the congregation was aimed squarely at me.  It is as if God Himself has sat me down and said “Look, Ken this applies directly to you today – and you need to do it.

When Tychicus delivered the letter to the church in Colossae and Paul’s personal letter to Philemon, suddenly Philemon and Onesimus were having one of those rubber-meets-the-road moments.  Take a look at Paul’s specific request to Philemon:

Philemon 15-18
For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother.  This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me.  And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.

This request put Philemon in a position where he would need to apply God’s direction on family matters that was just delivered to his local church:

Colossians 3:12-14
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another.  Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive.  Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.

For Philemon, the tension is real.  God’s Word is directly challenging him, and he has a choice to make with how he will respond to God’s directions.

However, a different section of Paul’s letter to the Colossian church would have been more applicable (and challenging) to Onesimus:

Colossians 3:22-24
Slaves obey your human masters in everything: don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord.  Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord – you serve the Lord Christ.

For Onesimus, the tension is also real.  After everything he and Philemon had been through, would Onesimus humbly take his place and do his work enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord?

God’s Word is just as practical today as it was for Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus.  As we allow the Scriptures into our lives, we too will be challenged.  It will be as if God Himself has sat us down and said “Look, this applies directly to you today – and you need to do it.

The tension is real.  Will we trust God and respond accordingly?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Time to get personal

Although Paul wasn’t directly involved with Colossian church, several people he knew and cared about were.  Epaphrus, Archippus, Nympha, and Philemon all played various roles and had specific ministries to the believers in Colossae.  The rest of the congregation hadn’t met Paul.  So when he sent Tychicus with the letter to the Colossian church, Paul wrote from a position of a guest preacher who would teach them important truths and show them practical ways to live out their new life in Christ.

Notice how Paul identifies himself at the beginning of the letter:

Colossians 1:1-2
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother. 
To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae. 
Grace and peace from God our Father.

From the get-go, Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus, which also provides the credibility for the things he wrote to them.  However, along with this letter, Paul had Tychicus deliver a second, more personal note.  The subject of this second letter was Tychicus’ traveling partner, Onesimus.  We were briefly introduced to him at the end of Colossians:

Colossians 4:7-9
Tychicus, a loved brother, a faithful servant, and a fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me.  I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are, and so that he may encourage your hearts.  He is with Onesimus, a faithful and loved brother, who is one of you.  They will tell you about everything here.

Onesimus needed to be reconciled with Philemon.  We’ll get into the details of what was broken in their relationship later, but it was serious enough that Paul chose to step into the fray with these two people he dearly loved.  For now, notice how Paul identifies himself at the beginning of his letter to Philemon:

Philemon 1-3
Paul, a prison of Christ Jesus, and Timothy, our brother:
To Philemon, our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your house.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

A little later, Paul says

Philemon 8-9
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.

There is no appeal to his apostleship.  Paul doesn’t take a stance or tell Philemon what to do based upon his authority in the family of believers.  Instead, Paul appeals to his friend out of love.  This is where the rubber meets the road – where teaching meets real life.  Paul taught the Colossians about the importance of having Jesus as the focus of our lives and the difference made because of it…but Paul himself must also live it out. 

There are many relationship lessons we can glean from reading Paul’s personal letter to Philemon, but it will be of greater importance for us to take those observations and apply them to those around us.  After all, a Christ-focused life is not found in the teaching of the theoretical, but in the personal living of the practical.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to stay focused while praying

About a year ago, I started a series exploring the way Jesus prayed.  My theory was that if God’s goal is to make me more Christ-like, then I should probably take a look at how, when, and where Jesus prayed.  Out of the numerous things I learned, two observations of Jesus’ prayer life stuck out:

First, that He frequently went off to quiet places to spend time with the Father in prayer.  Out of a variety of circumstances, Jesus was constantly devoting chunks of alone time to talking with His Father in Heaven.

Second, Jesus’ main concern in His prayers was the Father.  Jesus was primarily focused on the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory.  His aim was to increase the Father’s glory – which means to enhance the Father’s reputation and honor in the world, and this was primarily achieved as Jesus completed the mission that the Father gave Him to accomplish.

As rich as that study was, as I moved on to other parts of Scripture I didn’t always remember these main lessons.  Looking back, my prayer life has both ebbed and flowed…tossed about by circumstance and my mental state of the moment.  One particular item I’ve struggled with is staying focused while praying. 

When I pray, I’m usually sitting in a quiet room with my eyes closed to avoid visual distractions.  My conversation with the Father starts out alright, but about half way through the fourth sentence…my mind jumps to something that needs my attention later on in the day, or I remember what I had forgotten to buy at the store, or I start to process a relationship problem that needs addressed at work or with a friend or in my family. 

It never fails…my mind picks the worst possible moment to leave the deep waters of relationship with the Father, and I starting splashing around in shallow thoughts of the smaller parts of life.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve apologized to God for mentally abandoning our quiet time together.

I don’t think my struggle is all that unique, either.  In various forms, I’ve heard other Christians voice similar difficulties.  I suspect that ancient believers also dealt with this, because towards the end of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul wrote

Colossians 4:2-3
Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.

Since Jesus’ death and resurrection bridged the gap between us and God, we know that as a child of God, we can pray at any time to our Father.  However, I think we tend to take advantage of that freedom and we get comfortable with sporadic communication.  Paul’s instruction here is to make prayer a priority, something we are devoted to.  Just like Jesus purposely setting aside chunks of time, we should as well.  Early morning, late night, commuting to work, or wherever we can consistently get time for just us and the Father; we need to make the time and protect that time from other things that will try to distract us.

This is where I’m so grateful for the second half of Paul’s instruction – stay alert in it with thanksgiving.  When my mind drifts off, I can immediately refocus my attention by thanking God for something, anything.  Giving thanks takes the focus off of me and my agenda because it makes me look toward the person I’m saying “Thank you” to.

As I have been applying Paul’s instruction, I’m realizing how a lack of thanksgiving has kept me unfocused…and being unfocused has prevented me from growing deeper with the Father.  So I need to make sure I’m purposely scheduling chunks of time with the most important Person in my life, and also telling Him about all the parts of my life that I am thankful for.  I’m certain that as I do this, my concern for the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory will increase.  Then I will begin praying like Jesus did, because my relationship with the Father will be a lot like Jesus’ relationship with the Father.

Maturity, growth, and deep relationship will not happen if we give God some sporadic moments of talk during our week.  The richness of a relationship with our Creator will only happen as we devote time to Him.  Will you make that choice?  The first step is simply saying “Thank you”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Practical application: work (part 1)

After giving specific examples of how to live out a Jesus-focused life among our immediate families, Paul turned his readers’ attention to the next most common area of their lives – where they do their daily work.

Paul specifically addresses these next directions to slaves; however, the Greek word he used could also be translated as servant, attendant, or bondsman.  Roman slavery had many more similarities to an indentured servant system than to the version of slavery in America’s past or in other parts of the world.

Regardless of his readers’ circumstances, Paul’s application of God’s truth for their lives is clear.  Additionally, his reasoning is something that we can also apply in any area we are working:

Colossians 3:22
Slaves, obey your human masters in everything: don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 

The first observation here is that Paul’s direction is proof that laziness at work isn’t a new concept.  It wasn’t introduced into our economic system by Gen-X, Gen-Y, or everyone’s current favorite target, the Millennials.  Working only when being watched is an expression of selfishness and self-centeredness…conditions that have plagued all of humanity since The Fall.

Looking back at the creation account, we find that God gave Adam work to do – long before sin entered the world.  He and Eve were to partner together with God and work in the Garden of Eden.  Paul wants his readers to see their daily work as Adam and Eve saw their work, as an occupation entrusted to them by God and they were to work for Him. 

Colossians 3:23-24
Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord – you serve the Lord Christ. 

Remember, Paul is writing to believers here…so the reward of an inheritance isn’t eternal salvation from the penalty of sin, because that is a free gift.  Based on the context, the reward in these verses is something that can be earned through working wholeheartedly and enthusiastically.

Given these observations, several application questions come to mind:

How do we approach the workday? 
When do we work hard? 
If our attitudes are the measuring stick, whom are we working for? 
Paul says there is a reward for good work, so what is it?

When we view our work properly – as someone who working for God – our perspective immediately changes.  We see the successes, failures, and difficulties in completely different light and are able to trust God in all areas of our work.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Dividing Lines

Throughout the centuries, people have divided over a variety issues or a person’s status in society.  Most, if not all, of these divisions can be placed into four basic categories – national distinctions, religious distinctions, cultural distinctions, and economic distinctions.  We use these divisions to define identity and responsibility, both for ourselves and for others.

Halfway through his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul gives instructions to watch carefully over the attitude of their hearts and the words that they say.  His reason is based upon their new identity in Christ:

Colossians 3:9-10
…you have put off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator.

Although their new identity was based solely on the new man and no longer on the old man, it can be hard to let go of some of the previous distinctions.  Before Christ, their differences often determined if societal rules or expectations applied to them.  Roman citizens had rights that non-citizens did not.  Circumcised Jews avoided dealing with anyone who was uncircumcised.  Economics and social status also played a huge role in how the laws were applied.

In case anyone in Colossae thought that Paul’s directions about the attitude of their hearts and the words they speak somehow didn’t apply to them because of their background or current status, Paul continued:

Colossians 3:11
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

All are welcome to join God’s family.  There are no exclusions, no distinctions as to who gets in.  We all come through the same doorway of faith in Jesus.  Once we are in the family, the old lines for division no longer define who we are.  Instead, our identity is in Christ…and as such, we are all on equal footing.  With equal footing comes equal responsibility for participating in our growth, our being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator.

If Jesus loves us so much that He now dwells in all – regardless of our background, our nationality, our level of sophistication, our education, or our economic status – then it is not too much for us to accept Him as all we need to be like.

It’s time to leave our old habits and sinful practices behind us.  No exclusions.  No excuses.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Rooted and growing

I love word pictures.

Similes and metaphors have the incredible ability to communicate broad concepts in simple images.  We come across one of the most famous Biblical examples when we read about the psalmist’s desire for God:

Psalm 42:1
As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God.

The imagery is so strong that I honestly think he could have stopped the psalm right there.  We clearly understand the level of desire he is trying to communicate.  Later on, the psalmist also uses a metaphor to demonstrate how much he relies on God:

Psalm 42:9
I will say to God, my rock…

This comparison grabs our attention as well.  By referring to God as “my rock”, all the associated ideas of strength, stability, and reliability are understood.

This is why we need to pay attention to any word pictures that we come across when reading Scripture.  When we pause to consider what the imagery represents, we will get a fuller understanding of what the author is trying to communicate – and better understanding always leads to better application.

As Paul was encouraging the believers in Colossae to develop and mature in their relationship with God, he used two powerful metaphors.  The first one equated our relationship with Jesus to our walk, which carries the idea of us traveling together with Christ.  Take a look at these verses and find the second word picture.  It gives us the characteristics of how our walk should go.

Colossians 2:6-7
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Just in case the Colossian believers were wondering what their walk in Him should look like, Paul jumps to an agricultural metaphor to explain.  Clear images come to mind when he says that the path of our lives should be rooted and built up in Him.  This word picture makes it easy for us to take the concept of a tree driving roots deep into the ground for both stability and nutrients and associate it with the need for us to drive our own spiritual roots deep into Christ.

From the moment life bursts forth from an acorn, we have an oak tree.  It is weak and susceptible to damage from a variety of sources – weather, disease, other creatures, etc.  Its only hope of protecting itself is to establish roots.  Strong roots make a strong tree.  Weak roots make a weak tree.  As the oak tree’s roots find good soil and water, the tree can be built up and develop.

This metaphor is easily applicable to our lives.  From the moment we receive Jesus, we are a Christian.  But we are also weak and susceptible to damage from a variety of sources – life’s circumstances, poor teachings, other people, etc.  Our only hope of protecting ourselves is to establish roots.  As we are rooted and built up in Him, we can grow, develop, and be established in what we believe.

Pausing to consider this metaphor also gives us a chance to ask the question:

Am I making sure I’m rooted in Jesus?  What steps am I actively taking so I can walk in Him, and walk with Him?

Think about this today.  This word picture, and its implications, are worth meditating over.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Pray like this

For those who gathered around Jesus to hear and apply his teachings during the Sermon on the Mount, they were given some specific instructions about prayer.  Jesus has said to pray for your enemies (Matthew 5:44), to pray with the aim of talking to God and not for showing off in front of others (Matthew 6:5), and not to babble on and on in an attempt to educate God about our needs because God already knows them (Matthew 6:7-8).

If I were among those in the crowd, I think my head might be hurting a little after hearing this.  Jesus has completely re-arranged what I thought prayer was about.  He has so drastically changed what I have been taught was the purpose of prayer, that I am left wondering how I’m supposed to pray at all.  I can understand what he taught, and I can see why these changes to my praying habits are necessary…but I feel a little unsure of how to apply what Jesus has said.

I am so grateful for what Jesus said next:

Matthew 6:9 Therefore, you should pray like this:

Based upon these new prayer-content instructions, Jesus provides us a model for putting his teaching into practice.  Don’t let its familiarity fool you…look for how Jesus incorporates his teaching into this model of a prayer:

Matthew 6:9-13

Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen.

Jesus’ instruction to love and pray for our enemies is found in the fifth line, where we recognize that our acts of forgiveness for the wrongs committed against us are echoes of how God has forgiven our own wrongs against him.

All pretention and showmanship is removed when we pray the beginning and ending of this model prayer.  The focus is clearly on God – his reputation, his kingdom, his power, and his glory.  There is nothing in these lines that draw the attention back to self.

Lastly, we see no repetition and no instruction to say this prayer repeatedly.  While there are requests, they are only focused on the immediate needs – food for today, forgiveness now, and rescue from the tempting snares set against us.

Matthew 6:9 Therefore, you should pray like this:

Jesus is telling us that based on what we now know, this is what we should do with it.  He has enlightened us with his teaching and has given us a direct path to apply what we’ve learned.  Remember, it’s a model…not a form letter.  A template is meant to be mimicked, but it can also be adjusted slightly, as needed. 

Will we trust Jesus enough to try out his application?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Encouragement to do good

We have been walking through one the most clear and concise explanations in the entire Bible of what the Christian life is all about.  With that said, it is beneficial for us to step back and read Paul’s statement in its entirety.  Read slowly, and let these words resonate:

Titus 2:11-14 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.  It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope – the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Statements like these are worth committing to memory.  I highly encourage you to do so.  In times of trouble, or even in those moments waiting for the stoplight to turn green, being able to remind ourselves of God’s plan can breathe life back into us.

Paul also wanted Titus to remind the Cretan believers of these things:

Titus 2:15 These, then, are the things you should teach.  Encourage and rebuke with all authority.  Do not let anyone despise you.

The root word for encourage means to call, invite, or summon…but the strength of the call depends on the one who is making the call.  Friends invite, Kings summon.  As a representative for the Apostle Paul, Titus would be in a position to greatly encourage and exhort the Cretan believers to live in a way that reflects their faith in Christ.  They would need encouragement and correction to live differently from their past, a life that would be different from the cultural around them.  Paul instructs Titus to use the authority he has to spur the people on to do what is good.

Paul ends this section of the letter detailing some practical ways that the Cretans could live the lives God has called them to:

Titus 3:1-2 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

Once again, we see Paul’s emphasis to Titus – to have the Cretan believers focus on doing good.  That is where they will be challenged by the surrounding culture, but that is exactly the area where are going to grow. 

God has done good towards us, even when we did not deserve it.  Now it is up to the Cretan believers to mimic God to their countrymen.  It will be challenging to do so…but it is the hard things that make us grow up and mature.

Keep Pressing,
Ken