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: identity

Who does Jesus say He is?

You had to walk to get anywhere in Bible times.  As they went from town to town, Jesus and his disciples did a lot of walking.  I’m certain that this travel-time was also prime teaching-time.

Matthew 16:13-15
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”  They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others, Elijah; still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But you,” He asked them, “who do you say that I am?”

How would you answer? 

Would you say that he is the Creator? – Because he is (John 1:3).
Would you say that he is the fulfillment of God’s prophecy? – Because he is (Luke 24:44)
Would you say what Peter answered?

Matthew 16:16
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

At the close of Revelation, Jesus answers the question Himself…

Revelation 22:12
“Look, I am coming soon, and My reward is with Me to repay each person according to his work.”

Soon He will fulfill His promise to return…and when He does, Jesus will come with the authority and the right to reward believers for their choices in this life and non-believers for their rejection of who He is.

Jesus then makes a three-fold statement that validates His authority to do so.  All three statements come to the same point – that He rules over all.

Revelation 22:13
I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.

Alpha and Omega were the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.  So, in our terms, Christ is claiming to be “the A to the Z” and by inference, everything in between.  He is the one who initiates and completes humanity’s destiny.

A few verses later, Jesus has this to say about himself:

Revelation 22:16
“I, Jesus, have sent My angel to attest these things to you for the churches.  I am the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

These statements are similar to what Jesus said earlier.  Here again, we see Jesus’ authority as He has command of the angels.  He also states that He was the cause of David’s greatness (as “the Root”) and the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant promises (as “the Offspring”).  Just like all of humanity, Israel’s first great king also found his beginning and end in Christ.

The morning star is the brightest star that shines just before the dawn, and was considered to be the star which announced a new day.  This word picture is a perfect representation of who Christ is at the close of human history.  Jesus is the brightest star in all Creation, and He is announcing the dawn of a new future, an eternity for us to partner with Him.

This.  This is who Christ says He is.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Is Jesus boring?

One of the keys to good parenting that I’ve discovered over the years is to be so predictable that I’m boring…at least when it comes to discipline and behavioral expectations – first for myself, and then for my children.  While it may have looked ‘boring’ at a surface level or even felt ‘boring’ to me, the consistency of my character provided the foundation for relationship with my children.

Especially through their younger years, our relationship always seemed to go smoother when I was most consistent.  It’s as if they took a measure of comfort in knowing not just the boundaries, but who their dad is as a person.  When I was out of sorts, they could sense it, and they became unsteady.  Looking back, the season when I was traveling extensively for work certainly took a toll on our family dynamic.  Dad wasn’t consistently there, and it showed.

However, the flip side also rang true.  The times when I was consistently tuned in to both who I am with God and what my purpose is for my children – those seasons have resulted in some of our best family memories.  (Notice I didn’t say easiest, I said best…and there is often a difference)

My consistency came directly from my connection to God.  He is our ultimate example for the parent-child relationship, such that His consistency of character (from the surface level) may even appear ‘boring’.  But when we lean into His consistency of character, we find the things we cannot achieve anywhere else in life – identity, perspective, foundation, and purpose.

But it’s hard to rely on God for those things.  We struggle with the idea that we must earn everything, including relationships.  We don’t want to admit dependency or, quite frankly, our inner-most need for it.  And this is where the recipients of the letter we call Hebrews were in danger of slipping.  The author had already shown them Jesus’ fulfillment of Mosaic law and superiority over its decrees, but there would be the temptation for them to go back to trying to build a relationship with God based upon what actions they choose.

The author addressed this concern both as a warning and an encouragement:

Hebrews 13:8-9
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Don’t be led astray by various kinds of strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be established by grace and not by foods, since those involved in them have not benefited.

The author says his readers cannot establish their relationship with God due to the ceremonial foods they would eat, or rituals they follow.  The people’s activities were shadows that pointed to Jesus and the relationship with God only He could provide. 

Jesus hasn’t changed.  Jesus doesn’t change.  Who He was in the Old Testament, who He is in the New Testament, and who He will be in eternity future is the same Great God who loves us unconditionally, entirely based upon grace.

If you come across any teaching that even suggests otherwise, don’t be led astray.  Reject such foolishness.  We cannot earn God’s love, by cash now or on credit later.  We cannot do enough good things today to earn the start of a relationship with Jesus.  We cannot do enough good deeds later to justify His investment of eternal life in us.  No matter what we’ve done, are doing, or will do – our standing with God is entirely established by grace.

We will not find His consistency boring; rather His consistent character will show us our true identity, proper perspective, a solid foundation, a life’s purpose, and a heart established by grace.  Most of all, His consistent character shows us…Him.

Don’t be led astray.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

The ultimate blended family

What am I going to do?

The feeling of being helpless is more familiar than any of us care to admit.

We’re in a situation, or given some information…and we just don’t know how to process it, let alone what our best next step will be.  It’s in those moments that we want to look to someone with more experience, someone to show us how to deal with what life has brought our way.

Paul knew that the believers in Ephesus would be looking to Timothy with those kinds of questions.  The city was a huge cultural and spiritual mish-mash, and Timothy’s mission was to provide guidance and support to those in the church family.  Knowing the challenges Timothy would face, Paul sent him a letter.  About halfway through, Paul explains his motivation for writing:

1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon.  But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Paul doesn’t know the future.  He has a strong desire to minister side-by-side with his protégé again…but just in case he is delayed, Paul made sure Timothy knew how to support the people in the church.

I love the way Paul described those people, too…I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household.  We’re all part of God’s household.  Not God’s business.  Not God’s club.  Not God’s military, or any other socially-structured group.  We’re all part of God’s family. 

Being a family is hard.  And we’re not necessarily good at being a family with those with whom we share blood ties and genetics…so how are we supposed to be a household when we weren’t even raised in similar contexts?

Those are the legitimate questions the Ephesian believers are going to be asking Timothy.  If you were in his place, how would you answer them?

Stop and think of an answer before moving on…the church is the ultimate example of a ‘blended family’…so how do we make this household actually function as a family?

Paul actually gives us the answer.  God’s householdis the church of the living God.  We don’t define us as a family – belonging to the living Creator of the Universe is what ties us together as a family.  God is our pillar and foundation of the truth

This is no small thing.  In fact, Paul goes on to say:

1 Timothy 3:16
And most certainly, the mystery of godliness is great:

The concept of being in God’s household is, in the Greek, a megas-mysterion.  It is so large, that it has to be explained to us before we can really understand it.  But why is it that way, why can’t it be easy to live as part of God’s household?

Interestingly enough, Paul then quotes a hymn reminding Timothy of the greatness of our Savior:

He was manifested in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit,
seen by angels,
preached among the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
taken up in glory.

Since Christ is so unique among all other proposed gods that the world looks to…it makes sense that being part of God’s household would mean that, at times, we’ll need help figuring out what to do next.  But that’s why we have mentors, and why it’s so important for us to mentor others.

Being part of God’s household means that we are connected to each other in the deepest, most unique way possible…it’s not always easy to be family…but it is who He created us to be.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Dividing Lines

Throughout the centuries, people have divided over a variety issues or a person’s status in society.  Most, if not all, of these divisions can be placed into four basic categories – national distinctions, religious distinctions, cultural distinctions, and economic distinctions.  We use these divisions to define identity and responsibility, both for ourselves and for others.

Halfway through his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul gives instructions to watch carefully over the attitude of their hearts and the words that they say.  His reason is based upon their new identity in Christ:

Colossians 3:9-10
…you have put off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator.

Although their new identity was based solely on the new man and no longer on the old man, it can be hard to let go of some of the previous distinctions.  Before Christ, their differences often determined if societal rules or expectations applied to them.  Roman citizens had rights that non-citizens did not.  Circumcised Jews avoided dealing with anyone who was uncircumcised.  Economics and social status also played a huge role in how the laws were applied.

In case anyone in Colossae thought that Paul’s directions about the attitude of their hearts and the words they speak somehow didn’t apply to them because of their background or current status, Paul continued:

Colossians 3:11
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

All are welcome to join God’s family.  There are no exclusions, no distinctions as to who gets in.  We all come through the same doorway of faith in Jesus.  Once we are in the family, the old lines for division no longer define who we are.  Instead, our identity is in Christ…and as such, we are all on equal footing.  With equal footing comes equal responsibility for participating in our growth, our being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator.

If Jesus loves us so much that He now dwells in all – regardless of our background, our nationality, our level of sophistication, our education, or our economic status – then it is not too much for us to accept Him as all we need to be like.

It’s time to leave our old habits and sinful practices behind us.  No exclusions.  No excuses.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Undercutting relationships

After warning the Colossian believers to pay attention to the negative, selfish words that can come out of their mouths, he gives one last warning about a type of speech that has the potential to destroy a relationship.

Colossians 3:9-10
Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator.

When my boys were young, there were only two misbehaviors that would warrant getting spanked.  The first was willful disobedience – we give a direction, they would blatantly defy.  The second type of behavior that would result in spanking was considered much worse than the first – lying.

We typically lie to someone else in an attempt to make ourselves look better or to maintain someone else’s impression of us…that we’re really rather nice, or have disposable income, or not rude, or not selfish.  Sometimes we tell ourselves that we lie only to protect others or ourselves; but in reality, lies only protect the façade we’re trying to project.  When the truth comes out – and it eventually does – we find that the lie we used for “protection” has now severely undercut the relationship.

This is why we made such a big deal about lying with our children.  When a parent lies to a child, or a child to his parent, their relationship is taken out at the knees.  While trust in a specific instance was violated by the lying, we justifiably begin to wonder “When else has that person lied to me?”. 

The same thing happens in God’s family when we lie to each other.  Seeds of mistrust will eventually lead to a harvest of dysfunction.

Paul says that our habit of lying can be set aside, like all of our sinful tendencies, as we continue to identify with who we are now in Jesus instead of being like who we were before we met Jesus.  We put on the new man when we first trusted Jesus as our Savior.  Our identity is forever wrapped up in His, however, that is just the start of our relationship.

Paul says that our identity is being renewed, or growing up, in knowledge according to the image of [our] Creator.  The better we know our Savior and Creator, the faster we grow up in our new identity. 

When we recognize who we are and how well we’re loved in Christ…we won’t need to promote a façade, we’ll see that there’s no reason to lie about ourselves. 

So our lying habit won’t be fixed by washing our mouths out with soap, putting a dollar in a jar whenever we get caught, or by promising to do better next time.  The fix for our brokenness is found in spending time with Jesus.  Are we taking the time to develop in the knowledge of our Creator?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Some habits need to die

As Paul transitions from teaching the Colossian believers about God to teaching them practical ways to live out their relationship with God, there is a very specific concept that he wishes to convey to his readers.  Paul tells them that when we trust that Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins, we are identifying with His death and also identifying with His resurrected life.

Colossians 3:2-4
Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.  When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

Since we have died with Christ to the elemental forces of this world, there are some habits and ways of our previous life that need to die also. 

Colossians 3:5-7
Therefore, put to death whatever in you is worldly: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, God’s wrath comes on the disobedient, and you once walked in these things when you were living in them.

Just as our past sins were counted against Jesus and were buried in His tomb, our sinful lifestyles and thinking habits also need to die.  Paul gets real specific about what choices and behaviors will stir up God’s wrath, and his warning here makes it clear that believers can still struggle with these issues.

Don’t skip over Paul’s list just because he starts with sexual immorality.  If we have never had a full-blown affair, it doesn’t mean we’re completely immune from it happening.  In fact, if we continue down Paul’s list, we find a dangerously linked chain of motivations…with the root of sexual immorality being something we all struggle with.

The preceding behavior to committing sexual immorality is to tolerate a level of impurity in our lives.  The Greek word for impurity relates to moral filthiness, especially in regard to sexual sin.  Behind the moral filthiness is lust, which is an inordinate affection or improper passion that we cultivate in our thoughts.  Lust is always born out of evil desires – when we nurture a craving and desire for what is forbidden. 

Paul then relates these evil desires back to greed.  We typically think of greed when it comes to money; however, at its core greed is a selfish, burning desire to acquire more of something or a coveting of what isn’t rightfully yours.  The deeply buried root to all of this is idolatryGreed starts in us whenever we trust something or someone more than we trust in God, because at that point we are giving ourselves to an idol.

From this chain of behaviors, we can clearly see how one thing leads to another…how a mistrust of God can lead us all the way down the path to sexual immorality.  It doesn’t happen overnight…the process is typically subtle, until one day we wake up wondering how it all happened.

Paul’s point is that wherever you find yourself on the spectrum, at that point you need to kill it.  The process cannot be allowed to continue to grow until we reach full-blown rebellion in sexual immorality.  Up until this point, the sinful progression and most of the damage done is specific to our own lives.  When we give into the sin of sexual immorality, there is going to be a significant amount of permanent damage done to all relationships in our own life and in the life of anyone who participates with us. 

The key to aborting this cycle is in Paul’s direction to put to death whatever in you is worldly.  To put to death is an active, action choice we can make.  The Greek word means to cut off, starve off, and deprive of power.  Whatever behavior or thought-process in our lives that is leading us down this path needs to be completely abandoned.  We must make the choice to cut off and starve these feelings. 

A few ways to practically do this:

·          Avoid the internet when you’re bored late at night
·          Avoid getting infatuated with new acquaintances of the opposite sex
·        Avoid comparing your spouse to others
·        Install Covenant Eyes or some other accountability software
·        Relationship issues are not discussed with someone of the opposite sex
·        Choose contentment with what we have – both things and relationships

There are many other ways to deprive power from this sinful cycle.  There are also many ministries aimed at providing help, as we all deal these desires.  We must talk to safe, Godly friends about where we’re struggling.  Making a list of situations to avoid will help, but the best way to put to death whatever in you is worldly is to replace those things with setting your mind on what is above.

What we dwell on, what we think about, will ultimately direct our actions.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Identity and fear

The believers in Colossae were dealing with a barrage of spiritual ideas and false teachings.  After giving them a general warning about these dangerous influences, Paul begins to discuss several of the false teachings directly.  From Paul’s comments in the following section, it seems as if the false teachers were “ok” with Jesus, but they also had their own additions or subtle changes about who Jesus was.

Colossians 2:8-10
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.  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.

The primary question each of us must answer is “Who is Jesus?”.  In comparison to all other religions and belief systems, Jesus uniquely claims to be both God and man. 

Throughout the centuries, however, people have tried in many different ways to diminish this characteristic of Jesus.  Some have taught that Jesus was just a spirit and only appeared to be human.  There have been claims that Jesus was a man who had some God-like ability.  Others have stated that he was only partially divine – similar to the Greek’s demi-god legends. 

Alternative theories about Jesus’ true nature are still around today.  We hear things like “Jesus was a great teacher” or “Jesus was a man who had God’s spirit on him for a short time, but it left him as he died on the cross”.   

However, Paul stresses to the Colossians that these other explanations about Jesus’ nature are completely inadequate.  Jesus was both fully God and fully man.  He wasn’t just a great human teacher.  He wasn’t just another human philosopher.  He wasn’t just a religious leader.  He wasn’t even partially God, or like a Greek demi-God…Jesus was the entire fullness of God’s nature in bodily form.

Understanding this concept – that Jesus is fully God and fully man – is critical as we understand our new identity within the family of God.  The fullness of our Creator, what makes Him who He is…that identity has been passed on to every believer. 

Stop and think about that…we are directly identified with the King of the Universe.

Since Jesus is fully God and fully man, He was the only one qualified to offer His life as a ransom for ours.  Because of His death and resurrection, He is head over every ruler and authority.

Since we are identified with the One in charge of everything, we do not need to fear any other ruler or authority.  What a freeing thought!

When we find that freedom and the strength that comes with it, no other philosophy or teaching will take us captive – because we know Jesus as He truly is.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The heart of the matter

We commonly use the word “heart” to indicate the center of a person.  We think of our hearts, and not our heads, as holding our emotions and passions.  This kind of thinking isn’t isolated to us modern folks, either.  In fact, the ancients took the metaphor of what our hearts contain even further then we do.

To them, the heart was considered to be the seat of the inner self (composed of life, soul, mind, and spirit).  It was where all parts that make you actually “you” reside and are sorted out.

Keep this definition in mind as you read about Paul’s desire to present everyone mature in Christ, since he says the maturity we need to develop begins in the heart:

Colossians 1:28-29
We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.  I labor for this, striving with His strength that works powerfully in me.

Colossians 2:1-3
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you, for those in Laodicea, and for all who have not seen me in person.  I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding, and have the knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ.  In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

Paul’s desired maturity in believers begins with ensuring that the inner parts of you that make up “you” are both encouraged and joined together with fellow believers. 

We need to be admonished, strengthened, and cheered on by the believers around us.  We have a desire to be united with others and know that we are not alone.  Notice, though, that Paul is specific in how we are both encouraged and joined together.  And even though the context of our encouragement and togetherness is found in love, Paul isn’t just talking about nice-to-have, squishy feelings.  Earlier, Paul used the same agape word for love when he discussed how God the Father felt about Jesus:

Colossians 1:13
He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves

Paul also used the same agape word for love when he described how the Colossians had been treating each other:

Colossians 1:4
for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints

Only a love that penetrates to our hearts could save us, and it’s the same kind of love that develops and matures us.  Loving each other the way God the Father loves God the Son will bring the encouragement and togetherness that we need from one another.  Continuing in this kind of love is a foundational step in our maturity as sons and daughters of God.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Identity and practice

Colossians 1:1-2
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother:
To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

After identifying himself and his protégé Timothy as the senders of the letter, Paul’s greeting is loaded of interesting word choices.  His letters’ introductions typically contained an allusion or preview of his intended focus.

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae.

The Greek word for saints means sacred or holy, and the word is often used in the New Testament in reference to believers.  To be holy is to be set apart for God and His purposes.

Paul also calls his recipients faithful brothers.  While the term for faithful means someone who is trustworthy and faithful, it generally referred to someone who had shown themselves faithful in executing business transactions, in following commands, or performing duties.

Whenever we look up terms, it’s a good idea to go back to the verse and paraphrase it with our new understanding:

This letter is sent to those who are uniquely set apart for God’s purpose, the ones who are faithful and trustworthy family members – the people who are in Christ’s family and living in Colossae.

So whatever Paul has to say in this letter, his intended audience are those who already believe Christ for eternal life.  Paul didn’t write this letter to evangelize a group of non-believers; instead, his topics are primarily for an in-house discussion.  Remembering Paul’s target audience will help us as we interpret his words. 

Also keep in mind that out of all the letters Paul wrote – in his introductions, he referred to only two churches as being faithful – Colossae and Ephesus.

While they were saints in their position before God, they were faithful brothers because of what they did in the practice.

Paul wants them to remember their identity as saints in Christ.  How they live is an outpouring of who they are and who they understand themselves to be in Christ.  Although the Colossian church was doing well in this regard, Paul would continue to emphasize these two themes of identity and practice.  Later on in the letter, he explains why these themes are so important:

Colossians 1:28
We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

If we’re struggling and not being faithful in our God-given responsibilities, we’re not going to mature.  Perhaps it’s because we’ve forgotten our identity as saints in Christ.

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