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: choices

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 rejection

Once a person believes in Jesus for eternal life, one of their early struggles comes when they observe those in the world who flat-out reject a relationship with God.  The Christian’s thoughts often fall along these lines: Why don’t others believe in Jesus?  Why can’t they see that this is what we, as humans, were made for?  Why would someone reject a relationship with the One who knows us the best, and Who offers to make us eternally safe?  Why would anyone pass that up?

Most of the time, when we talk about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, we focus on the miracle. We have learned a lot by doing so.  But looking at what happened afterward can help us think through our current question.

The people who watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead had one of two different reactions:

John 11:45-47
Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him.  But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.  So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and were saying, “What are we going to do since this man is doing many signs?”

The religious leaders didn’t discount the signs and miracles.  Honestly, they couldn’t.  There was a crowd of eye-witnesses that saw a dead man walk out of a tomb.  If it were just one or two people, perhaps the Sanhedrin assembly could scare them into staying silent or even convince them that they had been mistaken in what they “thought” they saw.  But could they prevent a crowd from spreading the news of a resurrection?  Not a chance.

But let’s think about this…why try to stop Jesus?  If He truly is the Messiah that Israel has been waiting for…for thousands of years, generation after generation watching, waiting, praying for God’s deliverance; IF this “Jesus” is the promised Redeemer, then why are they rejecting Him?  Here’s what they said:

John 11:48
“If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

They would have to give up control.  They were concerned they would lose their current position of influence and status.  They were comfortable in their arrangement with Rome.  Sure, they were not the top-dog-in-charge, but they had the ruling freedom to do – and get away with – most whatever they wanted.

Keep in mind that within the previous 200 years, others had come, claiming to be the Messiah.  And obviously, those claims had been wrong.  But Rome would not tolerate any form of authority outside of its own, so Caesar stood ready to crush any attempt at rebellion.

In the minds of the Pharisees, they had three options:

1.       If Jesus was not the Messiah: Rome would put their full force toward stopping Jesus’ movement.  And if the Jewish religious leaders had put their support behind Him, they would also be considered an enemy of the state.  If the Jewish religious leaders had not supported Him, Rome wouldn’t discriminate.  Rome would definitely come in and forcefully remove them from their position of leadership and their attempt to protect what was left of Israel.  And by “remove” it was likely be all of them being put to death.

2.       If Jesus was the Messiah: Rome would still put their full force toward stopping Jesus’ movement.  But even if Jesus was able to remove the Roman authority and governance and rescue Israel…the Pharisee leaders and entire Sanhedrin assembly would not be in power any longer.  How often had they opposed and tried to undermine Jesus?  Why would the Pharisees expect Jesus to keep them around?

3.       Find a way to get rid of Jesus.  This would maintain the status quo and their own control over the situation.

They chose #3.

John 11:53-54, 57
So from that day on they plotted to kill Him.  Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews but departed from there to the countryside near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and He stayed there with the disciples…The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was he should report it so that they could arrest Him.

They chose to be comfortable in what they knew, instead of trusting Jesus with who He said He was.  For most of the Pharisees, they decided that the cost of believing in Jesus was too great.  They were willing to remain subservient to their cruel Roman occupiers in order to keep the status quo, rather than let Jesus rescue them.

When we get right down to it, we find a similar attitude in wealthy 1st world societies.  We look at our careers, our house, our cars, our hobbies, our toys…and…we’re comfortable.  We’re not the top-dog, but for the most part, we can do – and get away with – what we want to do.  People who measure life only by what’s in front of them will never risk losing the amount of control they currently enjoy.  They are hesitant to venture into a relationship with Jesus, because it requires putting their trust in someone other than themselves…and they don’t want to risk being wrong, because being wrong would cost them everything.

We can’t choose for them.  So what’s a Christian to do with those who reject or are even hostile toward God?

Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:43-45
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor” [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

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

Running away

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

RUN!

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus gave a similar warning:

Matthew 6:24
Not one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot be slaves of God and of money.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We must make the same choice.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The ultimate blended family

What am I going to do?

The feeling of being helpless is more familiar than any of us care to admit.

We’re in a situation, or given some information…and we just don’t know how to process it, let alone what our best next step will be.  It’s in those moments that we want to look to someone with more experience, someone to show us how to deal with what life has brought our way.

Paul knew that the believers in Ephesus would be looking to Timothy with those kinds of questions.  The city was a huge cultural and spiritual mish-mash, and Timothy’s mission was to provide guidance and support to those in the church family.  Knowing the challenges Timothy would face, Paul sent him a letter.  About halfway through, Paul explains his motivation for writing:

1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon.  But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Paul doesn’t know the future.  He has a strong desire to minister side-by-side with his protégé again…but just in case he is delayed, Paul made sure Timothy knew how to support the people in the church.

I love the way Paul described those people, too…I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household.  We’re all part of God’s household.  Not God’s business.  Not God’s club.  Not God’s military, or any other socially-structured group.  We’re all part of God’s family. 

Being a family is hard.  And we’re not necessarily good at being a family with those with whom we share blood ties and genetics…so how are we supposed to be a household when we weren’t even raised in similar contexts?

Those are the legitimate questions the Ephesian believers are going to be asking Timothy.  If you were in his place, how would you answer them?

Stop and think of an answer before moving on…the church is the ultimate example of a ‘blended family’…so how do we make this household actually function as a family?

Paul actually gives us the answer.  God’s householdis the church of the living God.  We don’t define us as a family – belonging to the living Creator of the Universe is what ties us together as a family.  God is our pillar and foundation of the truth

This is no small thing.  In fact, Paul goes on to say:

1 Timothy 3:16
And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great:

The concept of being in God’s household is, in the Greek, a megas-mysterion.  It is so large, that it has to be explained to us before we can really understand it.  But why is it that way, why can’t it be easy to live as part of God’s household?

Interestingly enough, Paul then quotes a hymn reminding Timothy of the greatness of our Savior:

He was manifested in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit,
seen by angels,
preached among the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

Since Christ is so unique among all other proposed gods that the world looks to…it makes sense that being part of God’s household would mean that, at times, we’ll need help figuring out what to do next.  But that’s why we have mentors, and why it’s so important for us to mentor others.

Being part of God’s household means that we are connected to each other in the deepest, most unique way possible…it’s not always easy to be family…but it is who He created us to be.

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
 

Reoccurring themes and second chances

As Paul wraps up his personal letter to Philemon, he also lists out final greetings from those who are ministering with him at the moment:

Philemon 23-25
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

In light of Paul’s plea for Philemon to reconcile with Onesimus – despite the wrongs Onesimus had committed – one name on Paul’s final greeting list stands out: Mark.

Paul’s letter to Philemon and his letter to the Colossian church were very likely to have been written and delivered at the same time.  In fact, one of the great evidences for this timeline is the near-identical final greeting list at the end of Colossians, where Paul says:

Colossians 4:10
Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him)

This is the same Mark who deserted Paul and Barnabas on a missionary trip approximately 20 years before Paul wrote his letter to Philemon.  Although the Scriptures do not record why Mark abandoned the team, we do know that his reasons caused significant problems later on:

Acts 15:36-41
After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord, and see how they’re doing.”  Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark.  But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work.  There was such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus.  Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers.  He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

At that time, it was Barnabas standing in the gap for John Mark and pleading for Paul to reconcile over the past wrongs that John Mark had caused.  However, Paul did not want to trust John Mark after his previous failure. 

The disagreement over John Mark’s usefulness was significant enough for Barnabas and Paul to part company.  They are never mentioned together again in the rest of the New Testament.

Now fast-forward 20 years.  John Mark, through Barnabas’ mentoring, has become useful to Paul as they work together spreading the gospel.  There is no doubt in my mind that Paul saw in Onesimus the same need for a second chance that John Mark had needed so many years prior.  While Paul could not go back to change his previous choices, he was presented with an opportunity to make the better choice this time.

You can almost hear the echo of Barnabas’ plea on behalf of John Mark when Paul writes about Onesimus:

Philemon 17-18
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. 

Maybe we’ve messed up opportunities to reconcile relationships in the past.  We can’t go back and change those.  We have to trust that God will work in other people’s lives.  However, we will run into reoccurring themes the longer we walk with Christ.  There will be opportunities for us to make the right choice and help someone else.

Our great God is a God who gives second chances.  And He is patient enough to show us the reoccurring themes of life – even decades later – to give us another chance to act like Him toward another person.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Harsh words

The quickest way to change a situation is to open our mouths and have something selfish and negative come out.  With just a few harsh words, the tone of a conversation can be altered and the general mood of the room is radically different.  Depending on what we say and how we say it, relationships can be damaged for a significant amount of time. 

Recognizing this, it’s easy to see how careless words can tear apart family members.

After warning the Colossian believers to put to death any idolatry and greed that comes out of their hearts, Paul encourages them to take their conduct up to the next level by closely watching what comes out of their mouths.

Colossians 3:8
But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.

Paul says that these types of words must be put away.  The Greek word for put away means to “put off or aside”.  This action is intentional, and there’s no wiggle room here, it must be done.

Not to be self-congratulating, but I would like to use an example from my own life – I have decided there are some things that my boys will never hear from me.

I can clearly remember stories, jokes, and advice given to me over the years…but I will not repeat them.  Some memories go way back into my youth.  The stories and jokes were meant to be funny, and honestly, I laughed quite a bit at them.  My immaturity was in full bloom as I listened intently to my friends’ stories, trying to add in some off-color or inappropriate joke of my own.  My quick wit was good for that, or so I thought.

I also have distinct memories of “advice” given to me by people who were lashing out in anger and frustration, either at someone else or at the world in general.  I can still hear their voices say those words as they angrily warned me to avoid certain individuals or people groups.

However, I will not place the burden of these words on my children, or anyone else around me.  The memory of these words will die with me.

Now that the memories have been put away, the real challenge is to follow Paul’s direction and keep anything new from springing out of my mouth.  Now you must put away he says.  Paul’s direction needs to be applied moment by moment – even when things go sideways at work, or I’m caught off-guard, or my plans for the evening get wrecked, or I am hurt (yet again) by someone close to me.

Paul isn’t saying it’s wrong to be upset, frustrated, or even angry; we just need to be watchful for how our mouths express those emotions.  Guarding what comes out of our mouths is vital for maintaining healthy relationships within the family of God and with those outside of the family. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Some habits need to die

As Paul transitions from teaching the Colossian believers about God to teaching them practical ways to live out their relationship with God, there is a very specific concept that he wishes to convey to his readers.  Paul tells them that when we trust that Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins, we are identifying with His death and also identifying with His resurrected life.

Colossians 3:2-4
Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.  When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Since we have died with Christ to the elemental forces of this world, there are some habits and ways of our previous life that need to die also. 

Colossians 3:5-7
Therefore, put to death whatever in you is worldly: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, God’s wrath comes on the disobedient, and you once walked in these things when you were living in them.

Just as our past sins were counted against Jesus and were buried in His tomb, our sinful lifestyles and thinking habits also need to die.  Paul gets real specific about what choices and behaviors will stir up God’s wrath, and his warning here makes it clear that believers can still struggle with these issues.

Don’t skip over Paul’s list just because he starts with sexual immorality.  If we have never had a full-blown affair, it doesn’t mean we’re completely immune from it happening.  In fact, if we continue down Paul’s list, we find a dangerously linked chain of motivations…with the root of sexual immorality being something we all struggle with.

The preceding behavior to committing sexual immorality is to tolerate a level of impurity in our lives.  The Greek word for impurity relates to moral filthiness, especially in regard to sexual sin.  Behind the moral filthiness is lust, which is an inordinate affection or improper passion that we cultivate in our thoughts.  Lust is always born out of evil desires – when we nurture a craving and desire for what is forbidden. 

Paul then relates these evil desires back to greed.  We typically think of greed when it comes to money; however, at its core greed is a selfish, burning desire to acquire more of something or a coveting of what isn’t rightfully yours.  The deeply buried root to all of this is idolatryGreed starts in us whenever we trust something or someone more than we trust in God, because at that point we are giving ourselves to an idol.

From this chain of behaviors, we can clearly see how one thing leads to another…how a mistrust of God can lead us all the way down the path to sexual immorality.  It doesn’t happen overnight…the process is typically subtle, until one day we wake up wondering how it all happened.

Paul’s point is that wherever you find yourself on the spectrum, at that point you need to kill it.  The process cannot be allowed to continue to grow until we reach full-blown rebellion in sexual immorality.  Up until this point, the sinful progression and most of the damage done is specific to our own lives.  When we give into the sin of sexual immorality, there is going to be a significant amount of permanent damage done to all relationships in our own life and in the life of anyone who participates with us. 

The key to aborting this cycle is in Paul’s direction to put to death whatever in you is worldly.  To put to death is an active, action choice we can make.  The Greek word means to cut off, starve off, and deprive of power.  Whatever behavior or thought-process in our lives that is leading us down this path needs to be completely abandoned.  We must make the choice to cut off and starve these feelings. 

A few ways to practically do this:

·          Avoid the internet when you’re bored late at night
·          Avoid getting infatuated with new acquaintances of the opposite sex
·        Avoid comparing your spouse to others
·        Install Covenant Eyes or some other accountability software
·        Relationship issues are not discussed with someone of the opposite sex
·        Choose contentment with what we have – both things and relationships

There are many other ways to deprive power from this sinful cycle.  There are also many ministries aimed at providing help, as we all deal these desires.  We must talk to safe, Godly friends about where we’re struggling.  Making a list of situations to avoid will help, but the best way to put to death whatever in you is worldly is to replace those things with setting your mind on what is above.

What we dwell on, what we think about, will ultimately direct our actions.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Thwarted maturity

There is one word that strikes fear into the heart of every athlete.  As soon as the referee says this word, all their work, effort, and productivity comes to a screeching halt.  Having this word applied to you feels like a death sentence, and the stigma attached to it – especially when others find out – is equally crushing.

The last thing any athlete wants to hear is that they have been disqualified.  You can critique their form, give them low marks for execution, or even penalize them for their errors; but when an athlete is DQ’d, the competition, for them, is over.  To be disqualified is to be declared ineligible for the prize.

Earlier, Paul explained to the believers in Colossae that Jesus intends to take them from salvation to full maturity.  Our salvation is certain because it depends on Jesus.  However, Paul said that reaching maturity had some limiting factors based upon our choices and actions; there were conditions involved. 

Colossians 1:21-23
And you were once alienated and hostile in mind because of your evil actions.  But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him – if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith, and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard.

The word if shows that they can be disqualified from reaching full maturity.  A few paragraphs later, Paul explains how it can happen.

Colossians 2:18-19
Let no one disqualify you, insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.  He doesn’t hold on to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and tendons, develops with growth from God.

In Paul’s day, Jewish Occultism encouraged prayer to angels for protection, deliverance, or assistance.  They also believed that praying to the “right” angel was needed to thwart the advances of demons who were in charge of particular aliments of the body or problems in the home.  Additionally, the local Greek folk tradition placed significance on visionary experiences in connection with their spiritual practices.  Before we scoff at such primitive ideas, we need to remember that we come across similar teachings within Christianity when people are told to pray to their “guardian angel” or to a particular “saint” for protection.

Paul’s point is that these kinds of beliefs about angels and surface-level practices undermine Jesus’ authority in our lives.  Running to “angels” or “saints” or “visions” shows that we don’t think Jesus can handle what we’re dealing with at the moment.  How can we say that Jesus is the King of the Universe, but then look somewhere else for our well-being?

It’s these kinds of self-contradictions that shift us away from the full maturity Christ desires to develop in us.  We must remember it is not certain that, at the end of all things, we will be presented as holy, faultless, and blameless before Him.  If we are pronounced disqualified, then we are sure to miss out on some eternal rewards and opportunities to serve with Christ in eternity future.  

Unfortunately, it’s easy to get hung up on ascetic, good-looking practices that, in the end, pull us away from His plan for us.  However, we are not without help.  Jesus told His disciples to “Remain in Me” (John 15:4), not “remain in My angels” or “remain in visions”.  The One who was the start of our faith is the One who will mature it as well.  So let’s continue to trust Him and hold tight to Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Conditional goals

What is our goal as parents?  We spend 18ish years feeding, clothing, nursing, caring, teaching, testing, training, guiding, and living with our children.  While the “goal for today” may look different from last year’s “goal for today”, there is also a long-term target that we are trying to make sure they hit.

We don’t often verbalize what that “active-parenting-is-done-end-game” goal looks like.  Truthfully, the busyness of the moment makes it easy to forget that we’re aiming toward anything other than survival.  However, if we were to list out what we desire for our kids to be like when they finally become adults, it would probably look something like this:

I want them to be healthy, active members of society.  I want them to love God and others, and to be growing in both of those areas.  I hope they have a “good” career that uses their talents.  I really want them to be happy with their life/spouse/family/etc.

These are all good dreams for us to have for our children.  But it’s not very often that these ideas are forefront in our minds, especially as they get older.  I have to wonder, though, if we don’t think about this goal as much, not because of the busyness – but because we’re worried they may not be 100% ready when the time comes. 

No matter how well we parent, no matter how pure our love is, and no matter how spot-on our advice is – our kids’ lives could still be derailed by their own choices.  Lots of things in this world are ready to be distractions or disruptions: unhealthy relationships, various addictions, rejection of God, rejection of family, wasting of talents, etc.  But those are the reason WHY we parent them.  We give them guidance, love, direction, opportunities, and education so they CAN reach their full potential.

It’s no wonder we do these things – since God does the same with each of us.  Once we have been born again, we become part of God’s family, and He has a plan to mature each one of us.  He has an incredible end-goal in mind for what our full potential looks like.  Paul pointed this out in his letter to the believers at Colossae.  Look for God’s goal for them, but also be on the lookout for what will help them reach that goal:

Colossians 1:21-23
And you were once alienated and hostile in mind because of your evil actions.  But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him – if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith, and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard.

God the Father has reconciled you…to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him.  That goal is a HUGE change from where I’m currently at.  But looking back on my life, I can see that I’m closer now than I was when I became a Christian.  God’s been patiently working on me, and I trust that He will continue to do so, all the while aiming for His goal in my life.

But we both know that I’m susceptible to distractions and disruptions.  I can be my own worst enemy.  I could derail God’s plan to mature me if I rebel and disregard His leading and direction in my life.  That kind of behavior wouldn’t mean that I’m not part of the family – instead it would mean that God would have to address my rebellion before getting back to developing my maturity.

That’s why Paul says that God’s goal for believers – to be shown as holy, faultless, and blameless before Him – is conditional.  Some of us won’t make it to full maturity.  That’s why Paul prays that the believers may walk worthy of the Lord (1:10).  That’s why Paul says his goal is that we may present everyone mature in Christ (1:28).  These things may happen…they may not.  Throughout the rest of the letter, Paul warns the Colossians about other distractions and how to keep step with God and His aim for us.

However, Paul’s best advice comes in verse 23.  We will be able to reach full maturity if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith, and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard.

Our starting point is also our anchor.  The hope of the gospel – Jesus coming to earth to save us when we couldn’t save ourselves – is what grounds us.  Just as we trust God for salvation, we must also trust Him for our maturity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken