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: focus

The tunnel-vision trap

Tunnel vision is almost never a good thing, and it can be an easy trap to fall into if we get wrapped up in the troubles of this world.  Politics, in all nations, is a mess – but we fret and twist and turn and argue about them.  Overall, humans haven’t taken great care of the environment, and we can get sole-focused worried about correcting our influence.  We inflict pain on each other, on a scale that ranges from our nearby neighbors and that reaches other countries – and they do the same back to us.  Watch any news broadcast, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in someone else’s tunnel-visioned issue being presenting at that moment.

Christians are also capable of falling into this tunnel-vision trap.  We can get so wrapped up in church issues, community issues, and even just the day-to-day grind that we forget about the larger picture God is painting.  God’s plan for humans started at Creation and stretches all the way into Eternity Future. 

Thankfully, God left us reminders.  During his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul discussed how our present identity in Christ relates to our Eternity Future:

Romans 8:16-18
The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children also heirs – heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.

The troubles of this world and the suffering we all encounter – personal, health, and for being a Christian – can really bog us down.  We can easily become tunnel-visioned on all that is wrong with the world and wonder if any of this “Christian stuff” is worth it.  But when we keep this glory-filled future in mind, our perspective changes and we begin to see the world around us differently.  If fact, Paul also tells us that the creation itself is also looking forward to the revealing of that glory in us:

Romans 8:19-21
For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it – in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

When Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world, all of creation was frustrated, muted, and corrupted – and it hasn’t been fixed yet.  At times in nature, we seem to get a glimpse of a deeper beauty, or the potential for something greater…but that notion is fleeting at best.  However, when God brings humans back to the perfection we were created for, the creation will be liberated as well.

Romans 8:22-23
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.  Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as firstfruits – we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Both the creation and Christians are yearning for this future renewal.  This longing for newness will be fulfilled.  Until then, it is good to recognize our desire for our eternal home with Christ.  It keeps today’s difficulties in perspective:

Romans 8:18
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Watching with purpose

Back in the dark ages – before we all had our phones constantly in-hand – I had to pick up my wife and boys from the airport.  The three of them were returning home after visiting her parents for few weeks.  I knew the flight number and expected time of arrival, and so I parked the car and waited in baggage claim.  I was there early and with nothing to do – because nobody stared down at their phones back then – I decided to do some people-watching while I kept an eye out for them.

It doesn’t matter how eclectic your social circles are, when you’re at an airport, you will see all kinds of people you don’t normally run into.  However, one cannot simply “watch people” when they are “people-watching”; there is a certain level of discretion that has to be maintained.  The trick is to observe without others catching you doing what really amounts to some short-term staring.  Locking eyes with an observee can be awkward at the very least, and depending on the person (or their companion), being caught could lead to an uncomfortable scene in a public place.

Between the clothing chosen, the style of walk, and the expression on their faces, each person was making some sort of statement about who they were and what they were about.  There were fashion statements, financial statements, sports statements, political statements, attitude statements – a sweeping variety of stories were being told as I watched them all walk by me.  Some people treat the airport like a catwalk runway, others do their best to go unnoticed.  Some people obviously chose to wear too many clothes, but as this was summertime, many others decidedly wore too few.

As my eyes bounced from person to person and from story to story, I quickly became lost in this time-killing activity.  I hadn’t forgotten why I was at the airport, but watching for my family was no longer my primary task.  After some time, my situation dawned on me.  What would happen if my wife and kids found me and walked up before I even saw them?  Simply missing them because I was watching others would be embarrassing enough, but imagine the kind of reception if they walked up while I was distracted and observing someone who had chosen to wear as little as possible?

With that revelation, I quickly snapped back to the task at hand.  I wasn’t unaware of the other people around me, but my focus was now on what was most important to me.  A short time later, they came down the escalator and toward their baggage carousel.  I was greeted with hugs from my boys and a kiss from my wife – and I was thankful that I had made the right choice before it was too late.

We, as Christians, also have a return to watch for.  Jesus said He will be coming back, and He told many parables alluding to His future return.  However, by our reckoning, it has been many years since He said that, and there are many distractions in this life – fashion, finances, sports, politics, attitudes, and numerous others.  It’s easy to lose focus and start living selfishly. 

So let’s take a look at something Jesus said about His return:

Luke 12:43-46
Blessed is that servant whom the master finds doing his job when he comes.  Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, that servant’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unfaithful.

While being afraid of getting “caught in the act” should not be our main motivation to avoid selfish behavior, there are certainly consequences to how we spend our time while we wait for Jesus’ promised return.  There are significant opportunities and honors available for those who continue to do the work God has given them; but there are equally dire punishments for the servants of God who neglect their responsibilities and abuse others.

Notice that the servant never forgot that His master was returning, but doing his job and watching for the master’s return was no longer his primary task.  He convinced himself that his master’s delay would continue, so he selfishly took advantage of those around him.  He probably believed he had plenty of time to clean up his mess before the master came back.  He couldn’t have been more wrong – and there wasn’t a chance for a do-over.

We certainly don’t want to end up like that!  We want to be like a soldier found at his post, faithfully trusting the promise of the one who said He would return.  But with all the distractions we face, how can we keep our focus?  Our best option is to take the Apostle John’s advice:

1 John 2:28
So now, little children, remain in Him so that when He appears we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.

When we intentionally spend time with Jesus, we remain in Him and keep His priorities.  Doing so means we will avoid the embarrassment and shame of the wicked servant.  Instead, Jesus’ return will be a joyful occasion, one where we can be confident that He will approve what we have been doing while we watch for His return.

Keep Pressing,
Ken  

Real intimacy

I really don’t like talking on the phone.  It’s too impersonal.  I don’t get to see the other person’s facial expressions and reactions, which makes communicating more difficult than it should be.  Whether I’m calling for work or personal reasons, I do my best to keep the conversation short and to the point. 

I like instant message, texting, and email even less.  I consider them to be even lower forms of communication.  I recognize that all three can be useful, but will only use them for short, brief transfers of information.  If it takes more than two sentences to type out my question or answer, I’d rather call the person.  At least I can hear their voice and quickly deal with issues and questions. However, if at all possible, I’ll go directly to them.  I’ve never understood the people at work who sit close to each other and communicate everything via IM.  There’s so much lost when we don’t speak face-to-face.

Beyond the efficiency of talking face-to-face, there’s something else happening in the moment that not even Skype or FaceTime can replicate.  There is a connectedness among those involved in the discussion…and together, the individuals dialoging face-to-face nearly create a separate persona as a byproduct of their conversation.  We have all felt this before, both as someone who is connecting with another person, or as someone who walks into a new room and can instantly tell the “mood” without anyone saying anything.

Our most intimate, intense conversations happen face-to-face.  The obvious example is the intimacy between lovers, but we also “get in someone’s face” when expressing our most intense displeasures.  The closer we get our face to another person’s face, the more our focus narrows and the stuff of the outside world is pushed aside.

Drawing on this powerful human-interaction experience, David writes the next stanza of Psalm 27.  Watch for his desire to seek God’s face, but also his concern if he is unable to do so:

Psalm 27:7-10
Lord, hear my voice when I call;
be gracious to me and answer me.
In Your behalf my heart says, “Seek My face.”
Lord, I will seek your face.
Do not hide Your face from me;
do not turn Your servant away in anger.
You have been my help;
do not leave me or abandon me, God of my salvation
Even if my father and mother abandon me,
the Lord cares for me.

Without God’s presence in his life, David would feel left behind and alone, with a huge, empty void inside.  In a word, he would feel abandoned.  David knows that if his own merits were the criteria for meeting with God, he doesn’t deserve to see God face-to-face.  However, the last sentence of this stanza is the key to understanding their relationship:

Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord cares for me.

Even if the people who are most expected to care and love him end up leaving him, David knows that being cared for by the Lord will sustain him.  This knowledge is what drives him to seek out God’s direct presence. 

The same intimate and intense relationship is available to each of us also.  Even if we’ve been abandoned by those closest to us, the Lord still cares for us.  Seek His face.  Seek his presence.  The closer we draw to Him, we’ll see what’s most important as the stuff of the outside world is pushed aside.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The Bible: Reading vs. Experiencing

Sometimes, we forget.

We forget that the Bible wasn’t just written, it was lived.
We forget that the person we’re reading about didn’t know the next verse.
We forget the person had feelings/thoughts/worries/doubts in each moment.

The pages of Scripture describe the actions, thoughts, and desires of the individuals and groups who have uniquely interacted with our Creator, in order to demonstrate His love for us. 

But sometimes…we forget…and we just read on through the section, chapter, or book.

For example, we can open our Bibles and find:

1 Timothy 4:12-16
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.  Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

These are the words of an old man encouraging his protégé.  We have front row seats to a watershed moment in young Timothy’s life.  He has been raised and trained for this moment of service in God’s kingdom – and Paul wants Timothy to know the importance of the next steps he takes, ones without Paul’s direct supervision.  But it’s difficult to recognize the weight of Paul’s words, and their impact on Timothy, when we just read through a chapter.

However, when we are on the receiving end of a leader’s call to rise up, something deep inside resonates.  It could be a coach’s halftime speech, a father calling out to his son, or a leader inspiring a nation.  Those moments stir passions in us – even when we witness them in other’s lives, or in a movie.

So, I’m going to ask you to try a little exercise.  Follow the link below to a clip from the movie Miracle, and then read Paul’s words to Timothy again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwpTj_Z9v-c

1 Timothy 4:12-16
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.  Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Think about Timothy, before and after receiving Paul’s letter.

Why would Paul’s words resonate with Timothy?
Which words stand out?  Why?
How will these words impact Timothy’s motivation and focus?


If Paul said these words to you, how would they impact your motivation and focus?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Be Prepared

Nearly everyone knows the Boy Scout motto of Be Prepared.

This motto is repeated to the young men over and over, encouraging them to think past their immediate circumstances.  This simple phrase shifts their gaze to what the future may bring and instructs them to consider what they may need to do now in order to be prepared for various scenarios.

Similarly, when Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy, he wrote to encourage his protégé to be prepared for all parts of his job as leader of the church in Ephesus.  We have observed Paul writing things like I urged you and I am giving you this instruction…so that by them you may strongly engage in battle.  Later we’ll see Paul write if you point out these things and be conscientious about yourself and your teaching

And in the middle of his letter, Paul gives his thesis – his entire purpose 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.

Notice that Paul admits to not knowing the future.  If anyone in Scripture was going to be clued-in by God as to what the future holds, Paul would be a good candidate.  But God didn’t tell him what personal, day-to-day events were coming next.  Peter wasn’t told those things, either.  Moses, David, Solomon…nope, nope, and nope.  While a vision or two was occasionally given by God to select individuals, those events happened only for very specific purposes.  Even when we consider the extensive Revelation given to the exiled Apostle John while he was on Patmos, future events were foretold; however, John was not informed if (or when) he would get to leave the island.

Paul has plans to work with Timothy again in Ephesus, but just in case something happens to change his plans, Paul wants Timothy to be prepared to continue his mission.

Timothy’s purpose was to take those who are saved – those who have trusted Jesus for eternal life – and help them answer the question: “Well, now what?”.  This is an incredibly important mission.  If Timothy were not there, then most folks would probably just go back to whatever sin-focused lifestyle they had before they encountered Christ…because that’s all they knew. 

They needed to build their new lives on the foundation of the truth.  Timothy was to show them how to cut the wood, hammer in the nails, and make their home with Jesus.  Paul wasn’t there to help them do that, and there was a chance that he could be delayed in doing this good work alongside Timothy.  So Paul did the next, best thing.  He still made an eternal contribution to the Ephesian believers (and us, too!) by writing Timothy a letter, making sure that Timothy was fully prepared to do the work God had called him to do.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The mystery of the Messiah

When Paul wrote his letter to the believers in Colossae, he was in prison for preaching the gospel.  He wasn’t living the good life…at best, he was spending his days chained to a Roman guard.  Quite possibly, he was chained to a dungeon wall.  And at the end of his letter, Paul understandably asks for prayer.

If you were Paul, what would you ask them to pray? 

Honestly, if I were in that situation, I’d be asking for people to be praying that I’d get out of there.  By my reasoning, prison would be limiting to the ministry that God gave Paul on the road to Damascus so many years prior.  He could reach so many more people with the Good News of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection if he were free to move about the world.  Instead, Paul’s on lockdown.  But Paul doesn’t ask for prayer about that.  Take a look at what he asks instead:

Colossians 4:3-4
At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah – for which I am in prison – so that I may reveal it as I am required to speak.

Paul’s focus isn’t on where he is at the moment.  His location isn’t his primary concern.  Instead, Paul is watching for God to provide opportunities for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah.

Jesus – the Messiah – coming to earth as humanity’s only option for rescue is a mystery to everyone outside of God’s family.  Why would the King of the Universe choose to be born a helpless baby, whose primary goal in life was to die for something that wasn’t His fault?  Why would someone so limitless choose to be so limited?

Those are legitimate questions, and there are many more that people will honestly ask about the mystery of the Messiah.  We need to be watching for opportunities to share the message that gives Eternal Life and hope for the here and now.  Paul knew that he had to lift his eyes above his circumstances…he didn’t need to focus on his current difficulties or limitations, instead he needed to watch for opportunities to reveal the Good News to others around him.

We Christians have a unique opportunity every year at this time to share the mystery of the Messiah.  For the weeks leading up to Christmas and for a short time after, everyone seems to be a little more open to thinking about spiritual questions and how God interacts with their lives.  I pray that you’ll be looking for these opportunities instead of looking at your current limitations.  Be ready and willing to share Jesus with those who so desperately need Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to stay focused while praying

About a year ago, I started a series exploring the way Jesus prayed.  My theory was that if God’s goal is to make me more Christ-like, then I should probably take a look at how, when, and where Jesus prayed.  Out of the numerous things I learned, two observations of Jesus’ prayer life stuck out:

First, that He frequently went off to quiet places to spend time with the Father in prayer.  Out of a variety of circumstances, Jesus was constantly devoting chunks of alone time to talking with His Father in Heaven.

Second, Jesus’ main concern in His prayers was the Father.  Jesus was primarily focused on the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory.  His aim was to increase the Father’s glory – which means to enhance the Father’s reputation and honor in the world, and this was primarily achieved as Jesus completed the mission that the Father gave Him to accomplish.

As rich as that study was, as I moved on to other parts of Scripture I didn’t always remember these main lessons.  Looking back, my prayer life has both ebbed and flowed…tossed about by circumstance and my mental state of the moment.  One particular item I’ve struggled with is staying focused while praying. 

When I pray, I’m usually sitting in a quiet room with my eyes closed to avoid visual distractions.  My conversation with the Father starts out alright, but about half way through the fourth sentence…my mind jumps to something that needs my attention later on in the day, or I remember what I had forgotten to buy at the store, or I start to process a relationship problem that needs addressed at work or with a friend or in my family. 

It never fails…my mind picks the worst possible moment to leave the deep waters of relationship with the Father, and I starting splashing around in shallow thoughts of the smaller parts of life.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve apologized to God for mentally abandoning our quiet time together.

I don’t think my struggle is all that unique, either.  In various forms, I’ve heard other Christians voice similar difficulties.  I suspect that ancient believers also dealt with this, because towards the end of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul wrote

Colossians 4:2-3
Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.

Since Jesus’ death and resurrection bridged the gap between us and God, we know that as a child of God, we can pray at any time to our Father.  However, I think we tend to take advantage of that freedom and we get comfortable with sporadic communication.  Paul’s instruction here is to make prayer a priority, something we are devoted to.  Just like Jesus purposely setting aside chunks of time, we should as well.  Early morning, late night, commuting to work, or wherever we can consistently get time for just us and the Father; we need to make the time and protect that time from other things that will try to distract us.

This is where I’m so grateful for the second half of Paul’s instruction – stay alert in it with thanksgiving.  When my mind drifts off, I can immediately refocus my attention by thanking God for something, anything.  Giving thanks takes the focus off of me and my agenda because it makes me look toward the person I’m saying “Thank you” to.

As I have been applying Paul’s instruction, I’m realizing how a lack of thanksgiving has kept me unfocused…and being unfocused has prevented me from growing deeper with the Father.  So I need to make sure I’m purposely scheduling chunks of time with the most important Person in my life, and also telling Him about all the parts of my life that I am thankful for.  I’m certain that as I do this, my concern for the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory will increase.  Then I will begin praying like Jesus did, because my relationship with the Father will be a lot like Jesus’ relationship with the Father.

Maturity, growth, and deep relationship will not happen if we give God some sporadic moments of talk during our week.  The richness of a relationship with our Creator will only happen as we devote time to Him.  Will you make that choice?  The first step is simply saying “Thank you”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Being Heavenly minded

The trouble with clichés is that they are typically rooted, somewhere, in reality.  The phrase that’s bothered me for a while is one that is usually muttered as a putdown in Christian circles. 

He’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good.

You can almost hear the contempt in someone’s voice as they say it.  Historically, however, there have been Christians that used the prospect of Heaven as an excuse to “check out” of the world around them.  Either pulling away as an individual or into a small community, some have sought to distance themselves from the messiness of a sinful world and just wait until God takes them away to Heaven.

However, I think us modern believers have over-reacted in an attempt to avoid being labeled as “too heavenly minded”.  We’re afraid of being labeled as a dreamer or looked at as someone who’s trying to escape the real issues facing us in the here and now.  So we tend to not think about the next life all that much…

This is what Paul told the Colossians about where their minds should be focused:

Colossians 3:1-4
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 the earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.  When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

As we continue to read Paul’s letter, we will see him give the Colossian believers a wide variety of practical ways to live out their heavenly minded-ness.  So we can’t just pull these verses out and claim that this allows us to forsake the world and world’s problems.  Paul’s point here is that our focus in life matters.  In fact, any earthly good we do accomplish will be because we have aligned our perspective with God’s perspective.  His aim is to reach for sinners, and we can partner with Him as He continues to do so.

C.S. Lewis saw a similar issue in the church of his day:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.  It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.  If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.  The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this [one].

We modern believers are too focused on ourselves, and that clouds up our ability see the earth from God’s perspective.  Much of our time is taken up trying to “discover” ourselves or somehow project an image of ourselves into the world around us.  We will continue middling around and being unfulfilled until we seek what is above, realizing that our life is hidden in the Messiah

I take a lot of comfort in Paul’s last statement – When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 

Jesus won’t be fully revealed to the entire world until He returns.  Since His revealing is still in the future, that means the full revealing of my identity is also still in the future.  On that day, we will be shown as the ones so loved by God…because we will be with Him in glory.  My mind swirls with wonder just thinking about and desiring that day.

However, until then…we need to keep our minds fixed on what is above and love those around us, just like our Messiah does.

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