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: eternal life

Cure for snakebite

Without a doubt, the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16.  If you grew up in the church, it was probably the first verse you memorized.  We also see it at various places in the culture – signs at sporting events, on the bottom inside edge of In-N-Out’s drink cup (one more reason to love that place!), on a Monster Jam truck, in songs on the radio, in comic strips, and even in Tim Tebow’s eye black.

John 3:16 is appropriately hailed as “the gospel in a nutshell” as it succinctly summarizes the Good News of Jesus and His mission here on Earth.  Even better, the verse is a direct quote from Jesus, and obviously, He would be the authority on the subject of the gospel.  As a refresher:

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.

This quote from Jesus comes out of a discussion He had with Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was trying to figure out exactly who Christ was.  Just before He says those famous John 3:16 words, in order to help Nicodemus understand what He was about to say, Jesus curiously references an incident from Israel’s past:

John 3:14-15
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

Jesus compares Himself to a snake?  How does that help?

As Paul Harvey would say – and now, the rest of the story:

When Moses was leading the Israelites away from Egypt toward the land God had promised to the nation, the people routinely became whiny and rebellious.  Each time this occurred, God intervened to bring them back to their senses, forcing the nation to recognize their only chance of survival was to look to God.  This time, God’s “attention grabbing messenger” were poisonous snakes:

Numbers 21:4-9
Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey.  The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness?  There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!”  Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died.

The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you.  Intercede with the Lord so that he will take the snakes away from us.”  And Moses interceded for the people.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole.  When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole.  Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.

There is a lot of symbology here.  Bronze is always representative of judgement.  While the snake represented the present danger, it also harkened back to the Garden of Eden where Satan, in the form of a serpent, helped to usher sin into the world and separate people from God.

But of all the parts of this story Jesus could have referenced to help Nicodemus understand the good news of the gospel, Jesus said “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

What did the Israelites have to do to be immediately rescued from their snake-bitten death sentence?  Only to look at the bronze snake.  Not say a particular prayer.  Not promise to do better.  Not confess all their sins.  No requirement to make God the “Lord of their life” from here on out.  Only to look, because they believed God when He said that was the only thing for them to recover their earthly lives.

Jesus is telling Nicodemus – just like the Israelites looked to the bronze snake – everyone who looks to Him, everyone who believes in Him (no other conditions apply) will have eternal life!

Some may accuse me of “easy believism”, but they’ll have to take it up with Jesus first.

Why would God do such a thing?  Why would Jesus make something so incredibly valuable as eternal life available to everyone who (simply) believes in Him?

It’s the gospel in a nutshell:

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.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

On suicide and despair

This past week, a news story caught my attention.  A young New York dietitian committed suicide.  By most people’s standards, she was successful and in the prime of her life.  She had earned her Master’s degree and was working in her chosen field.  She had friends and co-workers that valued her.  Her Instagram pictures showed her enjoying a wide variety of food from places all over the world. 

And yet, she felt empty.  Here’s part of the note she left behind:

I have written this note several times in my head for over a decade, and this one finally feels right. No edits, no overthinking. I have accepted hope is nothing more than delayed disappointment, and I am just plain old-fashioned tired of feeling tired. 

I realize I am undeserving of thinking this way because I truly have a great life on paper. I’m fortunate to eat meals most only imagine. I often travel freely without restriction. I live alone in the second greatest American city (San Francisco, you’ll always have my heart). However, all these facets seem trivial to me. It’s the ultimate first world problem, I get it. I often felt detached while in a room full of my favorite people; I also felt absolutely nothing during what should have been the happiest and darkest times in my life. No single conversation or situation has led me to make this decision, so at what point do you metaphorically pull the trigger?

Her words ooze feelings of despair, bleakness, and hollowness.  Usually it takes many years on this earth before we reach a point with this level of emptiness – but most, if not all, of us feel like this at some point.  We look around at the state of the world and find ourselves agreeing with the writer of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself “The Teacher”:

Ecclesiastes 1:2-4, 8-9, 11
Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.  “Absolute futility.  Everything is futile.”  What does a person gain for all his efforts that he labors at under the sun?  A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever…

All things are wearisome, more than anyone can say.  The eye is not satisfied by seeing or the ear filled with hearing.  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun…

There is no remembrance of those who came before; and of those who will come after there will also be no remembrance by those who follow them.

These musings are real, the emotion behind them should not be simply dismissed.  They may hit us in a moment, or they may linger in the back of our mind for years.  If life is only made up of what we see in front of us, then the feelings of despair are accurate and we should do our best to eat, drink, and enjoy our work as best we can for as many trips around the sun we can manage. 

However, there is a flaw to this kind of thinking…what we need to recognize is the limit of our own perspective.  It’s hard to see beyond what is directly in front of us, but that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do.  When He spoke to the woman at the well, Jesus made this incredible statement:

John 4:13-14
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again.  But whoever drinks form the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again.  In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.”

The world’s water never satisfies – it always leaves us thirsty again.  But with one drink from Jesus, our thirst for fulfillment can be satisfied.  And it doesn’t stop there – a full, abundant, eternal life begins at the moment we believe in Jesus.

Walking with Jesus ensures that our perspective contains more than the unsatisfying things in front of us.  This doesn’t mean we will never experience the pain of despair or that we will never feel empty.  But we will know the truth of our place in God’s larger story.

If you are feeling bleak and hollow, turn these over to Jesus.  You don’t have to be afraid, He can handle your feelings.  Also be sure you’re talking with fellow believers about these feelings and your perspective.  We are to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and know that you’re not alone.  Your family is here for you.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hurricane on the doorstep

Hurricane Florence is barreling its way toward the East Coast.  We’re in central North Carolina, so we’re inline for some weather.  No one really knows how bad it’s going to be or where the worst will end up happening, but we’ve been preparing all week as best as we can.

I’d like to share with you some of the things (among the many thoughts) I’ve been thinking these last few days:

·       On a daily basis, we are rather careless with our words, aren’t we?  This was the best dinner ever made.  That was the worst meeting in the history of meetings.  She’s clueless.  He’s stupid.  This Netflix show is the greatest thing ever invented.  However, for the aftermath of Hurricane Florence…the word “devastation” will not be an exaggeration.  That’s a tough word to say.  It’s tougher to witness.  It’s a word we’re afraid to live through.


·       For some people…eternity will begin this weekend.  No matter how many precautions we take, the unpredictableness and utter ferocity of the storm will certainly lead to people losing their earthly lives.  We’ve been preparing for this massive storm…seeking out information and supplies, and then making our best decision based upon what we’ve found.  But are we prepared for the most important event of our lives?  How have we responded to Jesus’ claims of being the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Me [John 14:6]?  Our acceptance or rejection of Jesus is the most important preparation decision we can make.

·       I keep coming back to the most famous line in Moses’ psalm:

Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days carefully
so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.


·       We may lose possessions when, or even after, Hurricane Florence makes landfall.  However, everything we own is ultimately destined for a garage sale, the garbage dump, or the recycle bin.  Our things won’t last, hurricane or no hurricane.  Even if we lose everything we own…there is a higher, more impactful, purpose for this life.  Sometimes, it takes a tragedy for us to see from that vantage point.  I wish it didn’t.

If you are not in this storm’s path, please petition God on our behalf.  Pray that He will be seen in the way His children handle this event.

If you are in any way affected by this storm – be wise.  Paul wasn’t directly discussing natural disasters, but his direction still applies:

1 Corinthians 10:31, 33
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God…not seeking [your] own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.


How can we ride out, survive, shine, and rebuild from Hurricane Florence for the glory of God?  After all…everything means everything…even the hard circumstances.  So be wise and number your days carefully.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A question of belief

Can I be open and honest with you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Do you believe this?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Resolutions about maturity

It’s that time of year again…time to make resolutions to be better at something.  We know the big ones – get in shape, eat better, learn a new skill – and we know that we should do these things and they have lasting, positive benefits to our lives.  But why is it, that by sometime in February, we’ve given up on working towards them? 

When we’re honest – we recognize that we give up on these resolutions because we don’t value the end product highly enough.  We aren’t diligent in pursuing it, and we become lazy.  This doesn’t mean that we do not understand or fully trust the benefits of exercise, a good diet, or learning something new…it just shows that we value them less than other competing priorities in our lives.

Did you know that the same thing happens to us spiritually?  Other things crowd into our lives and we sometimes don’t value our growth as a Christ-follower or our relationship with God like we should.  We can become spiritually lazy.  It’s not a new problem for Christians, either.

After starting a discussion of Christ’s superiority as our high priest and reviewing some of the great benefits available to a believer who partners with Jesus, the author pauses to say:

Hebrews 5:11-14
We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become slow to understand.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation.  You need milk, not solid food.  Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature – for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.

Looking at this passage, it is clear that this letter was written to people who have already accepted Christ as the substitutionary payment for their sins.  The solid food is the teaching that deals with righteousness, or right-living, before God.  Because these “big babies” haven’t progressed to solid food, they cannot grasp the implications of the Greater Message of future partnership with the Greater Messenger.

Hebrews 6:1
Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity

If you could travel into a mother’s womb and speak with the prenatal child, I’m sure he would be very confused as to why he was growing arms and legs and a mouth.  He has no real, tangible need for them so long as he remains in the womb.  However, we would desperately explain that while he sees little use for them in his present stage in life, they will become vitally important for the way he interacts with the world of his next stage of life.

The entire New Testament, except for John’s Gospel, speaks to us like we are the child still in the womb.  The vast majority of the New Testament is written to believers and contains encouragement to put in the effort now to grow towards maturity…because the level of maturity we develop here and now will directly impact how we interact with the world of our next stage of life.

Hebrews 6:11-12
Now we want each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the final realization of your hope, so that you won’t become lazy, but imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance.

Keep at it.  Keep going towards maturity.  Not everyone does, but those who trust Jesus’ offer of partnership and patiently wait for it, they will obtain it.

That’s a resolution worth keeping, one with results that echo into eternity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Worth reading and worth fighting for

Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself a rather embarrassing question:

When was the last time you actually read something?

It’s not that I don’t read at all.  Like most everyone, there are many things every day that I need to look at and read.  Work policies, news stories, sports articles, emails, text messages, magazines, internet searches…we read lots of stuff, right?  Well, sort of.

Truth be told, I don’t read much of what’s put in front of me.  I skim.  And not just a little…I skim everything

Whether it’s the lunch menu or an official document, my tendency is to scan for key words and trust my assessment based upon what I find.  With the amount of information we’re bombarded with on a daily basis, it feels like we’d never make it through a day if we stopped to really, truly read and understood everything.  I’ve managed along through life alright with this method…it only occasionally causes me issues…but I find this habit creeping into my time with God, as well.

When reading the Bible, it’s very easy to fall into the habit of skimming so we can just “get it done” and move on the next task for the day.  And while Jesus did promise that one of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to remind us of everything He taught (John 15:4), it’s really tough to be reminded of something we skimmed and didn’t fully understand in the first place.

So, let’s slow down, for just a moment.  Let’s read the oh-so-easy-to-skim list of characteristics Paul told Timothy to pursue.  Paul said these things were worth fighting for.  We’ll make sure we understand them…and then we’ll make sure we know how to pursue them ourselves.  You with me?

1 Timothy 6:11-12
Now you, man of God run from these things,
but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith,
love, endurance and gentleness.

Fight the good fight for the faith;
take hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
and have made a good confession
before many witnesses.

Now, let’s look at what these terms mean.

righteousness – being in a right relationship with God; living a life according to God’s standards of integrity and purity, with correct thinking, feeling, and action

godliness – reverence and respect towards God, with the desire to imitate God’s qualities

faith – the belief that God is truthful and trustworthy

love – this is agape love, a love that is specific in affection, intention, and benevolence; it is given without condition or requirement of reciprocity

endurance – steadfastness, consistency, and patient continuance; the characteristic of a person who is not swerved from their deliberate purpose and their loyalty to God, by even the greatest trials and sufferings

gentleness – mildness, humility, meekness; strength under control when interacting with others

Now that we’ve read and understood Paul’s words, where do we go from here?  Paul said they’re worth fighting for, so how do we go about doing that?

For you, maybe one characteristic stood out from the rest.  Take the next week, and ask God each day to show you ways to pursue that specific trait in your life.

Alternatively, take one characteristic each day and focus in on that.  Today, tell God you want to increase your righteousness with Him.  Ask Him to point out the areas of your life that are rightly aligned with Him.  And then ask Him to show you what parts need to be cleaned up.  Tomorrow, purse godliness and pray specifically about a characteristic of His that you want to imitate – His kindness, His generosity, His strength.  The next day, talk to God about faith and increasing your trust in Him.  And so on, for each of the six characteristics.

Follow either plan…and in a week’s time, you’ll be amazed at what God has taught you.

Thanks for reading.  Now, take hold of eternal life, to which you were called.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The best reason for training

Who is the fastest man on the planet?

Depending on which Olympic sport you preferred to watch this past summer, you probably answered Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps.  Both men are incredible athletes and physical specimens that have pushed the limit of what the human body is capable of accomplishing.

Hours upon hours of training went into shaping and sculpting their bodies to bring them into top physical form so they could compete at the highest level.  They gave up many things so they would be physically and mentally prepared to win.

Now some Christian preachers and teachers might be tempted to knock these men for putting all their effort into “the here and now” as opposed to “eternal things”.  But have they really wasted their lives?  Paul gave us the answer in his letter to Timothy when he was warning his protégé about the dangers of false teaching:

1 Timothy 4:7-9
But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness, for,

the training of the body has a limited benefit,
but godliness is beneficial in every way,
since it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come.

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance.

We’ve come to the third trustworthy saying Paul had for his protégé.  Each one of the pithy statements made a specific point that Timothy needed to remember and accept.

In this saying, Paul wants Timothy to keep in mind the ultimate end of where he spends his efforts during this lifetime.  I find it interesting that Paul doesn’t say that training of the body has “no benefit”; instead, he says it has a limited benefit.  There is a short-term profit to taking care of ourselves; we can make our 80ish years on earth a lot harder –  or a lot easier – depending on the amount of effort we’re willing to spend on training of the body.

I fully expect that how well we took care of our physical bodies to be a stewardship issue with God.  In fact, there are many verses that point out that God made our bodies and that we are responsible for what we do with them (see Psalm 100:3 and 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). 

However, physical training isn’t the only training we need – and it’s not the most important training we can have, either.  The most beneficial training we can put ourselves through has benefits that go beyond our current circumstances.  Even if I take my physical training to the max and become the next fastest man on the planet…age and/or injury will catch up with me, and I will only hold that title for a short time. 

Our spiritual growth here in the present life on earth carries over into the life to come.  That’s not just a “double benefit”, either.  Paul comparing our 80ish years to an eternity of years.  Realistically, there is no comparison when we’re talking about our return on investment for how we invest in training.

So, has Bolt and Phelps wasted their lives on physical training?  That’s hard to answer from my vantage point.  The answer to that question would boil down to two things – What is their motivation for all their hard work?, and What are they going to do with the platform their hard work created?

I can’t answer those questions for our current living versions of the fastest man on the planet.  However, do I need to be able to answer those questions for my own life.  When God asks me about stewardship of everything He gave me in this life, will I be able to say that I trained for the life to come?

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

The purpose of our salvation

When we think about the ‘worst sins’ a person can commit, we immediately jump to all the atrocities that people commit against other people.  While humans have done horrific things to other humans throughout the centuries, alongside every event is an act of rebellion against the One who created us.  When we look at the motivation for our sin, many sinful actions are the result of our own selfishness taking precedence over the well-being of others; however, some sinful actions are a full-frontal assault on God, with people being the collateral damage.

When Paul was describing the ultimate purpose of his conversion to Timothy, he gave a saying of the time his own personal twist:

1 Timothy 1:15
This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance:

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”

and I am the worst of them. 

A few sentences before, Paul admitted to directly challenging God when he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man.  He did everything in his power to exterminate the belief that Jesus is the Savior that for centuries God had told the Jews to watch for.  Paul had used all available means – jail, torture, even death – in order to eliminate the teaching of Jesus as Messiah.  

If there was anyone on the planet who could be considered a ‘lost cause’, someone who had absolutely zero chance of believing that Christ could give him eternal life – it was Paul.  Paul was so dead-set against Jesus that no one could reach him.  Any time he heard the gospel message, he set out to kill the person who delivered it.  Only a dramatic, direct encounter with the risen Jesus could convince Paul to change his mind…there was no other way.

No wonder the first century believers were afraid of him!  The church had their reservations and doubts about Paul’s conversion…think about it…why would God save that guy?  I’m sure there were more people praying that Paul would be hit with a lightning bolt than there were people praying that God would reach him.

However, God had other plans for Paul.  In fact, his conversion wasn’t only for his own personal salvation, it wasn’t just a means to avoid eternal separation from God:

1 Timothy 1:16
But I received mercy because of this, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate the utmost patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

Because of Paul’s conversion, no one has the excuse of being “too bad” or “too unworthy” or “too far gone” for Jesus to save.  This worst of all sinners became a ‘first copy’ to all future believers.

God accepts and forgives people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  Each one who believes in Jesus for eternal life will demonstrate some aspect of God’s character to the world around them.  What does your story show?  Perhaps you’re from a certain segment of society, or you’re in a particular socio-economic class, or you struggle with a specific kind of sin…God can point at each one of us, as an example, and say “See my generosity?  I will even give eternal life to someone like that.”

When we recognize the great privilege and honor it is to partner with God in this way – as an example of His love – we can confidently say, along with Paul:

1 Timothy 1:17
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A level playing field

In the ancient world, you knew your place in society.  If you were born into the elite class, you associated with and married in the elite class.  If you were on the outside looking in, you knew that too.  You also knew that you would never be able to join the upper crust.

Slaves in the ancient world were considered property of their masters – either by temporary arrangement (like to pay back some debt) or as a permanent situation.  There were avenues in society for a slave to purchase their freedom or to be released by their masters, but those situations were the exception, not the norm.

The name “Onesimus” was a common slave name since it means “useful”, for that is what the master expected of his slaves – that they would make themselves useful to their owner and the family they served.  When Paul wrote on behalf of Onesimus, he used the slave’s name in a play on words in his petition to Philemon:

Philemon 9-11
I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, who I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me. 

In his prior life, Onesimus was useless.  Whatever had happened between him and his master Philemon was substantial and, as we’ll read later, monetarily expensive.  The situation had to have been significant based upon Onesimus’ choice to leave – either as a runaway slave, or even if he sought Paul out to intercede with Philemon.  After causing significant damage to Philemon and then departing, Onesimus truly had no usefulness to Philemon.  However, after encountering Jesus and trusting Him for eternal life, Onesimus has become eternally useful – both to God and among the family of believers.

Philemon 12-16
I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will. 

For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother.  This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Oh, the level playing field created by Jesus!

Take a moment to appreciate what took place when Onesimus joined God’s family.  Despite his background, past sins, or current social and economic circumstance, Onesimus is now on equal footing with Philemon AND Paul.

In Christ, the slave is on equal ground with the master and the apostle.  Since Jesus paid the price for all sins that means there is room at cross for everyone.  Paul even said as much in his letter to the church in Colossae:

Colossians 3:11
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

None of the world’s barriers, distinctions, or divisions can prevent someone from joining God’s family.  There is not one of life’s circumstances that can prevent you from trusting Jesus for eternal life.  His offer is available to all.  We only need to trust Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Describing Jesus

When we trust Jesus for our forgiveness of sins and for eternal life, when we believe in Him for these things, God the Father responds to our faith in a mighty way:

Colossians 1:13-14
He (the Father) has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

We have a new citizenship.  Our transfer is a complete one, and we now fully belong to Christ’s kingdom.  The domain of darkness no longer has custody over us.  By taking our well-deserved punishment, Jesus has provided the redemption we could never have obtained on our own.  God the Father rewards our trust in Jesus with citizenship in the kingdom of the Son He loves.  However, this is just the start of our new life in Christ.

Now that we are a part of His kingdom, it’s certainly fair to ask: What is Jesus like?  Is there more to who He is than just my Savior?  How does He help us understand the Father?  And even if it might feel disrespectful to ask, we may even be wondering…Why is Jesus the one who rules over our new citizenship?

The next section of Paul’s introduction specifically deals with these kinds of questions.  It is overflowing with the truth of who Jesus is and why all the authority ascribed to Him is rightly His.  It is time well spent to read over and meditate on this magnificent passage. 

These verses contain seven main descriptions of Jesus, but there are also many wonderful details for us to ponder.  Read slowly…what grabs your attention?

Colossians 1:15-20
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation;
because by Him everything was created, in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities –
all things have been created through Him and for Him.
He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.

He is also the head of the body, the church;
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
so that He might come to have first place in everything.

For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him,
and through Him to reconcile everything to Himself
by making peace through the blood of His cross –
whether things on earth or things in heaven.

This is a comprehensive description of Jesus, a lot here to digest.  However, this is who our Savior truly is…supreme above everything.

When you read through this list, did anything surprise you?

Now that we are members of His kingdom, if we are going to relate to Jesus, if we are going to know Him better…then we need to see Him properly. 

How closely does this description match how we think of Jesus?  Do we honor Him as much as He deserves?  Or do we see Him as something less?

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 

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

Praying for glory

After completing His last teachings on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus informed His disciples:

John 16:33-17:1 I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace.  You will have suffering in this world.  Be courageous!  I have conquered the world.

Jesus spoke these things, looked up to heaven, and said:

Father, the hour has come.

What Jesus prayed next is commonly referred to as His ‘High Priestly Prayer’.  Since Jesus prayed this in front of His disciples, they would have heard Jesus’ exact desires and petitions to the Father.

Jesus knew what was going to happen that night in the garden.  He knew that His entire life, and especially the last three years, had led up to this night.  The hour of sacrifice had finally come.

In this prayer, Jesus prayed for Himself, the disciples, and all future believers.  He also made some significant statements and requests during this prayer.  The first part of His prayer is for Himself, but His words are not selfish…rather, they are focused on His relationship with the Father:

John 17: 1-3 Glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You,
for You gave Him authority over all flesh;
so He may give eternal life to all You have given Him.

This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God,
And the One You have sent – Jesus Christ.

Eternal life – which is both forever-lasting and of excellent quality – is only found in knowing God the Father, through Jesus Christ.  We were created to be in eternal relationship with God.  Jesus affirmed this to the disciples earlier in the night, when He said:

John 13:6 I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.

While Jesus prayed that the Father would glorify Him, Jesus’ aim was to use any honor the Father gave Him as an opportunity to reflect it back.  Glorifying the Father – enriching His reputation and advancing His agenda – was Jesus’ purpose in His life and ministry, and it continued to be his focus as He would head to the cross.

John 17:4-5 I have glorified You on the earth
by completing the work You gave Me to do.

Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence
With the glory I had with You before the world existed.

Jesus begins His ‘High Priestly Prayer’ in the same manner He had previously instructed the disciples to pray:

Matthew 6:9 Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.

Above all else, Jesus was concerned with the Father’s reputation and agenda.  This aim dominated His life and His prayers.  As such, Jesus’ prayer practice matched His prayer teachings, and His example instructs us to focus on God’s glory in the same ways.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Great grace, great love

Titus 3:5-6 ...He [God the Father] saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior

All three members of the Trinity – God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit – participated in securing our salvation from sin’s ultimate penalty.  Without God acting on our behalf, we would have been eternally separated from God and unable to become whom God created us to be. 

While our rescue from eternal death was God’s primary motivation, it wasn’t the only outcome from what God did for us.  Paul continues and explains God’s motivation in providing such a great salvation:

Titus 3:7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

To be justified means to be declared legally righteous.  Not guilty of the sin I’ve committed.  Since Jesus paid the penalty for all of humanity’s sin, and I have accepted that he took the punishment I deserved, I cannot be condemned to eternal separation from God.  As Paul said in his letter to the believers in Rome:

Romans 8:1-2 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

But did you catch what Paul was saying to Titus?  There is more to a believer’s life, something that goes beyond the initial salvation moment and experience.

Titus 3:7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

I have often heard justification explained as God treating the believer “just-as-if-I-had-never-sinned”, however Paul is saying that there is more to it than that.  We become heirs, we now have hope in an eternal future of life with God.  Perhaps a better statement for justification would be that God now treats the believer “just-as-if-I-were-Jesus-himself”.

While I am now treated as if I were sinless, I am also received as a member of the family and brought into the relationship found within the Trinity.  That does not mean that I become God, but I am loved as much as God the Father loves God the Son…which is an eternal, unbreakable love.  We are given privileges unknown to any other created being…and it’s all because we are associated with Jesus.

Also notice how we are justified…it is by his grace.  Not by anything we did or will do.  We saw earlier that our rescue was not because of righteous things we had done, it’s all a gift. 

How great is God’s love toward us?!

Keep Pressing,
Ken