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: gospel message

Cure for snakebite

Without a doubt, the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16.  If you grew up in the church, it was probably the first verse you memorized.  We also see it at various places in the culture – signs at sporting events, on the bottom inside edge of In-N-Out’s drink cup (one more reason to love that place!), on a Monster Jam truck, in songs on the radio, in comic strips, and even in Tim Tebow’s eye black.

John 3:16 is appropriately hailed as “the gospel in a nutshell” as it succinctly summarizes the Good News of Jesus and His mission here on Earth.  Even better, the verse is a direct quote from Jesus, and obviously, He would be the authority on the subject of the gospel.  As a refresher:

John 3:16
For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

This quote from Jesus comes out of a discussion He had with Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was trying to figure out exactly who Christ was.  Just before He says those famous John 3:16 words, in order to help Nicodemus understand what He was about to say, Jesus curiously references an incident from Israel’s past:

John 3:14-15
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

Jesus compares Himself to a snake?  How does that help?

As Paul Harvey would say – and now, the rest of the story:

When Moses was leading the Israelites away from Egypt toward the land God had promised to the nation, the people routinely became whiny and rebellious.  Each time this occurred, God intervened to bring them back to their senses, forcing the nation to recognize their only chance of survival was to look to God.  This time, God’s “attention grabbing messenger” were poisonous snakes:

Numbers 21:4-9
Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey.  The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness?  There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!”  Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died.

The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you.  Intercede with the Lord so that he will take the snakes away from us.”  And Moses interceded for the people.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole.  When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole.  Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.

There is a lot of symbology here.  Bronze is always representative of judgement.  While the snake represented the present danger, it also harkened back to the Garden of Eden where Satan, in the form of a serpent, helped to usher sin into the world and separate people from God.

But of all the parts of this story Jesus could have referenced to help Nicodemus understand the good news of the gospel, Jesus said “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

What did the Israelites have to do to be immediately rescued from their snake-bitten death sentence?  Only to look at the bronze snake.  Not say a particular prayer.  Not promise to do better.  Not confess all their sins.  No requirement to make God the “Lord of their life” from here on out.  Only to look, because they believed God when He said that was the only thing for them to recover their earthly lives.

Jesus is telling Nicodemus – just like the Israelites looked to the bronze snake – everyone who looks to Him, everyone who believes in Him (no other conditions apply) will have eternal life!

Some may accuse me of “easy believism”, but they’ll have to take it up with Jesus first.

Why would God do such a thing?  Why would Jesus make something so incredibly valuable as eternal life available to everyone who (simply) believes in Him?

It’s the gospel in a nutshell:

John 3:16
For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - A progressive relationship

There are a lot of moving parts in my life at the moment. Sometimes, life moves at an easy pace. Sometimes, it feels like you’re at the bottom of the dogpile. When things feel more like the latter, I’ve found it’s best reconnect with God through through two things - going to the Psalms and grounding myself in truth God has already taught me.

With the parts of life I’m working through right now and as I’m sorting through the next post series, I need to go back to these truths I learned all the way back in 2015. I hope this reminder is as helpful to you as it is for me.

A progressive relationship
originally posted on May 20, 2015

The Creator of the Universe is a God who values order.  There was order and progression when creation took place – light first, then ground, next plants, followed by animals, and lastly humans.  We refer to the predictable steps of any process as its “lifecycle”.  We understand that every activity we encounter will have a beginning and then subsequent phases that are passed through, one after another.  Similarly, there is a natural progression in our relationship with God.

Read though this section of Psalm 119 and look for the active verbs used to describe how the psalmist interacts with God:

Psalm 119:9-16
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word.
I have sought You with all my heart; don’t let me wander from your commands.
I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You.
Lord, may You be praised; teach me Your statues.
With my lips I proclaim all the judgments from Your mouth.
I rejoice in the way revealed by Your decrees as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways.
I will delight in Your statues; I will not forget Your word.

I have sought…I have treasured…I proclaim…I rejoice…I will meditate…I will delight

When we look for it, the natural process of a relationship with God clearly stands out.  The verbs are flowing through past, present, and future steps as the author describes his interaction with God.

Where do you find yourself in this progression?

I have heard many well-intentioned speakers tell me that I need to be rejoicing in the Lord and that I should always delight in Him.  While I agree that those actions are great things to do and I would love to be able to whole-heartedly rejoice and delight in God always…the progression we see in the psalm reveals why I’ve likely struggled with doing them or felt guilty about not feeling completely genuine when I try to do them.

Before the psalmist rejoiced, or even got to delight, can you see where he started?  He sought God with all of his heart.  Next he purposely treasured God’s word in his heart, in order to avoid sin and the damage that sin would cause to the relationship.

It wasn’t until after he had pursued God and valued God that the psalmist was ready to proclaim all the judgments from God’s mouth.  He wasn’t able to communicate God’s decisions until after he knew God intimately.  Historically, the American church has pushed its people to make sure they are “spreading the gospel” and “sharing their story” instead, the church’s focus should have been making sure we’re actively seeking God and valuing His word.  Telling others about Jesus will be easy if we already have the relationship in place, but it’s nearly impossible to explain the decisions and motivations of a person you have no relationship with. 

From there the psalmist found joy in the way revealed by God’s decrees, even to the point that he now looks forward to meditating and thinking about God’s ways.  The delight that he takes from God’s word then isn’t something he’s drummed up from within himself, rather it is the culmination of a deep-seeded relationship with his Creator.

If you’re not where you’d like to be in this relationship timeline, take a step back and ensure you’re developing your intimacy with God by seeking Him and purposely treasuring His word.  The rest will naturally progress from that investment.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Aftermath of a miracle: the response

“Seems like the only time we ever get together anymore is weddings and funerals.”

Sound familiar?  It’s certainly true of me and my extended family.  We’re not only scattered across the entire US, but there are a few of us who live in distant countries at the moment.  It takes a big event to get everyone to coordinate schedules and finances such that we can all be face-to-face for even a couple of days.  If someone has a serious illness or accident, we will call and text to check in on each other.  A few of us that are regionally close to each other might get together for Christmas or Thanksgiving, but for most holidays, birthdays, and graduations our communication is through technology and not in-person. 

But a wedding or funeral?  It would take a lot to keep us from showing up to one of these events.   And our drive to be there in-person isn’t just for our immediate family, but when our friends experience these milestones, as well.  While some might decry this as a negative result of modern society, I don’t think it is the case.  It takes a huge moment of celebration or tragedy to get everyone’s attention and bring people together.

And that is why Jesus allowed Lazarus to die.  Many friends and family showed up for his funeral in his hometown of Bethany

John 11:18-19
Bethany was near Jerusalem (less than two miles away).  Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.

Something tragic had to happen in order to bring everyone out of their normal-daily routine, to ensure they were aware – and present – for the revelation of God’s authority and power that was about to take place.

Jesus had a distinct purpose in the steps He took as Lazarus’ situation would unfold.  Throughout the account, John records several statements Jesus made about His motivation.  Look at what He says:

John 11:4
When Jesus heard [that Lazarus was sick], 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.”

John 11:14
So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus had died.  I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe.”

John 11:40-43
Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father I thank You that You heard Me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”


Did you notice what Jesus included in His prayer?  Because of the crowd standing here.  Would the crowd have gathered if Jesus had arrived before Lazarus died, when was still sick?  Most definitely not.   A few may have shown up out of concern, but, realistically, Jesus would have performed a healing in front of the disciples, the sisters, and an on-looker or two.

Instead, Mary and Martha had to experience their worst nightmare – helplessly watching their brother waste away and die.  Even worse, Lazarus painfully experienced his body failing him…all the way through death.  By allowing these personal tragedies to run their course, a crowd of people became eye-witnesses to the greatest miracle up to that moment in human history.  At Jesus’ command, a man that they all knew was without-a-doubt 100% dead was suddenly restored and standing among them.  As eye-witnesses, how did they respond?

John 11:45
Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him.

A short while later, Jesus returned to Bethany; and look at what happened:

John 12:9-10
Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there.  They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one He had raised from the dead… he was the reason many of the Jews were…believing in Jesus.


The “Tragedy of Lazarus” had become the “Glory of God” that Jesus predicted…but Lazarus still had to suffer before getting there.  If Jesus can use a death to draw others to Him, I’m certain that any disease can also be used for God’s Glory.  This includes my younger brother’s Multiple Sclerosis, my debilitating migraines, your terrifying cancer, your uncontrollable anxiety, and any painful unexplainable failing of our bodies. 

I cannot promise that God will heal any of us.  It is certainly acceptable to ask: He may say yes; He may say no.  What is clear from Lazarus’ story is that Jesus places a higher priority on God’s Glory and drawing others to Him than we do on our current status.

But if we’re talking about changing the eternal destiny of those around us – ones who otherwise would not be eye-witnesses to God’s Glory and Power, if not for our personal tragedies – we can trust God with our sufferings, our illnesses, and our frail bodies.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Guard well

Paul’s letters would typically end with a goodbye and a few greetings for specific people.  Take for example, how he closed his letter to the church in Philippi:

Philippians 4:21-23
Greet every saint in Christ Jesus.  Those brothers who are with me greet you.  All the saints greet you, but especially those from Caesar’s household.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Sometimes the greeting was brief, but other times it was quite lengthy.  Out of all the letters Paul wrote in the New Testament, only two have no ending greetings – Galatians and 1 Timothy.  It’s almost as if Paul was “all business” when writing these two letters. 

In fact, he ends 1 Timothy with the same emphasis that he started the letter with, warning Timothy to protect the truth of the gospel and to watch out for false teaching from deceived believers:

1 Timothy 1:3-4,6-7
…command certain people not to teach other doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies.  These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith…some have deviated…and turned aside to fruitless discussion.  They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

Now compare that to Paul’s final words in the letter:

1 Timothy 6:20-21
Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you, avoiding irreverent, empty speech and contradictions from the “knowledge” that falsely bears that name.  By professing it, some people have deviated from the faith. 

Grace be with all of you.

From start to finish, Paul’s focus has been urging Timothy to be watchful – of his own teaching and of what gets taught on his watch as leader of the church in Ephesus.

In a very real sense, the church at Ephesus has been entrusted to his care.  Timothy needed to guard both the gospel message and those who had believed the gospel.  It was an important task, and Paul believed Timothy could handle the responsibility.

Closing out this letter from a mentor to his protégé has left me thinking about the people God has entrusted into my care…and how much the written encouraging words from my mentor has helped sustain me when challenges arise.  I still have most of the emails Joe sent when he was writing THE WORD, and I go back through them from time to time.  I’m sure Timothy did the same with Paul’s letter.

The gospel message has been entrusted to each of us, as well as certain people we are responsible for.  Make sure you guard them, and are also mentoring them to carry the message of salvation to future generations.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Proud papa

How do you spell “love” to a child?

T-I-M-E

The same is true in mentoring.  Even a cursory look at the relationship between Paul and Timothy shows two things – that they spent a lot of time together, and Paul was proud of the man Timothy had grown into.

After leaving his family to join Paul and Silas, Timothy was present in many significant events in Paul’s missionary travels.  Timothy was at Philippi when the mob had Paul and Silas arrested.  Later an earthquake leveled the jail, which led to the jailer and his family to believe the gospel.  Timothy was also in Thessalonica when the riots started there, and he stayed with Silas in Berea when Paul was forced to travel ahead of them.

Timothy was also with Paul when he spent 18 months in Corinth, starting a church and ministering there.  Similarly, Timothy was with Paul during his two year stay in Ephesus.  Piecing together the timeline from other New Testament writings, we find that Paul would send Timothy out as his representative to encourage the churches they had previously established.

Timothy’s efforts mirrored his mentor’s so closely that Paul even referred to Timothy as “my co-worker” (Romans 16:21) and “our brother” (2 Corinthians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, Philemon 1).  Even more impressive is that Paul listed Timothy as a co-author in six of his letters – 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  None of Paul’s other ministering partners come anywhere close to that.

Over the years and years of working together, Paul also witnessed a lot of growth in Timothy.  Notice how Paul proudly recommends Timothy to the believers at the church they had established in Philippi:

Philippians 2:19-24
Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I also may be encouraged when I hear news about you.  For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father.  Therefore, I hope to send him as soon as I see how things go with me.

Their relationship is an excellent example of what a mentoring relationship should look like.  Timothy wouldn’t have developed without Paul’s guidance and the time Paul invested.  Timothy was able to learn from Paul; and not just to become a carbon-copy of his mentor, rather he would use Paul’s investment as the launching point of his own efforts to live out and spread the gospel.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Recognizing cultural trends

My younger son and I went to a movie recently.  While we sat there waiting for the show, we were inundated with what seemed like a never-ending barrage of previews.  Trailer after trailer did its best to convince us that their show was the next movie we should be anticipating.  I don’t remember how many previews we saw – I wouldn’t be surprised if we hit double-digits – but I noticed a common thread among almost all of them:

Nearly every movie preview was about a person finding out they were part of a larger, hidden story.  And this hidden story was something they had always suspected, but finding out it was real still turned their world upside-down.

Whether the plot line contained science-fiction, horror elements, super powers, magic, or whatever…it was all different wrapping for the same idea: There is something greater than you going on, and you have a vital part to play in it.  Movies and entertainment have long been a mirror of inner thoughts and desires, and this theme of a great, adventurous story is resonating with many people. 

Being aware of the culture tendencies around us can show us ways to reach others with the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.  Take a look at the cultural theme Paul noticed when he was Athens:

Acts 17:16-23
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols.  So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshipped God, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.  Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him.  Some said, “What is the pseudo-intellectual trying to say?”

Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities” – because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection

They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you’re speaking of? For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.

Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens!  I see that you are extremely religious in every respect.  For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.  Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.”

From there, Paul went on to tell them about God’s plan for relationship with all of humanity.  During his speech he even quoted one of the Greek’s philosophers, saying that on at least one point, their philosophers got something right

Even though Paul was internally troubled by the idolatry in Athens, he didn’t blast them out of his frustration.  Instead, Paul met them where they were with the gospel and let them decide what to do with it.

Many years later, Paul wrote some instructions to the believers in Colossae:

Colossians 4:5-6
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the time.  Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.

The kind of wisdom Paul wants them to use is the same kind he did with the Athenians and that God does with us.  There were elements of truth in the culture around them, and the Colossian believers could use these touch-points to know how they should answer each person.

Our current culture is resonating with the idea that there is a larger story going on, and that they could have an important part in that story.  The thing is, they’re right.  They’re even more right than they know.  We just need to recognize these cultural trends and meet others where they are, with the good news of Jesus and the resurrection.

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

Singing out

Singing is a common, but odd part of life.  What is it about stretching out vowel sounds that brings so much of our inner-selves out into the open?

From the earliest of ages, we are prone to sing.  Regardless of the tone quality, we readily belt out whatever is on our minds.  Our favorite songs help us emotionally identify with another person or situation – oftentimes the song will be able to put what we feel into words, even though don’t quite know how to say them.

We sing for a variety of reasons, too.  We sing because we feel good.  We sing because we feel bad.  We sing because we’re hurt.  We sing the praises of others.  We may sing alone, but the moments when we sing together are very precious.

All throughout the pages of Scripture, we find people singing.  Even some books of the Bible are composed entirely of songs.  There are songs about the past, songs about the present, and there is the prophecies of us singing “new songs” in eternity future.  Clearly, singing is an important part of the human experience.  God made us, and one of the things he made for us to do, is to sing.

While giving the believers in Colossae basic directions for living a Christ-focused life, Paul included a note about singing:

Colossians 3:16
Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.

The psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs covers the range of styles that the Colossian Jewish and Gentile believers would have been familiar with.  Notice that Paul isn’t commenting on music style or preference…but he does give direction for their motivation to sing.  The root of their songs will come from their gratitude…to God

This direction, however, doesn’t mean that all of our songs are of a “thank-you-thank-you-thank-you” tone.  It is ok to sing about difficulties and failures, for they are part of our experience.  In this verse, Paul is telling them that their inspiration to sing is in their position of thankfulness toward God.

Their inspiration will come from practicing the direction Paul writes at the beginning of the sentence – let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you.  Paul knows that the Colossian believers need to dwell richly – or intimately live with – the depth of Jesus’ love for us.  As they are continually taught and encouraged with the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, gratitude will begin to motivate their lives, including the songs they sing.

But what topics, specifically, would they sing about?  How would they know if they’re singing the right things?

I’m certain that as the message about the Messiah was dwelling richly among them, they had plenty to sing about.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Bridging the gap between God and others

We mentally separate the parts of our lives in order to keep everything straight.  The typical division of our time and relationships is into sections of church, family, work, school, and spare time.  However, we tend to make these areas into islands with little or no connection to the other areas.

As Christians, we also tend take this practice one step further – we see our relationship with God as something separate from our relationship with others.  While we know that both are important and need to be cultivated, we often deal with one while excluding the other.  However, the two are more connected than we realize.

This is the next point Paul wanted to convey in his letter to the believers in Colossae.  Look at the verses below and see if you can identify how our relationships with other Christians connects to our relationship with God:

Colossians 3:14-16
Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were called in one body, control your hearts.  Be thankful.  Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you

We can become so comfortable in our established family position that our relationship with God and our relationship with others can seem like mutually exclusive ideas.  The way these two concepts are connected for us is in the same manner Paul connected them for the Colossians. 

However, his bridge sentence is comprised of just two words, so it is easily missed.  Likewise, the full impact of this small sentence is also overlooked.  Paul says that we are able to aim for peace-driven love with those around us only as the message about the Messiah is present among us.  To be thankful is the bridge between the two.

We are truly thankful when we are mindful of the favor extended to us by someone else.  It shifts the focus off of ourselves and recognizes who the other person is and what we have become because of their actions.  The better we understand and think about Christ’s incredible love for us, the more we are thankful for the choices He made on our behalf. 

To be thankful is focus-shifting experience.  Being thankful towards God puts him in the proper place in our lives; it shows us how to lovingly and peacefully relate to others.  So our ability to bridge the mental gap between of our relationship with others and our relationship with God comes down to two words – Be thankful.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Our identity in the gospel

The Bible wasn’t dropped out of the sky as a complete revelation of God to mankind.  Instead, the Scriptures were assembled from the writings of God-inspired authors over hundreds of years.  Through these authors, God revealed more and more of His plan for the world and the salvation of those who trust Jesus for eternal life.  This process is referred to progressive revelation.

Therefore, we must consider each section of Scripture in light of the larger context of the God’s story throughout the Bible.  Most of the letters in the New Testament are addressed to a particular group of believers or an individual believer to discuss specific topics.  Since the letters’ recipients have already placed their faith in Jesus, getting an “in a nutshell” explanation of the gospel doesn’t appear very often, as the author typically spends his time instructing his readers about the effects of the gospel in their lives or encouraging them to live their lives with eternity in mind.

Paul certainly wrote to the Colossians to give them instruction and encouragement.  However, after he reminds them of where their identity comes from, in verses that follow, he gives them a wonderful “in a nutshell” statement of the gospel message:

Colossians 2:9-10
For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

Paul then uses two illustrations that his readers would have been very familiar with.  These physical examples had been previously used to confirm a person’s identification with a group of people.  Both illustrations contain the imagery of a permanent change that takes place in a person’s life. 

Colossians 2:11
In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah.

Circumcision was the physical removal of flesh that the Israelites performed as a symbolic indication of their identification with God and a separation from the surrounding nations and their gods.  However, a physical circumcision was no longer necessary after Christ’s death and resurrection – our identity with Him is a spiritual circumcision.  In Jesus, we have rejected, or put off, the selfish desires of our flesh.

Continuing with his next example, Paul says

Colossians 2:12
Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

The Greek word for baptism means “to be placed into”.  When we are physically immersed in a water baptism, we are symbolically demonstrating what has already happened to us spiritually.  We were set apart and placed into Christ the moment we put our faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead

The beauty of our salvation is that we don’t have to try and earn it.  The truth is – we can’t earn it.  God knew that, but still desired relationship with us.  As Paul reminds the Colossians, Christ took care of our sin debt while we were still rebels. 

Colossians 2:13-15
And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses.  He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.

While we were still sinners, Christ paid humanity’s sins.  Because of their faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead, God forgave all their sin.  Christ’s standing with the Father is credited to each person who places their faith in Jesus. 

We’ve all had times in our lives where we messed up and afterward we had the offense forgiven, but we still had to live with the consequences of our actions.  However, that’s not the case when it comes to our salvation from sin.  Not only has Jesus erased the certificate of debt but He has also erased…its obligations.  In Christ, we are free from sin – and its penalty.

Our salvation wasn’t secured by some back-door, secret deal, either.  Christ was publicly humiliated and crucified – the kind of death and separation from God that we deserved.  Jesus’ sacrifice was on display for entire world to see.  By His loving actions, He disarmed the rulers and authorities set against us, and, as Paul stated in verse 9, Jesus became the head over every ruler and authority

In these verses, we find that we have been set apart (11-12), our sins forgiven (13-14), and we have victory over forces of evil (15) – all because of Jesus.  That’s the gospel “in a nutshell”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The glorious wealth of this mystery

That God would one day reconcile the world through the Jewish people was something that God had foretold all the way back at the Garden of Eden.  However, once Jesus paid the penalty for our sins when He willingly died on the cross, the implications of our restored relationship with God were revealed.

Paul explained this to the believers at Colossae:

Colossians 1:22-23
But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him…This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I Paul, have become a minister of it.

As Paul explained the good news of the gospel – that we have been reconciled to God through Jesus’ death – he also had the privilege of explaining the full effect of Christ’s resurrection.  Since we were unaware of these relational benefits…Paul refers to them as a mystery. This term in Scripture refers to a truth previously unknown, but now revealed by God. 

Colossians 1:25-27
I have become its minister, according to God’s administration that was given to me for you, to make God’s message fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints.  God wanted to make known to those among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

The mystery was that the Gentiles could also believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins – which means they (and us!) are equally included in God’s family.  The ultimate benefit, though, goes even further. 

Beyond being forgiven for the guilt and penalty from our sin and rebellion…
Beyond being part of the family…
Beyond having a relationship with our Creator…

What Paul points out in verse 27 goes even further.  It goes above and beyond anything we could have imagined.  It is the glorious wealth of this mystery, the greatest implication of our restored relationship with our Creator.

It is Christ in you

The one Paul earlier described as the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation…by Him everything was created, in heaven and on earth…He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead…

The most magnificent, the most valuable, the greatest person in the Universe has taken up residence within each believer.  Regardless of background.  Regardless of nationality. 

He’s with you every moment, because He’s in you

Meditate on this today.  Spend time thinking about the glorious wealth of this mystery.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Suffering for outsiders

Pain is both a motivator and a deterrent.  Physical, mental, emotional pain…it doesn’t matter the type, because pain is, well, a pain to deal with.  Usually, it’s the desire to avoid pain that leads to us promptly finishing a given task or ensuring that we do not do a particular task.  We don’t like pain, and we’re willing to go to great lengths to make sure we don’t experience it.

There are very few things in life we willingly suffer for.  Since our default is to avoid pain, it is a significant decision when we are willing to endure pain and suffering.  Even then, the only people we may willingly suffer for would be a family member or an incredibly close friend.  However, most everyone understands our motivations when we do choose to endure pain for those close to us.

But that’s where the gospel turns things upside down.  When we accept the truth of the good news – that Jesus loved us enough to die in our place – we see others differently.  After Paul became a believer, Jesus gave him the task of spreading the gospel message.  As he describes his calling to the Colossians, Paul mentions that he suffers…but notice who it is he’s suffering for.

Colossians 1:23-27
This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I Paul, have become a minister of it.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for His body, that is, the church.  I have become its minister, according to God’s administration that was given to me for you, to make God’s message fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints.

God wanted to make known to those among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Since the implications of Christ’s death and resurrection was a mystery hidden for ages and generations, no one fully understood it.  Even the disciples had to have Jesus explain it to them.  This means that everyone else would have trouble grasping this mystery, also.  As the gospel message was explained and spread throughout the world, some people “got it”; they understood and believed, and yet some people didn’t. 

It’s amazing to think that Paul was willing to suffer for something that the outsider Gentiles didn’t understand.  In fact, some of them would never understand.  They would fight against the message and the person delivering it.  On several occasions, they even attempted to “kill the messenger”.

However, because the message was so big and so important, Paul was willing to take the chance that he would suffer for it.  In fact, he did suffer a lot of pain.  But he also found joy in his pain – because he knew that he was doing the job God gave him to do.

Looking a Paul’s example, each of us should pause and ask the question –

Am I willing to suffer in order to do the job God gave me to do…even if everyone doesn’t understand the gospel message or my motivation to share it?

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

What's next?

After we become convinced that Jesus is who He claims to be – the Son of God and God the Son…

After we believe Him when He claims that only He can give eternal life, and that He gives it to all who will receive it…

What’s next?
What do I do with this new life that Jesus has given me?

As we continue through the beginning of Paul’s letter to the believers in Colossae, we find that Paul is dealing directly with these questions.  Throughout the rest of the letter, he will continue to discuss the practical outflowing of our relationship with Jesus; however, Paul mentions some specific ideas early on that are worth taking a closer look into.

Read these verses and look for what Paul sees as our motivation for the way believers should approach their day-to-day lives:

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.

While Paul does say he desires that the Colossians may walk worthy of the Lord, the believers’ aim in doing so is found in the next four words.  Once we are adopted into God’s family, our next step is to obtain Jesus’ approval.  Our aim is to be fully pleasing to Him.

If we balk at that idea, think back to your own childhood.  After becoming aware of our place in within our family, we begin to find ways to win the approval of our parents.  Not to keep our place in the family; no, that’s never in question.  Rather, we want to make them proud – by doing things like them, by doing things for them, or by doing things with them. 

It didn’t matter if we had good parents or bad parents – we still made every effort to “do good” in their eyes.  When we’re completely honest with ourselves, we are still driven by those same desires all the way through our adult lives.

Immediately after he states our aim as children of God – to be fully pleasing to Him – Paul also tells the Colossians how they are going to go about doing it.  The way we make Jesus proud of us, the way we get the “Good job!” from the King of Kings, is to be bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.

Every good thing we do should bear fruit or provide evidence that we are believers in Jesus for eternal life; that we have become part of God’s family.  And just as a young child matures and learns more about his or her father, we also grow in the knowledge of God.  We learn who He is and what He is like, which then feeds back into how we represent Jesus in our daily actions.

And certainly, the Colossians would have noted that Paul had used the same phrases – bearing fruit and growing – just a few sentences earlier.  When Paul described how God’s good news, the gospel message about Jesus, was reaching the world, he said:

Colossians 1:6
It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and recognized God’s grace in the truth.

So the Colossians (and us) have a practical example from our Father in heaven.  When we live out the gospel message, we bear fruit and show the world who Jesus is.  When we help spread the good news, we will also grow in the knowledge of God.  

Ultimately, we are imitating our Father in heaven by participating in spreading the good news of Jesus…we’re doing these things like Him, we’re doing these things for Him, and we’re doing these things with Him…which is fully pleasing to Him.

Live the gospel, and fully please our Savior and Lord.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Family perspective

It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own little corner of Christianity.  We sometimes forget that “the church” consists of the entire body of believers, and not just the building we go to on Sundays.  We can even get so wrapped up in what we see God doing in our immediate Christian community that the idea of God working anywhere else seems like a weird, foreign concept. 

However, the gospel grows the church body wherever it goes.  Whoever hears and believes the gospel message of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection and trusts Him for forgiveness of sins and eternal life is someone who joins the church body.  Getting reminders of how the good news is received in distant places helps us keep God’s perspective and His larger mission in mind.  Knowing how God is transforming lives in other locations also helps guard us from thinking that God only works through “my church” or “my pastor”.

As Paul opened his letter to the believers in Colossae, he remind them that they are part of a much larger church community:

Colossians 1:5-8
You have already heard about this hope in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you.  It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and recognized God’s grace in the truth.  You learned this from Epaphras, our much loved fellow slave.  He is a faithful minister of the Messiah on your behalf, and he has told us about your love in the Spirit.

The Colossian believers were part of the larger church body because they heard the gospel and recognized God’s grace in the truth.  They were brought the message by Epaphras, who was faithfully using his gifts and talents to proclaim the gospel.

Since Epaphras was now working side by side with Paul, he had the opportunity to share the gospel with other people in new locations.  Since their work for Christ had them working in multiple communities, both Paul and Epaphras could see the larger family picture.  They wanted the Colossians to see themselves as part of a whole, and not just an isolated patch of believers.

Do we remember that we’re part of a much larger community?  If you haven’t looked outside your church’s bulletin in a while, take a look at the work that organizations like Voice of the Martyrs or Compassion International are doing.  Go for a larger picture our believing family, and ask God to help you see His family like He does.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A progressive relationship

The Creator of the Universe is a God who values order.  There was order and progression when creation took place – light first, then ground, next plants, followed by animals, and lastly humans.  We refer to the predictable steps of any process as its “lifecycle”.  We understand that every activity we encounter will have a beginning and then subsequent phases that are passed through, one after another.  Similarly, there is a natural progression in our relationship with God.

Read though this section of Psalm 119 and look for the active verbs used to describe how the psalmist interacts with God:

Psalm 119:9-16
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word.
I have sought You with all my heart; don’t let me wander from your commands.
I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You.
Lord, may You be praised; teach me Your statues.
With my lips I proclaim all the judgments from Your mouth.
I rejoice in the way revealed by Your decrees as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways.
I will delight in Your statues; I will not forget Your word.

I have sought…I have treasured…I proclaim…I rejoice…I will meditate…I will delight

When we look for it, the natural process of a relationship with God clearly stands out.  The verbs are flowing through past, present, and future steps as the author describes his interaction with God.

Where do you find yourself in this progression?

I have heard many well-intentioned speakers tell me that I need to be rejoicing in the Lord and that I should always delight in Him.  While I agree that those actions are great things to do and I would love to be able to whole-heartedly rejoice and delight in God always…the progression we see in the psalm reveals why I’ve likely struggled with doing them or felt guilty about not feeling completely genuine when I try to do them.

Before the psalmist rejoiced, or even got to delight, can you see where he started?  He sought God with all of his heart.  Next he purposely treasured God’s word in his heart, in order to avoid sin and the damage that sin would cause to the relationship.

It wasn’t until after he had pursued God and valued God that the psalmist was ready to proclaim all the judgments from God’s mouth.  He wasn’t able to communicate God’s decisions until after he knew God intimately.  Historically, the American church has pushed its people to make sure they are “spreading the gospel” and “sharing their story” instead, the church’s focus should have been making sure we’re actively seeking God and valuing His word.  Telling others about Jesus will be easy if we already have the relationship in place, but it’s nearly impossible to explain the decisions and motivations of a person you have no relationship with. 

From there the psalmist found joy in the way revealed by God’s decrees, even to the point that he now looks forward to meditating and thinking about God’s ways.  The delight that he takes from God’s word then isn’t something he’s drummed up from within himself, rather it is the culmination of a deep-seeded relationship with his Creator.

If you’re not where you’d like to be in this relationship timeline, take a step back and ensure you’re developing your intimacy with God by seeking Him and purposely treasuring His word.  The rest will naturally progress from that investment.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Praying to the Lord of the Harvest

Later on in his ministry, Jesus would send heralds ahead of Him to prepare the town for His teaching.  Whether the townspeople accepted the heralds or not, their message was to be the same: The kingdom of God has come near you.  The goal of this preparation work was very similar to John the Baptist’s mission to prepare hearts and minds for when the Messiah would arrive.

Jesus gave these followers specific instructions on how to carry out their portion of His ministry.  We’re going to focus in on just one part of the instructions they received.

Luke 10:1-2 After this, the Lord appointed 70 others, and He sent them ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place where He Himself was about to go.  He told them: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Harvest time was always a joyous time in Jewish society.  Much work needed to be done, but the benefits were well worth the effort.  Hearts were ready to receive the good news of the Messiah’s arrival, but someone had to get the word out to them.  Those who were willing to spread the message had a significantly large task ahead of them.  In comparison to the task at hand, there were too few workers.

Jesus’ first direction to the 70 was to pray that God would send out even more workers to help spread the good news of Jesus’ arrival, to bring in the abundant harvest of those who would respond and belong to God.  The 70 were going to need all the help they could get!

Jesus’ directions to the 70 heralds was very similar to what He has previously taught to the 12 disciples.  While journeying through Samaria, Jesus spoke to a woman at Jacob’s well and told her that He was the Messiah.  She immediately ran back to her village to tell others.  While she was gone, the disciples urged Jesus to eat…but as the Samaritans made their way toward Jesus and His disciples, He used their arrival as a teaching moment:

John 4:34-35 “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work,” Jesus told them.  “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’?  Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest.”

Our application is to do the same – open our eyes, see their need, and participate in the harvest.  There is more work to be done than we can handle on our own.  So ask God to send out even more workers…the benefits of this work is worth it because this harvest is of eternal value.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The trustworthy message

After giving Titus clear expectations for how a church leader is to treat his family, conduct himself, and interact with others, Paul then moves to the most important requirement…how the leader handles God’s message of salvation.

Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

If our church leaders are going to be God’s representatives, then they must know God well.   Knowing God begins with hold[ing] firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, for the Scriptures are how God has revealed himself to humanity.  If he doesn’t know God, he will be unable to give those under his care the encouragement they will need, nor will he be able to correct those who oppose God’s message.

Opposition will come.  Although rescue from the penalty of sin is good news, not everyone wants to hear it.  Among those that actually do hear the message that Christ paid the full penalty for our sins are plenty of people that think they must still also earn God’s favor, as Paul points out:

Titus 1:10-11 For there are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision group.  They must be silenced, because they are ruining whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of dishonest gain.

The “circumcision group” were those who taught others that in addition to believing in Jesus, a person must also be circumcised and follow the Jewish law.  This wasn’t just a local problem on Crete either, as all throughout his ministry, Paul dealt with those who preached

Belief in Jesus plus following the Jewish law equals Salvation from sins

Whenever anything is added to Jesus’ death on the cross for our salvation, the message is no longer “good news”.  In fact adding anything to the gospel message negates the work of Christ.  Paul’s entire letter to the Galatians deals with very subject.

Galatians 2:16 So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

Galatians 2:21 …for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

Galatians 6:12 Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised.

Do Christians today deal with these kinds of pressures?  While no one is proclaiming circumcision as a salvation requirement, there are many who insist that in addition to faith in Christ it is necessary to “do good works” or “persevere to the end of their life” or “make Christ lord of their life” in order to be truly saved.

Don’t get me wrong, those are good things to do.  And we should endeavor to reach for those goals.  However, adding any contributions on my part to Christ’s death on the cross is doing the same as what the “circumcision group” was trying to teach.  Do you believe that Christ was telling the truth with his last words on the cross? It is finished – the single Greek word means “Paid in Full”.  Either Christ paid it all, or he lied to us just before he died.

This is the trustworthy message – that Christ paid our entire sin debt, we add nothing to his payment – and Paul wanted Titus to only select leaders who hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

If we want to avoid being led astray, we must have leaders that get this right.

Keep Pressing,
Ken