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: consequences

A believer's biggest choice, this side of Heaven

A key to understanding Revelation is to keep in mind that John assumes his readers know their Old Testament.  Oftentimes when a new concept or symbol is presented, an interpretation is immediately provided (like the explanation of the seven stars and seven lampstands in Revelation 1:20).  However, when describing the throne room of God in Revelation 4:3, John states that a rainbow…surrounded the throne.  He doesn’t interpret the rainbow’s significance; he expects that you already understand it from knowing Genesis 9:8-17.

Last time we started to look at this verse:

Revelation 21:7
The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God, and he will be my son.

Since this is the only time the word inherit is used in Revelation, to understand what is going on here, we’ll take a look back to the Old Testament.

Throughout the Old Testament there were two kinds of inheritance – an inheritance of God himself (e.g. – Psalm 16:5) or an inheritance was the right to a possession.  However, with this possession-inheritance, the ownership wasn’t automatic, there were conditions involved.  The land of Canaan was the nation of Israel’s promised inheritance.  However, the ability of a particular Israelite generation to actually inherit, or physically own, the land was dependent upon their obedience to God’s commands.

After God rescued the Israelites from slavery and bondage to Egypt, they rebelled and grumbled when they got their first look at the work to be done in order to possess the promised land of Canaan.  They even claimed that the Lord hated them and that they were better off back in Egypt.  Moses recounted this event:

Deuteronomy 1:34-38
“When the Lord heard your words, He grew angry and swore an oath: ‘None of these men in this evil generation will see the good land I swore to give your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh.  He will see it, and I will give him and his descendants the land on which he has set foot, because he remained loyal to the Lord.’

“The Lord was angry with me also because of you and said: ‘You [Moses] will not enter there either.  Joshua son of Nun, who attends you, will enter it.  Encourage him, for he will enable Israel to inherit it.’

The easy response to this passage would be to say that the generation of Israelites that died in the desert must not have been “saved”, or they weren’t “true believers”.  But…that can’t be the case, because these were the same people that trusted God and performed the first Passover.  They took the blood of a perfect lamb and spread it on the doorposts of their homes – doing so demonstrated their trust in God’s promise that they would be passed over when the destroying angel came by to take the life of the firstborn son.  The Passover prophetically foretold of Christ’s perfect blood sacrifice for mankind on the Cross.  This was also the same generation Paul later used as an example for other believers:

1 Corinthians 10:1-5
Now I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.  They all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ.  Nevertheless God was not pleased with most of them, since they were struck down in the wilderness.

According to Paul, the people of the Exodus generation of Israelites were right (positionally) with God, on the basis of their faith in the foreshadowed Christ.  However, their disobedience later in life marred their relationship with God and prevented them from physically inheriting the Promised Land. 

Now that we have the Old Testament context for the word inherit, we can see that God takes possession-inheritance very seriously.  Fortunately, a believer’s potential inheritance is also discussed in the New Testament.  While there are many passages we can look at (and perhaps that’s a future study), the following selections help us understand what God is talking about in Revelation.

1 Peter 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Because of His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.

Notice that Peter says God the Father has given us new birth into two things – a living hope and an inheritance.  Some have argued that heaven will be a Christian’s inheritance; however, Peter is indicating that this inheritance is something found in heaven.  So this means that the inheritance can’t be heaven itself…either it is a part of heaven or something else, in addition to heaven.

Jesus also gave similar instructions during the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6:19-20
“Don’t store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.”

Jesus states that the treasures are in heaven, and not heaven itself.  Also important is the contrast Jesus presents here (store up treasures on earth OR store up treasures in heaven).  He wouldn’t give us these directions if they weren’t necessary.  So from this we can conclude that it is possible for a believer to not store up treasures in heaven, and whether or not we have treasures in heaven is dependent upon our choices here and now.

So what is this inheritance that can never perish spoil or fade and these treasures in heaven that cannot waste away or be stolen?

Revelation 21:6-7
I will give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.  The one who conquers will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

Having a relationship with God can be had without cost to us because Jesus already took the punishment for our sins.  Remember that to inherit these things refers back to the New Jerusalem.  And from looking at other scriptures, we understand that inheriting New Jerusalem is dependent upon the choices we make here and now.

Choose wisely.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Watching with purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 12:43-46
Blessed is that servant whom the master finds doing his job when he comes.  Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, that servant’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unfaithful.

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken  

The damage caused by false teaching

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote:

God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

Any attempt to fuel ourselves on anything other than a relationship with God will not work.  This is why the teaching we listen to matters so much.  Even if what the teacher proposes begins with a Scripture, we must be attentive to the content of their message.  When we listen to “Bible teachers” whose teaching does not align with what Jesus taught, we are attempting to use a fuel that we were never made to run on.  We may start out alright, their teaching may seem to work…but the eventual consequences are rather severe, like an engine that was given water instead of gasoline.

Paul warned Timothy about the eventual damage that comes from the application of bad teaching:

1 Timothy 6:4-8
From these come envy, quarreling, slanders, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement among men whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth, who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain.  But godliness with contentment is a great gain.

For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out.
But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

What fuels the false teachers isn’t God; therefore, their teachings are not able to point others toward God.  The result of this incorrect fueling is rather nasty and harmful – envy, quarreling, slanders, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement.  These qualities are opposite of what Paul stated at the beginning of his letter:

1 Timothy 1:5-7
Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.  Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion.  They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

When we get right down to their core motivation, many of the false teachers are really doing it for the money and comfort.  They imagine that godliness is a way to material gain, and this greed is what drives them.  They are focused on themselves in the here and now.  Their focus isn’t on God and Who He Is.

However, being in relationship with God has its rewards, just not the way the false teachers are aiming.  Paul is very clear here – there is something to be gained by imitating God.  When we fuel ourselves with God, and so much so that we take on god-like-ness in the way we think, speak, and act….we do end up receiving other rewards and benefits.  However, instead of temporary material gain, we are promised something far greater.  Just as Christ told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36), the great gain that comes from having godliness with contentment right now will not be found in this world, either.

But if we’re not fueling ourselves on the right teaching – the kind of instruction that points us toward God – then we will miss out on both Him and His greater rewards.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Solomon's biggest warning

After telling his son that the most important thing for him to do is to guard his heart, Solomon gives his son the longest warning on any one topic in the book of Proverbs.  For almost three entire chapters, Solomon warns his son about the dangers of breaking the seventh commandment God gave to Moses.

Proverbs 5:1-8
My son, pay attention to my wisdom; listen closely to my understanding
so that you may maintain discretion and your lips safeguard knowledge.

Though the lips of the forbidden woman drip honey and her words are smoother than oil,
in the end she’s as bitter as wormwood and as sharp as a double-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death; her steps head straight for Sheol.
She doesn’t consider the path of life; she doesn’t know that her ways are unstable.

So now, my sons, listen to me, and don’t turn away from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her.  Don’t go near the door of her house.

The words from the lips of the forbidden woman are seductively enticing – and deadly dangerous.  The young man has a choice – whose words will he listen to?  The smooth words of forbidden woman or the wisdom of Solomon?

Solomon gives the best defense against the siren’s song – don’t go near the door of her house.

If she is purposely avoided, then her smooth words cannot ensnare him.  However, if he foolishly gives in to this temptation, Solomon warns that it will cost him severely:

Proverbs 5:9-14
Otherwise, you will give up your vitality to others and your years to someone cruel;
strangers will drain your resources, and your earnings will end up in a foreigner’s house.
At the end of your life, you will lament when your physical body has been consumed,
and you will say,

“How I hated discipline, and how my heart despised correction.
I didn’t obey my teachers or listen closely to my mentors.
I was on the verge of complete ruin before he entire community.”

If he gives in to her temptations, the young man will not be able to undo the path his life will go down.  Any profit will go to another, and he will only be left with regret.  The destruction to himself, his family, and his community cannot be undone.

We see this play out today as well.  Sexual sin is one of the greatest destructive forces in today’s society.  “Sex sells” is what we’re told, and the numbers don’t lie – advertisers prey upon our inability to control our sexual appetite.  The world’s system is set up to ensnare both men and women.

If we consider its ultimate cost, what that moment of pleasure will take from us in this life and in the next, we can see why Solomon spends the next two chapters continuing his warning.

Proverbs 5:20-23
Why, my son, would you be infatuated with a forbidden woman
or embrace the breast of a stranger?
For a man’s ways are before the Lord’s eyes,
and He considers all his paths.

A wicked man’s iniquities entrap him;
he is entangled in the ropes of his own sin.
He will die because there is no instruction,
and be lost because of his great stupidity.

Sexual sin is a great stupidity.  It cannot be simply managed or contained.  The only safe way to deal with it is to take Solomon’s advice and don’t go near the temptation.  Avoid it, because you don’t want to pay everything it will ultimately cost you.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Less than perfect

Many of us could be mentors, but we choose not to be.  Oftentimes, it’s because we convince ourselves that our personal history or poor choices would prevent us from “doing anybody any good.”

In our minds we don’t expect mentors to be completely perfect, just mostly so.  We think that only Christians who have their lives in order and are living “comfortably blessed” are in a position to really help others.  However, when we look throughout the Bible, we find the opposite to be true.  God has, in fact, used some seriously flawed individuals – even some who had significant problems due to self-inflicted wounds – to mentor and guide others.

For about 300 years after Joshua led God’s people into the Promised Land, the nation of Israel was governed by various judges.  This period was marked by political, moral, and spiritual anarchy and deterioration.  Although some God-focused revivals occurred, the nation was in a continual downward spiral.  The last verse of the book of Judges best described the culture at that time:

Judges 21:25
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he wanted.

By the end of this period, the corruption had also infested God’s appointed representatives – the priests.  A man named Eli was the High Priest at that time, with his two sons serving as priests under his supervision. 

1 Samuel 2:12-13, 17
Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord or for the priests’ share of the sacrifices from the people…they treated the Lord’s offering with contempt [because they took for themselves portions the Law had reserved as an offering to God].

1 Samuel 2:22-29
Now Eli was very old.  He heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they were sleeping with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.  He said to them, “Why are you doing these things?  I have heard about your evil actions from all these people.  No, my sons, the report I hear from the Lord’s people is not good.  If a man sins against another man, God can intercede for him, but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?”

But they would not listen to their father, since the Lord intended to kill them.  By contrast, the boy Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.

A man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Didn’t I reveal Myself to your ancestral house when it was in Egypt and belonged to Pharaoh’s palace?  I selected your house from the tribes of Israel to be priests, to offer sacrifices on My alter, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in My presence.  I also gave your house all the Israelite fire offerings.  Why, then, do all of you despise My sacrifices and offerings that I require at the place of worship?  You have honored your sons more than Me, by making yourselves fat with the best part of all the offerings of My people of Israel.’

The problem is that Eli and his sons are supposed to represent the people to God and represent God to the people.  Eli had more than a passing knowledge of his sons’ long-running misdeeds and the disgrace they brought to God’s reputation.  God had given Moses direction on how to handle those in the community who blatantly disregard God’s laws:

Numbers 15:30-31
But the person who acts defiantly, whether native or foreign resident, blasphemes the Lord.  That person is to be cut off from his people.  He will certainly be cut off, because he has despised the Lord’s word and broken His command; his guilt remains on him.

These consequences were for the community at large, and Eli’s family held a much higher status.  Since he did not follow through with God’s prescribed consequence, Eli was showing preferential treatment of his own sons over God.  Because of this, God brings the prescribed punishment down on Eli, his sons, and the rest of their lineage:

1 Samuel 2:30-34
“Therefore, the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Although I said your family and your ancestral house would walk before Me forever, the Lord now says, “No longer!”  I will honor those who honor Me, but those who despise Me will be disgraced.

“ ‘Look, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your ancestral family, so that none in your family will reach old age.  You will see distress in the place of worship, in spite of all that is good in Israel, and no one in your family will ever again reach old age.  Any man from your family I do not cut off from My altar will bring grief and sadness to you.  All your descendants will die violently.  This will be the sign that will come to you concerning your two sons Hophni and Phinehas: both of them will die on the same day.’ ”

If God directly rebuked us like this, we would probably assume that we’re disqualified from any type of useful service toward God.  The consequences of self-inflicted wounds can become roadblocks to the ways we’ve previously served God, but that doesn’t mean we are completely useless to God the rest of our lives.

The punishments God told Eli eventually came true.  However, in the years between the sentencing and justice being served, Eli mentored another young man.  Samuel grew up to be one of the greatest prophets of Israel, and he shepherded the nation through some turbulent times.

Just because you’re down – it doesn’t mean you’re out.
Just because you have a “past”, or a “record”, or a “history” – it doesn’t mean you’re useless.
Just because God legitimately punishes us – it doesn’t mean we’re disqualified from mentoring others.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The aftermath of affliction

Time has a funny way of changing our perspective on things, doesn’t it?

The most important topics to us in our teens are no big deal in our thirties – and just a flash of a memory in our fifties.  We also see how time changes our perspective in raising our children, while we’re doing our daily parenting, it seems to go on forever…but then when they become adults, the entire process seems to have happened just in a blink of an eye.

Time also changes our perspective when it comes to learning life lessons.  Sometimes we learn from others’ words or example, other times we must learn the hard way, on our own.  It’s typically later on, when we have the benefit of hindsight that we are able to see clearly what we did wrong, why we had the trouble we caused, and what God was doing for us during that time in our lives.

In this section of Psalm 119, the author speaks from a perspective with the benefit of hindsight.  What has he learned from his past afflictions?

Psalm 119:65-72
Lord, You have treated Your servant well, just as You promised.
Teach me good judgment and discernment, for I rely on Your commands.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.
You are good, and You do what is good; teach me Your statutes.
The arrogant have smeared me with lies, but I obey Your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are hard and insensitive, but I delight in Your instruction.
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statutes.
Instruction from Your lips is better for me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

It was good for me to be afflicted” isn’t something we typically say when we’re in the middle of a mess.  The author also takes responsibility for the trouble when he says, “before I was afflicted I went astray”.  The rest of the text suggests that if he hadn’t strayed from God’s commands and statutes, then he wouldn’t have dealt with the affliction.

The Hebrew word for afflicted means to be humbled, humiliated, or oppressed.  When left to our own devices, we stubbornly take paths contrary to the one God lays out in His Scriptures.  We create situations that eventually come back to bite us, and that is when affliction comes.  Sometimes the consequence of our humbling and humiliation is temporary…sometimes, though, the consequences echo throughout the rest of our lives.

But why would God allow for us to experience such hard, painful, life-altering consequences?  We often charge God with not really loving us because we see ourselves (or others) dealing with very difficult afflictions.  However, it is the benefit of hindsight that gives us a glimpse of our lives from God’s perspective.  Look again at what the author said about being afflicted:

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statues.
Instruction from Your lips is better for me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

If the lesson learned as a result of his affliction is better than large amounts of riches, then the lesson learned would also trump any lasting consequences from dealing with his self-inflicted troubles.  What was his lesson learned?

The superior value of God’s instruction in his life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken