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: hope

Finding hope when the light is fading

I really like light.  Never been a big fan of the dark.  I hate how disorienting it is when you can’t make out your surroundings.  Growing up in the desert, there were plenty of creatures who came out only at night.  They were wild animals, but what made them especially dangerous was that they could see in dark, and I could not.  To go tromping through the sagebrush without a light would have been foolish, to say the least.

Even as I’ve lived in other locations, I still don’t like the dark.  I love the long days of spring and summer.  I would even advocate that we stay on daylight savings time year-round.  But every year, mid-summer, a change begins to occur.  We don’t typically notice it right away, yet within a few months, it is undeniable…the days have gotten shorter, there is less light than there used to be.

Even with all the great things that fall brings – changing leaves, football, holidays – I resent that they come when the days are shorter.  When I am paying attention, I also notice a shift in my attitude.  My feelings drift closer towards the cold and darkness I am experiencing through the weather…almost seems like I’m being slowly dragged down by nature.  Typically by November, I am fully aware of the seasonal change around me…and feeling rather depressed that it’s going to continue for a while before it gets any better.  Leave for work in morning, and it’s dark…head home from work in the evening, and it’s dark.  I’ve worked in some places that didn’t have windows – so it felt like either I missed an entire ‘day’ while I was working, or that the ‘day’ never really happened, like it just stayed dark.

The calendar day that has always bothered me the most is the winter solstice; the day gives us the least amount of light every year.  Six-ish hours of daylight.  That’s it.  Bleh…

Only recently did I see the hope that is couched within that particular day.  Once that day has passed, the light will increase.  Little by little, just an extra minute or two per day…the darkness begins to recede.  The darkness has approached the line in the sand, so to speak, and it will go no further.  Although months have passed while the light slowly fades, it turns out that the darkness will not overtake the day, after all.  The light returns, and with it – new life and springtime will soon follow.

Life feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it?  Our world seems to be growing darker and darker, little by little.  Some days it even looks like the darkness will overtake the light altogether.  However, as followers of Jesus, we know the darkness will not win.  While on Earth, Jesus predicted His death and resurrection…but He also predicted His return:

John 14:2-3
In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you.  I am going away to prepare a place for you.  If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come back and receive you to Myself, so that where I am you may be also.

Jesus’ return build upon a promise He had made earlier:

John 8:12
Then Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world.  Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”

The author of Hebrews also echoed the hope found in Jesus’ return:

Hebrews 9:28
so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.

Starting tomorrow, the light of the sun will begin to return.  Use this as a reminder that one day, the light of the world will return.  The darkness we see in the world will not win, no matter how dark it seems at the moment.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback favorite - Where is the hope?

I am not immune to irony.  My current line-of-thinking/focus-of-study is on the importance of being prepared for Christ's return.  However, I was not prepared for being sick the last couple of days, which means the next post isn't ready.  As such, I am reposting something that I learned two years ago...something that may be even more relevant now than it was then.

Where is the Hope?
originally posted on July 8, 2015

There is a lot going on in the world today, and much of it isn’t good.  Although humans were created in the image of God, the “news broadcasts" continue to report society’s deterioration as we run further and further from God and the purposes He created us for. 

Oftentimes, the sin-caused crumbling is beneath the surface, stewing at the individual level – things like dads not being fathers, pornography replacing love, or self-centered pursuits of money and power.  Other times, this deterioration appears in massive public displays – things like wars and terrorism, the abandonment of God’s definition of marriage, and government progressively taking on the role of final authority in peoples’ lives.

I have to admit to feeling overwhelmed from some of the sin-affected problems I’ve dealt with lately, both in my own individual life and as a part of our larger American society.  The Bible tells us that the world will worsen before Christ returns, but it is certainly difficult to watch unfold.  Sometimes, it feels like we have front row seats to a car accident that no one else can see coming.

But we have to ask the question: “What are we hoping in?  Where does our hope come from?”

Are we hoping that the lawyers gets it right and all the laws make society behave as it should? 
Are we hoping that the government makes the best decisions and keeps life at a comfortable level?

When individuals, society, or the government runs contrary to God’s design…and we lose hope…it forces us to assess just where our motivation and trust are anchored.

While imprisoned for preaching the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul wrote a letter to a church he had never met.  He knew of them through an associate named Epaphras; however, what he wrote indicates that they had a well-known, Godly reputation.  They had both strong faith and strong love, but to know why they were so good at pointing others toward God, read the verses below and see what their faith and love were rooted in:

Colossians 1:3-6
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.  You have already heard about this hope in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you.

Their anchor wasn’t in the culture around them.  In fact, their anchor wasn’t even in the hope that God would work through their government.  The Colossian believers had faith and love, and had them abundantly, because they were focused on the hope reserved for you in heaven.  Their hope was in Jesus’ promise of eternal life.  Their hope was found within the good news of the message of truth.

So where is our hope?  Are we trusting our culture, our circumstances, our government, or our job security to be the foundation of truth in our lives?  As society crumbles, will our hope and strength go with it?

Although he said it a number of years ago, Chuck Colson’s words still ring true:

“Where is the hope?  I meet millions who tell me that they feel demoralized by the decay around us.  Where is the hope?  The hope that each of us have is not in who governs us, or what laws are passed, or what great things that we do as a nation.  Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, and that’s where our hope is in this country; that is where our hope is in life.”

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Is it wrong to be rich?

Over the last several years, we’ve heard a lot about “the greedy rich” and “the 1%ers” who have the biggest salaries and have seemingly “unfair” amounts of wealth.  These phrases are thrown around in the business world, in political speeches, and on news broadcasts…with the inference that it is wrong for someone to be at that income level.

In America, if you’re going to be part of the top 1% in annual salary, then you’d have to bring in over $434,000 every year.  To be in the top 10% of American wage earners, your salary would be over $133,000 every year.  Maybe you don’t fit into either category, and you don’t think of yourself as “rich”.  That’s for someone else, right?  Someone who can spend as much as they want whenever they want and not worry about it. 

But the issue we’re subconsciously wrestling with whenever a “1%er” statement comes up is…Is it ‘wrong’ to be rich? 

Ever wonder what God says about being rich?  Is it a sin to make a lot of money?  Is it sinful to have large amounts of money in the bank?  

Before we get to Paul’s instructions to Timothy about Christians who have a lot of wealth, we need to clear something up.  If we stop comparing our income to others in our town and instead look at the rest of the world, if we make more than $32,400 in a year (or $15.59/hour)…we’re in the top 1% globally.  Also, “rich” in the ancient world meant that you had a house to call your own and extra disposable income to spend on lavish, unnecessary fun items.  With our smart phones, cable TV, and cars, in addition to our air conditioning, clean water, and indoor plumbing…I think we do qualify as “rich”.

So, what does God think about us having so much? 

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.

So, it’s not a sin to have money.  It’s not a sin to have things or take pleasure in them.  After all, God richly provides us with all things to enjoy.  So, we shouldn’t feel guilty about going to the movies, or having an iPhone, or being able to afford a vacation.  

From this text, we see that God’s more concerned with our attitude about our riches.  If our wealth was suddenly gone, would we still sing about how good God is?  If our future is uncertain, do we console ourselves with the amount in our bank account, or with the knowledge that God provided that money in our bank account to protect against emergencies?

Is our hope and security based on money or the One who gave us the money?  That can be easy for us rich 1%ers to forget.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Where is the hope?

There is a lot going on in the world today, and much of it isn’t good.  Although humans were created in the image of God, the “news broadcasts" continue to report society’s deterioration as we run further and further from God and the purposes He created us for. 

Oftentimes, the sin-caused crumbling is beneath the surface, stewing at the individual level – things like dads not being fathers, pornography replacing love, or self-centered pursuits of money and power.  Other times, this deterioration appears in massive public displays – things like wars and terrorism, the abandonment of God’s definition of marriage, and government progressively taking on the role of final authority in peoples’ lives.

I have to admit to feeling overwhelmed from some of the sin-affected problems I’ve dealt with lately, both in my own individual life and as a part of our larger American society.  The Bible tells us that the world will worsen before Christ returns, but it is certainly difficult to watch unfold.  Sometimes, it feels like we have front row seats to a car accident that no one else can see coming.

But we have to ask the question: “What are we hoping in?  Where does our hope come from?”

Are we hoping that the lawyers gets it right and all the laws make society behave as it should? 
Are we hoping that the government makes the best decisions and keeps life at a comfortable level?

When individuals, society, or the government runs contrary to God’s design…and we lose hope…it forces us to assess just where our motivation and trust are anchored.

While imprisoned for preaching the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul wrote a letter to a church he had never met.  He knew of them through an associate named Epaphras; however, what he wrote indicates that they had a well-known, Godly reputation.  They had both strong faith and strong love, but to know why they were so good at pointing others toward God, read the verses below and see what their faith and love were rooted in:

Colossians 1:3-6
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.  You have already heard about this hope in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you.

Their anchor wasn’t in the culture around them.  In fact, their anchor wasn’t even in the hope that God would work through their government.  The Colossian believers had faith and love, and had them abundantly, because they were focused on the hope reserved for you in heaven.  Their hope was in Jesus’ promise of eternal life.  Their hope was found within the good news of the message of truth.

So where is our hope?  Are we trusting our culture, our circumstances, our government, or our job security to be the foundation of truth in our lives?  As society crumbles, will our hope and strength go with it?

Although he said it a number of years ago, Chuck Colson’s words still ring true:

“Where is the hope?  I meet millions who tell me that they feel demoralized by the decay around us.  Where is the hope?  The hope that each of us have is not in who governs us, or what laws are passed, or what great things that we do as a nation.  Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, and that’s where our hope is in this country; that where our hope is in life.”

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

From despair to hope

While Jesus hung on the cross for six hours, whether He felt like time passed quickly or agonizingly slow…there’s no indication in the Biblical text.  What we do know is that the Romans were experts in torture and the administration of pain.  Death on a cross didn’t come from having your hands and feet nailed to wood.  Instead, a person died slowly as their body weight pulled against the nails, making it difficult for the victim to breathe.  Over the next few hours, they would fight to keep upright in order to continue breathing, but as their strength failed, they would slowly suffocate.  Additionally, any trauma or blood loss both before and during crucifixion would lead to cardiac collapse as the heart muscle was no longer supplied with oxygen-rich blood.  This type of death sentence was so horrific, the Latin word for “cross” eventually became the root word for word “excruciating” in an attempt identify the level of pain one would endure while being crucified.

As the sins of humanity were placed upon Jesus, He experienced the worst of everything He had endured.  As great as the physical torture was, we can only guess at the magnitude of His spiritual torment.

Matthew 27:45-46 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land.  At about three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

As the end of His life neared, Jesus’ cry to the Father, His prayer at the moment was the beginning of Psalm 22.  The first half of that prophetic psalm tells us so much about how Jesus felt while He endured the horrifically painful events of the cross.  However, the text also transitions from the agony of the moment to a complete reliance on God the Father.

What began as a cry of anguish has ended in a shout of praise.

Psalm 22:25-31 I will give praise
in the great congregation because of You;
I will fulfill my vows before those who fear You.
The humble will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise Him.
May your hearts live forever! 

All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord.
All the families of the nations will bow down before You,
for kingship belongs to the Lord; He rules over the nations.
All who prosper on earth will eat and bow down;
all those who go down to the dust will kneel before Him –
even the one who cannot preserve his life.
Descendants will serve Him; the next generation will be told about the Lord.
They will come and tell a people yet to be born about His righteousness –
what He has done.

Jesus was absolutely focused on His purpose.  His death didn’t just happen to Him, rather He chose to take the punishment for humanity’s sinful betrayals. 

As Psalm 22 transitions from despair to hope, it ends with the assurance of what Jesus’ mission would accomplish.  He most certainly was thinking about the future generations, of those He prayed for in the garden – the ones who would eventually believe the apostles’ message.

We are among those who were yet to be born and have now been told about the Lord.  Keeping Jesus’ purposeful sacrifice in mind, let’s continue the mission and tell the next generation what He has done!

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Not alone

Both Matthew and Mark both record that at the end of His crucifixion, Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1.  It’s likely that by His statement, Jesus was also a referencing the Psalm as a whole.  We have a similar practice when we refer to the First Amendment and only reference “our right to free speech”…but in reality we are quoting more than just those five words.

Taking a continued look at the psalm which Jesus quoted near the end of His six hour crucifixion, we see many predictive parallels between David’s feelings about the oppressive situation he was writing about and the crucifixion of Jesus 1000 years later.

As you read this section of Psalm 22, read it slowly – and do your best to feel as they felt, see what they saw, and think like they thought:

Psalm 22:12-28 Many bulls surround me; strong ones of Bashan encircle me.
They open their mouths against me – lions, mauling and roaring.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed;
my heart is like wax, melting within me.
My strength is dried up like baked clay;
my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You put me into the dust of death.
For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me;
they pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones; people look and stare at me.
They divided my garments among themselves,
and they cast lots for my clothing.

With the whole world against Him and His body slowly failing, there was no physical reason to have any hope.  It’s times like these that feelings of despair start to settle in deep within us.  Jesus fought against these feelings by taking His focus off of the torment pressing on Him and seeking the Father:

Psalm 22:19-24 But You, Lord, don’t be far away.  My strength, come quickly to help me.
Deliver my life from the sword, my very life from the power of the dog.
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen.
I will proclaim Your name to my brothers;
I will praise You in the congregation.
You who fear the Lord, praise Him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor Him!
All you descendants of Israel, revere Him!
For He has not despised or detested the torment of the afflicted.
He did not hide His face from him, but listened when he cried to Him for help.

My favorite line in this section – For He has not despised or detested the torment of the afflicted – contains so much hope and such a greater perspective.

God doesn’t hide from us when we hurt.  The Father doesn’t abandon us when we are in pain.  He won’t throw up His hands in frustration because He doesn’t know what to do with us next.  The Father did not leave David or Jesus in their darkest hour.  And God won’t leave us, either. 

We are not alone in our affliction.  When all else is crashing in, God is listening for our cries.  We can look to Him for rescue, just like Jesus.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Timing

Titus 1:1-3 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior

Timing.  We all struggle with it.  When we’re young, we want to be older.  When we’re older, we pine away for our younger days.  We get impatient that we aren’t married yet, or don’t have our dream job yet, or sourly reminisce about the opportunity we foolishly missed out on.

The most common deathbed regret is the lack of risk-taking during one’s life…that they wish they would have taken the chance to ask out that girl, or to start a certain business, or to actually tell their kids how much they really loved them.  Given the opportunity, we would rewrite our life’s history in a heartbeat.  The chances not taken, the words unspoken…or maybe we would take back the times we really messed up.  We all have moments like that, and they act like thorns in our memories and in our hearts.

But since time is linear, and we have to live in it…we can’t change the past, nor do we really know what the future holds.  While that may scare us when we honestly think about it, we have no choice but to live in the present and make the best of where we’re at in this moment in time.

But what makes me smile, what gives me hope, is found in verses 2-3, that

…God, who does not lie, promised [eternal life] before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light…

When we look at the “timing words” in these verses, we find that God doesn’t work within time like we are forced to.  We see that God made a promise before the beginning of time, and that he has appointed seasons already planned ahead.

No mistakes.  No missed opportunities.  All according to his plan.

There is a ton of comfort when we meditate on this one simple truth – that God knows the beginning from the end, he’s planned it out…and therefore

He’s not surprised by life – even when we are

He’s not missing opportunities – like we have

He sees human history in seasons – and he works within those seasons

at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior

God chose the specific time in human history that Christ would sacrifice himself.  He met Paul at just the right moment, the exact right season, in order to reach him with the truth.  Since Paul accepted Christ as who he is – the Son of God and the Savior of our sins – Paul was then able to fulfill the mission God had chosen him for at that point in history. 

God also meets each of us at the exact right time in our lives.  After we accept Christ for who he is, we also have a mission for this season of history – to introduce those around us to him.  We can even use verse 3 as a template:

At [God’s] appointed season he brought his word to light through the __________ entrusted to me

How will you fill in the blank?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hope

Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness –

We saw last time that Paul identifies himself as both a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ; however, he doesn’t end his letter’s introduction with just this statement.  After identifying himself with God the Father and Jesus Christ, he also explains the out-flowing purpose of his association with them.

Paul is a servant…for the faith of God’s elect and an apostle…for…the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.  These two dynamics – strengthening the faith of believers and making unbelievers aware of the truth of Christ – are Paul’s driving mission in life.

If any of us gave that kind of Mission Statement for our lives, we would likely be applauded by those in the church and the statement wouldn’t be questioned further.  However, Paul does not stop there.  Instead, he explains where the faith and knowledge find their source:

Titus 1:2 a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time

“Hope” is a term that is thrown around a lot; however, in this context it’s not flippant as in “Gee, I hope it doesn’t rain.”  Rather this hope is a confident expectation of future events.  When I placed my hope in my wife’s pledge “until death do us part”, I confidently expect that she will fulfill her promise.  This kind of hope can be either strong or weak…because it doesn’t depend on the person who is hoping; instead it depends on the person that is being hoped in.  We’ve all seen marriages where vows are broken and the hope for a life-long relationship was unfulfilled.  Paul’s hope of eternal life is sourced in God’s ancient promise of a Messiah, that a Redeemer would one day come to the earth.

Curiously though, Paul adds a qualifier to his explanation of hope, namely that God is someone who does not lie.  While it might seem a little odd to us for him to say that, a quick look at the Cretan culture reveals Paul’s purpose in emphasizing this character trait of God.

This description of God is in direct contrast to both the deserved reputation of Cretans and the Greek/Cretan gods.  If you remember any of your Greek mythology, the most powerful gods were better tricksters and liars than the lesser gods.  The Greek gods routinely deceived the Greek people and each other – often on a whim or out of some corrupt desire.  Paul is stating from the outset that the one true God can be trusted, for he always speaks and acts in perfect truth.

We’ve made it to the foundational basis for Paul’s identity, his motivation, and his actions – he takes God at his word, that in contrast to the world, God is trustworthy.  And because of this trust, Paul was able to partner with God in incredible ways. 

How is our partnership with God?  Do we find the basis for our identity, motivation, and actions in him?  If not, is it because we are not fully taking God at his word?

Keep Pressing,
Ken