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: asking questions

A question of belief

Can I be open and honest with you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Do you believe this?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Struggling with not knowing God's purpose

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

But first, a quick recap of the situation:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus wept.

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Afraid of the bait-and-switch

I hate the bait-and-switch.

Whether it’s due to someone’s greed, circumstances beyond our control, or our own misunderstanding, we can end up getting less than what we expect.  As a result, we’re constantly on guard against situations that appear too good to be true.  We always have this lingering fear that we won’t fully get what has been advertised…and it makes us suspicious of good things that happen in our lives.

We carry this suspicion into our relationships, even with God.  Life’s changing circumstances and people letting us down can leave us wondering about the basic truths that we hold dear:  Does God really forgive me?  Can I sin “too much”?  Is there a line that I could cross and then God will reject me?  Is believing Jesus enough to have eternal life? 

Questions like these show that we’re nervous about our relationship foundation with God.  Is ok to ask questions, but also know that we can find answers.  We don’t have to sit in the dark wondering if God is going to change the rules or change His mind.

Progressing through his letter to the Hebrew believers, we find that as the author resumes his discussion of Christ’s superiority as our high priest, he shows us an important, bedrock truth:

Hebrews 7:20-25
[The Levites] became priests without an oath, but [Jesus] became a priest with an oath made by the One who said to Him:

              The Lord has sworn
               and will not change His mind,
               “You are a priest forever.”
(Psalm 110:4)

Because of this oath, Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.  Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office.  But because He remains forever, He holds His priesthood permanently.

Therefore, He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them.

There is no concern of Jesus being a temporary representative for us before the Father; instead, Jesus is our permanent guarantee of access to God.  Besides, if Jesus did not live forever…how could I trust His claim that He can keep me alive forever?

Hebrews 7:26-28
For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.  He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do – first for their own sins, then for those of the people.  He did this once for all time when He offered himself.

For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak, but the promise of the oath, which came after the law, appoints a Son, who has been perfected forever.

Jesus, the perfectly-suited high priest, gave the ultimately perfect sacrifice – and because the sacrifice was so great, it fulfilled our sin-debt in one fell swoop.  The Greater Messenger has done something that no one else has ever accomplished.

Hebrews 8:1-2
Now the main point of what is being said is this: We have this kind of high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that was set up by the Lord and not man.

Since Jesus does not need to offer any further sacrifices, His ministry can develop beyond what the Israelites would have witnessed in their high priests’ ministry.  Jesus is therefore worthy of greater honor and is able to go on to greater things.

Oh, and He’s our brother in the Holy family.  And He’s offered to help us with our struggles, if we would only ask.

The most superior person in the universe desires this kind of relationship with us.  No bait-and-switch.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

If you could ask God for just one thing

When I was a child, I would sometimes think about what Heaven would be like.  All I really understood was that Heaven was this great place where we would “be with God forever” and everyone would be happy.  Well, to my little mind, the greatest place I would want to spend long lengths of time in would obviously be chock full of my favorite Saturday morning cartoon toys.  I had it all planned…when I got to Heaven, I was going to ask God for the ENTIRE COLLECTION of He-Man action figures and playsets.  Pure bliss, as far as I was concerned, required a large amount of the best toys I could imagine.

Even as I’ve grown and matured in my understanding of God, Heaven, and Eternity Future, my desire to ask God for “just one thing” hasn’t subsided, but the “one thing” I would ask for has changed.  At various stages of my life, it’s been financial assistance, romantic love, new friends, a new job, a healthy baby, my own health, the health of someone else, a reasonably-comfortable life, and many other things. 

Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but if I’m feeling very spiritually mature, I tell people that when I get to Heaven, the only thing I plan on asking God for is a blue-ray history lesson narrated by Him.  I just want to know why stuff happened like it did and how He worked through it all.

But when you look closely at my progressing list of “just one thing” requests, not much has changed since I was fully enamored by plastic toys.  Even though I’m asking Him about good things for myself or others, I’m still treating God like a cosmic vending machine.  Even if God actually gave me the toys, the money, and the good health…each “one thing” item is still something that I could lose, something that could be taken away from me.

In the second stanza of Psalm 27, David asks God for “one thing”.  His ask puts his life and God in the proper perspective:

Psalm 27:4-6
I have asked one thing from the Lord;
it is what I desire:
to dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
gazing on the beauty of the Lord
and seeking Him in His temple.
For He will conceal me in His shelter
in the day of adversity;
He will hide me under the cover of His tent;
He will set me high on a rock.
Then my head will be high
above my enemies around me;
I will offer sacrifices in His tent with shouts of joy.
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

Relationship.  Created Being relating back to his Creator.  That is the most important “one thing” we could ask for, and it will not be taken away from us, not even in the day of adversity.  However, we often let life’s issues and detours distract us from the true aim of our lives – to know God and to be known by Him. 

I think C.S. Lewis summed us up rather well, even if it does sting a little:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

It’s good to pray about all our requests, cares, and concerns, for God has instructed us to do so (Philippians 4:6).  However, the next time you do ask for something, go for the biggest thing you can ask Him for.  Ask God to give you Himself.  Seek a deeper relationship with Him.  Ask for even a glimpse at His glory.  Ask to be closer to Him, even if that means dealing with enemies and adversity.  God’s beauty and splendor exceeds everything we can see on this earth.

Ask for Him.  He will not disappoint.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Laying the foundation

I’ve been fascinated by harmonicas for a while now.  Listening to people who can pull a harmonica out of their pocket and just jam away on some jazzy, country, or bluesy music has made me want to do so as well.  I never acted on that desire, until recently.  And I learned something rather important – playing the harmonica isn’t super easy.  In fact, some parts of it are rather difficult.

The first skill to learn is to blow and draw single-hole notes clearly.  Makes sense to start there, but that’s easier said than done.  And my lips got sore/tired after about 10 minutes of squeaking around, so I had to wait until the next day to try again.  Day two wasn’t any better.  Neither was day three.  It took me months of work before I could play a scale without messing it up (and mess ups still happen, occasionally). 

The next skill to learn is to move around the harmonica, playing notes out of order so that I play a recognizable tune.  More work, and still not easy.  I’m much better at it now, after another couple of months, and I can now get about 80-90% of “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain” on a consistent basis.

On the horizon is a skill called ‘bending’.  It’s being able to change notes using the same hole by changing the position of your tongue and throat.  The video instructor I’m following called the practice time of learning this skill the ‘dark hours’ of learning to play.  He warned that it will take some time, and that it takes some people longer than others to figure out how to consistently bend notes.  His tone and cautiously chosen words were a little unsettling…but he did reassure that this skill is the gateway to learning all the jazzy, country, and bluesy jam session stuff that I really want to play.  If I don’t spend this time grinding through the ‘dark hours’, then I will be unable to play the harmonica to its full potential.  I’ll miss out on what I’m capable of because I won’t have the foundation I need to play like that.  But who knows how long it’s going to take for me to get this part figured out…

We’ve been looking at a passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy, who is overseeing the church in the melting-pot metropolis of Ephesus.  While being poor has its own challenges (and Paul addressed some of them earlier in this letter), Timothy also needed to instruct the wealthy members of the church how to handle their finances in a way that is productive and honors God. 

If we modern-day, American believers widen our lens to include the rest of the world, we quickly see that we too fit Paul’s definition of those who are rich.  With our smart phones, cable TV, and cars, in addition to our air conditioning, clean water, and indoor plumbing…It’s hard to argue that we’re “not that rich”.  Here are the things Paul says we need to learn:

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

Being others-focused like this does not come naturally, though.  We’re ok saying polite things and throwing a little money in the offering plate at church.  But we know that if we’re going to really do what God is asking of us here – do goodbe rich in good worksbe generousbe willing to share – that is asking for a change in us at a deeper level.  We’re going to have to take on our deep-seeded attitudes about ‘my time’ and ‘my money’.

And that wrestling match is hard.  When we finally step out and try to follow God’s instructions here, we find that we’re not very good at it.  It’s more uncomfortable that we want it to be.  We struggle with questions like ‘How will I know when I should help someone financially vs when it would be unwise to offer money?’ and ‘What does be generous really mean for my level of income?’ and ‘If I give and share when I really don’t want to, does that “count”?  Does God still consider my actions to be “good”, or should I skip giving until don’t feel any resentment about it?’.

Wrestling though these kinds of questions will be some dark hours.  We might be ok with being generous today, but lose the fight tomorrow.  We will want to throw in the towel and go back to just being nice (and comfortable).  We’ll get to the point where we can handle our wealth 80-90% of the time, and then lapse back into a selfish attitude. 

But it will be worth it in the end, He says.  Our work now, when it’s hard, is laying a good foundation for the age to come.  Learning how to be wealthy AND others-focused is the gateway to being able to partner with God in Eternity Future.  Without this practice time, we won’t be able to fully do the things we were made to do. 

I can’t answer your ‘dark hour’ wrestling questions, but God can.  My advice (for you and me) is to keep practicing.  Let’s trust God in this and take hold of life that is real.  Eternity future awaits.  Let’s make sure we’re prepared to partner with God and fully enjoy it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken