Pressing On


A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: generosity

Laying the foundation

I’ve been fascinated by harmonicas for a while now.  Listening to people who can pull a harmonica out of their pocket and just jam away on some jazzy, country, or bluesy music has made me want to do so as well.  I never acted on that desire, until recently.  And I learned something rather important – playing the harmonica isn’t super easy.  In fact, some parts of it are rather difficult.

The first skill to learn is to blow and draw single-hole notes clearly.  Makes sense to start there, but that’s easier said than done.  And my lips got sore/tired after about 10 minutes of squeaking around, so I had to wait until the next day to try again.  Day two wasn’t any better.  Neither was day three.  It took me months of work before I could play a scale without messing it up (and mess ups still happen, occasionally). 

The next skill to learn is to move around the harmonica, playing notes out of order so that I play a recognizable tune.  More work, and still not easy.  I’m much better at it now, after another couple of months, and I can now get about 80-90% of “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain” on a consistent basis.

On the horizon is a skill called ‘bending’.  It’s being able to change notes using the same hole by changing the position of your tongue and throat.  The video instructor I’m following called the practice time of learning this skill the ‘dark hours’ of learning to play.  He warned that it will take some time, and that it takes some people longer than others to figure out how to consistently bend notes.  His tone and cautiously chosen words were a little unsettling…but he did reassure that this skill is the gateway to learning all the jazzy, country, and bluesy jam session stuff that I really want to play.  If I don’t spend this time grinding through the ‘dark hours’, then I will be unable to play the harmonica to its full potential.  I’ll miss out on what I’m capable of because I won’t have the foundation I need to play like that.  But who knows how long it’s going to take for me to get this part figured out…

We’ve been looking at a passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy, who is overseeing the church in the melting-pot metropolis of Ephesus.  While being poor has its own challenges (and Paul addressed some of them earlier in this letter), Timothy also needed to instruct the wealthy members of the church how to handle their finances in a way that is productive and honors God. 

If we modern-day, American believers widen our lens to include the rest of the world, we quickly see that we too fit Paul’s definition of those who are rich.  With our smart phones, cable TV, and cars, in addition to our air conditioning, clean water, and indoor plumbing…It’s hard to argue that we’re “not that rich”.  Here are the things Paul says we need to learn:

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

Being others-focused like this does not come naturally, though.  We’re ok saying polite things and throwing a little money in the offering plate at church.  But we know that if we’re going to really do what God is asking of us here – do goodbe rich in good worksbe generousbe willing to share – that is asking for a change in us at a deeper level.  We’re going to have to take on our deep-seeded attitudes about ‘my time’ and ‘my money’.

And that wrestling match is hard.  When we finally step out and try to follow God’s instructions here, we find that we’re not very good at it.  It’s more uncomfortable that we want it to be.  We struggle with questions like ‘How will I know when I should help someone financially vs when it would be unwise to offer money?’ and ‘What does be generous really mean for my level of income?’ and ‘If I give and share when I really don’t want to, does that “count”?  Does God still consider my actions to be “good”, or should I skip giving until don’t feel any resentment about it?’.

Wrestling though these kinds of questions will be some dark hours.  We might be ok with being generous today, but lose the fight tomorrow.  We will want to throw in the towel and go back to just being nice (and comfortable).  We’ll get to the point where we can handle our wealth 80-90% of the time, and then lapse back into a selfish attitude. 

But it will be worth it in the end, He says.  Our work now, when it’s hard, is laying a good foundation for the age to come.  Learning how to be wealthy AND others-focused is the gateway to being able to partner with God in Eternity Future.  Without this practice time, we won’t be able to fully do the things we were made to do. 

I can’t answer your ‘dark hour’ wrestling questions, but God can.  My advice (for you and me) is to keep practicing.  Let’s trust God in this and take hold of life that is real.  Eternity future awaits.  Let’s make sure we’re prepared to partner with God and fully enjoy it.

Keep Pressing,

The purpose of our salvation

When we think about the ‘worst sins’ a person can commit, we immediately jump to all the atrocities that people commit against other people.  While humans have done horrific things to other humans throughout the centuries, alongside every event is an act of rebellion against the One who created us.  When we look at the motivation for our sin, many sinful actions are the result of our own selfishness taking precedence over the well-being of others; however, some sinful actions are a full-frontal assault on God, with people being the collateral damage.

When Paul was describing the ultimate purpose of his conversion to Timothy, he gave a saying of the time his own personal twist:

1 Timothy 1:15
This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance:

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”

and I am the worst of them. 

A few sentences before, Paul admitted to directly challenging God when he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man.  He did everything in his power to exterminate the belief that Jesus is the Savior that for centuries God had told the Jews to watch for.  Paul had used all available means – jail, torture, even death – in order to eliminate the teaching of Jesus as Messiah.  

If there was anyone on the planet who could be considered a ‘lost cause’, someone who had absolutely zero chance of believing that Christ could give him eternal life – it was Paul.  Paul was so dead-set against Jesus that no one could reach him.  Any time he heard the gospel message, he set out to kill the person who delivered it.  Only a dramatic, direct encounter with the risen Jesus could convince Paul to change his mind…there was no other way.

No wonder the first century believers were afraid of him!  The church had their reservations and doubts about Paul’s conversion…think about it…why would God save that guy?  I’m sure there were more people praying that Paul would be hit with a lightning bolt than there were people praying that God would reach him.

However, God had other plans for Paul.  In fact, his conversion wasn’t only for his own personal salvation, it wasn’t just a means to avoid eternal separation from God:

1 Timothy 1:16
But I received mercy because of this, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate the utmost patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

Because of Paul’s conversion, no one has the excuse of being “too bad” or “too unworthy” or “too far gone” for Jesus to save.  This worst of all sinners became a ‘first copy’ to all future believers.

God accepts and forgives people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  Each one who believes in Jesus for eternal life will demonstrate some aspect of God’s character to the world around them.  What does your story show?  Perhaps you’re from a certain segment of society, or you’re in a particular socio-economic class, or you struggle with a specific kind of sin…God can point at each one of us, as an example, and say “See my generosity?  I will even give eternal life to someone like that.”

When we recognize the great privilege and honor it is to partner with God in this way – as an example of His love – we can confidently say, along with Paul:

1 Timothy 1:17
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen

Keep Pressing,

A question of forgiveness

Ever wish that you just had someone to talk to?  You need advice, and you would love to run your ideas and concerns past another experienced, trustworthy person.  That’s exactly what a mentor is for, and we have a perfect example of this with Peter and Jesus.

The disciples had been arguing, yet again, about which one of them was going to be the greatest in Jesus’ coming kingdom.  They brought their argument to Jesus, who told them

Matthew 18:4-5
Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child – this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And who ever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me.

Keep in mind that children were of little value in ancient society, so Jesus’ direction here would have been especially hard for 12 adults to accept.  However, Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to give them three more difficult lessons:

·        Drastic measures should be taken to avoid leading others into sin
·        A single, stray brother is worth searching out and there is great rejoicing when the one returns to the many
·        How to approach a brother who sins against you – first privately, then with a few others, and lastly, if necessary, involve church leadership

These lessons were counter-cultural for how the disciples had been raised and taught.  When giving their arguments about which one of them was going to have a bigger kingdom title, I doubt that these areas of their lives were part of their resume.

After hearing these teachings with the rest of the disciples, Peter had a question and wanted clarification.  He didn’t need to have any of the lessons repeated, instead Peter was wrestling with how to apply Jesus’ teaching when his brother repeatedly sins against him.

Matthew 18:21-22
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”

“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven.”

While the phrase seventy time seven may feel familiar to us, keep in mind that the conventional rabbi teaching of Peter’s day recommended to extend forgiveness only three times.  So Peter likely felt he was also being counter-cultural and generous by offering to forgive twice as many times, plus one extra.  However, Jesus pushed Peter even further and instructed him to give his brother significant, not limited, forgiveness.  Jesus then told Peter another parable to illustrate His point.

This is one of the times in life where having a mentor is beneficial.  Peter thought he had progressed sufficiently in his thinking, so he brought his new understanding to Jesus for verification.  Although Peter was growing in the correct direction, he was directed to go even further – to forgive generously, and be great in Jesus’ kingdom.

Keep Pressing,

Learning to do good

As Paul closes his letter to Titus, he has one last instruction:

Titus 3:13-14 Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need.  Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.

God doesn’t give instructions or directions in the Bible as mere talking points, rather the truths we encounter are meant to be lived out in daily lives.  However, Paul also recognizes that doing what is good isn’t as simple as “always doing it” or “always not doing it”.  Notice that he tells Titus “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good”.  We must learn to be devoted to doing good in every situation.  Making these truths a lifestyle will take some time to be developed…but it is certainly achievable.

To help the Cretan believers get started on the path to making a habit of doing good, Paul ends the letter by giving the believers an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned.  That is Paul’s point here…now that you’ve been instructed in these things, the next step is to put these things into practice.

Looking at the words Paul chooses helps the Cretans see how much he wants them to take advantage of this opportunity.  The phrase do everything you can means to do something earnestly, zealously, or with special urgency.  The first step in any process is always the hardest; it is the step we are most timid about taking.  The success or failure that occurs with the first step typically sets a tone for the success of a project.  As such, Paul wants the Cretans to make a special effort to make their first step a good one.

Helping Zenas and Apollos would have been an easy first step for the Cretan believers.  They would get an opportunity to help spread the gospel to other regions, and as a result, the missionaries would be able to continue their journey with fresh supplies.  This opportunity created a win-win situation for both the givers and those receiving.

When we support missionaries, we are supporting their ability to fulfill their calling of spreading the gospel…but we’re also developing the characteristics that God wants to grow in us.  Giving is a great opportunity for us to learn how to do what is good.  It mimics God’s generosity toward us, and anytime we imitate our Creator, we are productively fulfilling the purpose of our lives.

Keep Pressing,