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: fear

Afraid of the bait-and-switch

I hate the bait-and-switch.

Whether it’s due to someone’s greed, circumstances beyond our control, or our own misunderstanding, we can end up getting less than what we expect.  As a result, we’re constantly on guard against situations that appear too good to be true.  We always have this lingering fear that we won’t fully get what has been advertised…and it makes us suspicious of good things that happen in our lives.

We carry this suspicion into our relationships, even with God.  Life’s changing circumstances and people letting us down can leave us wondering about the basic truths that we hold dear:  Does God really forgive me?  Can I sin “too much”?  Is there a line that I could cross and then God will reject me?  Is believing Jesus enough to have eternal life? 

Questions like these show that we’re nervous about our relationship foundation with God.  Is ok to ask questions, but also know that we can find answers.  We don’t have to sit in the dark wondering if God is going to change the rules or change His mind.

Progressing through his letter to the Hebrew believers, we find that as the author resumes his discussion of Christ’s superiority as our high priest, he shows us an important, bedrock truth:

Hebrews 7:20-25
[The Levites] became priests without an oath, but [Jesus] became a priest with an oath made by the One who said to Him:

              The Lord has sworn
               and will not change His mind,
               “You are a priest forever.”
(Psalm 110:4)

Because of this oath, Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.  Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office.  But because He remains forever, He holds His priesthood permanently.

Therefore, He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them.

There is no concern of Jesus being a temporary representative for us before the Father; instead, Jesus is our permanent guarantee of access to God.  Besides, if Jesus did not live forever…how could I trust His claim that He can keep me alive forever?

Hebrews 7:26-28
For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.  He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do – first for their own sins, then for those of the people.  He did this once for all time when He offered himself.

For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak, but the promise of the oath, which came after the law, appoints a Son, who has been perfected forever.

Jesus, the perfectly-suited high priest, gave the ultimately perfect sacrifice – and because the sacrifice was so great, it fulfilled our sin-debt in one fell swoop.  The Greater Messenger has done something that no one else has ever accomplished.

Hebrews 8:1-2
Now the main point of what is being said is this: We have this kind of high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that was set up by the Lord and not man.

Since Jesus does not need to offer any further sacrifices, His ministry can develop beyond what the Israelites would have witnessed in their high priests’ ministry.  Jesus is therefore worthy of greater honor and is able to go on to greater things.

Oh, and He’s our brother in the Holy family.  And He’s offered to help us with our struggles, if we would only ask.

The most superior person in the universe desires this kind of relationship with us.  No bait-and-switch.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Understanding why God knows the number of hairs on our heads

God knows the number of hairs on your head.  So, He knows what best for you.

I’ve been in church as long as I can remember, and I’ve heard something like that statement more times than I can count.  The preacher means it as encouragement, implying that since God knows such crazy, insignificant details about us, then obviously He must know how to handle all the big stuff that’s going on in our lives.

It’s based on a verse from Matthew 10 (or Luke 12); and if the preacher really wants to drive the point home, he’ll include what Jesus said in the immediate verse before and after:

Matthew 10:29-31
Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent.  But even the hairs of your head have all been counted.  Don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.

And that’s very true.  God does know everything about us, and of course He knows what’s best for us.  But the whole idea of me-being-more-important-than-insignificant-birds-because-God-knows-how-much-hair-I-have has never inspired me to not be afraid.  So I have just shrugged off the metaphor as something useful or motivating for first-century people and not given it much thought, no matter how many times I hear a preacher bring it up.

As I hang out more in the Psalms, one thing I’m learning is that Jesus quoted them – often.  He knew them very well, and the Jewish people did, too.  However, Jesus would also reference the psalms or present familiar passages in new ways.  Two of David’s psalms specifically mentions the hairs of my head:

Psalm 40:12
For troubles without number have surrounded me;
my sins have overtaken me; I am unable to see.
They are more than the hairs on my head,
and my courage leaves me.

Psalm 69:4
Those who hate me without cause
are more numerous than the hairs of my head;
my deceitful enemies, who would destroy me, are powerful.
Though I did not steal, I must repay.

David uses the number of hairs on his head to descriptively exaggerate how overwhelmed he was by his troubles, sins, and enemies.  In both psalms, David is seeking strength and rescue from God.  But how does this relate to Jesus talking about the value of sparrows?  When we pull back into the larger context we find Jesus saying this to His disciples:

Matthew 10:16-18, 21-22
Look, I’m sending you out, like sheep among wolves.  Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as harmless as doves.  Because people will hand you over to sanhedrins and flog you in their synagogues, beware of them.  You will even be brought before governors and kings because of Me, to bear witness to them and to the nations…Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child.  Children will even rise up against their parents and have them put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of my name.

Jesus foretelling of persecution, betrayal, and death for Christ-followers?  That’s some pretty heavy stuff.  But Jesus offers this encouragement:

Matthew 10:26, 28-31
Therefore don’t be afraid of them…Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.  Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent.  But even the hairs of your head have all been counted.  Don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Jesus wanted to make sure His disciples understood that just as God has authority when the insignificant sparrows die, so He also has authority over when His disciples would die.  Knowing that their lives were in God’s hands – and not in the hands of their enemies – would give them the strength to carry on with the Gospel and God’s Love.  Even if they are outnumbered and feeling overwhelmed.

When trouble comes, and it feels overwhelming, we wrestle with fear.  It’s easy to become afraid in those moments when we are despised, cussed out, shunned, passed over, shouted down, and, in some parts of the world, physically tortured for being a Christ-follower.  When it seems like we Christians have more people against us than there are hairs on our heads and our very lives are on the line, God knows where we are and what’s going on. 

We’re never abandoned. 
God is still in charge.  
So be brave.  
Don’t be afraid.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Show me the way

Other than physical healing, the most common prayer request we bring before God is a request for guidance.  We ask God to “reveal His path” or “guide our steps” or “show us how to handle a person/situation”.  And rightfully so – God knows everything better than we do, so He’s the best one to give advice and direction whenever we get stuck.

But has it ever crossed your mind that sometimes God chooses to not answer our requests for guidance?

David had plenty of instances in his life where he needed God’s guidance.  From the shepherding of his youth, to evading Saul’s desire to kill him, to leading Israel as King…David constantly relied on God to get him through it all.

Fortunately for us, David wrote down many of his conversations with God in prayerful songs.  Throughout the psalms he wrote, David returns to the idea that he needs the Lord’s guidance.  However, David’s request also recognizes our two-way relationship with God.  So, we need to watch for David’s part in the relationship as we read:

Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 12-14
Make Your ways known to me, Lord; teach me Your paths.
Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation;
I wait for You all day long.

The Lord is good and upright; therefore He shows sinners the way.
He leads the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.
All the Lord’s ways show faithful love and truth
to those who keep His covenant and decrees. 

Who is the person who fears the Lord?
He will show him the way he should choose.
He will live a good life, and his descendants will inherit the land.
The secret counsel of the Lord is for those who fear Him,
and He reveals His covenant to them.

David can’t flippantly live life and then expect that God will be his magic 8-ball or cosmic vending machine whenever he gets stuck.  If David trusts God enough to ask about the unknown, then David should at least be following the known instructions God has already given him.

David notes four responsibilities we have before we can ask God to show us His way:

patiently wait
be humble
keep His covenant and decrees
respectfully fear the Lord

Asking God for guidance means that we recognize His superior understanding of life; therefore, we should first regard what God has already revealed before we ask Him about things or situations that He hasn’t yet revealed.

Notice too, that David doesn’t say we have to be sinlessly perfect, either.  God is willing to show sinners the way, provided we humbly understand Whom it is we’re asking for guidance.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The pressure of being young and in charge

New leaders often feel the pressure to “prove” they belong in their position.  New young leaders feel this pressure even more.  If left unchecked, this pressure will kindle a leader’s internal worries of public failure.  Their fear of failure normally manifests itself in a variety of bad ways – becoming bossy, refusing counsel, trusting only themselves, stubbornness, condescending actions, or even expectations of special treatment because “I’m the boss”.

A boss who behaves this way will undermine the aim and purpose of the organization they are supposed to lead.  Don’t think these fears and actions are isolated to just business leadership.  You’ll find them in any organization – volunteer groups, military, even your local church. 

When Paul left Timothy in charge of the church in Ephesus, he knew that he was leaving the congregation in capable hands.  However, Paul also understood some of the challenges that Timothy would likely face. 

Throughout his letter, Paul warns about the kinds of disputes Timothy will face as he leads the church in Ephesus.  When disagreements came up, it was certainly possible that someone would try to use Timothy’s age as a reason to discredit his leadership.  At this time, Timothy is likely in his late 20s, or possibly his early 30s.

So Paul gives this instruction to his protégé:

1 Timothy 4:11-12
Command and teach these things.  No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

Whenever I get the chance to encourage other fathers, especially fathers of young boys, I use phrases like “more is caught than taught” and “you must be the man you want them to be”.  In the long run, parenting is easier if we model the lessons we insist our children learn.  The same goes for leaders in the church.

Additionally, as Timothy did his best to emulate Jesus, there was a specific scene in Jesus’ life that he could have found reassuring.  Recall that at age 12 – still considered a child by Jewish society standards – Jesus was conversing with the teachers of the law in the temple, astounding them with his understanding and answers (see Luke 2:41-50).

Timothy couldn’t stop someone from questioning his position due to his youthfulness.  However, he could proactively prevent many concerns by how he conducted himself in his position.  The limitations other perceive in us are always overcome by our actions.  As Timothy modeled Christ-like behavior, his example would give him the credibility that his youthful age would not.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Encourage bravery

A plot had been devised to kill every Jew in Persia.  A man named Haman had convinced King Ahasuerus that the Jews were enemies of the state.  As a result, the king declared a day when the entire Jewish population was to be exterminated and their property confiscated.  Understandably, the Jews were distraught and terrified.

Esther 4:1-4
When Mordecai learned all that had occurred, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, went into the middle of the city, and cried loudly and bitterly.  He only went as far as the King’s Gate, since the law prohibited anyone wearing sackcloth from entering the King’s Gate.  There was great mourning among the Jewish people in every province where the king’s command and edict came.  They fasted, wept, and lamented, and many lay on sackcloth and ashes.

Esther’s female servants and her eunuchs came and reported the news to her, and the queen was overcome with fear.  She sent clothes for Mordecai to wear so he could take off his sackcloth, but he did not accept them.

Esther was scared out of her mind, and since she couldn’t go out to Mordecai, she wanted Mordecai to come to her.  Since he refused to change out of his mourning clothes, Esther had to settle for talking to him through her servant, Hathach.  After Mordecai described the situation to Hathach…

Esther 4:8
Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa ordering their destruction, so that Hathach might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and instruct her to approach the king, implore his favor, and plead with him personally for her people.

Esther’s response to Mordecai’s instructions shows that she had another fear to contend with – approaching the king was a “by-appointment-only” arrangement.  If the king was caught off-guard or felt threatened by the unannounced audience, it would cost the person their life.  Look carefully at how she conveys this situation, but also pay attention to Mordecai’s response to her fears:

Esther 4:10-14
Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to tell Mordecai, “All the royal officials and the people of the royal provinces know that one law applies to every man or woman who approaches the king in the inner courtyard and who has not been summoned – the death penalty.  Only if the king extends the golden scepter will that person live.  I have not been summoned to appear before the king for the last 30 days.”  Esther’s response was report to Mordecai.

Mordecai told the messenger to reply to Esther, “Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace.  If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed.  Who knows, perhaps you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.”

Mordecai has incredible confidence in God’s ability to rescue the nation, but he also has confidence in Esther – both who she is and her position at this time in history.  The mentor knew it was time for his protégé to act.  His message to Esther was clear:

It’s time to step up and be brave.

Sometimes they need a little push.  The protégé may lack confidence, or they grab ahold of something to use as an excuse.  But the mentor knows they are ready…it’s in the tension of this moment that the protégé needs to trust their mentor and be brave.

Mordecai wasn’t there to do it for Esther.  She had to choose to trust Mordecai’s words.  She had to choose to be brave.  Esther had to accept that she was the one who was in the best position to make a difference.

Esther 4:15
Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me.  Don’t eat or drink for three days, night and day.  I and my female servants will also fast in the same way.  After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law.  If I perish, I perish.”

Esther was brave because of Mordecai’s encouragement…and her bravery was the first step toward saving her people.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Identity and fear

The believers in Colossae were dealing with a barrage of spiritual ideas and false teachings.  After giving them a general warning about these dangerous influences, Paul begins to discuss several of the false teachings directly.  From Paul’s comments in the following section, it seems as if the false teachers were “ok” with Jesus, but they also had their own additions or subtle changes about who Jesus was.

Colossians 2:8-10
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.  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.

The primary question each of us must answer is “Who is Jesus?”.  In comparison to all other religions and belief systems, Jesus uniquely claims to be both God and man. 

Throughout the centuries, however, people have tried in many different ways to diminish this characteristic of Jesus.  Some have taught that Jesus was just a spirit and only appeared to be human.  There have been claims that Jesus was a man who had some God-like ability.  Others have stated that he was only partially divine – similar to the Greek’s demi-god legends. 

Alternative theories about Jesus’ true nature are still around today.  We hear things like “Jesus was a great teacher” or “Jesus was a man who had God’s spirit on him for a short time, but it left him as he died on the cross”.   

However, Paul stresses to the Colossians that these other explanations about Jesus’ nature are completely inadequate.  Jesus was both fully God and fully man.  He wasn’t just a great human teacher.  He wasn’t just another human philosopher.  He wasn’t just a religious leader.  He wasn’t even partially God, or like a Greek demi-God…Jesus was the entire fullness of God’s nature in bodily form.

Understanding this concept – that Jesus is fully God and fully man – is critical as we understand our new identity within the family of God.  The fullness of our Creator, what makes Him who He is…that identity has been passed on to every believer. 

Stop and think about that…we are directly identified with the King of the Universe.

Since Jesus is fully God and fully man, He was the only one qualified to offer His life as a ransom for ours.  Because of His death and resurrection, He is head over every ruler and authority.

Since we are identified with the One in charge of everything, we do not need to fear any other ruler or authority.  What a freeing thought!

When we find that freedom and the strength that comes with it, no other philosophy or teaching will take us captive – because we know Jesus as He truly is.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Choosing our focus

There are many things to be afraid of in this life.

Every day, the morning newspaper is full of stories about dangerous situations, unsafe people, riots, and natural disasters.  Stories about people from all walks of life with hidden agendas, corruption, and greed shaping the decisions they make.  Some days, it just feels like the whole world is closing in with evil people and bad situations. 

By his choice of words, we can see that David felt that way often…especially when he was on the run from King Saul.  Saul wanted David dead, so that he could continue being king.  Since David’s advisory was the most powerful man in the country, it seemed that everywhere David turned, he was in danger.

Here’s how David describes his situation:

Psalm 57:4
I am in the midst of lions;
I lie down with those who devour me.
Their teeth are spears and arrows;
their tongues are sharp swords.

Don’t just glaze over this description.  Let’s try and picture what David’s describing here.

You’re out in the open.  Not just in proximity to wild animals, rather there are lions who freely roam around the area where you’re standing.  You look for shelter, for cover…anything that will help you avoid an attack.  Even where you sleep at night is not entirely safe.  And you don’t have to guess as to how the lions will treat you if they find you.  There will be blood, and certainly no mercy.

How do you feel?  Where’s your focus?

In moments like these, our real priorities come into a much sharper focus.  We clearly recognize what’s important and what is not.  Survival normally becomes the driving influence in all our decisions.  We may even select a few people we trust, and then we would make our next move. 

However, David’s next move is to look up

Psalm 57:5
God, be exalted above the heavens;
let Your glory be above the whole earth.

Previously in this psalm, David has approached God for refuge and protection.  However, when the danger arrives…when Saul comes close to where David is hiding…David’s request turns away from himself and focuses solely on God’s reputation.

That is the true challenge for us.  When we find ourselves in the crucible of life, when the corruption of the world is pressing in…are we looking to merely survive the evil around us, or are we looking to advance God’s reputation in this world?  Which do we desire more? 

If we choose the focus that David did, then the scary things in life won’t be so overwhelming. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken