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: family

When disease hits too close to home

I’ve been dealing with some annoying health stuff for the last 9 months or so.  Nothing life-threatening, but I’m working with Doctors, changing my diet, taking meds and supplements, evaluating potential causes, blah, blah, blah…you know the drill.  Even though it’s not something that will kill me, it is frustrating that my body isn’t working as well as it used to.  I’m not that old, really.  But when you pile this recent development on top of my near-sightedness, my semi-frequent migraines, and a slightly unstable right shoulder…I get the feeling that it’s not going to get any easier as the years continue to pile up.

When I look around at my family, it seems I’m not the only one.  There’s high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, bi-polar struggles, and a long list of other maladies.  I’m sure you and your family could come up with a similar type of list. 

As we deal with these health issues now, it’s really easy to get frustrated.  I mean, God created everything…and could easily stop any of the health problems that we encounter.  So, why doesn’t He?

We can usually come to some sort of peace about this troubling question by reminding ourselves that we live in a fallen world, that Jesus will make everything right when He returns, and that we have perfectly good resurrection bodies to look forward to.  However, there are some situations when these answers fall short or feel hollow.  The one that really gets to me is my brother.  He has MS.  Wait…before going further, let me re-frame that for you:

My younger brother, who is in his mid-30s, has three kids under the age of 10, faithfully loves his wife, leads in a church that he helped plant, is active in his community, one of the hardest workers I know, a student of the Bible, works in end-of-life hospice care taking care of people who need help, loves Jesus and knows that he is loved by Jesus…he has Multiple Sclerosis.

MS is a failure of the immune system to function properly.  Instead of protecting his body, his immune system attacks him.  He has made adjustments to his life, but the MS has already taken ground – and it doesn’t give ground back.  He could be fine today and be in a wheelchair tomorrow, or he may be fine for many years…but all MS patients end up in the same place.  His body, in the end, will destroy itself.

I can quickly move from frustration to anger over this.  Serious, indignant, vision-blurred-by-tears anger.  God could show up and fix this, RIGHT?  So…what is He waiting for?  Why delay healing my brother?  Why wait for the resurrection?


Did you know…when Jesus was on Earth, He was asked these same questions?

The questions weren’t part of a parable or found in one of His teachings.  Jesus was asked, straight-up.  Real life was happening.  They loved Jesus and He loved them – but they were looking right at Jesus for answers as they dealt with the most unfair moment of their lives.

I need to know how Jesus answered their questions, and there are a few more things I am wondering:

What did Jesus say?
Did He show any emotion?
Did He seem to even care?

We’ll look for answers to these questions as we launch into this next study.  For now, I am clinging to something Paul wrote many years later:

2 Corinthians 4:16
Therefore we do not give up.  Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.

Our current bodies are falling apart, and it is hard to deal with.  The diseases we encounter in this fallen world are vicious, malicious, and ruthless.  It’s especially difficult to helplessly watch the people we love succumb to them.  But no matter how heavy these moments are, God helps us keep the proper perspective:

2 Corinthians 4:17
For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.


Today’s crushing avalanche will be nothing more than a light mist in comparison to the eternal glory to be revealed in us. 

Even if we cannot see it right now, because our eyes are blurred by tears.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Your new family and your new name

Building on what he established last time…that Christ is superior in both name (identity) and message, the author tells his readers:

Hebrews 2:1-3
We must therefore pay even more attention to what we have heard, so that we will not drift away.  For if the [previous] message spoken through angels was legally binding, and every transgression and disobedience received a just punishment, how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?

Greater value requires greater care.  We know this from our own lives – when something is of great value to us, we handle it differently then something we consider common or of low value.

Since Christ’s message is superior to all previous messages, even the ones delivered by angels, we are encouraged to give it the elevated level of attention it deserves.  The previous covenant between God and Israel contained severe punishments for Israel whenever they deviated and disobeyed either individually (they were excluded from the community, some received the death penalty) or disobeyed as a nation (they were inflicted with plagues, experienced military defeat, and even mass deportation from their homeland).  How much more serious will God be when those within the new covenant drift away and treat Christ’s message as something common or of low value?

But Christ’s superior message is more than a contract between two different parties:

Hebrews 2:11
For the One who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father.  That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers

When an adoption occurs, the child enters the family and receives a new last name.  Therefore you share a last name with the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of [God’s] being (Hebrews 1:3).

You now belong to the “Holy” family.  Your brother is Jesus Holy.  As an example, instead of being Ken Clouser, my name has become Ken Holy.

Put your name in there.  Let it sink in.  Try saying it out loud.

How did you feel saying that?

If we paid more careful attention to this, I don’t believe we would drift away.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Knowing when to give assistance

There is no shortage of people who need help.  No matter what lies the health-and-wealth teachers may tell, there are poor people in our churches who need help.  Whether due to circumstances beyond their control, circumstances which they created, or some combination of the two…there are needs all around us.

But how do we decide, who gets help…or who possibly “deserves” it more than someone else?  I have a tough time figuring that out as an individual, but have we considered how our church should be responding to assistance requests?  Logistically speaking, our churches have bills to pay, too.  So, it’s unrealistic to expect that every single request for support can or will be met at 100%.

Resources vs Needs isn’t a new problem for the church, either.  Paul addressed it with Timothy regarding the needs of widows in the Ephesian church.  Widowhood was a serious situation for women in the ancient world, since they were not typically the direct heir of husband’s will, and income generating options were limited, at best.  Additionally, if the husband was poor, he may not have left much for his wife to live on.

Her needs would be more significant than a one-time pantry-stocking trip to the local grocery store.  So how was Timothy to handle this significant of a request for continual support?

1 Timothy 5:3-4
Support widows who are genuinely widows.  But if any widow has children or grandchildren, they should learn to practice their religion toward their own family first and to repay their parents, for this pleases God.

Timothy’s first step is to thoroughly check for family.  I almost find it humorous that Paul says “Support widows who are genuinely widows”.  First step is to verify that her husband is truly dead.  The second step is check for extended family, especially if they are believers.  If they’ve been adopted into God’s family, then they have no excuse to skip out on taking care of members of their earthly family.  There were no assisted living homes and no hospice care in the ancient world.  The family’s care for the widow is an act of worship and respect toward God, which He finds pleasing because their actions are a reflection of his own.

1 Timothy 5:5-7
The real widow, left all alone, has put her hope in God and continues night and day in her petitions and prayers; however, she who is self-indulgent is dead even while she lives.  Command this so that they won’t be blamed. 

The real widow, the one the church should consider helping is destitute and has no other family options.  In fact, she considers the church her last resort…notice that she goes to God directly and repeatedly before she approaches the church body with her need.

Paul also affirms that the widow’s lifestyle should be considered prior to giving assistance.  If she is living a self-indulgent lifestyle, then she probably won’t be wise with the funds the church may give her.  In this case, there are other issues to address that are greater than her immediate need.

Lastly, Paul gives an ominous warning:

1 Timothy 5:8
Now if anyone does not provide for his own relatives, and especially for his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Paul pulls no punches here, so let’s be as practical as possible:

If I have the resources to take care of my widowed mother, and I refuse to do so…which forces her to rely on support from the local church, using funds that should go to those who are genuinely in need…how is that not stealing from God? 

Clearly, this verse is addressed to believers, since the comparison is with an unbeliever.  So, denying the faith doesn’t mean that I would not be part of God’s family.  What it means is that I would be grossly hypocritical of the love and resources that God has extended to me.  God did not withhold His resources when I could not save myself.  How can I claim to be a part of His family and then have my actions deny the faith and relationship with God?  At least an unbeliever’s words and actions match up.  What damage am I doing to God’s reputation if I have no good reason to refuse to help?

Our application of this passage is two-fold:

If we have family members who are destitute, it is our responsibility to care for them – not the church’s.  This doesn’t mean we pay for all their bills each month, either.  “Destitute” means just that.  We should not be passing off our family’s financial burdens to our church family.

If the church is approached by an individual in great need, it is both acceptable and wise to evaluate the depth of that need.  It is also wise to evaluate the person’s lifestyle.  Financing someone’s irresponsibility is less loving than telling a person “No, we will not help you in this way”, especially if there are deeper needs to address.  If there are other avenues of help available, either through their family or other modern-day options, that is acceptable as well.

The problem of societal needs is not new.  However, we must be wise with how/when we support others.  Everything we do, whether we give assistance or refuse assistance, must be done within the context of reflecting God to others.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The ultimate blended family

What am I going to do?

The feeling of being helpless is more familiar than any of us care to admit.

We’re in a situation, or given some information…and we just don’t know how to process it, let alone what our best next step will be.  It’s in those moments that we want to look to someone with more experience, someone to show us how to deal with what life has brought our way.

Paul knew that the believers in Ephesus would be looking to Timothy with those kinds of questions.  The city was a huge cultural and spiritual mish-mash, and Timothy’s mission was to provide guidance and support to those in the church family.  Knowing the challenges Timothy would face, Paul sent him a letter.  About halfway through, Paul explains his motivation for writing:

1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon.  But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Paul doesn’t know the future.  He has a strong desire to minister side-by-side with his protégé again…but just in case he is delayed, Paul made sure Timothy knew how to support the people in the church.

I love the way Paul described those people, too…I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household.  We’re all part of God’s household.  Not God’s business.  Not God’s club.  Not God’s military, or any other socially-structured group.  We’re all part of God’s family. 

Being a family is hard.  And we’re not necessarily good at being a family with those with whom we share blood ties and genetics…so how are we supposed to be a household when we weren’t even raised in similar contexts?

Those are the legitimate questions the Ephesian believers are going to be asking Timothy.  If you were in his place, how would you answer them?

Stop and think of an answer before moving on…the church is the ultimate example of a ‘blended family’…so how do we make this household actually function as a family?

Paul actually gives us the answer.  God’s householdis the church of the living God.  We don’t define us as a family – belonging to the living Creator of the Universe is what ties us together as a family.  God is our pillar and foundation of the truth

This is no small thing.  In fact, Paul goes on to say:

1 Timothy 3:16
And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great:

The concept of being in God’s household is, in the Greek, a megas-mysterion.  It is so large, that it has to be explained to us before we can really understand it.  But why is it that way, why can’t it be easy to live as part of God’s household?

Interestingly enough, Paul then quotes a hymn reminding Timothy of the greatness of our Savior:

He was manifested in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit,
seen by angels,
preached among the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

Since Christ is so unique among all other proposed gods that the world looks to…it makes sense that being part of God’s household would mean that, at times, we’ll need help figuring out what to do next.  But that’s why we have mentors, and why it’s so important for us to mentor others.

Being part of God’s household means that we are connected to each other in the deepest, most unique way possible…it’s not always easy to be family…but it is who He created us to be.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

What a leader should NOT be

When it comes to choosing the person who will manage the overall activities of the church family, Paul listed qualities an overseer should have – as well as some qualities an overseer should definitely not have.

1 Timothy 3:2-5
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy…

One way to understand the importance of each of these not characteristics is to consider what it would be like if our leaders actually had these qualities:

not addicted to wine – Notice Paul doesn’t say “thou shalt not drink”.  Instead, Paul wants Timothy to ensure that the prospective overseer does not allow himself to be controlled by alcohol.  The line between appropriately handling and not appropriately handling varies from person to person.  Does he “need a drink” every time stress starts to build?  If he is regularly turning to alcohol for comfort, escape, or pleasure…then this is a huge warning flag.  Think of the damage a man with this addiction in an overseer position would do.  Personal and private issues would eventually become public incidents – divorce, DUI, financial disaster.  There is room in God’s family for anyone dealing alcohol and with the problems it can cause.  However, while they are being dealt with, that person should not be leading a congregation.

not a bully – We’ve seen this in other areas of life.  Someone is really successful at “getting the job done”, but when you look beneath surface, you find that they stepped all over people to actually get the job done.  Several times in His ministry, Christ said that the greatest in His kingdom was the one who was the servant of all (see Matthew 23:11, Luke 22:26).  As such, there is no place in leadership of God’s family for someone who physically intimidates others, is always ready for a fight, or who treats others belligerently.  An overseer is there to guide and direct others toward Jesus.  Since Jesus never led way, a church leader has no excuse to do so, either.

not quarrelsome – In addition to telling Timothy to avoid appointing leadership to someone who relies on being physically intimidating, Paul also tells Timothy to watch out for those who are verbally intimidating.  Does he love arguments because he relishes to chance to prove someone else is wrong?  Is he always on the defensive?  It’s impossible to lead others toward the God who loves them if the one leading them does not speak out of love toward them.

not greedy – Greed cuts into the attitude of both the poor and the rich.  It is a consuming desire for what you don’t have.  This is probably the most common visible vice for those in church leadership.  The low hanging fruit is to make sure that they are not lovers of money and not materialistic.  However, Paul doesn’t limit their greed to money here…greed could manifest itself in other ways, in their desire for authoritative power, or increased church attendance, or in the approval from people.

When we begin to breakdown Paul’s list, we find that these qualifications are rather exhaustive and to find all of these characteristics in one man might even be difficult.  However, I believe that is Paul’s point.  Look at how he finishes the qualification list:

1 Timothy 3:2-5
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher, not addicted to wine, not a bully but gentle, not quarrelsome, not greedy – one who manages his own household competently having his children under control with all dignity. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church?)

A man’s family is his proving ground.  Since the church family is made up of our individual families, the same kind of leadership is needed at the church-level.  If I cannot handle my family of four…then I should not expect to be able to oversee 40 other families.  Paul knew that any one of these not characteristics had the potential to inflict severe damage to an individual family, and the damage would only be magnified when they crop up in church leadership.  Timothy had to be careful in who he selected for the job.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

The motivation for everything

This might be a strange thought, but not every Christian will live out a Christ-focused life in the same way.  Even if we recognize this truth, we often have specific expectations (typically patterned after our own journey) of what “mature Christian behavior” should look like.  The truth of the matter is that it would be rather shallow of us to expect everyone to be “as spiritual” or be “as holy” in the identical manner that God is currently leading us in.  Maybe someone is behind us in development.  Maybe, just maybe…someone else could be ahead of us.

Think about our own families – our parents poured themselves into us and our siblings.  However, due to our varying ages and on-going development, the same efforts of our parents ended up producing very different adult people.  The expectations of behavior placed on the oldest child were often not even subjects that were being taught to the younger children.  Rarely was the same life lesson taught in the same manner to each child.  The specifics of these life-living lessons were tailored to where the child was at the particular moment.

However, the principles of the family were the same among the children.  Many of the stories and traditions of the family were the same as previous generations – stories of love, and loyalty, and bravery and the events of previous years.  You could see the family traits in the people around you, but they all exhibited them in different ways.

The same holds true for the family of God.  There is a common tie that binds us together – the incredible story of God leaving the glory and perfection of Heaven to rescue us from our selfish, sin-soaked mess.  However, as His story becomes part of our story…His character is revealed through us in a variety of ways.

As Paul continues to explain to the Colossian believers how God’s family works together and encourages one another with the message about the Messiah, take note of the guiding principle for how that message is to affect their lives and maturity:

Colossians 3:16-17
Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Instead of laying out a 12 point plan for maturity, Paul wants the believers to recognize that everything is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Doing anything “in someone’s name” means that we are their representative or ambassador.  We know that our manners and conduct reflect back on Jesus, and we also know that we’ll eventually have to give an account for how well we represent Him.  Whatever you do in word or in deed – that phrase pretty much covers it all, doesn’t it?

Paul’s direction is broad enough that there’s no technicality for us to escape it.  The broad-ness also allows for a wide-variety of expressions.  Take, for example, that in these two verses Paul says we are to have gratitude and we are to give thanks.  While that is a specific direction, how exactly shall we give thanks?  We could give thanks through prayer, with tears, with spoken words, with silent reverence, with charitable actions, or many other ways. 

Too often we get hung up on measuring a Christian’s maturity by looking at the things he or she does.  However, God looks beyond those things and evaluates our maturity based upon our motivations.

Colossians 3:17
And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

In the heat of the moment

Living with family is hard.  We have different likes, preferences, reactions, attitudes, and opinions.  With all of these differences, conflict becomes a “when” not an “if”.  When we get into the heat of conflict, it is pretty difficult to remember in that moment all of the ways we should be acting toward the other person.  Trying to guard our tone, volume, our word choice, and to listen before speaking are all very difficult to remember when we’re in the middle of defending our position.

A list of conflict resolution skills to practice is helpful…but only before the moment arrives.  When conflict hits, we’ll remember one or two of them, at best.  Since the way disagreements are handled can make or break relationships, it’s important to ask,

“Which skill or attitude is the most important?  What is the one thing to remember when conflict comes?”

In his letter, Paul coached the Colossian believers on how to prepare themselves to handle conflict within God’s family.  Earlier, he listed five character traits that they were to practice putting on, just like they would put on their clothes.  As they practiced the traits of heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, they would be able to accept and forgive each other when issues arose. 

However, the heat of the moment is a difficult time for those involved.  That’s why I think Paul continued with this piece of guidance:

Colossians 3:14-15
Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts.

This is the “if you forget everything else, remember what I’m about to tell you” moment in Paul’s letter.  Paul flags this most important direction with the key phrase above all.  So above all the Colossians are to remember to put on love.  They are to get dressed in the same kind of love that God has extended to us in Christ Jesus. 

Jesus himself gave the same answer when He was asked which section of the Jewish law was most important.  The person asking wanted to know what part of Moses’ law would be a guiding principle above all the other laws:

Matthew 22:37-40
He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and most important commandment.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Jesus said that for us to love is our highest aim…but also notice that everything else flows out of that love.  Paul is telling the Colossians the same thing – Above all, put on love.  The other characteristics would flow out of how well we love, especially in the midst of conflict.

But how do we know what is the best way to show love?  How will we know what is best for the other person when we’re in the middle of a fight?

To that, Paul throws in an “and”.  The Colossians were to let the peace of the Messiah control their hearts.  The peace of the Messiah was what Jesus brought to the sin-caused conflict between the human race and God.  Jesus was willing to give Himself up to address the problem head-on, so that our relationship with God the Father could be restored.

Paul uses an interesting word for what this kind of peace is supposed to do to us.  The Greek word for control comes from a context of athletic games, where an official would serve as an umpire in the match.  Paul wants the peace of the Messiah then to guide, direct, and umpire our love for the family member we’re clashing with.  So when family conflict comes, and it will, this all we need to remember:

Above everything else, let’s aim for peace because we love them. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Because they're family

There’s always one in every family.  And sometimes, there’s more than just one. 

You know who I’m talking about: the relative that always seems a little bit “off”, or the one who talks too much (about herself, usually), or the one everyone else is afraid will start another family fight.  When it’s announced they’re coming to Thanksgiving dinner, your kids look at you and ask “Why do we still invite them over every year?”  We all typically answer with the same reply, too – “Because they’re family.”

When Paul began to describe to the Colossian believers all the many ways that their new life in Christ would be lived out, he started by listing some characteristics they were going to have to learn to put on, just like they got dressed every morning.

Colossians 3:12
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience

Paul didn’t just list these out because they sounded good.  Paul’s aim wasn’t that the Colossians would become “nice people”.  Rather, he had a specific purpose in mind. 

As the good news of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and offer of eternal life spread throughout the known world, the church began to fill with people that were previously isolated and separated from each other.  The church was a melting pot of people from all over all of the spectrums.  Since the love of Jesus transcends all human boundaries, His church was composed of different races, ethnicities, economic status, political ideologies, religious backgrounds, and even people that just did not like each other.

So now that they were all connected through faith in Jesus, it wasn’t going to work for them to put on a fake smile and just try to play nice.  After Paul lists out these important characteristics for the believers to cloth themselves with, he goes on to tell them where these traits will be applied:

Colossians 3:12-13
...put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another.

We need to put on and practice these traits, because without them we are unable to accept, let alone forgive, those around us.  Notice there are no restrictions or qualifiers in Paul’s direction.  God expects his children to accept and forgive His other children.  Any one, and any complaint.

Notice also that Paul doesn’t say ignore or disregard the complaint itself.  Paul is dealing with the person here, the best solution to the complaint will be found as the listed character traits are applied to the situation.

And in case any of them thought they just couldn’t forgive (yet again) or if they refused to accept someone in the family, Paul followed up with this reminder:

Colossians 3:13
Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive.

There is nothing we have done – even repeatedly – that He hasn’t forgiven us for.  The Colossians were going to imitate and be like God as they extended the same heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience to each other.  Because they’re family. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Harsh words

The quickest way to change a situation is to open our mouths and have something selfish and negative come out.  With just a few harsh words, the tone of a conversation can be altered and the general mood of the room is radically different.  Depending on what we say and how we say it, relationships can be damaged for a significant amount of time. 

Recognizing this, it’s easy to see how careless words can tear apart family members.

After warning the Colossian believers to put to death any idolatry and greed that comes out of their hearts, Paul encourages them to take their conduct up to the next level by closely watching what comes out of their mouths.

Colossians 3:8
But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.

Paul says that these types of words must be put away.  The Greek word for put away means to “put off or aside”.  This action is intentional, and there’s no wiggle room here, it must be done.

Not to be self-congratulating, but I would like to use an example from my own life – I have decided there are some things that my boys will never hear from me.

I can clearly remember stories, jokes, and advice given to me over the years…but I will not repeat them.  Some memories go way back into my youth.  The stories and jokes were meant to be funny, and honestly, I laughed quite a bit at them.  My immaturity was in full bloom as I listened intently to my friends’ stories, trying to add in some off-color or inappropriate joke of my own.  My quick wit was good for that, or so I thought.

I also have distinct memories of “advice” given to me by people who were lashing out in anger and frustration, either at someone else or at the world in general.  I can still hear their voices say those words as they angrily warned me to avoid certain individuals or people groups.

However, I will not place the burden of these words on my children, or anyone else around me.  The memory of these words will die with me.

Now that the memories have been put away, the real challenge is to follow Paul’s direction and keep anything new from springing out of my mouth.  Now you must put away he says.  Paul’s direction needs to be applied moment by moment – even when things go sideways at work, or I’m caught off-guard, or my plans for the evening get wrecked, or I am hurt (yet again) by someone close to me.

Paul isn’t saying it’s wrong to be upset, frustrated, or even angry; we just need to be watchful for how our mouths express those emotions.  Guarding what comes out of our mouths is vital for maintaining healthy relationships within the family of God and with those outside of the family. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken

In this family...

At some point in our lives, I think we’ve all had our parents tell us “If you’re part of this family, then you’ll…<insert particular actions, thoughts, or words>”.  And now as a parent, I’ve said it, too.  When I use the word “If” in these kinds of statements, my boys know that I’m not questioning if they are truly my children.  Instead, I’m implying that they know they are part of the family, and since they are, then a particular course is expected of them.

Throughout his letter to the Colossians, it is abundantly clear that Paul is writing to believers.  

1:2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae
1:13 [the Father] has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves
2:12 ...you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God
2:13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him

However, even though they were in the family, the Colossians still needed help understanding how relationships worked inside God’s family.  In some ways, they were still acting and thinking like they had before they entered into God’s family.

After affirming that they are part of the family, Paul had this to say about how they were thinking and acting:

Colossians 2:20
If you died with Christ to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?

You can hear what Paul’s implying here: If you died with Christ (and you did), why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?

But just as the Father has rescued believers from the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of Jesus, Paul says that our relationship with Jesus will similarly rewire our thoughts and actions. 

Colossians 3:1
So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.

Again, he uses the same implied-relationship statement: if you have been raised with the Messiah (and you have), seek what is above.

The Greek word for seek is a pretty intense one.  It means to seek in order to find out – by thinking, meditating, reasoning, and enquiring.  It carries the idea of striving and craving (even demanding) something from someone.

Paul is letting these believers know that in this family, we don’t establish and maintain a relationship with God by following a set of man-made rules.  Instead, we passionately pursue Jesus.  We seek Him out.  The same thing happens with my boys – they don’t create a “good” relationship with me when they follow self-imposed rules in order to avoid punishments; we have a “good” relationship when they are interested in who I am and what I am like, because it is then that they reciprocate my love for them.

So don’t mess around with the old way of life, the way the world thinks that “religious” people should live.  Following rules doesn’t create a relationship with God, but actively pursuing Him will create this new relationship. 

Want to know what the new relationship is like in God’s family?  Seek Jesus, and he’ll show you.

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

The first test of a leader

One of Titus’ biggest jobs in Crete was to identify church leaders from within the local believers. 

 Titus 1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

Given the corruptness and general self-centeredness of the Cretan culture, Titus needed to be very careful about who would both publicly represent the church to outsiders and be able to minister to those within the church family.  The selection was so important that Paul spent the first half of Chapter 1 describing a church leader, listing both characteristics that he should not possess and characteristics that he should possess.

Titus 1:6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.

To be blameless is to be free from any accusation of wrong-doing.  Paul considers this characteristic to be so important that he fleshes it out in great detail in the next few verses.  As such, we’ll wait until next time to look at it.

However, some interpretations of the next two elder requirements – to be the husband of but one wife and a man whose children believe have produced a lot of stress within the church.  Several questions could be raised:

Can an elder be single?  Divorced?  Widowed?  Remarried?

What if he has no children?  Or children to young to understand the gospel?  Or children that have rejected God?

While the predominate culture of the time did not include polygamy, both divorce and having concubines were commonplace.  Also, nowhere in his letter to Titus does Paul specify a previous sin or situation that prevents a person from becoming an elder now…as such, to imply that a divorce or becoming a widow automatically disqualifies someone from becoming a church leader would be inconsistent with the rest of the text.  Most likely, the statement the husband of but one wife was to ensure that elders are completely faithful to their present wife, and their present wife only – in order to be a representation of how Christ is faithful to the church.

Likewise, we have to be careful to not read too much into the phrase a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.  We have a tendency to immediately equate the word “believe” with “faith in Christ for salvation from the penalty of sin”.  The Greek word for believe is also translated as “faithful”, “reliable”, or “trustworthy”.  However, the author’s intended meaning of a given word is derived from its immediate context.  In this passage, we have “believing” children contrasted with children that are open to the charge of being wild and disobedient.  Who are the children to trusting in, relying on, or being faithful to?  Their own father!  And it is their overall behavior that reflects their relationship to him!  In fact, some other translations render the phrase as a man whose children are faithful or a man whose children are trustworthy.

Now that we’ve cleared out the clutter of what we might (even unintentionally) read into the text, it is clear that the potential elder needs to be evaluated on his ability to faithfully lead his family and guide the passions of those directly in his care.  This is to be our first evaluation point of someone who wants to lead in the local church.

Paul said something similar in a letter to his other protégé, a young man named Timothy:

1 Timothy 3:4-5 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?)

That’s a great question.  We should expect this of both our current leaders and from those who desire to lead.

Keep Pressing,
Ken