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: death

Either it matters, or it doesn't

Every year, millions of people change their weekly routine to accommodate all the events that happen around Easter.  Eggs must be dyed, baskets need filling, ham dinners are expected, and – if you go at all during the year – you gotta go to church for Easter.

But what are we celebrating?  Pull away the eggs and the games, the chocolates and the bunnies…even take away the extra-special songs and skits that happen during a church’s Easter service – what, exactly, are we doing?

When you get right down to it, we are carving out one weekend of the year, every year, to commemorate one of the most bizarre claims in human history.  And yet, this absurdity is claimed to be part of history.  Not myth, not fairy tale, but a-human-being-really-did-this story.

Christians actually believe that a man (who claimed to be God in the flesh) died in a manner that has eternal, cosmic consequences.  Christians believe that this man’s gruesome death on a wooden cross paid for every single sin the world has ever committed – past, present, and future.  And if that wasn’t fantastical enough, the man who made all these claims is then said to have come back to life.

In his book “God in the Dock”, C.S. Lewis summed up the whole situation like this:

‘What are we to make of Christ?’  There is no question of what we can make of Him, it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us.  You must accept or reject the story.

The things He says are very different from what any other teacher has said.  Others say, ‘This is the truth about the Universe.  This is the way you ought to go,’ but He says, ‘I am the Truth, and the Way, and the Life.’  He says, ‘If you are ashamed of Me, if, when you hear this call, you turn the other way, I also will look the other way when I come again as God without disguise.  If anything is keeping you from God and from Me, whatever it is, throw it away.  If it is your eye, pull it out.  If it is your hand, cut it off.  If you put yourself first you will be last.  Come to Me everyone who is carrying a heavy load, I will set that right.  Your sins, all of them are wiped out, I can do that.  I am Re-birth, I am Life.  Eat Me, drink Me, I am your Food.  And finally, do not be afraid, I have overcome the whole Universe.’  That is the issue.

Lewis was right.  Based upon Jesus’ own words, there is no middle ground here.  Writing to the believers in Corinth, the Apostle Paul put it this way:

1 Corinthians 15:13-19
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is in vain, and so is your faith.  Moreover, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified wrongly about God that He raised up Christ…and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.  Those, then who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished.

If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone.

Either Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection means nothing, or it is the most important moment in all of human history.  There is no in-between.  The big question for each of us is the same one Jesus asked Martha:

John 11:25-26
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?”

Either it matters, or it doesn’t.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - Joe Rheney has relocated to Heaven

I can’t believe that it’s been a year.

What a day that was, too.  The funeral was a wonderful representation of the man himself.  People from all walks of life, who wouldn’t have known each other if not for Joe, came together to celebrate and remember.  There were stories, smiles, unity in grief, and hope-filled relief in knowing Joe had finally reached his goal, to be in the presence of his Creator, face-to-face with Jesus.

Joe would have approved of the service, but only for one reason: the clear, good-news message of Jesus Christ was shared.  Over the years, he had lamented to me several times that the best use of a funeral service was to reach people with Christ’s offer of eternal life while they thinking about the big topics of life, death, purpose, and legacy.  The importance of this message, and its life-changing impact, were on full display during the event.

The verses that helped Joe, as a freshman at the University of Georgia, see his need for Jesus came from a letter written by the Apostle John:

1 John 5:11-13
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  The one who has the Son has life.  The one who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

As much as January 11, 2018 was a day of rejoicing and remembrance, it was under a shadow of mourning and grief.  I still miss him, terribly.  But a reunion is coming – either in Heaven or at the Rapture, whichever comes first. The next time I see him, there will only be joy and gratefulness – all because Jesus paid the price for our sins and gave eternal life to anyone who would accept His offer.

As Joe often said: I’ll see you there, or in the air!

Joe Rheney has relocated to Heaven
originally posted on January 11, 2018

On December 29, 2017, Joe Rheney, my father in the faith and the originator of THE WORD, passed on into Heaven.  Today, January 11th, he will be buried with military honors.  His family and friends have gathered to honor the man who loved and shared Jesus with countless people.  I have the double honor of being a pallbearer and speaking at his funeral.  Below is the text of my speech:

I first me Joe in 2004.  By anyone’s standards, he had already lived a successful, fulfilling life.  He had honorably served his country.  He had been married to his sweetheart for decades.  They had raised a son who was also married, with his own honorable service and thriving career, and they had grandkids.  Retirement was near, and he was entering the time of life when most everyone looks forward to putting their feet up and taking it easy.

I was at the other end of the spectrum.  25.  Married for almost 5 years.  The father of two young boys.  Just starting to get traction in my career.  And more naïve than I realized.

Joe was teaching Sunday School at Chestnut Ridge Church in Morgantown, WV, and my wife and I regularly attended his class.  One day, as the class time was wrapping up, he stated that the burden of teaching was too much for him to do alone and asked if anyone would be interested in teaching with him.  Now I had grown up in the church, and while I enjoyed tutoring and teaching during my schooling and for my job, I knew I was unprepared to stand in front of a class and teach the Bible.  However, I felt prompted to tell him, very specifically, “I would like to help you teach, but first I need to learn to study.” 

Looking back, this was clearly the Holy Spirit making sure I said the right thing, at the right time to start our relationship.  Joe began coaching me through the process of Observing, Interpreting, and Applying Scripture.  For nearly 9 years, Joe was my father in the faith – he mentored me through many of life’s early storms – ones that I didn’t even know were on the horizon.

He didn’t have to take me under his wing.  No one would have blamed him for coasting the rest of his years.  But Joe knew the value of mentoring and training the next generation of disciples.  He was the one who taught me how to study the Bible.  He taught me how to love my wife when she was rather unlovable or when I was stubborn (or when both were happening).  He constantly stressed the importance of being a Godly example for my boys, and making sure they saw me do Godly things.  He warned me about the temptations that arise when traveling for work.  My wife deals with some of the same health issues his wife has…while he couldn’t tell me how to fix them, he helped me love her and support her as she went through it.

Joe was a great mentor because he lived all these things.  He would smile that sly grin and tell me, “I’ve already made the mistakes.  If you listen you me, you won’t have to make them too.” 

I eagerly played the part of Timothy while he played the part of Paul.  Timothy was an outsider with a good reputation, potential, but someone in need of a mentor.  The Apostle Paul took him under his wing and guided him to become his eventual replacement.  Paul told Timothy do the same.  In one of his letters, Paul said, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). 

It wasn’t just me, either.  I have encountered many others over the years that refer to Joe as “my mentor”.  His openness and eternity-focused example resonated with so many.  Another one of the Apostle Paul’s protégés was a young man named Titus.  And when Titus died, his successor in the ministry referred to him as “the exalted echo of Paul’s own voice”.

As I have told friends and family of Joe’s passing on to Heaven, I have struggled with conveying everything that he meant to me, everything that he taught me, and everything did for me.  You and I would have to sit down and talk for days if I were to really attempt it.  The best way I’ve been able to quickly communicate his impact on my life is to say, “If you know me, then you’ve met him.”  I would not be the man I am today if not for his voice in my life.  Joe reflected Jesus so well that it rubbed off on anyone who spent time with him.  And that’s what Christian discipleship looks like.  This is what Jesus meant when He gave His disciples The Great Commission.  We teach the next generation how to connect with God.  We partner with them, so they learn how to partner with God.  In the end, the protégé reflects his mentor, but they both have been reflecting Jesus all along.  That is how the world will see Jesus.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Aftermath of a miracle: the ultimate setup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Aftermath of a miracle: the response

“Seems like the only time we ever get together anymore is weddings and funerals.”

Sound familiar?  It’s certainly true of me and my extended family.  We’re not only scattered across the entire US, but there are a few of us who live in distant countries at the moment.  It takes a big event to get everyone to coordinate schedules and finances such that we can all be face-to-face for even a couple of days.  If someone has a serious illness or accident, we will call and text to check in on each other.  A few of us that are regionally close to each other might get together for Christmas or Thanksgiving, but for most holidays, birthdays, and graduations our communication is through technology and not in-person. 

But a wedding or funeral?  It would take a lot to keep us from showing up to one of these events.   And our drive to be there in-person isn’t just for our immediate family, but when our friends experience these milestones, as well.  While some might decry this as a negative result of modern society, I don’t think it is the case.  It takes a huge moment of celebration or tragedy to get everyone’s attention and bring people together.

And that is why Jesus allowed Lazarus to die.  Many friends and family showed up for his funeral in his hometown of Bethany

John 11:18-19
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.

Something tragic had to happen in order to bring everyone out of their normal-daily routine, to ensure they were aware – and present – for the revelation of God’s authority and power that was about to take place.

Jesus had a distinct purpose in the steps He took as Lazarus’ situation would unfold.  Throughout the account, John records several statements Jesus made about His motivation.  Look at what He says:

John 11:4
When Jesus heard [that Lazarus was sick], He said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

John 11:14
So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus had died.  I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe.”

John 11:40-43
Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father I thank You that You heard Me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”


Did you notice what Jesus included in His prayer?  Because of the crowd standing here.  Would the crowd have gathered if Jesus had arrived before Lazarus died, when was still sick?  Most definitely not.   A few may have shown up out of concern, but, realistically, Jesus would have performed a healing in front of the disciples, the sisters, and an on-looker or two.

Instead, Mary and Martha had to experience their worst nightmare – helplessly watching their brother waste away and die.  Even worse, Lazarus painfully experienced his body failing him…all the way through death.  By allowing these personal tragedies to run their course, a crowd of people became eye-witnesses to the greatest miracle up to that moment in human history.  At Jesus’ command, a man that they all knew was without-a-doubt 100% dead was suddenly restored and standing among them.  As eye-witnesses, how did they respond?

John 11:45
Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him.

A short while later, Jesus returned to Bethany; and look at what happened:

John 12:9-10
Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there.  They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one He had raised from the dead… he was the reason many of the Jews were…believing in Jesus.


The “Tragedy of Lazarus” had become the “Glory of God” that Jesus predicted…but Lazarus still had to suffer before getting there.  If Jesus can use a death to draw others to Him, I’m certain that any disease can also be used for God’s Glory.  This includes my younger brother’s Multiple Sclerosis, my debilitating migraines, your terrifying cancer, your uncontrollable anxiety, and any painful unexplainable failing of our bodies. 

I cannot promise that God will heal any of us.  It is certainly acceptable to ask: He may say yes; He may say no.  What is clear from Lazarus’ story is that Jesus places a higher priority on God’s Glory and drawing others to Him than we do on our current status.

But if we’re talking about changing the eternal destiny of those around us – ones who otherwise would not be eye-witnesses to God’s Glory and Power, if not for our personal tragedies – we can trust God with our sufferings, our illnesses, and our frail bodies.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Is God ever late?

When I was a kid, I remember the preacher telling us “God is rarely early, never late, and always right on time.” While I don’t think the math quite adds up in his statement, the truth is that “being on time” is a matter of perspective.

But, if you had asked anyone…this time, Jesus was late.

After Lazarus became sick, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, asking Him to come heal their brother.  When He receives the news, Jesus waited two days before heading out on the several-days-long journey to where Lazarus was in Bethany.  When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had already died and had been buried for four days.  Both sisters lamented that if Jesus had made it in time, their brother wouldn’t have died.  Friends and family who had come to mourn witnessed Jesus weeping with Mary and commented:

John 11:36-37
So the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Couldn’t He who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?”

The rabbinic custom said that a body had to be identified by family and/or friends within three days, or else the decay of a person’s face would leave them unrecognizable.  Additional rabbinic belief of the time said that after 3 days, there was zero hope of a person to have been “mistakenly” declared dead and for them to come back to life.  At four days out, Jesus was well-past the time to heal His friend from his illness.

John 11:38-41
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

“Remove the stone,” Jesus said.

Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days.”

Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

So they removed the stone…

While Jewish burial rituals used spices, they did not embalm the corpse, like the Egyptians did or us modern folks do.  A body will naturally decay rather quickly.  Between 24-72 hours, all organs have decomposed.  By the end of 5 days, the body has become bloated and…well, if you want to know the full details, feel free to google them.  They’re not pretty.  Suffice it to say, though, Martha was quite right when she told Jesus not to remove the stone covering her brother’s cave-tomb, saying “Lord, there is already a stench”.

Jesus was too late to perform a healing miracle.  He wasn’t too late for a resurrection, though – in fact, Jesus was right on time:

John 11:41-44
So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard Me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”


There would have been no resurrection without the death happening first.  Where a healing would have been another great display of Jesus’ power and authority – a resurrection was irrefutable proof that God the Father was the one who sent Jesus into the world.

So yes, Jesus was too late to do what Mary, Martha, and even Lazarus so desperately wanted.  But He was on time to show everyone who was there to mourn the glory of God…so that they may believe.

Has it felt like God is running late in your life?  Has society wandered too far away from God’s design?  Are you feeling like you’re out of hope? 

If life seems like that, it’s probably time to adjust our perspective.  Instead of lamenting on ‘what God should have done’, let’s expectantly watch for the greater thing God has in store.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A 911 call to Jesus

We’ve all been there.  At some point in our lives, the situation is so bad that we feel like we have no where else to turn.  Maybe it is a diagnosis, a car accident, or even a prolonged illness…but we’ve tried everything we know to do to cope, and the only thing left is to hope that God does a miracle.

That’s where we find the people in this story from Jesus’ life.  Two sisters and their brother, all loved by Jesus.  They have an established relationship with each other.  By all indications, Jesus has even stayed at their house, possibly several times.  But something bad has happened to their brother, and the sisters can’t do anything else about it:

John 11:1-3
Now a man was sick, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped His feet with her hair, and it was her brother Lazarus who was sick.  So the sisters sent a message to Him: “Lord the one you love is sick.”


Let’s stop here and think about logistics for a moment.  How did they get in touch with Jesus?  According to the text at the end of chapter 10, Jesus wasn’t in Bethany.  Instead, he was a couple days’ journey away.  Martha and Mary couldn’t text or call to ask Him to come to Bethany or to even find out exactly where He was at the moment.  Someone had to physically make the long journey to go to the last place Jesus was known to be, and then go searching for Him from there. 

How time-consuming and risky!  They would have no guarantee of Jesus still being where He was before or that the messenger would end up asking the right person who knew where Jesus and His disciples had gone to next.  Going to this effort only underscores how sick Lazarus really was.  Mary and Martha must have believed that their brother would not live without some sort of divine intervention.

But also keep in mind that Jesus had performed long-distance healing miracles before.  Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurion without even entering the house.  Jesus then publicly praised the centurion for his faith in Jesus’ authority.  You can read about it in Luke 7:1-10.  Surely, the sisters thought, if Jesus was willing to heal a complete stranger, who was the servant of a leader in a foreign army that was occupying Israel…then without a doubt Jesus would heal a fellow countryman that He knew and loved, right?

We don’t know how long it took, but the messenger did eventually find Jesus:

John 11:4-5
When Jesus heard it, he said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.

The messenger and the disciples likely thought Jesus’ statement meant that Lazarus wouldn’t die.  I’m sure they all took some measure of comfort from thinking this.  However, as the story continues, we will see that Lazarus did die from his illness.  Jesus was still right, though – Lazarus’ sickness did not end in death, but death was part of God’s plan this time.

We need to stop here and wrestle with a few observations, even if they are uncomfortable:

·       Sometimes, God allows really bad things to happen to people, even ones He loves.
·       Just because God healed someone else doesn’t mean healing is coming in the same way for us.
·       God performing healing miracles is more about the glory of God than it is about our preference for comfort.

We trust that God hears us when we pray.  We trust that He loves us.  However, just because those two things are true does not mean that He will swoop in and respond in the way that we think He should fix everything. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Joe Rheney has relocated to Heaven

On December 29, 2017, Joe Rheney, my father in the faith and the originator of THE WORD, passed on into Heaven.  Today, January 11th, he will be buried with military honors.  His family and friends have gathered to honor the man who loved and shared Jesus with countless people.  I have the double honor of being a pallbearer and speaking at his funeral.  Below is the text of my speech:

I first me Joe in 2004.  By anyone’s standards, he had already lived a successful, fulfilling life.  He had honorably served his country.  He had been married to his sweetheart for decades.  They had raised a son who was also married, with his own honorable service and thriving career, and they had grandkids.  Retirement was near, and he was entering the time of life when most everyone looks forward to putting their feet up and taking it easy.

I was at the other end of the spectrum.  25.  Married for almost 5 years.  The father of two young boys.  Just starting to get traction in my career.  And more naïve than I realized.

Joe was teaching Sunday School at Chestnut Ridge Church in Morgantown, WV, and my wife and I regularly attended his class.  One day, as the class time was wrapping up, he stated that the burden of teaching was too much for him to do alone and asked if anyone would be interested in teaching with him.  Now I had grown up in the church, and while I enjoyed tutoring and teaching during my schooling and for my job, I knew I was unprepared to stand in front of a class and teach the Bible.  However, I felt prompted to tell him, very specifically, “I would like to help you teach, but first I need to learn to study.” 

Looking back, this was clearly the Holy Spirit making sure I said the right thing, at the right time to start our relationship.  Joe began coaching me through the process of Observing, Interpreting, and Applying Scripture.  For nearly 9 years, Joe was my father in the faith – he mentored me through many of life’s early storms – ones that I didn’t even know were on the horizon.

He didn’t have to take me under his wing.  No one would have blamed him for coasting the rest of his years.  But Joe knew the value of mentoring and training the next generation of disciples.  He was the one who taught me how to study the Bible.  He taught me how to love my wife when she was rather unlovable or when I was stubborn (or when both were happening).  He constantly stressed the importance of being a Godly example for my boys, and making sure they saw me do Godly things.  He warned me about the temptations that arise when traveling for work.  My wife deals with some of the same health issues his wife has…while he couldn’t tell me how to fix them, he helped me love her and support her as she went through it.

Joe was a great mentor because he lived all these things.  He would smile that sly grin and tell me, “I’ve already made the mistakes.  If you listen you me, you won’t have to make them too.” 

I eagerly played the part of Timothy while he played the part of Paul.  Timothy was an outsider with a good reputation, potential, but someone in need of a mentor.  The Apostle Paul took him under his wing and guided him to become his eventual replacement.  Paul told Timothy do the same.  In one of his letters, Paul said, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). 

It wasn’t just me, either.  I have encountered many others over the years that refer to Joe as “my mentor”.  His openness and eternity-focused example resonated with so many.  Another one of the Apostle Paul’s protégés was a young man named Titus.  And when Titus died, his successor in the ministry referred to him as “the exalted echo of Paul’s own voice”.

As I have told friends and family of Joe’s passing on to Heaven, I have struggled with conveying everything that he meant to me, everything that he taught me, and everything did for me.  You and I would have to sit down and talk for days if I were to really attempt it.  The best way I’ve been able to quickly communicate his impact on my life is to say, “If you know me, then you’ve met him.”  I would not be the man I am today if not for his voice in my life.  Joe reflected Jesus so well that it rubbed off on anyone who spent time with him.  And that’s what Christian discipleship looks like.  This is what Jesus meant when He gave His disciples The Great Commission.  We teach the next generation how to connect with God.  We partner with them, so they learn how to partner with God.  In the end, the protégé reflects his mentor, but they both have been reflecting Jesus all along.  That is how the world will see Jesus.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Fighting the temptations of money

We joke about it, but there’s certainly some truth to it – There are no luggage racks on a hearse.

We’ve also heard the more serious advice – You can’t take it with you when you die.  Travel light.

However, our consumerism-driven American lifestyle isn’t the first time Christians have had to wrestle with the desire to acquire things.  There really is nothing new under the sun.  Every generation is faced with the same issues, they just might come at us in slightly different ways.  When warning Timothy about the dangers of greed-driven false teachers, Paul made this observation:

1 Timothy 6:7-8
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.

Paul is telling Timothy that we can choose our perspective on acquiring money and the things money can buy.  But…we will be content.  That is a choice.  When we stop and consciously think about it, it makes all the sense in the world.  Having lots of money in this life provides no guarantees on how life in eternity will go for us.  We can’t buy our way into Heaven, and anything we accumulate will get left behind with our physical bodies when we die.

And yet it is so, so easy to get caught up in the pursuit of money and the things money can buy.  Our selfish desire to be comfortable, to “live the good life”, actively creeps into our thoughts and attitudes.  From my experience, the desire to take it easy has gotten stronger the older I get.  As my career and experience progresses, so does the value of my work.  With more money comes the opportunity to selfishly spend it on myself.

Which is why Paul then warns:

1 Timothy 6:9-10
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.

Whether we’re wise with our money (and have no debt) or we’re unwise with our money (and buy everything with credit), the world repeatedly tells us that we deserve to take it easy.  But believing that lie is only the first step down path to a trap leading to ruin and destruction.

Don’t think for one moment that this kind of temptation only ensnares “false believers” and that “true believers” wouldn’t fall into the money trap.  With his very next sentence, Paul tells Timothy:

1 Timothy 6:11
Now you, man of God, run from these things…

We must choose to run…and we must choose to be content.  Paul isn’t advocating that we live with just the minimum food, clothing, and shelter needed to stay alive.  In just a few verses, Paul will tell Timothy that God gives us all things to enjoy (see 1 Timothy 6:17).  Paul’s warning is for Timothy (and us) to guard against the human tendency to take something meant to be enjoyed and allow it to become something that we focus on and love.  The best way to protect ourselves is to remember Paul’s words and choose contentment:

1 Timothy 6:7-8
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.

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

Staring death in the face

Recognizing that the time had come make the payment for humanity’s sins, Jesus said one last prayer to His Father.

Luke 23:44-46 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three, because the sun’s light failed.  The curtain of the sanctuary was split down the middle.  And Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit.”  Saying this, He breathed His last.

This is Jesus fully trusting the Father all the way to the end.  Staring death in the face, Jesus’ confidence in the Father’s provision and plan never wavered.  It wasn’t enough for Jesus to suffer through beatings.  It wasn’t enough that He was nailed to a cross and hung there for six hours.  As brutal as Christ’s suffering was, our sin-debt would not be paid unless His death occurred. 

But why must it be death?  Why couldn’t the Father accept some other form of payment?

We were made for relationship with God.  We were created such that God was both our purpose and our fuel.  However, our rebellion separated us from the source of life.  Justice would expect that for the choices a person makes, that person should experience the natural consequence of his or her actions.  Since we cut ourselves off from our one source of life in all the universe, the natural consequence for our rejecting our Creator…is death, a complete separation from God.

However, God chose to be merciful and delayed the natural consequences that we deserved.  Although our physical bodies were now corrupted and we would experience physical death, God allowed for a substitute to take our place so that a person’s spiritual death (eternal separation from God) would not occur.  Israel’s sacrificial system was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.

Jesus summed it up like this:

John 3:16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Jesus knew that His death was to be a substitute for ours.  His sacrifice took the natural consequences of what our sinful choices warranted.  But it had to be death…because that’s what we deserved. 

Earlier, Jesus quoted Psalm 22 as He dealt with the conflicting emotions of despair and hope.  Jesus’ last words, His last prayer – Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit – underscored His complete trust in the Father as He completed the sacrifice, and His words find their source in Psalm 31. 

Psalm 31:1-5 Lord, I seek refuge in You; let me never be disgraced.
Save me by Your righteousness.
Listen closely to me; rescue me quickly.
Be a rock of refuge for me, a mountain fortress to save me.
For You are my rock and my fortress; You lead and guide me because of Your name.
You will free me from the net that is secretly set for me, for You are my refuge.
Into Your hand I entrust my spirit; You redeem me, Lord, God of truth.

All the way to the end, Jesus was trusting the Father.  Because of His death, our opportunity for relationship with the Father has been restored.  Eternal life is available to anyone who believes in Him, which means that you understand who He is, why He died, and you trust Him when He said that He will give you eternal life.

That is why today is a Good Friday.

Keep Pressing,
Ken