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: frustration

Heaven on Earth

Some days I just get tired of people.  Or at least that’s what I say to describe how worn down I feel.  But in all honesty, it’s not so much that individual people that are wearing me down…it’s the clash of their self-tainted agendas with my own self-tainted agenda that leaves me feeling like the ocean has been pounding on the shore of my psyche.

How great would it be if we could just remove everyone’s sin nature from life’s equation?

We get an idea of what it will be like as John moves from describing the exterior of New Jerusalem to what he sees (and does not see) inside the city:

Revelation 21:22-23
I did not see a temple in it, because the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.  The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb.

The fact that there was no temple in New Jerusalem is a significant change.  The temple was the central location for the people to meet with and relate to God.  God’s presence resided in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred part of the temple – and it was there that once a year the High Priest would meet with God on behalf of the people.

However, in New Jerusalem God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them (Revelation 21:3).  Access to God is no longer limited to a representative once per year…His presence will be so constant that His glory will negate the need for a sun in the sky!

The Holy of Holies was built in a cube form, both in the tabernacle (Exodus 26) and Solomon’s temple (1 Kings 6:20).  The cube shape of New Jerusalem also affirms that we have permanently entered into the most intimate of relationships with God – so close that a meeting place isn’t necessary because the entire city is the meeting place.

Revelation 21:24-27
The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.  Its gates will never close by day because it will never be night there.  They will bring the glory and honor of the nations into it.  Nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those written in the Lamb’s book of life.

And so the ancient practice of honoring the greatest king by bringing him wealth from your nation will continue in New Jerusalem (e.g. – 1 Kings 10:10, Psalm 72:10-11).  These gifts to honor God will be brought by only those [whose names are] written in the Lamb’s book of life, ones who had previously accepted Christ’s offer of eternal life.

How magnificent will this city be?!?!  No corruption, no lies, no selfishness, no greed, no lust… nothing unclean will ever enter it.  How incredibility freeing would life be, if sin could not interfere?  Think about how smoothly New Jerusalem will function.  When today’s frustrations make you wish a change – your feelings are spot-on.  Our desire for sin’s removal will, one day, be fulfilled.

I hope you are as excited about New Jerusalem as I am…our forever home will truly be “Heaven on Earth”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Trust the Process

Although in recent years the phrase Trust the Process has become a rallying cry for Philadelphia 76ers, I certainly remember hearing it said much earlier in my lifetime.  Typically it’s said by a coach attempting to win over a player’s confidence that the work put in today will reap benefits down the road.

It takes a lot of work to progress from a high school freshman to a college-ready athlete.  And it will take even more work if that college freshman wants to make it to the Pros.  And again, if you want to be among the best and have a long pro career – you better be ready to put in the work.  Few can ascend the ranks on natural talent, and those that do are forever remembered as someone who “never reached their full potential”.

Even if you have the motivation to work hard, you will need guidance.  You need that coach, that mentor, and their system – developed and refined over time to produce results in you that you may not even believe are possible.  You need someone who isn’t swayed by your emotional inner monologue.  You need a plan that takes all areas of your development into account.

However, the full list of what we need to develop is typically a blind spot.  Sure, we know our big weaknesses and a few of the little ones, for good measure.  But then the coach gives you a tough workout today after doing yesterday’s tough workout.  And then you are drilling – yet again – on the fundamentals.  You want to move on to other types of training, but coach won’t let up.  Sometimes, the drills just seem odd or unconnected to what we imagine as what’s best for us.  And it’s frustrating.

It’s in those moments you hear the phrase – Trust the Process.

Did you know that God has a development plan for believers? 

Becoming a Christian is simple enough, even a child can do it – we believe that Jesus will give us eternal life.  His death on the cross paid the penalty for all sin and His resurrection from the dead proved that He can fulfill His offer of eternal life.  Believing means we are persuaded that Jesus can do what He claims He can do; we are taking Him at His word, and we have faith in who He is.

When Paul was writing to the believers in Rome, he started his letter discussing how we are separated from God by sin and the only way to reconcile is by faith – not promises to do better, not dedicating our lives, not by effort, but by faith alone in Jesus.  At the end of this section, he says:

Romans 5:1-2
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

But then Paul transitions his letter from how our relationship starts with God to what God has in mind for this relationship.  He spends chapters 5-8 discussing what this new life in Christ looks like; however, take a look at what idea Paul leads this next discussion topic with:

Romans 5:3-4
And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.

Do you see The Process which God has in mind?  We all want to have hope as we go through this life, looking forward to when God will set everything right…but developing that kind of solid hope has some prerequisites.     

Rather than wondering “Why did God allow this to happen to me?” we need to Trust the Process God has laid out for His children.  Afflictions are hard, but they are worth rejoicing over because we know what’s on the other side and Who is with us the whole time.

Coaches often push us out of our comfort zone, in unexpected ways, in order to develop us further.  John Wooden spent time at the beginning of each season teaching his players how to put on their socks.  Mr. Miyagi gave Daniel-san the wax-on-wax-off chore.  I had a baseball coach insist that I learn how to juggle two baseballs.  None of these situations make sense to the athlete at the time, but they were all intentionally designed by the coach – John Wooden didn’t want his players dealing with foot blisters, Mr. Miyagi was teaching muscle memory, and my coach needed me to improve my hand-eye coordination.

God never promised Christians that life would be easy.  Jesus was quite clear that we will have trouble in this world (John 16:33).  However, our afflictions aren’t meaningless.  God has a purpose for us in them.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Choosing the better meal

As a Christian, there is lots to do.  Many, many ways to serve God and love others.  The New Testament is full of encouragement for Christians to get off their duffs and get engaged – both with other believers and those outside of God’s family.

Let’s be honest.  Some of us are lazy.  There are those in the family that don’t value being an active participant in the family.  They’ll show up on Sunday and then go about their own business the rest of the week.  However, that pendulum can also swing hard in the other direction – some of us get involved in everything that’s happening.  There are so many needs, so many people that legitimately need a hand, and so much good that can be done…that some of us try to be everything to everyone.

There’s a constant tension between these two camps, and those on each side always seem to have their radar out in case one of others is encountered.  The lazy don’t want to be bothered with the buzzing of the super-busy Christian.  The over-extended believer resents that they are left to shoulder it all, while others loaf around.

This isn’t a new issue.  In fact, someone once brought this exact situation up to Jesus.  One believer publicly identified another believer as “lazy”, and asked Jesus to do something about it.

Luke 10:38-42
While they were traveling, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.  She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  So tell her to give me a hand.”

The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

You can imagine how this played out over the course of the day.  When everyone arrives, Martha greets Jesus and His disciples, then gets busy with her hosting duties.  She sees Mary sit down with Jesus and the other guests, “But that’s not a problem,” she thought, “Mary will get up to help soon.”  But then Mary doesn’t get up.  A little while later, Martha starts shooting sideways glances, trying to get her sister’s attention.  But Mary doesn’t move.  Martha continues with her work, preparing the meal, managing the flow of people, rearranging living space and furniture, answering questions, and doing all the other detail work that happens when a large group of people descend upon your house. 

At first, she only grumbles in her mind.  Then she begrudges Mary for slacking off because, after all, there is work to be done.  She starts muttering to herself, but not loud enough for the guests to hear.  Her agitation is becoming physically apparent, but hasn’t boiled over yet.  Eventually, though, Martha has had enough.  Jesus showed up hours ago, and Mary is still sitting at His feet.  She can’t stand it anymore, so, in a huff, Martha bursts into the room, interrupts what Jesus is saying, and blurts out her frustration:

Luke 10:40
“Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  So tell her to give me a hand.”

The air in the room is now thick with stunned silence.  Everyone’s eyes slowly shift toward Jesus, wondering how He is going to answer His frazzled host’s request for assistance and justice. 

Martha was measuring their love for Jesus based upon how much activity each one was doing.  Martha was on the move, Mary was stationary.  In fact, Mary wasn’t lifting a finger to help Martha.  Martha saw all these legitimate needs around her and couldn’t believe Mary was blind to them.  In Jewish society, a woman’s honor and reputation was based upon her ability to manage her household and serve her guests.  But Jesus didn’t see it that way:

Luke 10:41-42
The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

You can almost hear the softness in Jesus’ answer.  He acknowledges that Martha is worried about the meal preparations, but tells her that Mary has chosen the better meal.  Mary isn’t one of the “lazy” ones; instead she is receiving an opportunity that was never given to Jewish women – to sit with the master Rabbi as He taught.  Mary was acting upon the same truth that Jesus quoted to Satan from Old Testament:

Deuteronomy 8:3
Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Jesus was not going to stop Mary from eating this meal, despite all the other human needs around her at the moment.  Let’s not be silly and think that we shouldn’t be concerned with meeting the needs of others – a brief glace at the life of Jesus shows us otherwise.  However, in this moment, Mary was doing the best thing she possibly could, even if Martha would have preferred she do something else.

Serving Jesus is important, but time with Jesus is more important.  Let’s not emphasize the first so much that we neglect that latter.  C. H. Spurgeon said it quite well:

“I may sometimes run with Martha to do what Christ needs of me, but I think I should more frequently sit with Mary to receive from Christ what I need from Him.”

Keep Pressing,
Ken

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
 

Getting dressed

After establishing how God looks at His children, Paul has specific directions for how the Colossian believers are to conduct themselves:

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

The Greek word for put on carries the idea of putting on clothes or getting dressed.  Putting on these qualities is something Paul is instructing the believers to do.  God isn’t going to do this for them.  God isn’t going to make them instantly and perfectly compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, or patient.  These are skills the Colossians are going learn, practice, and develop. 

As our first son became old enough to toddle around, we began to teach him how to dress himself.  He didn’t put his shirt on right the first time he tried, either.  Sometimes his arm would go through the head-hole, which would lead to panic and tears as he tried to push his head through an arm-hole.  We would then help him back out and calm down.  Before trying again, we reminded him that if he felt stuck, all he needed to do was to ask one of us for help.

Different articles of clothing required the development of different hand-coordination skills.  While a t-shirt was more about gross motor skills, putting on socks required that different sections of the body had to work together.  Each article of clothing presented a new challenge, but after a short amount of time, he figured it out and could dress himself.

When we had our second child, the same getting-dressed skills needed to be taught to him, too.  I’m certain that we didn’t teach him in the exact same way as we taught his brother.  If he learned to put his socks on sooner than his brother did, that was great.  If it took him longer to learn how to shimmy his legs into pants, then that was ok, too.  These skills would develop the more he practiced it.  It also didn’t matter that it was easier for his brother to put his head in the shirt first, or that he preferred to put his arms in first.  The goal was the same – they both needed to put on their shirt.

I think the spiritual parallel is pretty obvious.  Paul lists out several characteristics that God wants believers to put on, but notice Paul doesn’t say exactly how the Colossians are to do it.  Maybe someone will learn how to put on heartfelt compassion while at work, and another believer will learn how to put on heartfelt compassion as they stop their busy lives for a moment to help a total stranger.

Perhaps putting on kindness comes naturally to you, but you struggle with patience.  When we see other believers being patient with their spouse, their children, or their circumstances…it’s easy to get down on ourselves.  We start feeling frustrated and stuck.  However, we shouldn’t be upset that someone else is better at putting on their socks than we are at this moment.  It’s in those moments we just need to ask our Daddy for help. 

With time and practice, we’ll learn how to put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Not only will we be dressed in them, but we will learn how they coordinate into something attractive and beautiful – they will be qualities that others see, qualities that point them toward our Savior.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Finding our purpose

A few years ago, I was having a “parental discussion” with one of my sons.  As he was struggling with the situation at hand, I pointed him toward what God had to say about the subject…to which he snapped in frustration, “Does everything have to be about God?

I honestly can’t blame him for asking.  In fact, he verbalized something we all struggle with, but are typically too scared to say out-loud.  We don’t want to think about the bigger, God-sized perspective when we’re angry about our current circumstances.  We secretly don’t want to admit that we are not the main character in our life’s story.  We’re afraid that if we’re not in control of the situation, everything will fall apart…or at least not turn out the way we think would be best for us.

These kinds of questions and struggles are not new.  It is part of the sanctification process, part of us growing closer to God after we’ve accepted Jesus as our Savior.  Even believers in the first century dealt with the same struggles we face.  In his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul’s solution to these kinds of doubts is to have an accurate view of who Jesus truly is.

Speaking about Jesus, Paul states:

Colossians 1:15-16
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation;
because by Him everything was created, in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities –
all things have been created through Him and for Him.

The fact that Jesus is the One who created everything is explored in these verses.  The last line says it clearly – all things have been created through Him.  However, I don’t think that any of us believers have a problem accepting that.  We look at the magnificent world around us, and understand that it was created.  The design and detail we find as we explore creation points us toward an intelligent purpose rather than suggesting the world “happened” by some “random chance”.

However, it’s the last two words of the sentence that give us pause:

all things have been created…for Him

Did anything inside you bristle or pull back, even just a little bit?
With that slight recoil, we’re internally asking, “Does everything have to be about God?

Because if those two words are true, if all things have really been created for Him, then our perspective on all things will have to change, won’t it?  When I’m honest with myself, I worry that I won’t have any say over what happens next if I’m not the most important person in my life-story.   I’m not sure of where this new understanding of life will take me.  In a word, accepting that all of creation – including my life – was created for Jesus…it scares me.

But let’s take a breath and think through this a moment…

The one who creates is the one who knows the full purpose of his or her creation.  Ask any artist, architect, or teacher, and they will tell you how both the design and purpose of their music, their building, or their lessons are intertwined.  Each one of them knows the detailed reasons for their creation.  Each of them has a specific design and purpose for their creation to fulfill. 

Likewise, since we know that we have been created by Jesus – we should also recognize that He knows our purpose.

So don’t bristle, don’t pull back.  Even though we may not fully understand, even if the future looks murky…the One who designed us is with us, and He perfectly knows what to do with us.  And we can take comfort in the very next verse:

Colossians 1:17
He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.

We don’t have to be the one to hold all things together, that’s not our job.  Instead, we just need to trust the One who created us, the One who created our purpose.

Are we willing to let go and trust that we were created for Him?

Keep Pressing,
Ken