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: faith

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
 

Follow the leader (part 1)

When the Scriptures give us a direction, it’s always best that we pay attention.  If we observe God talking about the same subject more than once…well…then He’s putting down some emphasis that we need to linger on.

Twice in his closing statements and encouragements, the author of Hebrews mentions how the church body should be acting toward our church leaders.  The first one reads as follows:

Hebrews 13:7
Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you.  As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith.

When looking for a mentor, role model, or Godly example, those who lead in the church should be at the top of our list.  However, the author does not give his approval to cast a wide net and grab ahold of any church member in any leadership position.  He says to focus on the ones who have spoken God’s word to you.  Does your preacher teach from the Bible, or does he only teach from pop-psychology to keep the audience engaged?  When you ask a question, does your teacher point you toward God’s perspective, or she rely on feel-good statements and stories?

The leaders who have spoken God’s word to you are the ones worthy of observation and imitation

Learning to be like Jesus is a lifelong journey.  We’re not going to figure out whose lives and faith are worth imitating by only checking them out at a surface level.  It will be impossible for us to evaluate the outcome of a leader’s relationship with God if our only interaction is by watching him online or reading her books.  This is why it is best to be involved with our local church.  Find a leader there who is worth partnering with and learning from.

Once you’ve found a good example, how should we follow them?  Notice the author says to imitate their faith.  Now, let’s be clear – he doesn’t tell his readers to act out their faith in the same way their leaders have done.  They don’t also have to be preachers, teachers, worship leaders…instead they should be trusting God as they use the gifts He has given them. 

They are to imitate the leader’s character and reliance on God – not to try and do the exact same skill in the exact same way their leader operates.  This is why the author says to carefully observe the outcome of their lives.  When we are able to watch closely, we can see the strength of their faith in God…which drives their ability to lead (instead of us guessing about their relationship from afar).  We must also keep in mind there are many ways to exercise our faith and demonstrate our reliance on Him.  God does not expect us to be carbon-copies of our pastor, teachers, and other leaders.

So, the first part of following church leadership looks like this:

·       Stay local
·       Find a leader who points you toward God’s Word and God’s perspective
·       Observe their lives
·       Imitate their faith in God as you act out your own

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Our opportunity is larger than you think

After giving several serious warning throughout his letter, the author of Hebrews refreshes us with examples of regular people who have actually lived the kind of life he is urging his readers to choose – a life that is marked by actions that show we trust the Greater Messenger; that we are living for participation in a future kingdom.

We have now arrived at what is commonly referred to as the “Hall of Faith” or the “Faith Hall of Fame”.  Hebrews 11 contains Old Testament examples of those who by faith trusted God with the message He gave them – and then they made life choices with that end in mind.

One thing to keep in mind here is that the words translated faith and believe are the same word in Greek, and are best defined as – to trust, with implications that the one who is trusted will do actions because of that trust placed in them

And in this context, the action to follow is the expectation that God will fulfill His promise of participation in a future kingdom.

Hebrews 11:1-2, 6
Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.  For by it our ancestors won God’s approval…Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.


If we do not believe the importance of the message, we won’t draw near to God.  All the faith heroes listed in this chapter are being commended for the actions in their individual lives that corresponded to their belief in the coming future that was promised by God.

Hebrews 11:13, 32-33, 39
These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised.  But they saw them from a distance…And what more can I say?  Time is too short for me to tell about [all of those] who by faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises…All these were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised


Wait.  What?

What do you mean, they didn’t receive it?  God promised it, so why didn’t they get it?

However, the author did says they obtained promises.  He continues:

Hebrews 11:40
God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.


Made perfect can also be translated to reach a goal, be fulfilled, or completed.

Let verse 40 sink in…read it a second time…and a fourth time…

God has decided to allow us (you and me!) participation in bringing about what Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Samuel, and all the OT heroes were longing to see, the fulfillment of their faith in God’s promises.

You are invited to participate in the greatest story ever told.  Will you?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Flashback favorite - Where is the hope?

I am not immune to irony.  My current line-of-thinking/focus-of-study is on the importance of being prepared for Christ's return.  However, I was not prepared for being sick the last couple of days, which means the next post isn't ready.  As such, I am reposting something that I learned two years ago...something that may be even more relevant now than it was then.

Where is the Hope?
originally posted on July 8, 2015

There is a lot going on in the world today, and much of it isn’t good.  Although humans were created in the image of God, the “news broadcasts" continue to report society’s deterioration as we run further and further from God and the purposes He created us for. 

Oftentimes, the sin-caused crumbling is beneath the surface, stewing at the individual level – things like dads not being fathers, pornography replacing love, or self-centered pursuits of money and power.  Other times, this deterioration appears in massive public displays – things like wars and terrorism, the abandonment of God’s definition of marriage, and government progressively taking on the role of final authority in peoples’ lives.

I have to admit to feeling overwhelmed from some of the sin-affected problems I’ve dealt with lately, both in my own individual life and as a part of our larger American society.  The Bible tells us that the world will worsen before Christ returns, but it is certainly difficult to watch unfold.  Sometimes, it feels like we have front row seats to a car accident that no one else can see coming.

But we have to ask the question: “What are we hoping in?  Where does our hope come from?”

Are we hoping that the lawyers gets it right and all the laws make society behave as it should? 
Are we hoping that the government makes the best decisions and keeps life at a comfortable level?

When individuals, society, or the government runs contrary to God’s design…and we lose hope…it forces us to assess just where our motivation and trust are anchored.

While imprisoned for preaching the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul wrote a letter to a church he had never met.  He knew of them through an associate named Epaphras; however, what he wrote indicates that they had a well-known, Godly reputation.  They had both strong faith and strong love, but to know why they were so good at pointing others toward God, read the verses below and see what their faith and love were rooted in:

Colossians 1:3-6
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.  You have already heard about this hope in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you.

Their anchor wasn’t in the culture around them.  In fact, their anchor wasn’t even in the hope that God would work through their government.  The Colossian believers had faith and love, and had them abundantly, because they were focused on the hope reserved for you in heaven.  Their hope was in Jesus’ promise of eternal life.  Their hope was found within the good news of the message of truth.

So where is our hope?  Are we trusting our culture, our circumstances, our government, or our job security to be the foundation of truth in our lives?  As society crumbles, will our hope and strength go with it?

Although he said it a number of years ago, Chuck Colson’s words still ring true:

“Where is the hope?  I meet millions who tell me that they feel demoralized by the decay around us.  Where is the hope?  The hope that each of us have is not in who governs us, or what laws are passed, or what great things that we do as a nation.  Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, and that’s where our hope is in this country; that is where our hope is in life.”

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Coming out of the detour

Seven months ago, life took a serious detour…a detour that would change the course of my family’s history from that point forward.

My company offered voluntary severance packages.  At least this time, anyway.  The previous two layoffs were not voluntary, and we all had the feeling that any future ones wouldn’t be voluntary, either.  The company’s offer this time was quite generous, but the catch (for our family, at least) was that for my line of work, we’d have to move…out of state…to find the next job.  We had built a good life in West Virginia for the last 13 years, fully expecting to raise our family in one town, one church, one house, and with the same group of friends all the way through high school. 

God had blessed us tremendously in West Virginia, but the more we talked about it, prayed about it, and mulled it over…we knew it was time to go.  So, I raised my hand and volunteered.

The hunt for the next job started immediately, even though I would stay on at work through the end of February.  At first, friends and family were happy for us and wished us well.  But as the months drug on, and the few leads I had didn’t pan out…the well-wishes turned to raised eyebrows and mumbled “hang in theres”.  No one deserted us, but their growing concern was thinly-veiled. 

We felt like we were constantly saying goodbye, but never leaving.  It became increasingly more difficult for all of us to tell people, “No news yet.  Don’t know where God will take us.”  It was wearing on me to stay vigilant over the budget and try to get the house ready to sell, while counting down the number of remaining severance checks.  I actually turned down a job offer from a good friend, because we knew it wasn’t where God wanted us next.  A few week later, the day after my next best lead went up in smoke, it happened – we got an offer on the house.

We had a solid offer on our current home and no home to go to.  Zero job prospects at that moment, and we had 10 weeks to get out of the house.  I panicked.  I didn’t sleep that night.  There was a lightning storm raging outside, but it wouldn’t have mattered…the storm inside was twice as intense. 

I don’t specifically remember accusing God of abandoning me, but that’s how I felt.  After hours of pouring my heart out to God…finally emptied out…I gave up, and gave in…

“Whatever job you want, Lord.  Whatever place you want, just show me where.  I don’t care what it is, I just need to know where to take my family next.”

I’m not kidding when I say that I woke up the next morning and found that the exact job I had been looking for…freshly posted and in the state we were most interested in – North Carolina.  I didn’t know anyone at that company.  I had no contacts or strings to pull.  Just a blind internet-submitted application and resume.  They called me three days later, and, within two weeks, I had accepted their generous offer.

To call this a coincidence would be naïve.  This whole detour journey has been a God-thing.  There’s no other way to describe it.  Even my non-Christian friends marvel at how well “everything just lined up so perfectly”.  Not that there weren’t frustrations and difficulties along the way, but this isn’t a normal, natural story.  It’s SUPERnatural, without a doubt.

We’ve closed on our house in West Virginia, and by the time this is posted, we’ll have closed on our new home in North Carolina.  We’ve come out of the unexpected detour for the better in a lot of ways…but best of all, we’ve had our faith grow and mature in ways that will echo through the future of our family.  The next chapter is just beginning…and I can’t wait to see what God wants to write.

As for this blog, I intend to continue with the once-a-week schedule until the dust settles here a little.  I’d love to get back to the twice-a-week format, but we’ll see how God leads.

For right now, though, the back end of Psalm 31 describes just how ridiculously blessed we are.  I get a little choked up each time I read it.

Psalm 31:19-24
How great is Your goodness
that You have stored up for those who fear You,
and accomplished in the sight of everyone
for those who take refuge in You.

You hide them in the protection of Your presence;
You conceal them in a shelter
from the schemes of men,
from quarrelsome tongues.

May the Lord be praised,
for He has wonderfully shown His faithful love to me
in a city under siege.
In my alarm I had said,
“I am cut off from Your sight.”
But You heard the sound of my pleading
when I cried to You for help.

Love the Lord, all His faithful ones.
The Lord protects the loyal,
but fully repays the arrogant.
Be strong and courageous,
all you who put your hope in the Lord.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Why God makes us wait

I am a rather weak creature, much weaker than I care to admit.

When life is “good”, I am content to coast as long as possible.  I expend as little effort as I can, so I don’t rock the boat and change the comfortable circumstances.  However, my inactivity quickly leads to stagnation.  When I’m stagnant, I become sluggish and self-centered.  I neglect my time with God, and I resent my time around others.  I become fully focused on me and the protection of my comfortable circumstances.

It’s for these reasons that I believe God allows difficulties and adversaries into my life.  When life gets bumpy or takes a detour, I am jarred out of my stagnation.  I am forced to recognize that I am not the one in charge…and that my best course of action is to pray to the one Who is.

At some level, it’s comforting to me to know that I’m not the only follower of God who struggles with this.  Because of his adversaries, David also recognized his immediate need for God and His guidance.

Psalm 27:11-14
Because of my adversaries,
show me Your way, Lord,
and lead me on a level path.
Do not give me over to the will of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing violence.

I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be courageous and let your heart be strong.
Wait for the Lord.

At the beginning of this psalm, David said: 

The Lord is my light and my salvation –
whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life –
of whom should I be afraid?

When David referred to the Lord as my salvation, he wasn’t talking about eternal salvation from the penalty of sin.  David has confidence that he will see the Lord’s goodness in this life, that he would be saved from those who wanted to do him harm…but David also recognized that he would have to wait for the Lord’s assistance.

I believe that for the same reasons He allows adversaries and difficulties into our lives, God also allows us to wait for His rescue.  Our struggle to patiently anticipate the Lord’s salvation develops our faith in ways that only waiting can.

When life takes a detour, be courageous and let your heart be strongSalvation is coming, you just have to trust and wait for the Lord.

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

There are only three ways we learn

When comes to how we learn and develop in life, there are really only three ways to do it.  We can learn because we’re taught by instruction, we can learn by watching someone else’s example, or we can learn the hard way.  The problem with the hard way is that it’s hard.

Since this is true for all of us, we are each responsible for how we choose to learn.  The biggest difficulty we have with this process typically isn’t that we have to make tough choices for ourselves; we tend to accept that.  Instead, we struggle with the decisions that other people we love and care for have to deal with.

This tension most often reveals itself in the parent-child relationship.  As our child grows older, we parents must learn to let go, little by little, and allow our understudy to chance to flex his or her decisive muscle.

Paul knew this as well.  Take a look at how he instructs his adult child in the faith:

1 Timothy 1:18-20
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.  Some have rejected these and have suffered the shipwreck of their faith.  Hymenaeus and Alexander are among them, and I have delivered them to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.

No matter which way we’ve chosen to learn the lessons of life, career, and faith…we cannot make the learning choice for anyone else, especially not for our children.  We can only lovingly give them instruction, trust them to make their own choices, and allow them to deal with the consequences – good or bad.

Paul wants Timothy to make the right choices and continue to walk with God, so he points out an example for Timothy where someone else has rejected instruction and suffered the consequences.  Due to their choice to reject instruction, properly grounded faith, and a good conscience before God, there are those in the church who have suffered greatly.  For a shipwreck to be salvaged, it requires a massive undertaking.  A shipwrecked faith isn’t one that is lost forever, but the damage done is severe and will require a lot of intentional work to be fully repaired.

Paul gets specific and names names here.  Timothy needs to know how high the stakes are for his choices.  If he persists in Paul’s instruction and what has been revealed to him by God, then he will be able to strongly engage in battle, having faith and a good conscience.  However, if Timothy takes the easy road, or follows false teachings, he will travel down the same path as Hymenaeus and Alexander.

Both Hymenaeus and Alexander have done significant damage to their relationship with God and also with those inside the church family.  Their heresy was so great that they actually blasphemed God, which means their teaching was so twisted it was, in fact, full of slanderous lies that insulted God’s character.  In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warns that Hymenaeus’ teaching was equivalent to gangrene, that he had deviated from the truth, and he was responsible for overturning the faith of some – see 2 Timothy 2:17-18.

As such, drastic steps had to be taken against someone who intentionally diverged away from the faith and was dragging others down with him.  Paul’s statement of “I have delivered them to Satan” most likely refers to some form of excommunication, either temporary or permanent.  Hymenaeus and Alexander were in need of a spiritual wake up call, and Paul was hopeful that exposure to the Satan-governed outside world would bring them to their senses – much like the prodigal son.

However, Timothy still had a choice to make…and as such, so does each of us.  I can’t choose for you.  Your pastor can’t choose for you.  And we can’t choose for our children.  We have to decide, and then act upon our decision.

Will we listen to instruction and what God has revealed to us?
Will we learn from the examples of others?
Or will we have to learn the hard way?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

 

His origin story isn't what you would expect

We love a good origin story, don’t we?  A movie does well in the box office and instead of providing us with what happens next, Hollywood is ready to film a “prequel”.  We want to watch these backstory accounts because they help us get to know a character better, and they explain a character’s motivation and influences, for better or worse. 

We want to hear how someone “came from nothing” and bettered himself.  We want to know how she “beat the system”.  Stories like that give us hope that, somehow, some of us will “make it” and be successful.  But it’s the impossible-odds stories that really make us sit on the edge of our seat and silently wonder: I’m not sure I could have done what they did.  That much effort, for that long?  To risk like that?

We have the same tendency to revere mature Christians like that.  From a distance, they look like peaceful giants; yet we have a sneaky suspicion they could pray for thunder on a clear day and God would answer with a downpour.

However, when we drum up the courage to ask them about their faith’s origin story, how they learned to trust Jesus as much as they do…their answer has very little to do with themselves.  Instead, their focus is much like Paul explained to Timothy:

1 Timothy 1:12-16
I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry – one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. 

Notice how all of Paul’s “I’s” and “me’s” point back to Jesus.  Everything that Paul has done as a missionary found its start in Jesus:

thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord…[He] has strengthened…He considered…[He] appointed…

The only portion of his origin that Paul contributed was his actions as a blasphemer (someone who either credited God’s work to Satan or wrote it off as simply evil), a persecutor (someone who actively sought to harm and kill Christ followers), and his own arrogance (being full of pride and insolence).

As Paul continues, he will marvel at this contrast and Jesus’ acceptance.  For reasons unclear to the human eye, Jesus was willing to accept someone with that monstrous of a history…and then strengthen him, because Jesus considered that Paul would be trustworthy for, of all things, ministry!

A modern day equivalent to Paul’s origin story would be the leader of ISIS becoming a missionary for Jesus.  Can you even imagine it?  Paul knew that Jesus was entirely responsible for his backstory, and he wanted Timothy to share that with the believers in Ephesus.

Since the Ephesian believers only saw Paul during the missionary and letter-writing phase of his life, they could have been tempted to believe that Paul had always walked closely with God or that being a Christian came easy for Him.  However, Paul dispels that notion and doesn’t gloss over who he was without Christ.

So if we’re tempted to think the mature Christians we know have had it easy, or that they survived because of how strong or good or caring they naturally are…just ask them about their origins.  And then listen for all the ways Jesus moved in their life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Do we have to follow the Law?

Every so often, the modern church wrestles with problematic question of what to do with the Mosaic Law.  Do we still have to obey the 10 Commandments?  What about the other parts, that nobody does…like animal sacrifice, dietary restrictions, and ceremonial washings?

The early church dealt with the same questions, and some people were trying to add the law’s requirements in addition to following Christ.

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

A little cultural context will help here.  If you were a Jewish teacher of the law, then you were at the pinnacle of the Jewish social, religious, and political society.  For those who became Christians and had come out of Jewish culture, their understanding of who the top people are was formed by looking at the lives of the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

Paul had to spell out the relationship of the law to the believer for the church in Galatia also:

Galatians 3:23-26
Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed.  The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.  But since that faith has come, we are no long under a guardian, for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Since Jesus came to fulfill the law’s requirements for all of us, those who trust Jesus for eternal life have been declared righteous (i.e. – not guilty) and will not be judged by the law.  As such, the Mosaic Law no longer governs the life of a believer.  Apparently, these wannabe teachers Timothy was encountering in Ephesus were so blinded by status-seeking that they did not grasp this foundational truth…and so they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

Does this mean that the Mosaic Law is useless and should be set aside entirely?  Paul doesn’t think so:

1 Timothy 1:8-11
Now we know that the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately.  We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but
for the lawless and rebellious,
for the ungodly and sinful,
for the unholy and irreverent,
for those who kill their fathers and mothers,
for murderers,
for the sexually immoral and homosexuals,
for kidnappers, liars, perjurers
and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching based on the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me.

The law still serves a legitimate purpose in this world – it continues to show sin for what it is.  The law clearly points out the ways in which humanity has driven a wedge between us and God.  The law points out that we can’t bridge that relationship canyon with our own efforts.

Given the multicultural mix that was the city of Ephesus, the law was certainly applicable to those outside the church…and so was the law’s penalty – eternal separation from God.

When used legitimately, the law is good because it reminds us how much we needed to be rescued, and how much those outside the family still need that rescue.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Avoiding spiritual distractions

We are spiritual beings.  That’s how God made us.  So naturally, we gravitate toward the spiritual aspect of life.  We look at design in nature and recognize that there must be a designer.  We observe the happenings around us and acknowledge that there is more going on than only what we can see with our eyes.  We read history from God’s perspective and marvel at His-story.

However, since we are also fallen and sinful, our understanding of spiritual topics is easily knocked off course. 

Human history is littered with wrong ideas about God, what He is like, and how we can know Him.  Before we came to know Jesus, our internal desire for “spiritual things” led us down all sorts of paths.  The difficulty, then, becomes what we will do with our old understandings in light of our relationship with Jesus?

The believers in Paul’s day had the same issues.  Ephesus was a magnificent, melting-pot metropolis.  In that town there were numerous Greek gods and goddesses – the people not only worshiped them, but also told stories, explained their history, and held festivals in their honor.  The Jewish community had many fantasy stories of angels and how to manipulate them, as well as various speculative “biographies” of Biblical characters.

These are the kinds of topics Paul wants Timothy to tackle head-on.

1 Timothy 1:3-4
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may 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.

The Greek word for pay attention was used to convey the word picture of bringing a ship to land.  It was also used to describe how a person is attached to someone or something, with a level of devotion or even addiction.

One of Timothy’s goals was to weed out these false ideas about God and correct the people’s fascination with myths and endless genealogies.  It wouldn’t be easy.  Some of these myths were quite popular in the culture.  Some Jews would trace their tribal heritage as proof of personal importance or value to God.

However, Paul nails down the problem with focusing on these things – they promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan.  Paul knew they couldn’t walk with God while deceiving themselves with feel-good stories or puffing themselves up with information about their lineage.  The mythical stories detracted or even contradicted God’s story.  The genealogies put the focus on them, rather than on God.  Instead, the Ephesian believers were in danger of missing the point – our relationship with God and our ability to live rightly before Him only comes through a faith that is focused on God.

However, on rare occasion, Paul would reference that a philosopher correctly identified a spiritual truth (Acts 17:28), yet this acknowledgment was stepping stone to point others toward Jesus.  He didn’t dwell there.  To continue the word picture – Paul didn’t dock his ship on the philosopher’s point.  Instead, as he continued on in his message, Paul then dropped anchor on the truth of the resurrection (Acts 17:31).

We see this same tendency toward distraction in the modern church as well.  There’s a fascination with stories of people who have gone to Heaven and come back.  There’s wide-spread speculation about angels and an abundance of feel-good stories.  We look for “Bible codes” and try to match up prophecy with the newspaper.

Whenever the next “big thing” comes through Christian-living literature, we must ask ourselves: Does the author promote empty speculations or God’s plan?  Where will we choose to drop our anchor?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Our identity in the gospel

The Bible wasn’t dropped out of the sky as a complete revelation of God to mankind.  Instead, the Scriptures were assembled from the writings of God-inspired authors over hundreds of years.  Through these authors, God revealed more and more of His plan for the world and the salvation of those who trust Jesus for eternal life.  This process is referred to progressive revelation.

Therefore, we must consider each section of Scripture in light of the larger context of the God’s story throughout the Bible.  Most of the letters in the New Testament are addressed to a particular group of believers or an individual believer to discuss specific topics.  Since the letters’ recipients have already placed their faith in Jesus, getting an “in a nutshell” explanation of the gospel doesn’t appear very often, as the author typically spends his time instructing his readers about the effects of the gospel in their lives or encouraging them to live their lives with eternity in mind.

Paul certainly wrote to the Colossians to give them instruction and encouragement.  However, after he reminds them of where their identity comes from, in verses that follow, he gives them a wonderful “in a nutshell” statement of the gospel message:

Colossians 2:9-10
For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

Paul then uses two illustrations that his readers would have been very familiar with.  These physical examples had been previously used to confirm a person’s identification with a group of people.  Both illustrations contain the imagery of a permanent change that takes place in a person’s life. 

Colossians 2:11
In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah.

Circumcision was the physical removal of flesh that the Israelites performed as a symbolic indication of their identification with God and a separation from the surrounding nations and their gods.  However, a physical circumcision was no longer necessary after Christ’s death and resurrection – our identity with Him is a spiritual circumcision.  In Jesus, we have rejected, or put off, the selfish desires of our flesh.

Continuing with his next example, Paul says

Colossians 2:12
Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

The Greek word for baptism means “to be placed into”.  When we are physically immersed in a water baptism, we are symbolically demonstrating what has already happened to us spiritually.  We were set apart and placed into Christ the moment we put our faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead

The beauty of our salvation is that we don’t have to try and earn it.  The truth is – we can’t earn it.  God knew that, but still desired relationship with us.  As Paul reminds the Colossians, Christ took care of our sin debt while we were still rebels. 

Colossians 2:13-15
And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses.  He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.

While we were still sinners, Christ paid humanity’s sins.  Because of their faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead, God forgave all their sin.  Christ’s standing with the Father is credited to each person who places their faith in Jesus. 

We’ve all had times in our lives where we messed up and afterward we had the offense forgiven, but we still had to live with the consequences of our actions.  However, that’s not the case when it comes to our salvation from sin.  Not only has Jesus erased the certificate of debt but He has also erased…its obligations.  In Christ, we are free from sin – and its penalty.

Our salvation wasn’t secured by some back-door, secret deal, either.  Christ was publicly humiliated and crucified – the kind of death and separation from God that we deserved.  Jesus’ sacrifice was on display for entire world to see.  By His loving actions, He disarmed the rulers and authorities set against us, and, as Paul stated in verse 9, Jesus became the head over every ruler and authority

In these verses, we find that we have been set apart (11-12), our sins forgiven (13-14), and we have victory over forces of evil (15) – all because of Jesus.  That’s the gospel “in a nutshell”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Where is the hope?

There is a lot going on in the world today, and much of it isn’t good.  Although humans were created in the image of God, the “news broadcasts" continue to report society’s deterioration as we run further and further from God and the purposes He created us for. 

Oftentimes, the sin-caused crumbling is beneath the surface, stewing at the individual level – things like dads not being fathers, pornography replacing love, or self-centered pursuits of money and power.  Other times, this deterioration appears in massive public displays – things like wars and terrorism, the abandonment of God’s definition of marriage, and government progressively taking on the role of final authority in peoples’ lives.

I have to admit to feeling overwhelmed from some of the sin-affected problems I’ve dealt with lately, both in my own individual life and as a part of our larger American society.  The Bible tells us that the world will worsen before Christ returns, but it is certainly difficult to watch unfold.  Sometimes, it feels like we have front row seats to a car accident that no one else can see coming.

But we have to ask the question: “What are we hoping in?  Where does our hope come from?”

Are we hoping that the lawyers gets it right and all the laws make society behave as it should? 
Are we hoping that the government makes the best decisions and keeps life at a comfortable level?

When individuals, society, or the government runs contrary to God’s design…and we lose hope…it forces us to assess just where our motivation and trust are anchored.

While imprisoned for preaching the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul wrote a letter to a church he had never met.  He knew of them through an associate named Epaphras; however, what he wrote indicates that they had a well-known, Godly reputation.  They had both strong faith and strong love, but to know why they were so good at pointing others toward God, read the verses below and see what their faith and love were rooted in:

Colossians 1:3-6
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.  You have already heard about this hope in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you.

Their anchor wasn’t in the culture around them.  In fact, their anchor wasn’t even in the hope that God would work through their government.  The Colossian believers had faith and love, and had them abundantly, because they were focused on the hope reserved for you in heaven.  Their hope was in Jesus’ promise of eternal life.  Their hope was found within the good news of the message of truth.

So where is our hope?  Are we trusting our culture, our circumstances, our government, or our job security to be the foundation of truth in our lives?  As society crumbles, will our hope and strength go with it?

Although he said it a number of years ago, Chuck Colson’s words still ring true:

“Where is the hope?  I meet millions who tell me that they feel demoralized by the decay around us.  Where is the hope?  The hope that each of us have is not in who governs us, or what laws are passed, or what great things that we do as a nation.  Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, and that’s where our hope is in this country; that where our hope is in life.”

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Moving mountains

While on His way to the temple complex, where he would clear out the money changers and reprimand Israel’s spiritual leaders for their hypocrisy, Jesus came across a fig tree with leaves.  Fig trees of the area would produce early fruit, then leaves, and then fig season would come in full swing.  Since Jesus was hungry, He walked up to the leaved tree and expected to eat one of its early fruit.  However the tree was barren, it did not produce any early fruit…and trees that did not produce early fruit were also known to not produce during the proper season, either.  Due to the tree’s hypocrisy of being fully leafed, yet without fruit – Jesus cursed the tree:

Mark 11:14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples heard it.

After witnessing this scene, Jesus’ disciples watched Him strongly rebuke Israel’s leaders for their own hypocrisy.  The similarity of these two events was not lost on the disciples.  The next day, they went back to Jerusalem along the same path as they had the day before.

Mark 11:20-21 Early in the morning, as they were passing by, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.  Then Peter remembered and said to Him, “Rabbi, look!  The fig tree that You cursed is withered.”

Imagine what the disciples were thinking – If Jesus curses a plant for its hypocrisy, and the next day it is dead from the roots up…what will happen to Israel because of His rebuke to the priests and scribes the day before???

The first thing Jesus will reply with is a reassurance of where their faith belongs, in God and not in the appearance of spirituality.  Jesus then speaks to them in hyperbole, in large unqualified examples used only to make a larger point.  This wasn’t the only time Jesus spoke like this in His teaching.  For example, He had previously warned his disciples:

Mark 9:43-45 And if your hand causes your downfall, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and go to hell…And if your foot causes your downfall, cut it off.  It is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and be thrown into hell

Within the context of His teaching at that moment, the disciples understood the point Jesus was making – they didn’t seriously believe that Jesus was teaching them that there are eternal benefits to physical self-mutilation.  In fact, this kind of exaggerated talk was quite common in Jesus’ day…and although not to the same extent, we use similar ridiculous phrases to express ideas, like “It’s raining cats and dogs” or “he bit off more than he could chew”.  The point made by the saying isn’t found in the saying itself. 

So let’s keep that in mind while we look at Jesus’ response to the disciples’ fears:

Mark 11:22-24 Jesus replied to them, “Have faith in God.  I assure you: If anyone says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, all the things you pray and ask for – believe that you have received them, and you will have them.

Jesus isn’t giving His disciples a blank check to start rearranging the landscapes as they see fit.  There is no mention in the rest of the New Testament of the disciples praying and then physically moving a mountain.  Instead, they understood Jesus’ point – that as they placed their faith in God, they would see things accomplished that no man could do.  The disciples spent the rest of their lives participating in God’s fantastic story of redemption, and they witnessed the supernatural removal of many obstacles along the way.

So what figurative “mountains” do you face?  When praying about them, do we trust that God is bigger and greater than the obstacle in front of us?  Believing that He can handle it is the first step toward seeing that mountain moved.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Healthy teachings for the older men

After giving instructions on how to recognize those who teach what is contrary to the gospel and how deal with their corrupted teachings, Paul then turns his attention back to Titus:

Titus 2:1 You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.

In direct contrast to the false teachers, Paul exhorts Titus to present teachings that line up with the gospel message that Christ alone has paid the price for our sins.  No matter how high we pile up good works, we cannot pay back our wrongs.  However, after we place our faith in Christ, when we trust him and his payment…we are no longer held guilty in the eyes of God.  This “not guilty” verdict isn’t an isolated chapter in our lives; instead it bleeds over into every part of who we are and how we live. 

After accepting Christ as Savior and becoming “not guilty”, the Cretan believers needed help in figuring out “What’s next?”.  We often have similar questions.  Thankfully, Paul gave Titus some topics to go over with the new Cretan believers.  No doubt they found them challenging, and I bet we will too.

Christian Living literature sells quite well.  It seems that everyone is asking “What’s next?” and that many people believe they have the answer for men, or young women, or wives, or retirees, or young parents, etc, etc, etc…every division of people groups you can imagine.  Paul divided his Cretan audience into four groups: older men, older women, young women, and young men.  He gave direct, tailored advice to each group.  Even though each of us only fit into one of these categories, it will be beneficial to look at each one and consider why God is asking for these specific traits at this specific point in our lives. 

Titus 2:2 Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith in love and in endurance.

Each of these characteristics look toward the highest level of maturity.  Older men will not reach this level of maturity by accident, either.  By default, men will grow increasingly self-centered as we grow older, so these traits are to be reinforced and taught to the older men.

So how does an older man keep from becoming increasingly selfish?

The second half of the verse is key – to be sound in the faith, in love, and in endurance.  The Greek word for sound is the same one used in Paul’s direction to Titus for sound doctrine.  A healthy faith, a healthy love, and a healthy endurance will guide an older man into clearheaded, dignified, and sensible living.

Faith, love, and endurance are kept healthy as they are related back to the sound doctrine of the gospel.  In God’s salvation plan, we find a place for our faith, our greatest example of selfless love, and the ultimate model of endurance.

If you fit the category of an older man, look to Christ to keep your faith, love and endurance healthy.  These should be your aim as you live out your relationship with Jesus.

If you don’t fit the category, I’m certain you know someone who does.  Will you pray for them today?  Ask God to give them the desire to be sound in the faith, in love, and in endurance.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The trustworthy message

After giving Titus clear expectations for how a church leader is to treat his family, conduct himself, and interact with others, Paul then moves to the most important requirement…how the leader handles God’s message of salvation.

Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

If our church leaders are going to be God’s representatives, then they must know God well.   Knowing God begins with hold[ing] firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, for the Scriptures are how God has revealed himself to humanity.  If he doesn’t know God, he will be unable to give those under his care the encouragement they will need, nor will he be able to correct those who oppose God’s message.

Opposition will come.  Although rescue from the penalty of sin is good news, not everyone wants to hear it.  Among those that actually do hear the message that Christ paid the full penalty for our sins are plenty of people that think they must still also earn God’s favor, as Paul points out:

Titus 1:10-11 For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group.  They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain.

The “circumcision group” were those who taught others that in addition to believing in Jesus, a person must also be circumcised and follow the Jewish law.  This wasn’t just a local problem on Crete either, as all throughout his ministry, Paul dealt with those who preached

Belief in Jesus plus following the Jewish law equals Salvation from sins

Whenever anything is added to Jesus’ death on the cross for our salvation, the message is no longer “good news”.  In fact adding anything to the gospel message negates the work of Christ.  Paul’s entire letter to the Galatians deals with very subject.

Galatians 2:16 So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

Galatians 2:21 …for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

Galatians 6:12 Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised.

Do Christians today deal with these kinds of pressures?  While no one is proclaiming circumcision as a salvation requirement, there are many who insist that in addition to faith in Christ it is necessary to “do good works” or “persevere to the end of their life” or “make Christ lord of their life” in order to be truly saved.

Don’t get me wrong, those are good things to do.  And we should endeavor to reach for those goals.  However, adding any contributions on my part to Christ’s death on the cross is doing the same as what the “circumcision group” was trying to teach.  Do you believe that Christ was telling the truth with his last words on the cross? It is finished – the single Greek word means “Paid in Full”.  Either Christ paid it all, or he lied to us just before he died.

This is the trustworthy message – that Christ paid our entire sin debt, we add nothing to his payment – and Paul wanted Titus to only select leaders who hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

If we want to avoid being led astray, we must have leaders that get this right.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hope

Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness –

We saw last time that Paul identifies himself as both a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ; however, he doesn’t end his letter’s introduction with just this statement.  After identifying himself with God the Father and Jesus Christ, he also explains the out-flowing purpose of his association with them.

Paul is a servant…for the faith of God’s elect and an apostle…for…the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.  These two dynamics – strengthening the faith of believers and making unbelievers aware of the truth of Christ – are Paul’s driving mission in life.

If any of us gave that kind of Mission Statement for our lives, we would likely be applauded by those in the church and the statement wouldn’t be questioned further.  However, Paul does not stop there.  Instead, he explains where the faith and knowledge find their source:

Titus 1:2 a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time

“Hope” is a term that is thrown around a lot; however, in this context it’s not flippant as in “Gee, I hope it doesn’t rain.”  Rather this hope is a confident expectation of future events.  When I placed my hope in my wife’s pledge “until death do us part”, I confidently expect that she will fulfill her promise.  This kind of hope can be either strong or weak…because it doesn’t depend on the person who is hoping; instead it depends on the person that is being hoped in.  We’ve all seen marriages where vows are broken and the hope for a life-long relationship was unfulfilled.  Paul’s hope of eternal life is sourced in God’s ancient promise of a Messiah, that a Redeemer would one day come to the earth.

Curiously though, Paul adds a qualifier to his explanation of hope, namely that God is someone who does not lie.  While it might seem a little odd to us for him to say that, a quick look at the Cretan culture reveals Paul’s purpose in emphasizing this character trait of God.

This description of God is in direct contrast to both the deserved reputation of Cretans and the Greek/Cretan gods.  If you remember any of your Greek mythology, the most powerful gods were better tricksters and liars than the lesser gods.  The Greek gods routinely deceived the Greek people and each other – often on a whim or out of some corrupt desire.  Paul is stating from the outset that the one true God can be trusted, for he always speaks and acts in perfect truth.

We’ve made it to the foundational basis for Paul’s identity, his motivation, and his actions – he takes God at his word, that in contrast to the world, God is trustworthy.  And because of this trust, Paul was able to partner with God in incredible ways. 

How is our partnership with God?  Do we find the basis for our identity, motivation, and actions in him?  If not, is it because we are not fully taking God at his word?

Keep Pressing,
Ken