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: glory

Dance floors and lampstands

On a busy Monday afternoon, a second shift co-worker walked into the open office the four of us shared, looked right at me, and with an accusing tone she said, “I saw you.”

My confused look didn’t deter her.  She said it again, but this time with more emphasis: “I saw you!”  And then, it hit me.  I knew exactly what she was talking about. 

The previous Saturday evening had been the company’s annual Holiday party.  Most years, our family’s schedule had prevented my wife and I from going.  However, this year we had decided to get dressed up and attend.  This was no small event, either – there were fancy drinks, several buffets of rich foods, and lots of dancing.

I have to admit, I felt a pang of self-consciousness when we decided to hit the dance floor.  Not because I was afraid to dance with my wife – we always have a great time, and her dance moves make mine look good – but I was fully aware that almost none of my co-workers had ever seen me in this type of setting.  At work, I was the reliable answer-guy you brought your investigations to, a professional to help you figure out your industry-regulated best next step – not exactly the type of person you would expect to groove through the songs of the decades.  I wasn’t so much worried that they would think less of me, but I was certainly curious as to what their reaction would be.

As we made our way to the floor, I had an important realization.  Under no circumstances should I look around for people’s reactions.  As much as I was either self-conscious or curious, focusing on anyone else while dancing with my wife would give the complete wrong impression.  So as we started to move with the music, my attention was focused solely on enjoying the moment with my bride.  We danced the night away, had a blast, and I completely forgot my curiosity surrounding my co-workers’ potential reactions.

Apparently, we were noticed.  And talked about.  Even to the point where a co-worker was excited to point out, two days later, that she had been a witness to the event.  But what, exactly, did they see?  They saw a couple totally focused on each other and enjoying the moment at hand.  It stood out from what they expected.  Watching it unfold was attractive.  Seeing it first-hand was something they thought about, and even talked about days later.

But I think there’s an even bigger lesson here, one that pertains to how we, as Christians, actually show others that we are Christ-followers.  It seems that every ten years or so, there’s a new witnessing technique or life-story-sharing strategy that comes out.  But “witnessing” is much simpler than we make it out to be, because we tend to forget what Jesus said near the beginning of His ‘Sermon on the Mount’, when He looked at disciples and said:

Matthew 5:14-16
You are the light of the world.  A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

The disciples would best represent Christ – shine their light – through the lives they would lead and the choices they would make.  Jesus said that their good works would be what would stand out to and attract others to their Father in heaven.

It can be hard to wrap our heads around how doing good works makes that much of a “witnessing” impact; however, demonstrations of patience, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness are not things the world is used to seeing.  Imitating Jesus will cause others to take notice…but we cannot be concerned if anyone has noticed our light.  Instead, our focus should be solely on the fuel for our light – our relationship with Jesus.  As we spend time with Jesus through prayer and studying the Scripture, our good works will be naturally fueled so they shine brightly from the lampstand location we find ourselves in.

In order for Christians to tell others about Jesus, the world doesn’t need us to be schooled in the latest witnessing techniques or debate programs.  We don’t have to have all the answers to the tough theological questions people will ask.  But in order for others to come to the point where they give glory to your Father in heaven, they need to see us Christians doing good works from the platform of our day-to-day lives.

So make sure you spend time with Jesus so you can shine your light today.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A 911 call to Jesus

We’ve all been there.  At some point in our lives, the situation is so bad that we feel like we have no where else to turn.  Maybe it is a diagnosis, a car accident, or even a prolonged illness…but we’ve tried everything we know to do to cope, and the only thing left is to hope that God does a miracle.

That’s where we find the people in this story from Jesus’ life.  Two sisters and their brother, all loved by Jesus.  They have an established relationship with each other.  By all indications, Jesus has even stayed at their house, possibly several times.  But something bad has happened to their brother, and the sisters can’t do anything else about it:

John 11:1-3
Now a man was sick, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped His feet with her hair, and it was her brother Lazarus who was sick.  So the sisters sent a message to Him: “Lord the one you love is sick.”


Let’s stop here and think about logistics for a moment.  How did they get in touch with Jesus?  According to the text at the end of chapter 10, Jesus wasn’t in Bethany.  Instead, he was a couple days’ journey away.  Martha and Mary couldn’t text or call to ask Him to come to Bethany or to even find out exactly where He was at the moment.  Someone had to physically make the long journey to go to the last place Jesus was known to be, and then go searching for Him from there. 

How time-consuming and risky!  They would have no guarantee of Jesus still being where He was before or that the messenger would end up asking the right person who knew where Jesus and His disciples had gone to next.  Going to this effort only underscores how sick Lazarus really was.  Mary and Martha must have believed that their brother would not live without some sort of divine intervention.

But also keep in mind that Jesus had performed long-distance healing miracles before.  Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurion without even entering the house.  Jesus then publicly praised the centurion for his faith in Jesus’ authority.  You can read about it in Luke 7:1-10.  Surely, the sisters thought, if Jesus was willing to heal a complete stranger, who was the servant of a leader in a foreign army that was occupying Israel…then without a doubt Jesus would heal a fellow countryman that He knew and loved, right?

We don’t know how long it took, but the messenger did eventually find Jesus:

John 11:4-5
When Jesus heard it, he said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.

The messenger and the disciples likely thought Jesus’ statement meant that Lazarus wouldn’t die.  I’m sure they all took some measure of comfort from thinking this.  However, as the story continues, we will see that Lazarus did die from his illness.  Jesus was still right, though – Lazarus’ sickness did not end in death, but death was part of God’s plan this time.

We need to stop here and wrestle with a few observations, even if they are uncomfortable:

·       Sometimes, God allows really bad things to happen to people, even ones He loves.
·       Just because God healed someone else doesn’t mean healing is coming in the same way for us.
·       God performing healing miracles is more about the glory of God than it is about our preference for comfort.

We trust that God hears us when we pray.  We trust that He loves us.  However, just because those two things are true does not mean that He will swoop in and respond in the way that we think He should fix everything. 

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
 

Finding guidance

When I was a child, my mother tasked me with memorizing what is likely the most famous sentence in the book of Proverbs.  From the New International Version Bible translation, I learned

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

I have always taken these verses to mean that I should (obviously) trust God’s direction more than my own desires.  I also assumed that the second half of the sentence meant something like

When I talk about what’s happened in my past, if I give God “the glory” or the credit for whatever good has happened to me, then He’ll make my life go easier.

However, my assumed meaning was not correct.

The Hebrew word for acknowledge is much deeper than a mere ‘hat tip’ in God’s direction.  The word means to know well, and the context of its usage can indicate a deep, intimate level of knowing.  Perhaps a better rendering of Solomon’s advice to his son is found in the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation:

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths.

Notice now how the directions that Solomon is giving his son are all in the present tense?  Trust…do not rely…think about…with God’s portion being future: He will guide.  So the main point of Solomon’s fatherly advice is clear – we are to include God in all areas of our day-to-day lives.  By thinking about Him in all our ways, we naturally bring Him in on what we are thinking, feeling, and doing.  By considering Him and trusting Him, we will surely have guidance for us to find the right paths.

One other observation to consider – in all your ways really does mean in ALL your ways.

Not just on the days when the sun is shining.
Not just the times when life is steady and good.
Not only when our relationships are ok.

I don’t think it was an accident that a few lines later, as he was fleshing out what he said in verses 5 and 6, that Solomon talked about how his son should react to punishment:

Proverbs 3:11-12
Do not despise the Lord’s instruction, my son,
and do not loathe His discipline;
for the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
just as a father, the son he delights in.

God disciplines out of love, the same as our parents did for us.  If they didn’t care at all, we would not have been reprimanded, corrected, or punished.  Even when we’re being disciplined or punished by God – and there are times we need it – the promise of verses 5 and 6 still hold true.

[If we] Trust in the Lord with all our heart,
and do not rely on our own understanding;

[If we] think about Him in ALL our ways,
[then] He will guide us on the right paths.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Prayerful conclusions

When I started this journey to discover how to pray, I had no idea where it would lead.  I began with the premise that if becoming like Jesus is the Father’s aim for us, then if we want to learn to pray…we should pray like Jesus did.

Surprisingly, Jesus spoke a lot about prayer.  He covered a full range of topics – from praying for enemies to what it would be like for His disciples to pray “In Jesus’ name”.  Jesus warned us about praying with the wrong motives, said that how we forgive others will affect our own prayer life, and told us to watch out for leaders who make long prayers for show.

However, there were two qualities of How Jesus prayed that stood out even more than What Jesus taught about prayer.

The first major observation was that throughout the gospel accounts, we found that He was heading off to quiet places to spend time with the Father in prayer.  Whether the crowds were large, or it was only Him and His disciples…Jesus set aside chunks of alone time for prayer. 

Matthew 14:23 After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray.  When evening came, He was there alone.

Mark 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, He got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place.  And He was praying there.

Luke 5:16 Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.

Luke 6:12 During those days He went out to the mountain to pray and spend all night in prayer to God.

The second major observation was found in Jesus’ main focus when He prayed.  From the beginning of His model prayer to His ‘High Priestly’ prayer found in John 17, we found that Jesus was consistently focused on the Father.  His primary concern was the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory.  Jesus’ 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.

If we imitate Jesus in these two ways, we are guaranteed to grow closer to the Father.  We become what gaze at.  Therefore, spending chunks of our time focused on the Father’s desires and glory will certainly lead us to act, think, and relate like Jesus.

Lastly, as Jesus was dying on the cross, His final cries to the Father found their root in Scripture.  I find it extremely interesting that when everything was a bad as it could get, Jesus’ prayers were direct quotations from two different Psalms.

This final observation will direct our next steps after this study on the Prayers of Jesus.  If we are going to pray like Him when it seems like everything goes wrong, we need to be prepared.  As such, we’re going to look at a couple of psalms and find some spiritual truths that we can grab on to.

For now, though, our best course of action is to purposely dedicate some time with the Father to focus on His glory and His mission.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

For love and glory

As Jesus closes out His ‘High Priestly Prayer’, He describes our relationship with Him and our relationship with the Father, emphasizing two aspects – both love and glory.

John 17:22-23 I have given them the glory You have given Me.
May they be one as We are one.  I am in them and You are in Me.
May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me
and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Jesus has given the disciples the status and honor that the Father had given to Him, which is absolutely incredible when you think about it.  The renown and praise and honor that was bestowed upon Jesus…He then bestowed it upon those who have believed that He has come from the Father.  This is a gift unlike any other.  We have been taken from the mud and have been made to walk on marble, from the pit and into the palace.  Jesus has shared His prestige and status with those who believe in Him for eternal life.

Notice, however, that it is after Jesus had given them the Father’s glory that he then prayed for their future “oneness” with each other, with Him, and with the Father.  Jesus had previously given them their status – independent of the health of their relationship with the Father at that particular point in time. 

Jesus also reveals the purpose of their “oneness” in their day-to-day relationships – their connectedness with each other, with Jesus, and with the Father is not so they can “prove they are believers”, rather the purpose of their close relationship with the Father is so the world may know that the Father sent Jesus, and that the Father has loved the disciples as He has loved Jesus.

Finally, Jesus ends His prayer with a personal request.  Here Jesus directly asks the Father for something that He wants, something that He longs for:

John 17:24-26 Father, I desire those You have given Me to be with Me where I am.
Then they will see My glory, which You have given because You loved Me
before the world’s foundation.
Righteous Father!  The world has not known You.
However, I have known You, and these have known that You sent Me.
I made Your name known to them and will make it known,
so the love You have loved Me with may be in them and I may be in them.

Jesus’ desire, His longing, His motivation…was to share His glory and love with His disciples.  The disciples could not have earned the glory and love given to them, they could not obtain it…unless it was given to them.  It had to be shared with them, and Jesus desired to share the Father, the Father’s glory, and the Father’s love with them.

Jesus’ desire is still to share these things with us, and the more we are “one” with each other, with Jesus, and with the Father...the better we understand His love and glory. 

We live what we understand.  As our lives begin to reflect His love and glory, the world will know that He sent us and that Jesus is willing to love them as He has loved us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Praying for glory

After completing His last teachings on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus informed His disciples:

John 16:33-17:1 I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace.  You will have suffering in this world.  Be courageous!  I have conquered the world.

Jesus spoke these things, looked up to heaven, and said:

Father, the hour has come.

What Jesus prayed next is commonly referred to as His ‘High Priestly Prayer’.  Since Jesus prayed this in front of His disciples, they would have heard Jesus’ exact desires and petitions to the Father.

Jesus knew what was going to happen that night in the garden.  He knew that His entire life, and especially the last three years, had led up to this night.  The hour of sacrifice had finally come.

In this prayer, Jesus prayed for Himself, the disciples, and all future believers.  He also made some significant statements and requests during this prayer.  The first part of His prayer is for Himself, but His words are not selfish…rather, they are focused on His relationship with the Father:

John 17: 1-3 Glorify Your Son so that the Son may glorify You,
for You gave Him authority over all flesh;
so He may give eternal life to all You have given Him.

This is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God,
And the One You have sent – Jesus Christ.

Eternal life – which is both forever-lasting and of excellent quality – is only found in knowing God the Father, through Jesus Christ.  We were created to be in eternal relationship with God.  Jesus affirmed this to the disciples earlier in the night, when He said:

John 13:6 I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.

While Jesus prayed that the Father would glorify Him, Jesus’ aim was to use any honor the Father gave Him as an opportunity to reflect it back.  Glorifying the Father – enriching His reputation and advancing His agenda – was Jesus’ purpose in His life and ministry, and it continued to be his focus as He would head to the cross.

John 17:4-5 I have glorified You on the earth
by completing the work You gave Me to do.

Now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence
With the glory I had with You before the world existed.

Jesus begins His ‘High Priestly Prayer’ in the same manner He had previously instructed the disciples to pray:

Matthew 6:9 Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.

Above all else, Jesus was concerned with the Father’s reputation and agenda.  This aim dominated His life and His prayers.  As such, Jesus’ prayer practice matched His prayer teachings, and His example instructs us to focus on God’s glory in the same ways.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

In Jesus' name (part 1)

Praying “in Jesus’ name” is probably the most common, and yet least understood, phrase in modern Christian prayers.  We close nearly every prayer – both public and private – with the phrase.  We’ve heard others emphatically add “in Jesus’ name” to their individual prayer requests, almost as if they expected to channel an extra portion of God’s power just by saying those three words. 

Jesus instructed His disciples several times to “ask the Father in my name”.  But what, exactly, did Jesus mean by that?  And are we asking in the manner that Jesus prescribes, or are we just adding a tag-line of Christian-ese at the end of our prayers?

To come in the “name” of someone is to represent them, their decisions, desires, and nature.  We do this in many areas of our lives.  Sending an employee to represent you at a meeting, voting for a Congressional representative, or authorizing another person to have power-of-attorney are all examples of sending someone else to do a task “in your name”.  The significance of choosing the right person cannot be understated, since, as your representative, you have pledged to fulfill whatever obligation they agree to “in your name”.

Throughout His ministry, Jesus stated that He acted as instructed by the Father, as His Father’s representative, and in place of the Father.  In all these ways, Jesus was claiming to represent God “in His name” to anyone and everyone.

During His last night before going to the cross, Jesus gave His disciples many instructions, including:

John 14:6,11-12 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through Me…Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me?  The words I speak to you I do not speak on My own.  The Father who lives in Me does His works. 

Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me.  Otherwise, believe because of the works themselves.  I assure you: The one who believes in Me will also do the works that I do.  And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

Jesus tells the disciples that as they have witnessed Him imitate the Father…they will also have the opportunity to imitate Him.  It would be mind-blowing to think that they were going to the works of Father, AND do them with a greater impact than what they witnessed Jesus doing.  Their future ministries would reach far more people with the gospel than Jesus encountered during His three year ministry.  Although incredible, Jesus follows up this promise with an additional greater promise – but with a clarifying condition.

John 14:13-14 Whatever you ask in My name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

“Anything” means anything, right?

Although we would like to have an automatic “yes” to all our requests, we know from experience that prayers aren’t answered like that.  Jesus states that whatever we ask – as if we were representing Him in our requests – will be done so that the Father may be glorified in the Son

Glorifying the Father – enriching His reputation and advancing His agenda – was Jesus’ purpose in His life and ministry.  Therefore, anything we pray “in Jesus’ name” should line up with the goal of increasing the Father’s glory…and not our own.

Keep Pressing,
Ken