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: instruction

How to be rich and live richly

We discovered last time that we’re rich.  Richly rich.  That if we make over $32,400 per year ($15.59/hour)…we’re in the top 1% of the world.  But we also found out that no matter what our income amounts to, we shouldn’t feel guilty that we have wealth, because God richly provides us with all things to enjoy

God gives good gifts, and gifts are given for the enjoyment of the one receiving it.  Maybe someone got a better gift than you, and it doesn’t seem fair…however, our jealousy tends to evaporate once we expand our comparison circle to include the rest of the world.

So now that we know we’re rich, what do we do?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught:

Matthew 6:19-21
Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

A few observations:
·        Jesus gave no indication that being wealthy in this life (or the next) is wrong.
·        What is considered valuable now is not going to be what is considered valuable in the next life.
·        How we obtain wealth in this life is not how we store up treasures for the next life.

During his ministry, Jesus met many rich folks who didn’t handle their wealth very well in light of eternity.  A few examples include the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22), also the Pharisees and their scribes (Luke 5:29-31).  The rich were also featured in Jesus’ parables as bad examples of how to live life in the present age (Luke 12:13-21, Luke 16:19-31, and Luke 18:9-14).

So, what should us rich 1%ers do?  What does God consider the right way to handle the wealth He’s given us?

Paul addressed that topic in his instructions to Timothy:

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

Being rich in the age to come means being other-focused in the present age.  Whether we make $15,000 a year or $1,500,000 a year – what we do with what God has given us will determine the foundation of our lives in the next life.

That thought just blows me away, so dwell on it for just a moment with me.  Everything in this life is building *only* the foundation for our lives in eternity.  What we build, the work we do, the experiences we will have in the next life…are going to be based upon the choices we make in the present age.

My mentor, Joe, would tell me often “This life is just boot camp for the next.”  C.S. Lewis wrote that our present lives are simply the cover and the title page…when we enter Eternity future, we will begin Chapter 1 of the Great Story that never ends, where each chapter is better than the one before.

Partnering with God now affects how we can partner with God in Eternity.  We should absolutely enjoy the gifts God has given us, but don’t enjoy them selfishly.  Do goodBe rich in good worksBe generousBe willing to share.

Lay a good foundation for the age to come.  Find and take hold of life that is real.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Legitimate help for legitimate needs

Whenever we see someone with a financial need, there’s always an underlying tension to deal with. 

What’s the best way to help them, without making them dependent or having my “help” end up being detrimental?

We want to help where we can…but only for legitimate needs.  We silently wish for criteria or even a flow chart to make the “Do I help or not?” decision for us.  But then we’re afraid that evaluating a person’s situation via a formula is too cold, not very loving, and when we consider each person’s financial need has different factors and influences…we quickly feel overwhelmed, even paralyzed.

The church family in Ephesus must have had similar struggles, because Paul spends a large section of his letter to Timothy discussing how to handle the support of widows within the church.  As mentioned before, widowhood was a serious situation for women in the ancient world.  They were not typically the direct heir of their husband’s will, and income generating options were limited, at best.  Additionally, if the husband was poor, he may not have left much for his wife to live on.

Before we read Paul’s criteria to Timothy for helping widows within the church, we need to understand a little bit about life expectancy in the ancient world.  Although the age of 60 was when a person was considered an “old man” or “old woman”, in the time between the Old Testament and the New Testament, the average life expectancy for a woman was 36 years.  This was mainly due to the significant risk of dying during childbirth; however, the men were not fairing much better, as they were only living on average up to 45 years.

Ladies, imagine condensing your life down to just 36 years.  Guys, yours to only 45 years.  Needs, wants, plans, opportunities all look different on a shortened timeline.  Keep that in mind as you read through Paul’s criteria:

1 Timothy 5:9-10
No widow should be placed on the official support list unless she is at least 60 years old, has been the wife of one husband, and is well known for good works – that is, if she has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saints’ feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to every good work.

There’s a fair bit of structure to this widow-helping program.  With an official support list, we see that this program is to provide elderly widows with long-term support (nor does this prevent the church from assisting in one-time, immediate needs).  The requirement for her to be the wife of one husband doesn’t mean she’s disqualified if her husband previously died, she re-married, and then her second husband died.  Rather, this is a prohibition on support those who have been in polygamous relationships.  This matches up well with the rest of Paul’s conduct expectations – he is instructing Timothy about the importance of asking “Does her life represent Jesus to others?

However, he also gives Timothy this warning:

1 Timothy 5:11-13
But refuse to enroll younger widows; for when they are drawn away from Christ by desire, they want to marry, and will therefore receive condemnation because they have renounced their original pledge.  At the same time, they also learn to be idle, going from house to house; they are not only idle, but are also gossips and busybodies, saying things they shouldn’t say.

This widow-helping program wasn’t going to be a monthly stipend check and then she does whatever she wants.  The church family expected that those who received support would work on behalf of the church within the community.  The widows would pledge their lives to this work, forsaking any additional marriage relationship…in a sense, they were “married to Christ”.  However, the normal desires of family life would likely be too much for the younger widows to fully abstain from once they made their pledge.  Additionally, the younger widows would not have developed the discipline that the older women had learned.  As widow-representatives, the reputation of Jesus and the entire church would be severely damaged by them saying things they shouldn’t say.

1 Timothy 5:14-16
Therefore, I want younger women to marry, have children, manage their households, and give the adversary no opportunity to accuse us.  For some have already turned away to follow Satan.  If any believing woman has widows, she should help them, and the church should not be burdened, so that it can help those who are genuinely widows.

The purpose of this criteria is to ensure that the church can help those who are genuinely widows.  We want to meet legitimate needs; therefore, we must have a way of evaluating the requests that come to the church.

God likes order.  We see it in creation.  We see it the structure of relationships.  We shouldn’t be all that surprised when we find that He also expects our giving to be thoughtful and purposeful.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Women and church leadership (part 1)

When dealing with difficult passages, we need to remember three rules:
1.   Context is key.
2.   We interpret a passage we are unsure of in light of passages we are certain of.
3.   We let the author speak for himself

Much of Paul’s letter to Timothy talks about rebutting and correcting false teachers that were influencing the church in Ephesus.  He addresses topics and groups within the church that were being swayed by these teachers, including marriage, food, wealth, men, women, and church leadership.  In this next passage, Paul takes a moment to address the question of women in church leadership.

1 Timothy 2:9-12
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

A woman should learn in silence with full submission.  I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.

It’s statements like these, especially when taken out of context, that cause a lot of strife within the modern church.  However, before we dismiss Paul’s instructions as being old-fashioned or oppressive, let’s consider some context.

Paul’s direction here is for women who affirm that they worship God, and as such, this passage falls under the theme of the previous context.  Paul began this section with instructions for all believers.  He stressed the importance of living a quiet and tranquil life, one displaying godliness and dignity in such a way that our lives become a “walking witness” for the God we have a direct relationship with. 

Paul moves from how women who worship God present themselves publicly and then immediately moves to how she can be learning.  That may seem like an unusual transition, given the culture of the time.  There were not a lot of education options for women in the ancient world, as all of the formal teachings and instructions went to men.  When he says that a woman should learn, we can observe that Paul is counter-culturally giving the women of the church an equal opportunity with the men of the church to be learners of God’s Word.

Now let’s look at the ‘how’ a woman should learn.  The Greek word for silence doesn’t mean “not talking”; instead, it refers to someone with a stable quietness who doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others or act in an unruly manner.  Additionally, the Greek word translated as submission means to “rank under”.  Just like in military settings, rank has to do with order and authority, not personal superiority or inferiority.  In fact, the teaching style of the day held an expectation that a pupil would do all their learning with both of these two characteristics – silence and submission.  As such, Paul isn’t suppressing women here – instead, he is holding them to the same expectations as the male learners.

Understanding Paul’s word choice also helps us interpret why he says I do not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man.  The verbs teach and have authority are both in the present tense, which implies a continuing ministry rather than a single instance of ministry.  Additionally, the word for have authority over is unique in comparison to the typical Greek word chosen to describe someone in a higher ranking position.  Instead, Paul is describing a woman who acts without accountability, who domineers as an absolute master within the church family.  By recognizing that the context immediately after this passage gives specific qualifications for church overseers and deacons, we begin to see that Paul’s prohibition here specifically addresses only the official teaching and ruling ministry of the church.

While the current cultural and educational settings would have been familiar to the Ephesian church, Paul doesn’t appeal to those cultural norms to justify his instruction.  Instead, he looks back to God’s initial creation: 

1 Timothy 2:13
For Adam was created first, then Eve. 

We’ll get deeper into Paul’s reasoning for referencing back to God’s initial design for the family in the next post.  And in the text that follows, we’ll observe that Paul gives specific criteria for the men who want to be in the overseer or deacon roles.  We’ll see that God’s standard for those roles is quite lofty, and that they carry the risk of significant punishment for those who mishandle the position.

For now, though, because we took the time to examine the text, can see that Paul’s direction isn’t some off-the-cuff, all-women-are-slaves-to-all-men kind of idea.  Paul is addressing a specific leadership situation within the church family.  His directions are not a prohibition on women leading in business, government, or even other sub-groups within the church family. 

Instead, we’ve discovered how this passage fits into the theme of this section in Paul’s letter to Timothy.  Proper dress, a right attitude, and orderly church-family leadership are all ways that Paul directs women to flesh out their part of all believers’ responsibility to lead a tranquil and quiet life, with both godliness and dignity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Getting specific

Sometimes when I am presented with an important teaching, I need a little help to flesh out exactly how this new concept applies to where I’m at.  As such, I love it when a speaker moves from the theoretical to the practical. 

Paul has just given Timothy instruction on the importance of the believers in Ephesus to lead a tranquil and quiet life, a life that is characterized by both godliness and dignity.  This kind of life will stand out to those outside God’s family and will serve a launching pad for telling others about Jesus.  (see 1 Timothy 2:1-7).

Thankfully, Paul moves quickly to give Timothy instruction for how the believers in Ephesus can display these characteristics.

1 Timothy 2:8
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.

The first task for the men is to lead in prayer.  The importance of this task in each family and within God’s family cannot be understated.  Since the men are to act as the leader and High Priest for their family, as well as provide leadership within the church, their individual connection to God must be a top priority.

Paul’s practical instruction also comes with specifics about their posture and attitude in prayer – both of which reveal the focus of their heart toward God and others.  While lifting up…hands in prayer was a common “prayer position” in ancient days, it was more of a symbolic gesture meant to convey the person’s inner openness to God.  Throughout Scripture, a person’s hands are also symbolic of their activities, and Paul description of lifting up holy hands suggests that as the men pray, the offering of their daily actions are undefiled by sin and free from wickedness.

When a man focuses on devotion to prayer and godly conduct, and does them without anger or argument, the world will plainly see the difference God can make in a man’s life.

Paul also has specific instruction for the women in the Ephesian church so that they, too, know how to best represent God to the culture around them.

1 Timothy 2:9-10
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

Keep in mind that these instructions were written to believers.  These women, especially the wealthy ones, would set an example within the church family.  If an unbeliever comes in with little means, they could begin to wonder if you have to be rich in order to be saved.  Another potential issue could arise if another believer has little means, they could conclude that they aren’t favored by God because others have so much more to display.  Additionally, there is a risk of division among even the affluent believers.  The exorbitant displays of wealth among them will cause problems as egos rise as they try to outdo one another in dress, hairstyle, and jewelry.

Paul’s contrast here is really between works and wardrobe.  How is a woman displaying her understanding of value within God’s family?  The ancient upper class women would spend an excessive amount of time on their elaborate hairstyles and expensive apparel; these things would draw attention to themselves rather than to the God they claim to serve.  Paul says that a woman’s value isn’t in the perfection of her outward appearance, rather her beauty comes from her decency and good sense.  Both of these lead to a reputation of good works and point others toward God.

Paul’s directions to both groups cut against our natural, self-promoting tendencies…which is precisely why the world will notice the difference God makes in a person’s life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

There are only three ways we learn

When comes to how we learn and develop in life, there are really only three ways to do it.  We can learn because we’re taught by instruction, we can learn by watching someone else’s example, or we can learn the hard way.  The problem with the hard way is that it’s hard.

Since this is true for all of us, we are each responsible for how we choose to learn.  The biggest difficulty we have with this process typically isn’t that we have to make tough choices for ourselves; we tend to accept that.  Instead, we struggle with the decisions that other people we love and care for have to deal with.

This tension most often reveals itself in the parent-child relationship.  As our child grows older, we parents must learn to let go, little by little, and allow our understudy to chance to flex his or her decisive muscle.

Paul knew this as well.  Take a look at how he instructs his adult child in the faith:

1 Timothy 1:18-20
Timothy, my child, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you, so that by them you may strongly engage in battle, having faith and a good conscience.  Some have rejected these and have suffered the shipwreck of their faith.  Hymenaeus and Alexander are among them, and I have delivered them to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme.

No matter which way we’ve chosen to learn the lessons of life, career, and faith…we cannot make the learning choice for anyone else, especially not for our children.  We can only lovingly give them instruction, trust them to make their own choices, and allow them to deal with the consequences – good or bad.

Paul wants Timothy to make the right choices and continue to walk with God, so he points out an example for Timothy where someone else has rejected instruction and suffered the consequences.  Due to their choice to reject instruction, properly grounded faith, and a good conscience before God, there are those in the church who have suffered greatly.  For a shipwreck to be salvaged, it requires a massive undertaking.  A shipwrecked faith isn’t one that is lost forever, but the damage done is severe and will require a lot of intentional work to be fully repaired.

Paul gets specific and names names here.  Timothy needs to know how high the stakes are for his choices.  If he persists in Paul’s instruction and what has been revealed to him by God, then he will be able to strongly engage in battle, having faith and a good conscience.  However, if Timothy takes the easy road, or follows false teachings, he will travel down the same path as Hymenaeus and Alexander.

Both Hymenaeus and Alexander have done significant damage to their relationship with God and also with those inside the church family.  Their heresy was so great that they actually blasphemed God, which means their teaching was so twisted it was, in fact, full of slanderous lies that insulted God’s character.  In his second letter to Timothy, Paul warns that Hymenaeus’ teaching was equivalent to gangrene, that he had deviated from the truth, and he was responsible for overturning the faith of some – see 2 Timothy 2:17-18.

As such, drastic steps had to be taken against someone who intentionally diverged away from the faith and was dragging others down with him.  Paul’s statement of “I have delivered them to Satan” most likely refers to some form of excommunication, either temporary or permanent.  Hymenaeus and Alexander were in need of a spiritual wake up call, and Paul was hopeful that exposure to the Satan-governed outside world would bring them to their senses – much like the prodigal son.

However, Timothy still had a choice to make…and as such, so does each of us.  I can’t choose for you.  Your pastor can’t choose for you.  And we can’t choose for our children.  We have to decide, and then act upon our decision.

Will we listen to instruction and what God has revealed to us?
Will we learn from the examples of others?
Or will we have to learn the hard way?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

 

Fulfilling His plans for us

Ever wish that God would just tell you what He has specifically planned for your life?  Maybe not all the details, but at least how He desires for us to partner with Him?  Very rarely was God that clear and specific with anyone in Scripture; however, God did foretell some details to one of Paul’s young protégés.

At some point while he was growing up, Timothy was told by God that he would do great things in ministry.  Paul knew of these prophecies; however, he also knew that Timothy still had work to do in order to fulfill what had been foretold about him.

1 Timothy 1:18-19
Timothy, my child, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you, so that by them you may strongly engage in battle, having faith and a good conscience.

Paul gave Timothy pointed instruction – both previously and in his current letter – for a specific reason: Paul wanted to encourage his child so that he could fulfill what God had designed him to do. 

Paul wasn’t trying to build Timothy up just so he felt good about himself, either.  Paul was looking forward to the time when Timothy was able to strongly engage in battle.  This phrase was spoken of a commander who would lead soldiers to war.  Timothy was to take Paul’s instructions, combine them with the special knowledge God had revealed to him, and then choose to apply them as he led an entire congregation of believers.

Timothy’s fulfillment of the prophecies previously made about him were conditional on his choices and actions.  Notice the Paul used the word may.  He had every confidence that Timothy could courageously lead the church in Ephesus, otherwise Paul would not have left him there and in charge.  But Timothy was still responsible to make use of the instruction and spiritual gifts that had been given to him.

Now I’ve never been given a prophecy about how I would serve God and point others to Him.  I suspect you haven’t, either.  Yet we do have special knowledge from God that even Timothy didn’t have – we have the entire Bible.  We can hold in our hands the complete revelation from God which details His plans both for and with humanity.

Our ability to achieve what God has planned for us to do is also contingent, just like Timothy.  If we are willing to take the instructions of our mentors, combine them with God’s revelation, and then choose to apply them…God’s design for us will be fulfilled.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A note of encouragement

Remember your first “big assignment”?

You have learned, observed, asked questions, learned some more…and then, it was time.  Your boss gave you a task and then went on vacation.  The director stepped aside, and you were the only person on stage.  Your teacher put you in charge of the class – and then left.  How ever your situation came about, suddenly you found yourself working without a net.

If that sounds familiar, then you can empathize with Timothy. 

Timothy spent years working side by side with Paul.  He’s seen the good and the bad, the easy days and the hard days.  Together they have lived life, worshiped God, shared the gospel, and strengthened the faith of believers.  Timothy had started the church in Ephesus with Paul, and they ministered there for two years.  Now, years later, they have come back to Ephesus…however, this time Paul is moving on and Timothy is staying behind.

Ephesus was the third largest city in the Roman empire, with over 250,000 people living there.  It was also the regional capital, a bustling commercial center, and an important seaport.  Ephesus was a true melting pot of Middle East culture, and the people who became Christians had a wide-ranging background of religious experiences.  As many as 50 different gods and goddesses were worshiped there.  Other religious communities included Jewish religious practices and those who practiced magic, shamanism, and the occult arts.  The city was cosmopolitan on many levels, and the group of people who believed in Jesus for eternal life no doubt had a fair bit of baggage, a number of questions, and a need for guidance as to how this whole “life in Christ” thing is supposed to work out.

This is Timothy’s mission field.

It would be one thing to lead people with your mentor in an environment like that…it would be a whole ‘nother challenge if he left you in charge – but that’s what Paul did.

Imagine how Timothy felt, after he had been doing his best and some time had passed, when one day he received a letter:

1 Timothy 1:1-2
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus, our hope:

To Timothy, my true child in the faith.

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul had written Timothy a letter of encouragement and instruction.  Right from the beginning, you can see Paul’s affection for Timothy – my true child in the faith.  These words would have breathed new life into the young man.  However, Paul’s words for Timothy weren’t sunshine and fluff.  In fact, Paul recognizes much of what he talks about as being hard…and that’s exactly why he writes to encourage Timothy to keep up the good work.  About halfway through his letter, Paul says

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

Paul doesn’t write Timothy to tell him how to share the gospel; Timothy knows how to do that.  Instead, Paul gives Timothy advice and encouragement for how to know what God expects of His family in the midst of mixed-up culture.  Even from a distance, Paul continues to support and exhort his young protégé. 

That is a great observation for us to take ahold of – mentoring doesn’t always happen side-by-side.  A note of encouragement can go a long way toward strengthening a person and keeping them focused on their Godly mission.  And that’s just the beginning.  We’re also going to take a look at what Paul had to say and how it was helpful to Timothy.  We have much to learn from their example.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Finding guidance

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

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

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

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

However, my assumed meaning was not correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Final greetings and a warning

As Paul closes out his letter to the believers in Colossae, he has some specific instructions for the few people he knows in the area. 

Colossians 4:15-18
Give my greetings to the brothers in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.  And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.  And tell Archippus, “Pay attention to the ministry you have received in the Lord, so that you can accomplish it.”  This greeting is in my own hand – Paul.  Remember my imprisonment.  Grace be with you.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be Archippus?

Paul essentially calls him out before the entire congregation…and to whomever would eventually read the Colossian letter.  The next time someone is introduced to Archippus, I could imagine the conversation going something like:

“Nice to meet you.  Oh, you’re Archippus?  Have you accomplished the ministry God gave you?”

I’m sure Archippus had some mixed emotions when he heard the letter read to the church – feeling some encouragement from Paul, but also feeling a little pressure, too.

However, that’s what good encouragers do.  The help us see the correct path, and then they give us a nudge in that direction.  But we have to be the ones to take the steps and do the ministry that God gives to each of us.

This blog doesn’t write itself.  In order to continue the ministry that Joe started years ago and later handed off to me, I have several things that I must pay attention to.  My own study of God’s Word, my work schedule, my family schedule, and all the other curve balls that life throws at us…all of them must be juggled intentionally in order for me to accomplish the task that God has given to me.

There are times when writing is more difficult than others.  There have been times where I’m writing blogs weeks ahead of when they are posted…but there have been many more times when I’m writing late into Tuesday or Thursday night for something that will post the next morning.  Sometimes the observations come easily, but other times I struggle to find the correct interpretation of a passage.  However, knowing that God is allowing me to partner with Him in this way is a great motivator.  The occasional note back from someone who can either relate to or apply what I write has also been encouraging.

Paul’s point is that we can’t accomplish the ministry God gives us unless we actively pay attention to it.  We cannot be lazy in our efforts and expect God to pick up our slack.  He paid the penalty for our sins because there was no alternative, no way for us to do it.  However, if God hands us a ministry, then He knows we can accomplish it…with the right amount of effort.

Looking back through Paul’s letter to the Colossians, his main focus was to encourage them on to maturity.  One of the best ways to demonstrate and develop our maturity as believers is to pay attention and take care of what God has given us to do.

What opportunities has God placed before you to minister to the people around you?  Don’t compare your ministry to other people’s.  Look at the lives around you, who can you reach?  Are you paying enough attention so you can do what He has given you to do?

In order to accomplish our given task, we have to make hard choices about how we spend our time.  We have all the time in the world to do whatever we think is most important.  How important is the ministry we have received from the Lord?  I encourage you to pay attention and go for it!

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Receiving personal instruction

In one of my year-long college courses, I was fortunate enough that the professor who taught the class had also written the text book.  This might not seem like a big deal from the outside looking in, but it made a huge difference in how we learned from him.  We knew that what he taught us in the morning was going to be reiterated in the same style and with the same emphasis as we read the text in the evening. 

Prof could easily explain how the different sections fit together and even cross-referenced chapters as we were being taught.  He knew the exact layout and intention of each part of the text because he was the one who had put it all together.  There was never any conflict between the teaching and the text – they were from the same man.  Not only was the text well-written for the subject matter, but the class became almost like a personal tutoring session with the author.

We get the same dynamic as we go through the Scriptures.  Although it took hundreds of years and many different authors to complete the text, God superintended the process such that it all hangs together as one, and communicates truth directly from the Creator of Everything to each of us individually.

The author of Psalm 119 did more than just acknowledged this reality of Scripture – he enjoyed it thoroughly.  Take a look through this section and note the role God’s Word plays in the author’s relationship with God.

Psalm 119:97-104
How I love Your teaching!  It is my meditation all day long.
Your command makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me.
I have more insight than all my teachers because Your decrees are my meditation.
I understand more than the elders because I obey Your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path to follow Your word.
I have not turned from Your judgments, for You Yourself have instructed me.
How sweet Your word is to my taste – sweeter than honey to my mouth.
I gain understanding from Your precepts; therefore I hate every false way.

The psalmist doesn’t distinguish between communicating with God and reading the Scriptures, they are interactions with the same person.  The psalmist gives the reason why he follows what God has taught him when he says for You Yourself have instructed me.  He trusted God’s teaching because it was coming from God Himself.  Nothing was second-hand, there was no need for an interpreter or any guess-work.

And just look at the results of this personal instruction from the Lord – success over enemies, gaining insight and wisdom, the ability to avoid every evil path, gaining understanding, and he can also recognize every false way.  The psalmist has become fully mature because his instruction has been taken directly from the Lord.

The Lord will mature and develop us as well.  He’s ready to give each of us personal, one-on-one instruction.  The teacher and the text are from the same person.  As much as the teaching or writing of others can sometimes help, there is nothing like direct communication and instruction from the Author of Life.  He knows how it all works and why it all works.  

We have an open invitation to be instructed by God Himself.  Will you accept the invitation and meet Him in the Scriptures?

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

The aftermath of affliction

Time has a funny way of changing our perspective on things, doesn’t it?

The most important topics to us in our teens are no big deal in our thirties – and just a flash of a memory in our fifties.  We also see how time changes our perspective in raising our children, while we’re doing our daily parenting, it seems to go on forever…but then when they become adults, the entire process seems to have happened just in a blink of an eye.

Time also changes our perspective when it comes to learning life lessons.  Sometimes we learn from others’ words or example, other times we must learn the hard way, on our own.  It’s typically later on, when we have the benefit of hindsight that we are able to see clearly what we did wrong, why we had the trouble we caused, and what God was doing for us during that time in our lives.

In this section of Psalm 119, the author speaks from a perspective with the benefit of hindsight.  What has he learned from his past afflictions?

Psalm 119:65-72
Lord, You have treated Your servant well, just as You promised.
Teach me good judgment and discernment, for I rely on Your commands.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.
You are good, and You do what is good; teach me Your statutes.
The arrogant have smeared me with lies, but I obey Your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are hard and insensitive, but I delight in Your instruction.
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statutes.
Instruction from Your lips is better for me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

It was good for me to be afflicted” isn’t something we typically say when we’re in the middle of a mess.  The author also takes responsibility for the trouble when he says, “before I was afflicted I went astray”.  The rest of the text suggests that if he hadn’t strayed from God’s commands and statutes, then he wouldn’t have dealt with the affliction.

The Hebrew word for afflicted means to be humbled, humiliated, or oppressed.  When left to our own devices, we stubbornly take paths contrary to the one God lays out in His Scriptures.  We create situations that eventually come back to bite us, and that is when affliction comes.  Sometimes the consequence of our humbling and humiliation is temporary…sometimes, though, the consequences echo throughout the rest of our lives.

But why would God allow for us to experience such hard, painful, life-altering consequences?  We often charge God with not really loving us because we see ourselves (or others) dealing with very difficult afflictions.  However, it is the benefit of hindsight that gives us a glimpse of our lives from God’s perspective.  Look again at what the author said about being afflicted:

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statues.
Instruction from Your lips is better for me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

If the lesson learned as a result of his affliction is better than large amounts of riches, then the lesson learned would also trump any lasting consequences from dealing with his self-inflicted troubles.  What was his lesson learned?

The superior value of God’s instruction in his life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken