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: encouragement

A warning, some encouragement, and a choice

Be careful here.  The author of Hebrews has an important warning to give his readers, but if these next 14 verses are taken out of context or read individually…not only would the reader miss the intended point, but it could cause significant confusion about God’s dealing with humanity.  HOWEVER, since we have traveled through the author’s major points of the letter, we are less likely to have a misinterpretation.  But we sill must approach the text with our thinking caps on and with the preceding context in mind…

Remember that the author is writing to eternally secure believers.  Also remember his previous warnings about what happened to the Israelites that disregarded their generation’s messenger:

Hebrews 10:26-31
For if we deliberately go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries.

Anyone who disregarded the law of Moses died without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, who has regarded as profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know the One who has said,

Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay
(Deuteronomy 32:35)
and again,
The Lord will judge His people.
(Deuteronomy 32:36)

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


Like any of us who selfishly choose to go against our parents’ directions, those of us in the “Holy family” who purposely choose to continue a sin-filled life are going to have a very angry Heavenly Father to deal with.  This is the same warning the author gave in Chapters 2 and 3 – the consequences of failing away, of having a sinful and unbelieving heart – but now we know the full ramifications of intentionally making sinful choices since we now understand the Greater Message that Jesus has delivered.

Recognizing the implication of their choices, the author then encourages his readers:

Hebrews 10:32-36
Remember the earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings.  Sometimes you were publicly exposed to taunts and afflictions, and at other times you were companions of those who were treated that way.  For you sympathized with the prisoners and accepted with joy the confiscation of your possessions, because you know that you yourselves have a better and enduring possession.

So don’t throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised.


What Jesus has promised is the opportunity to participate in His future kingdom.  Just as they were confident in Christ’s authority to forgive their sin debt and bring them into the family, the author encourages them to put that same level of faith and trust in the future which Jesus has promised is available to them.  To do so, the author relies again on an Old Testament passage:

Hebrews 10:37-39
For yet in a very little while,
the Coming One will come and not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith;
and if he draws back, I have no pleasure in him.
(Habakkuk 2:3-4)

But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and are saved.


These three verse require the most care.  Do not read our modern-day assumption that the words “destroyed”, “have faith”, and “saved” always mean “sent to Hell”, “saving faith”, and “eternally secure, going to Heaven”.  A look into the multiple Greek words that go into each of these three words reveals the following:

destroyed = into ruin, waste
have faith = trust, with implications that the one who is trusted will do actions because of that trust placed in them
saved = into gaining, sharing in life

Given that the author includes himself when he says “but we are not those who draw back” and also remembering the context of him encouraging believers, a good paraphrase of verse 39 would read:

But we are not of those who shrink back now into a wasted life, but we are those who trust and act upon the Greater Message now and will therefore gain the rewards in the next life that have been promised.

The same choice is available to us today…will we draw back rom the Greater Message, or will we trust Jesus and act on His word?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The Christian life, in 3 steps. Seriously. (part 3)

The author of Hebrews gave his readers a three step description of what Christian living looks like.  Each step begins with the phrase “let us”.  After drawing near to God and then holding on to our reliance on Him, the next step is this:

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

We can’t do this alone.  We need to be watching out for one another.

How many times have you heard (…or said) the following:

I don’t need to go to church.  I can be with God just fine by myself out in nature.
I don’t need to go to church.  Everyone there is a judgmental hypocrite.
I don’t need to go to church.  I don’t really get much out of it.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it is very, very self-centered.

What if we viewed our weekly gatherings as an opportunity to help others in God’s family?  Try this line of thinking instead:

I need to go to church because a little boy needs to know that God loves him.
I need to go to church because a teenage girl needs to know that God accepts her, just as she is.
I need to go to church because a struggling mom needs a smile and someone to talk to.
I need to go to church because a man doubting his marriage needs reassured in order to keep at it.

I need to go to church because we will all encourage each other while we wait for Jesus to return.

We must watch out for and encourage each other.  The perspective we develop when we give Godly encouragement is just as important as the perspective we develop when we receive Godly encouragement.

The rest of the Scriptures certainly bear this out, too:

Acts 20:35
…remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Proverbs 11:25
A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water.

Mark 10:45
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.


If we’re going to live the Christian life…If we’re going to live the Christ-like life…then we need to take the focus off of ourselves.  Encouraging each other is a great way to put our focus on others.

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The Christian life, in 3 steps. Seriously. (part 1)

Seems like every other day I see an article telling me that someone has figured out how to boil down a daunting life scenario into simple, easy-to-do steps.  We find stories with titles like: “5 steps to a successful marriage” or “8 things that will get you promoted this year” or “10 best vacations on a budget”.  When I read the title, I typically roll my eyes, mutter a ‘yeah right’…and then click to see if they really have something useful to say.

But can following Christ really be broken down in to easy-to-do steps?  Apparently many Christian authors think so, because their Bible-referenced lists are just as prevalent as anything else online.  But do any of them…well…work?  Or are they just peddling pop-psychology wrapped in a Bible verse?

While I’m not so sure about the internet, I know I can rely on the Bible.  In the later sections of his letter, after the author of Hebrews has fully demonstrated his initial thesis point from Chapter 1 – that Jesus truly is the Greater Messenger of the Greater Covenant – he proceeds with encouragement, a warning, and an example from Old Testament scripture.

First, let’s look at the encouragement:

Hebrews 10:19-21
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus – He has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through His flesh) – and since we have a great high priest over the house of God,

Because of these three things, which the author previously covered:

·        We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place (4:16)
·        By Christ’s sacrifice (9:11-12)
·        And we have a great high priest (8:1)

From this launching point, we are encouraged to follow through in three ways, and each one begins with the phrase let us.  It is in these three steps that we find essence of Christian living. 

Here’s the first one:

Hebrews 10:22
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.

Since Christ’s sacrifice was so great, He has given us – the muddy, messy, undeserving us – access to God.  And not just sneaking-in-the-backdoor access, oh no.  Instead, because Jesus identified with us and paid our sin-debt, we can boldly enter into God’s presence at any time and from any place.

When we enter God’s presence, we don’t need to become wallflowers, either.  We don’t have to hide or avoid eye contact.  Through Christ’s approval, we can draw near to God…we can get up close and personal. 

And if our shame has us worried about coming in close to God, remember that our sins aren’t just covered up or glossed over by Jesus’ sacrifice…our sins and their stains have been wiped out, erased, removed.  Our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies have been washed in pure water

If Jesus can cleanse the Heavenly tabernacle, then our individual guilty consciences and physical acts of sin are well within His cleansing ability. 

So, our first step in Christian living is to draw near.

But how do we draw near?  We need to intentionally spend alone time with God.  We’ll get to the ‘with others’ stuff later.  The first step is to make sure we each develop our relationship with God.  I can’t do it for you, and you can’t do it for me.  Drawing near means one-on-one time.

How much time?  I suggest we start with just a little more that whatever time we’ve been giving Him.  Maybe we go from 0 minutes to 5 minutes, maybe that’s 15 minutes at night before bed.  Maybe it’s as simple as shutting off the radio the next time we drive a car so we can talk with Him (trust me, other people won’t think you’re crazy…).

What should we do with that time?  Talk to Him.  Ask God a question and then be silent, waiting for an answer.  Read a psalm.  Think about what the psalm tells you about God.  Ask Him to show you how and where He’s active in your life. 

For the next week, intentionally practice drawing near.  Then we’ll be ready for what the author of Hebrews says is our next step.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Guard well

Paul’s letters would typically end with a goodbye and a few greetings for specific people.  Take for example, how he closed his letter to the church in Philippi:

Philippians 4:21-23
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.  Those brothers who are with me greet you.  All the saints greet you, but especially those from Caesar’s household.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Sometimes the greeting was brief, but other times it was quite lengthy.  Out of all the letters Paul wrote in the New Testament, only two have no ending greetings – Galatians and 1 Timothy.  It’s almost as if Paul was “all business” when writing these two letters. 

In fact, he ends 1 Timothy with the same emphasis that he started the letter with, warning Timothy to protect the truth of the gospel and to watch out for false teaching from deceived believers:

1 Timothy 1:3-4,6-7
…command certain people not to teach other doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies.  These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith…some have deviated…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.

Now compare that to Paul’s final words in the letter:

1 Timothy 6:20-21
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding irreverent, empty speech and contradictions from the “knowledge” that falsely bears that name.  By professing it, some people have deviated from the faith. 

Grace be with all of you.

From start to finish, Paul’s focus has been urging Timothy to be watchful – of his own teaching and of what gets taught on his watch as leader of the church in Ephesus.

In a very real sense, the church at Ephesus has been entrusted to his care.  Timothy needed to guard both the gospel message and those who had believed the gospel.  It was an important task, and Paul believed Timothy could handle the responsibility.

Closing out this letter from a mentor to his protégé has left me thinking about the people God has entrusted into my care…and how much the written encouraging words from my mentor has helped sustain me when challenges arise.  I still have most of the emails Joe sent when he was writing THE WORD, and I go back through them from time to time.  I’m sure Timothy did the same with Paul’s letter.

The gospel message has been entrusted to each of us, as well as certain people we are responsible for.  Make sure you guard them, and are also mentoring them to carry the message of salvation to future generations.

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
 

A note of encouragement

Remember your first “big assignment”?

You have learned, observed, asked questions, learned some more…and then, it was time.  Your boss gave you a task and then went on vacation.  The director stepped aside, and you were the only person on stage.  Your teacher put you in charge of the class – and then left.  How ever your situation came about, suddenly you found yourself working without a net.

If that sounds familiar, then you can empathize with Timothy. 

Timothy spent years working side by side with Paul.  He’s seen the good and the bad, the easy days and the hard days.  Together they have lived life, worshiped God, shared the gospel, and strengthened the faith of believers.  Timothy had started the church in Ephesus with Paul, and they ministered there for two years.  Now, years later, they have come back to Ephesus…however, this time Paul is moving on and Timothy is staying behind.

Ephesus was the third largest city in the Roman empire, with over 250,000 people living there.  It was also the regional capital, a bustling commercial center, and an important seaport.  Ephesus was a true melting pot of Middle East culture, and the people who became Christians had a wide-ranging background of religious experiences.  As many as 50 different gods and goddesses were worshiped there.  Other religious communities included Jewish religious practices and those who practiced magic, shamanism, and the occult arts.  The city was cosmopolitan on many levels, and the group of people who believed in Jesus for eternal life no doubt had a fair bit of baggage, a number of questions, and a need for guidance as to how this whole “life in Christ” thing is supposed to work out.

This is Timothy’s mission field.

It would be one thing to lead people with your mentor in an environment like that…it would be a whole ‘nother challenge if he left you in charge – but that’s what Paul did.

Imagine how Timothy felt, after he had been doing his best and some time had passed, when one day he received a letter:

1 Timothy 1:1-2
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus, our hope:

To Timothy, my true child in the faith.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul had written Timothy a letter of encouragement and instruction.  Right from the beginning, you can see Paul’s affection for Timothy – my true child in the faith.  These words would have breathed new life into the young man.  However, Paul’s words for Timothy weren’t sunshine and fluff.  In fact, Paul recognizes much of what he talks about as being hard…and that’s exactly why he writes to encourage Timothy to keep up the good work.  About halfway through his letter, Paul says

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

Paul doesn’t write Timothy to tell him how to share the gospel; Timothy knows how to do that.  Instead, Paul gives Timothy advice and encouragement for how to know what God expects of His family in the midst of mixed-up culture.  Even from a distance, Paul continues to support and exhort his young protégé. 

That is a great observation for us to take ahold of – mentoring doesn’t always happen side-by-side.  A note of encouragement can go a long way toward strengthening a person and keeping them focused on their Godly mission.  And that’s just the beginning.  We’re also going to take a look at what Paul had to say and how it was helpful to Timothy.  We have much to learn from their example.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Pleasing others, for their good

Think of a major accomplishment in your life.  To get there, you had to work hard.  Perhaps you worked for a long time, even years.  Significant progress was made, and you know – more than anyone else – how much effort and time and worry and late nights went into finally “arriving.”

Maybe your mountain is a promotion or tenure.  Maybe it’s a high school or college degree.  Maybe it’s the applause of your peers, the community, or even your family.  We strive and work toward many noble goals in this life – financial freedom, career advancement, raising a family, business success, doing adult-things and doing them well.

Whenever we get to the point where we feel like “we’ve arrived”, there’s a seemingly innocent urge that sneaks into our minds.  While we relish the moment and reflect on the work that got us there, there is also a subtle tug to coast (just a little) and take it easy.

Now, don’t misunderstand me…rest is good.  Rest is Biblical.  God rested after six days of creation.  However, when rest is complete, we will have to make a choice – will we allow our rest to become self-indulgent, or will we face the difficult question of what to do next?

As Paul was finishing up his letter to the believers in Rome, he touched on several practical issues.  He approached these issues from two sides –  from those believers who had already arrived at maturity and those who had not yet matured.  We find that kind of mixed company in the church today also.  Here, Paul talks about the responsibility of those who have developed a strong relationship with God:

Romans 15:1-2
Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.  Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, in order to build him up.  For even the Messiah did not please Himself.

When we have a mature, developed relationship with God, it is not time to be self-centered.  God doesn’t want us to sit around being full of ourselves.  Rather, He wants us to leverage our development in a way that pleases our neighbor

And this kind of pleasing isn’t about just making them feel happy, either.  We are to purposely act for their good, encouraging them and building them up so they can experience and live out the same kind of relationship we have with the Father.

Honestly, even for someone who has walked with God for a long time – developing others is hard.  Building up a fellow believer can be really messy sometimes, it’s not a give-advice-once-and-be-done kind of thing.  In case we have any question as to what that looks like, Paul says that the model for the mature believer to follow is Christ’s example.  Jesus found motivation to continue on, complete His mission, and please His Father by looking ahead to the mission’s end result.

A few verses later, Paul points his audience toward the end result of building up their fellow believers:

Romans 15:5-6
Now may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you agreement with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a unified mind and voice.

That’s the goal here, humanity’s created purpose – to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and for us to do so with a unified mind and voice.  We who are strong and mature are to bear with those who haven’t made it yet.  Not just to tolerate them, either.  After we build them up to maturity, together we can all give God the glory He deserves.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The invitation that launched a ministry

Let me introduce you to one of the great mentors in the Bible:

Acts 4:36-37
Joseph, a Levite and a Cypriot by birth, whom the apostles named Barnabas, which is translated ‘Son of Encouragement’, sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Barnabas shows up many times throughout the New Testament.  He was always well respected, and he lived up to his nickname by encouraging others.

After Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, not everyone believed that he had really changed.  Imagine if the top leader of ISIS, who had personally killed or imprisoned your friends and family, suddenly declared that he was now a believer.  Wouldn’t you be nervous to have him over for dinner?

Acts 9:26-30
When [Saul] arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple.  Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how, on the road, Saul had seen the Lord, and that He had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.

Saul was coming and going with them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.  He conversed and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they attempted to kill him.  When the brothers found out, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

Saul was accepted by the disciples only after Barnabas vouched for him.  However, soon after, the one who had once hunted believers was now being hunted for being a believer.  They needed to get Saul to a safe place, so the disciples sent him far away to Tarsus, back to his hometown.

About a decade later, we find that the persecution of Christians which had begun under Saul was the driver for getting good news of salvation through Jesus to those outside of Jewish boarders.

Acts 11:19-24
Those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one except Jews.  But there were some of them, Cypriot and Cyrenian men, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Hellenists, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus.  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.

Then the report about them reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to travel as far as Antioch.  When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart – for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith – and large numbers of people were added to the Lord.

It's what Barnabas does next that I find surprising: he leaves.  In the middle of a great spiritual awakening in an important ancient city, Barnabas leaves the many to go find one man – Saul. 

Acts 11:25-26
Then he went to Tarsus to search for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch.  For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers, and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Tarsus was further out from Jerusalem than Antioch.  Barnabas was willing to go out beyond his initial orders to find the man that he knew would be of great help to the newly formed church.  The church in Antioch would also be an opportunity for Saul to grow personally and for him to learn to lead both Jews and Gentiles in their new Christ-focused lives.

The work of Barnabas and Saul in Antioch would prepare them for future missionary journeys throughout the known world.  All because Barnabas invited Saul to participate.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Celebrate good times

At 40 years of age, Moses was on the run.

He had killed a man, and Pharaoh wanted Moses dead for it.  So Moses fled hundreds of miles east to the land of Midian.  One day at a well, Moses came to the rescue of 7 shepherdesses who were being prevented from watering their flocks.  In gratitude, their father invited him to a meal.  The dinner event began the relationship between the two men, with Moses marrying and starting a family with Jethro’s oldest daughter.  During the next 40 years, Moses and his family stayed near and worked with Jethro’s family – Moses was actually shepherding Jethro’s flock when God met him in the burning bush to appoint him as the one to lead the nation of Israel out of Egypt.

Now let’s hit fast forward...Moses has successfully led the nation out of slavery.  Egypt has been soundly defeated by the plagues God had sent and their military was obliterated during the Red Sea crossing.  However, before they meet God at Mt. Sinai, there is a family reunion. 

Before we read about Moses and Jethro, let’s stop and think about their relationship.  Moses arrived at Jethro’s house as a man who was hunted and looking over his shoulder.  Moses had grown up in Pharaoh’s palace, the richest of the rich in all of Egypt.  The Bible doesn’t mention the extent of his Egyptian education and training, but it’s not too much of a stretch to think that Moses was a little out of place when it came to rural life.  Over forty years’ time, Moses learned the ropes of leading and shepherding.  Little did he know, God was using his time under Jethro’s supervision to prepare him for the task at hand.

With this in mind, let’s look at their meeting.

Exodus 18:7-12
So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, bowed down, and then kissed him.  They asked each other how they had been and went into the tent.  Moses recounted to his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardships that confronted them on the way, and how the Lord had delivered them.

Jethro rejoiced over all the good things the Lord had done for Israel when He rescued them from the Egyptians.  “Blessed is the Lord,” Jethro exclaimed, “who rescued you from Pharaoh and the power of the Egyptians, and snatched the people from the power of the Egyptians.  Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because He did wonders at the time the Egyptians acted arrogantly against Israel.”

Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat a meal with Moses’ father-in-law in God’s presence.

This meeting was a joyous occasion.  You can see that they were excited to see one another, and they were excited about the things God had done.  It is a great moment when a mentor can truly celebrate with his protégé about the success God has had in their lives.  I’m certain that evening was full of “remember when” stories, with Moses thanking Jethro for his help all those many years ago, and with plenty of rejoicing over God’s part in all of it.

As mentors, we need to make sure we’re celebrating the successes of our protégés.  As someone being mentored, we need to make sure we’re telling our mentors about the victories God has won in our lives.  A public celebration will serve as an encouragement to both people and give God the proper recognition He deserves.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Final greetings and a warning

As Paul closes out his letter to the believers in Colossae, he has some specific instructions for the few people he knows in the area. 

Colossians 4:15-18
Give my greetings to the brothers in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.  And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.  And tell Archippus, “Pay attention to the ministry you have received in the Lord, so that you can accomplish it.”  This greeting is in my own hand – Paul.  Remember my imprisonment.  Grace be with you.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be Archippus?

Paul essentially calls him out before the entire congregation…and to whomever would eventually read the Colossian letter.  The next time someone is introduced to Archippus, I could imagine the conversation going something like:

“Nice to meet you.  Oh, you’re Archippus?  Have you accomplished the ministry God gave you?”

I’m sure Archippus had some mixed emotions when he heard the letter read to the church – feeling some encouragement from Paul, but also feeling a little pressure, too.

However, that’s what good encouragers do.  The help us see the correct path, and then they give us a nudge in that direction.  But we have to be the ones to take the steps and do the ministry that God gives to each of us.

This blog doesn’t write itself.  In order to continue the ministry that Joe started years ago and later handed off to me, I have several things that I must pay attention to.  My own study of God’s Word, my work schedule, my family schedule, and all the other curve balls that life throws at us…all of them must be juggled intentionally in order for me to accomplish the task that God has given to me.

There are times when writing is more difficult than others.  There have been times where I’m writing blogs weeks ahead of when they are posted…but there have been many more times when I’m writing late into Tuesday or Thursday night for something that will post the next morning.  Sometimes the observations come easily, but other times I struggle to find the correct interpretation of a passage.  However, knowing that God is allowing me to partner with Him in this way is a great motivator.  The occasional note back from someone who can either relate to or apply what I write has also been encouraging.

Paul’s point is that we can’t accomplish the ministry God gives us unless we actively pay attention to it.  We cannot be lazy in our efforts and expect God to pick up our slack.  He paid the penalty for our sins because there was no alternative, no way for us to do it.  However, if God hands us a ministry, then He knows we can accomplish it…with the right amount of effort.

Looking back through Paul’s letter to the Colossians, his main focus was to encourage them on to maturity.  One of the best ways to demonstrate and develop our maturity as believers is to pay attention and take care of what God has given us to do.

What opportunities has God placed before you to minister to the people around you?  Don’t compare your ministry to other people’s.  Look at the lives around you, who can you reach?  Are you paying enough attention so you can do what He has given you to do?

In order to accomplish our given task, we have to make hard choices about how we spend our time.  We have all the time in the world to do whatever we think is most important.  How important is the ministry we have received from the Lord?  I encourage you to pay attention and go for it!

Keep Pressing,
Ken

For those not in the limelight

In 1937, the Academy Awards began giving out an award for “Best Supporting Actor” in movies.  This recognition was given in honor of an actor who had delivered an outstanding performance in a supporting role.  Having a supporting role meant that the actor wasn’t the main character of the story; however, he held an important role in the movement of the plot and/or the development of the lead character.

Paul certainly was the main character and lead preacher of the gospel in the first century.  He authored approximately half of the New Testament and was the focal character throughout most of the book of Acts.  However, Paul rarely traveled by himself.  Other believers traveled with him and on behalf of him to evanglize the known world.  Some people would help for a short time, others for longer periods.  Some, like Timothy and Titus, became his protégés…while others held varying roles within to the ministry.

Based on the number of times he’s mentioned and the type of work he’s given, Tychicus was one of Paul’s best supporting ministers.  Tychicus was Paul’s personal letter-bearer for the New Testament letters to the churches in Ephesus and Colossae.  Tychicus was also likely the one who delievered Paul’s letter to Philemon. 

However, Tychicus was more than just a mail carrier delievering letters.  Take a look at how Paul described him – and his role – to the believers in Colossae:

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

Paul’s words are very high praise.  From these verses, we see that Tychicus was both trusted and up to the task at hand.  In addition to delivering Paul’s messages, Tychicus was also ready to encourage their hearts.  He was ready to be a surrogate minister when Paul couldn’t be there because he was in prision for preaching about Jesus.

In one of his last letters, Paul tells Titus that he would send either Artemas or Tychicus to give Titus a break from his ministry overseeing all the churches on the island of Crete.  That would have been a significant task, one that Paul would not entrust to just anyone.

However, the Bible doesn’t record Tychicus’ encouraging words to the Colossian believers.  We don’t know if he went to Crete, or if Artemas went instead.  Tychicus’ job in Paul’s ministry wasn’t to do big enough things that he would be recognized in Scripture.  Instead, Tychicus found a purpose for his God-given talents while being the best supporting minister for the Apostle Paul.  From Paul’s words, we see that Tychicus did well in his role.

It helps us to have this kind of reminder – that we don’t have to be a main character in the Bible to have an impact for God in other peoples’ lives.  Although everyone that comes to your local church knows who the lead pastor is, or who the worship leader is…God knows where our talents are best suited and most profitable for the advancement of His kingdom.  It’s not just the “upfront” leaders that will be rewarded by God, either. God has promised a rich reward in Heaven for those who do well in supporting roles also.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The heart of the matter

We commonly use the word “heart” to indicate the center of a person.  We think of our hearts, and not our heads, as holding our emotions and passions.  This kind of thinking isn’t isolated to us modern folks, either.  In fact, the ancients took the metaphor of what our hearts contain even further then we do.

To them, the heart was considered to be the seat of the inner self (composed of life, soul, mind, and spirit).  It was where all parts that make you actually “you” reside and are sorted out.

Keep this definition in mind as you read about Paul’s desire to present everyone mature in Christ, since he says the maturity we need to develop begins in the heart:

Colossians 1:28-29
We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me.

Colossians 2:1-3
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person.  I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding, and have the knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ.  In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

Paul’s desired maturity in believers begins with ensuring that the inner parts of you that make up “you” are both encouraged and joined together with fellow believers. 

We need to be admonished, strengthened, and cheered on by the believers around us.  We have a desire to be united with others and know that we are not alone.  Notice, though, that Paul is specific in how we are both encouraged and joined together.  And even though the context of our encouragement and togetherness is found in love, Paul isn’t just talking about nice-to-have, squishy feelings.  Earlier, Paul used the same agape word for love when he discussed how God the Father felt about Jesus:

Colossians 1:13
He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves

Paul also used the same agape word for love when he described how the Colossians had been treating each other:

Colossians 1:4
for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints

Only a love that penetrates to our hearts could save us, and it’s the same kind of love that develops and matures us.  Loving each other the way God the Father loves God the Son will bring the encouragement and togetherness that we need from one another.  Continuing in this kind of love is a foundational step in our maturity as sons and daughters of God.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Praying for those we haven't met

Let’s face it.  Praying for God’s help is awkward when you’re not intimately involved in the situation.  Whether it’s request for prayer from a good friend, a family member, or even a total stranger…we often don’t know what to say to God about it.  I mean, He’s God, after all…shouldn’t He know what they need more than I do?  How does my few moments of a mumbled, semi-sympathetic prayer really help anyone else?

Yet we often feel the same way even when we are praying for someone we do know.  When someone we love and care about – even those we deeply care about – are in another town and not in our day-to-day lives, how do we pray for them?  Again, it just feels awkward because God knows what’s going on better than I do.

In both these cases, I usually end up praying something like “God…please help them with their…stuff…they’re going through.  I pray that they rely on You.  Amen.”  If I’m honest, that kind of prayer leaves me feeling rather unsatisfied and wondering if I have just wasted my time – and maybe God’s, too.

The Apostle Paul came in contact with thousands, if not tens of thousands, of people over the known world as he spread the good news about Jesus and ministered to those who believed on Him for eternal life.  However, Paul didn’t talk to everyone.  There were churches started in other towns by others who were also spreading the gospel. 

At some point during his journeys, Paul met a man named Epaphras.  Biblical evidence suggests that he was from the town of Colossae, which was about 100 miles inland from Ephesus, in modern-day Turkey.  Although Epaphras was away from his hometown while he was ministering with Paul, the believers in Colossae were always on his heart.  His prayers for them were full of passion and concern…so much so that Paul also joined Epaphras in prayer, and then wrote the believers in Colossae a letter of encouragement and teaching.

Before we jump into Paul’s letter, stop and think about the situation.  Epaphras hadn’t been in recent contact with the Colossae church (no phones or email) and Paul has never met them.  Certainly Epaphras gave Paul some ideas on what he could be praying…but what, specifically, would he say to God?  What would you say?  Or to ask a question that might be even more daunting – What would you write to believers who are total strangers to you?  What reason would you give that would convince them that your advice is worth listening to?

Here’s what Paul had to say about his reasons for writing the letter:

Colossians 2:1-3
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person.  I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding, and have the knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ.  In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

Paul’s aim is to encourage believers, even those he hasn’t come in direct contact with.  He desires for all believers to walk confident in their understanding, knowledge, and relationship with Christ.  There is much to learn from his example and from what he desires to teach the Colossian church.

For now, let’s ask God to show us how to be an encouragement to others – even those we haven’t met.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Saved from what?

As modern-day believers, we have a habit of over-spiritualizing everything we read in the Bible.  We tend to read our understanding of words and phrases from one section of the Bible into all other sections.  Instead, we need to remember that the meaning of a word or phrase is always understood based upon the context that word is used in. 

Take, for example, the word run:
I run for public office.
I run marathons.
Allergies make my nose run.

Same word – three totally different meanings.  However, what I am communicating to you in each sentence is clear, based upon the context of the surrounding words.

When we read the Bible, what is the word that we most typically ignore the context of and mis-read the author’s meaning?

It’s the word salvation or save.

In both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, the word for save simply means to be rescued or delivered.  What we typically assume is the New Testament concept of Jesus rescuing us from the consequences of our sin and giving eternal life to those who believe in Him for it.  And that is a proper use of the word save – as long as that idea is the author’s topic.  Other things that Biblical authors need saved from include: enemies, danger, circumstances, physical death, illness, captivity, and several others. 

So whenever we come across the word salvation or save, we need to stop and ask the question “Saved from what?”.

When David writes Psalm 57, he’s not asking God to rescue him for eternal life…even though it would be tempting for us to read that into the text:

Psalm 57:1-3
Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in You.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of Your wings
until danger passes.

I call to God Most High,
to God who fulfills His purpose for me.
He reaches down from heaven and saves me,
challenging the one who tramples me.

God sends His faithful love and truth.

So how do we know that David isn’t talking about (or even alluding to) eternal salvation when he says that God reaches down from heaven and saves me, challenging the one who tramples me?

By looking at the context.

While the numbering system used for the Psalms isn’t original to the text, there are sometimes instructions or notes about the psalm left by the author.  The instructions can vary from what kind of instrument or tune is needed for the psalm, who wrote the psalm, or even give detail as to when the psalm was written.

In the case of Psalm 57, the notes tell us the circumstances which influenced David to write. 

For the choir director: “Do Not Destroy.”  A Davidic Miktam.  When he fled before Saul into the cave.

David was hunted by Saul for four years.  Saul resented that God had chosen David to succeed him as king, and Saul rationalized that if he killed David, then he could continue being King of Israel.  There were many tense occasions during those four years, several times where it looked like Saul had David trapped. 

Psalm 57 was born out of one of those times.  David was in trouble.  Like the text says, Saul was trampling David.  The grace, refuge, and salvation that David was petitioning God for was his physical rescue from Saul.  Based upon the Biblical account of those years, and that David did eventually become King of Israel…we know God’s answer to David’s prayer in Psalm 57.

We don’t have to find inspiration by reading eternal salvation from sins into the text…because a plain reading of what the text is actually talking about is plenty encouraging – from David’s example, we see how God cares enough about our current physical situations to protect us and to fulfill His purpose for us.

God keeps His promises.  He’s willing and able to protect us in this life, even in the times we feel completely trapped.  That great truth is there for us to see, as long as we read the text for what it says and resist the urge to read something else into it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Interceding on our behalf

Most Christians are familiar with the story of Peter denying Christ three times.  This event happened at arguably the worst possible time – after Jesus had been arrested and then brought before the Jewish religious leaders at a secretive, illegal nighttime tribunal.  Even though Jesus being deserted by all of His disciples was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, none of them saw it coming.

During the Last Supper, Jesus had given this warning:

Luke 22:31-32 “Simon, Simon, look out!  Satan has asked to sift you like wheat.  But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.  And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

The “you” in Satan has asked to shift you like wheat is plural.  Sifting wheat was a filtering process that removed dirt, rocks, and chaff from the valuable wheat kernels.  Satan certainly wasn’t advocating that the disciples be purified and have the chaff of their lives removed – rather, Satan was accusing the disciples of being useless chaff, and he wanted the opportunity to prove it. 

The you” in the rest of Jesus’ words are singular.  The upcoming denial of knowing Jesus is going to severely shake the guy who has been known among the disciples as “the rock”.  Jesus is specifically telling Peter that He has interceded for him, not to the exclusion of the other disciples, but because he will need to know this information.  Later on, Peter will be able to look back and remember Jesus’ encouraging words.

When speaking of God’s unfailing love toward those who believe, Paul also mentioned a similar situation to the believers in Rome:

Romans 8:34 Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.

Christ’s prayerful intercession between Peter and God the Father wasn’t a one-time thing.  He now acts on behalf of all believers.  Jesus hears the accusations of Satan, knows our weaknesses, and then intercedes on our behalf to God the Father.

How incredible is that?

There are troubles on the horizon that we don’t see coming.  When our failures in those situations shake our faith, we need to remember that we have an advocate.  We haven’t been abandoned due to our mistakes.  We can take a lot of encouragement from remembering that Jesus is on our side…just like Peter did.

Keep Pressing,
Ken