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: good works

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

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,
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

Dangerous rules

We like rules.  We like them a lot.  Rules seem to make things easier, right?  Everything boils down to either black or white.  “Do this.  Don’t do that.”  No in between, no grey, no guesswork, and no mess. 

While there are clear-cut areas in life, the unfortunate truth is that most of our lives aren’t lived in black and white – not only are there grey areas, but life comes at us in a full spectrum of colors.  How do we deal with such a variety of circumstances and people?  How would God want us to deal with them?  When faced with difficult questions and situations in our relationship with God and with others, we often start looking for rules to clarify our course of action.

The believers in Colossae were dealing with a “new” teaching that was likely taught as a guideline for interacting with God and others, but it seems that the teachers were also insisting on rules to prove one’s spirituality.  From Paul’s letter we see that the rogue teachers were advocating rules for food, drink, festivals, sabbath days, worship of angels, and visions.  Paul took issue with these performance-based, surface-level-focused teachings primarily because they took the believer’s focus off of Jesus and put the attention on themselves. Paul summed it up this way:

Colossians 2:20-23
If you died with Christ to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?  Why do you submit to regulations: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”?

All these regulations refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines.  Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.

In the centuries since Paul wrote these words, the church has struggled with human commands and doctrines.  Attempting to earn God’s love, people have given in to legalistic, rules-focused teachings.  Teachings such as earning one’s salvation by doing enough good works, or maintaining one’s salvation by doing enough good works, or trying to live under the Mosaic Law are all examples of false teachings based on human ideas and desires.

Others have tried fasting with the intention to force God to decide in their favor.  Some have lived in isolation with the intention to avoid the temptations that could arise when around other people.  People have even gone as far as self-mutilation to try to keep their sinful urges in check.

On the surface, these ideas seem to have merit…but the truth is they’ve all failed to do what God desires to do in our lives.  God desires to make us Christ-like.  Paul was right when he said that the man-made rules have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, [but] they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.

These practices don’t get to the heart of the problem – because our ultimate problem isn’t our behavior, it’s our sinful nature.  These practices distract us from the real solution.  So we have to be just as careful as Paul wanted the Colossians to be – watching out for false teachings and ascetic practices.

Warren Wiersbe accurately described the dangers that modern believers must be wary of:

“When we make Jesus Christ and the Christian revelation only part of a total religious system or philosophy, we cease to give Him the preeminence.  When we strive for ‘spiritual perfection’ or ‘spiritual fullness’ by means of formulas, disciplines, or rituals, we go backward instead of forward.  Christian believers must beware of mixing their Christian faith with such alluring things as yoga, transcendental meditation, Oriental mysticism, and the like.  We must also beware of ‘deeper life’ teachers who offer a system for victory and fullness that bypasses devotion to Jesus Christ.  In all things, He must have preeminence!”

If the purpose of the rules, principles, or guidelines we follow are doing anything other than pointing us toward Christ or making us more Christ-like…then they are a waste of time and they will eventually lead us astray.  Our first clue that a particular practice is potentially dangerous is to ask the question “Where is the focus placed, on Jesus or on me?

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Walk this way

Spiritual gifts are meant to have physical impact.  God doesn’t give us grace, peace, wisdom, etc so that we can sit back and be comfortable.  Paul demonstrates this as he describes to the Colossians his prayer requests about them.  Look at the verses below and notice what Paul is requesting from God, but also look for why Paul wants God to give them these things:

Colossians 1:9-10
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.  We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.

Paul requested that God would fill the Colossians to the brim with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding.  As comforting as that sounds, Paul expected that there would be a practical, physical result of these believers growing closer to God – namely, that their lives would begin to reflect their relationship with God.  To walk worthy of the Lord means that the believers in Colossae would conduct their lives in a way that would point to God and bring honor to Him. 

Shortly after my oldest son started his first job, I received an Instant Message from a co-worker I had never met.  Her message was both short and striking:

Good afternoon, I wanted to let you know that I met your oldest son today on my lunch break.  You should be very proud – he is a great young man.

After interacting with my son, she was so impressed with his conduct and helpfulness that she felt the need to seek out his father.  When our children follow through on the instruction we’ve given them, they bring recognition and a good reputation to our family name.  When we hear back from others – whether it is from people we know well, or from complete strangers – that our kids are making wise choices and are conducting themselves in this way, we receive honor as their parents.

The spiritual parallel is obvious.  Our walk and our fruit in every good work need to point others back toward our Heavenly Father.  Paul knows this, and as such, he prays that the Colossians may be filled with the knowledge of His will.  When we know God well, we know how to represent Him well – and those around us will take notice and seek the God we serve.

Paul’s desire for the believers in Colossae to walk worthy of the Lord mirrors what Jesus said during His sermon on the mount:

Matthew 5:16
In the same way, let your light shine before men, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Do others see our Father in heaven based upon how we walk through each day?  If not, what are we being filled with…the knowledge of His will or something else?

Keep Pressing,
Ken