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: learning

Flashback Favorite - My first assignment

My first assignment
originally posted on April 20, 2016

Wait, I’m going to teach what?

That was my mental reaction to my first teaching assignment from my mentor, Joe.

Our mentor-protégé relationship began when he was teaching a Sunday School class and had asked if anyone was interested in team-teaching with him.  I was eager to teach, but I knew that I had to learn how to better handle the Scriptures if I was going to take on the responsibility of teaching God’s Word to others.  Joe pointed me toward Howard Hendricks’s Living by the Book and, with his guidance, I began to learn how to Observe, Interpret, and then Apply the Bible.

I figured that my first teaching lesson would cover one of the passages I had just learned from…instead, Joe said that my first teaching experience would come from teaching the class how to study the Bible, like I had just learned.  I was instantly nervous and gave Joe a weak “You sure about this?”.  But he assured me that this was the best topic for me to start with.

I profusely prayed over every lesson.  I did my best to communicate the three steps, as well as provide good examples and practice exercises – some lessons went well; others didn’t feel like they went anywhere.  To anyone who was in those first classes of mine, I say thank you for your patience!  That experience was a huge step for me and my growth – both in my relationship with God, as well as in learning how to organize and teach.  It certainly helped to have my mentor’s example, his directions, and his confidence in me.

Reading through the gospels, we find that Jesus did something similar with his protégés:

Matthew 9:35-10:1
Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.  When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.  The He said to His disciples,

“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Summoning His 12 disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness.

When Jesus told them to pray that the Father would send out workers to reach the people of Israel, I’m sure they agreed that would be a good thing to do…but then Jesus turns around and tells them that it is time for them to go out and participate in the harvest, by doing what they had only previously watched Jesus do!  Imagine everything that must have been going through their minds – anticipation, nervousness, excitement, tension?  Trust me, it was all those and then some.

Matthew 10:5-8
Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town.  Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  As you go announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons.  You have received free of charge; give free of charge.”

Notice how Jesus gave them parameters and direction for their first assignment.  They weren’t supposed to go outside of Israel.  They had a very specific message to proclaim.  They were also given authority to do what Jesus did – heal, raise the dead, cleanse, and drive out demons – and they were not to charge the people for these acts, just as Jesus hadn’t charged anyone.

The disciples would eventually be ready for the larger assignment of the Great Commission, where they were instructed to go make disciples of people from all nations.  They were not ready for that yet, though.  The disciples were still going to do what they had seen Jesus do, but their first assignment was on a much smaller scale.

As a mentor, we need to give our protégé assignments that will begin to stretch them now and incrementally prepare them for later.  On the flip side, when our mentor gives us an assignment that seems like a very large leap, we need to trust them. 

Looking back, it was that first assignment that propelled me closer to God and sharpened my teaching ability.  Joe was making sure that I was not going to be just another teacher who can only feed people The Word, but he wanted me to be able to show others how to feed themselves.  Following through on that first assignment, despite how rough it may have been on me and/or the class, has paid many dividends over the years since.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Finding true rest

2018.  What a year…

When the last week of the year rolls around, like many people, I become reflective.  My family has had its share of ups and downs, celebrations and heartaches, favorite parts and not-so-favorite parts.  I’m sure you have, too. 

And to cap it all off, we’ve just survived the “Holiday Season”.  The hustle and bustle of church events, school events, family events, and weather events have finally come to close.  Unless you have significant New Year’s Eve plans (we intentionally never do), then this last week of the year is a great time to find something we’ve all been looking for…rest.

We need rest.  Mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually – we need a break from time to time.  We need to stop the normal ebb and flow of our lives so we can recover and collect our strength.  A space to breathe and relax.  A moment to stretch out.  A place to regroup.

We know we need this, but we don’t often give ourselves permission to take this kind of time.  Perhaps it’s because we believe that “true rest” will only be found in a fancy vacation to the beach, the mountains, or any place that isn’t home.  However, when we are at home, we look for rest when we escape into a hobby, our phones, the TV, food, or something else – and to some degree, we’re successful.  But those things are not nearly as satisfying as we would like.

We want…we crave…a deeper rest.  But where to find it?  

The rest we are looking for isn’t found in an event, a location, or a schedule.  Instead, the fulfillment of our need for rest is found in Jesus.  While that might sound like a cop-out, “Sunday school” answer, Jesus actually made the offer:

Matthew 11:28-30
Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

If 2018 didn’t have moments that left you feeling weary and burdened, then I suppose you can just keep moving along.  However, in our honest reflections on this past year, we do find weeks and seasons that left us feeling ragged.

Jesus’ offer isn’t for relaxation from busyness, instead, He offers rest for your soul.  Core-deep, soul-level rest.  That is what a relationship with Jesus does for us.  First, when we trust Him for eternal life, He gives us rest from the burden of sin.  Second, in our continuing relationship with Jesus, we can learn from Him – how life is to be viewed, handled, and recovered from.

If I have a New Year’s Resolution about my relationship with Jesus in 2019, I think it should be that when I feel tired…instead of escaping to my phone, the TV, or something else, that I make the choice to go to Jesus. 

I encourage you to do the same.  Take Him up on His offer.  Jesus says that being a disciple (taking up His yoke) and learning from Him is easy and He won’t overburden us.  As complicated as life can be, discipleship simply means walking with Jesus in the real world and having Him teach us moment by moment how to live life His way.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

For my son - Influencing generations

My oldest son has officially finished high school and is getting ready to embark on the next phase of his life.  As I am nostalgically thinking of that time in my own life, I am also thinking of the things God has taught me since then.

This is the second post in a three-part series where I am remembering lessons I have learned later in life that I would love for my son know now...

I chose this post because it reminds us that our right-now words, activities, and choices affect more than just "right-now".  There will be a future echo to how we live out today.  I hope that my influence on my son has been both good and godly.  I pray that he intentionally pursues God, and that he is mindful of his echo-influence on future generations.

Influencing generations
originally posted on April 22, 2015

One day, totally unplanned, I looked in the mirror and saw my father looking back at me.  On another day, I caught myself saying something to my boys that I know I’ve heard come out of my mother’s mouth.  I often quote one of my Aunt’s favorite sayings, even though no one outside of my family knows where I learned it from.  And I am certain there are plenty of other things I do and say that were directly influenced by my family and upbringing.

In Psalm 61, there is an attention-grabbing phrase which David wrote to clearly express the kind of shelter and protection he was looking for as he turned to God:

Psalm 61:4
I will live in Your tent forever
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

Now compare that verse, with the first verse of Psalm 57:

Psalm 57:1
Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in You.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of Your wings
until danger passes.

In fact, several other psalms written by David use a similar metaphor to illustrate the close, intimate protection David sought as he physically ran from enemies and spiritually ran toward God.

But where did David learn the idea that God would protect him in a similar manner as an adult bird would protect their offspring? 

From his great-grandparents.

A woman called Naomi was destitute.  She had no husband, no children, no income – just her daughter-in-law Ruth, who was a foreigner.  They had recently returned to Israel, in the hopes of finding food and shelter.  Ruth did what she could to provide for the two of them, gathering the leftover grain from fields as the Law allowed the poor to do.  The owner of the field was named Boaz.  When he found out what Ruth was doing and whom she was doing it for, he had this to say to her:

Ruth 2:12
May the Lord reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.

Later on, when Ruth is petitioning Boaz for help, she said

Ruth 3:9
Spread your cloak over me, for you are a family redeemer.

Another way to translate the verse would be “Spread the wing of your cloak over me.” 

At the end of the story, Boaz and Ruth are married.  They later give birth to David’s grandfather.

Even if the phrase was culturally common for Boaz and Ruth…the concept of being protected under the wing of God was so instilled in their descendants that David repeatedly used that idea when he was in trouble and reaching for God.

We are so focused on today’s agenda, making sure ends meet, and keeping on top of the moment – and those things need to be done.  However, we often do these things without recognizing the long-term influence we have on our families.  Every day, we communicate ideas and instill patterns in our children that will echo for generations, much further down the line than we likely think about.

If you could have one idea, one aspect of your relationship with God burned into your great-grandson’s mind…what would it be?

Then let’s make sure we’re saying that to our children.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

When we don't learn God's lessons

Hard times are called that for a reason…they’re hard to deal with.  But the author of Hebrews gave his readers a better perspective on how to handle the difficult times in life:

Hebrews 12:7, 11
Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons.  For what son is there that a father does not discipline?...No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

And yet I wonder…What happens when we don’t embrace God’s discipline?  What happens when we refuse to learn the lessons God is trying to teach us?

When we look back in Scripture, we find this theme of God instructing His people repeated, over and over.  Below is just one example of what He said to the Israelites after they had spurned Him and His ways.  In Hebrews, the end result of God’s teaching is the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  Keep an eye out for that here:

Isaiah 48:17
This is what the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel says:

I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you for your benefit,
Who leads you in the way you should go.

If only you had paid attention to my commands.
Then your peace would have been like a river,
and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Your descendants would have been as countless as the sand,
and the offspring of your body like its grains;
their name would not be cut off or eliminated from my presence.


God says His teaching would have resulted in peace as steady and calm like a river, and righteousness that is as massive and powerful like the waves of the sea.  What a beautiful (almost paradoxical) comparison…imagine your life…where you handle any/all situations with calmness and peace, and your life’s actions are so undeniably in tune with God’s plan for living that you move with power as your righteousness positively affects the people around you.  A life like that would be a huge comfort to us personally and even more so to those around us.

But let’s be honest…we know that we cannot grow to that level on our own.  So God offers to intentionally teach the Israelites how to be this way – how to reflect Him to the world.  It’s the same offer in our Hebrews passage, where God is training us to produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Teaching, training, and developing His people was God’s intention for the Israelites – both individually and as a nation.  It’s also His intention for us – both individually and as the church. 

But, like the Israelites, we are
hard-headed
stubborn
selfish
slow to trust God
slow to learn
prone to really messing things up
afraid

The Israelites rebelled so many times and ran so far from God, that He allowed their nation to be overtaken and plundered by other nations.  By the time they got to that point in their history, they certainly were not experiencing peace or righteousness themselves.  In addition, God says the course of the following generations was also affected – their families’ descendants and offspring were heavily impacted by the foreign invasion, to the point where family names and bloodlines were cut off or eliminated.

And when we look objectively back at the times we’ve stiff-armed God, trying to keep Him at arm’s length, we can still see some of the lasting effects in our lives and the lives of our family.  Perhaps we even say to ourselves like what was said about the Israelites: if only I had payed attention to God’s commands.  Regret and depression are heavy burdens…and we are unable to undo the past.  What do we do now?

Look back at the Isaiah passage.  Right at the top, how does God describe Himself?

Your Redeemer.

He is the one who buys back, delivers, and protects those who cannot do so for themselves.  The ones who have messed up beyond what they could ever fix or repay…they find rescue in Him. 

Yes, there were heavy consequences for how far the nation of Israel ran from God – but He did not abandon them.  Yes, God disciplines His church – but we’re still part of His family.  Our loving father is also our redeemer.  He loves us enough to show us how to live rightly, how to live well.

Even if we don’t get it right the first time.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

When life gets hard

Let me be honest with you.

If we choose to live our lives with the goal of obtaining God’s promised opportunities for kingdom partnership, it’s not going to be easy.  That kind of life was not easy for any of the ancient faith heroes listed in Hebrews Chapter 11.  It wasn’t easy for Jesus either – the whole world system was against Him.

But that is precisely what we need to keep in mind when it does get tough:

Hebrews 12:3, 7-8
For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up…Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons.  For what son is there that a father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline – which all receive – then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

Perspective matters.  Are we trying to merely endure our difficulties until we find our next moment of rest/pleasure/escape…or are we looking at opposition from other people as useful discipline from the Lord?

Hebrews 12:9-10
Furthermore, we had human fathers discipline us, and we respected them.  Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness.


One Sunday, every year in June, we stop and reflect on all the lessons our human fathers taught us.  We learned lessons directly from him, and we had to learn some the hard way.  Looking back now, we are thankful for all he did and taught to prepare us for our adult life.

Even more so, we can trust God’s discipline to be in our best interest.  The lessons we learn now will carry over to our next life in eternity.

Hebrews 12:11
No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.


Will we allow ourselves to be trained by God’s discipline, trained to be Christ-like in our approach to difficulties?  We will not experience the peaceful fruit of [right-living] unless we are trained by the hard stuff God allows to happen in our lives.

When life gets hard…not if, but when…look at it as training that has a purpose.  And we can have the endurance to learn and grow as we consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that [we] won’t grow weary and give up.

Perspective matters.

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

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
 

My first assignment

Wait, I’m going to teach what?

That was my mental reaction to my first teaching assignment from my mentor, Joe.

Our mentor-protégé relationship began when he was teaching a Sunday School class and had asked if anyone was interested in team-teaching with him.  I was eager to teach, but I knew that I had to learn how to better handle the Scriptures if I was going to take on the responsibility of teaching God’s Word to others.  Joe pointed me toward Howard Hendricks’s Living by the Book and, with his guidance, I began to learn how to Observe, Interpret, and then Apply the Bible.

I figured that my first teaching lesson would cover one of the passages I had just learned from…instead, Joe said that my first teaching experience would come from teaching the class how to study the Bible, like I had just learned.  I was instantly nervous and gave Joe a weak “You sure about this?”.  But he assured me that this was the best topic for me to start with.

I profusely prayed over every lesson.  I did my best to communicate the three steps, as well as provide good examples and practice exercises – some lessons went well; others didn’t feel like they went anywhere.  To anyone who was in those first classes of mine, I say thank you for your patience!  That experience was a huge step for me and my growth – both in my relationship with God, as well as in learning how to organize and teach.  It certainly helped to have my mentor’s example, his directions, and his confidence in me.

Reading through the gospels, we find that Jesus did something similar with his protégés:

Matthew 9:35-10:1
Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.  When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.  The He said to His disciples,

“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Summoning His 12 disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness.

When Jesus told them to pray that the Father would send out workers to reach the people of Israel, I’m sure they agreed that would be a good thing to do…but then Jesus turns around and tells them that it is time for them to go out and participate in the harvest, by doing what they had only previously watched Jesus do!  Imagine everything that must have been going through their minds – anticipation, nervousness, excitement, tension?  Trust me, it was all those and then some.

Matthew 10:5-8
Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town.  Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  As you go announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons.  You have received free of charge; give free of charge.”

Notice how Jesus gave them parameters and direction for their first assignment.  They weren’t supposed to go outside of Israel.  They had a very specific message to proclaim.  They were also given authority to do what Jesus did – heal, raise the dead, cleanse, and drive out demons – and they were not to charge the people for these acts, just as Jesus hadn’t charged anyone.

The disciples would eventually be ready for the larger assignment of the Great Commission, where they were instructed to go make disciples of people from all nations.  They were not ready for that yet, though.  The disciples were still going to do what they had seen Jesus do, but their first assignment was on a much smaller scale.

As a mentor, we need to give our protégé assignments that will begin to stretch them now and incrementally prepare them for later.  On the flip side, when our mentor gives us an assignment that seems like a very large leap, we need to trust them. 

Looking back, it was that first assignment that propelled me closer to God and sharpened my teaching ability.  Joe was making sure that I was not going to be just another teacher who can only feed people The Word, but he wanted me to be able to show others how to feed themselves.  Following through on that first assignment, despite how rough it may have been on me and/or the class, has paid many dividends over the years since.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Finding favor and respect

Mentors have the great privilege of teaching their protégé about the important lessons God has for us in this life.  The earlier we listen to our mentors; the better quality our lives will have.

David taught Solomon to have a strong desire to gain wisdom.  After he became a father, Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs to communicate the importance of wisdom to his sons.  Several times Solomon told his sons “don’t forget”.  For us, this phrase gives a hint as to what lessons Solomon considered highly important.

Proverbs 3:1-4
My son, don’t forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commands;
for they will bring you many days, a full life, and well-being.

Never let loyalty and faithfulness leave you.
Tie them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart.
Then you will find favor and high regard in the sight of God and man.

The Hebrew word translated as loyalty is hesedHesed means to have a zeal (in a good sense) in love and kindness toward any one; it especially refers to the grace, favor, and mercy God shows toward men or that one person may show to another.

The Hebrew word translated as faithfulness is emethEmeth means to be truthful, faithful, and reliable.  It refers to what one can rely on because it is stable.  As we read the Scriptures, we find that we can rely on God because He is stable and sure.

Solomon’s son would have recognized the phrase loyalty and faithfulness, for these words are often paired together throughout the Old Testament.  Most often they are used to describe God’s character.  Whenever Solomon mentions them together in the book of Proverbs, they are treated as high and excellent qualities.

Solomon wants his son to keep these two Godly qualities – hesed and emeth – permanently around him.  Around his neck, they would be ever-present to everyone; and yet as they are written on his heart, they would be ever-present inside of him.

The ultimate goal of wisdom is not to produce external adherence to a body of rules; rather, it is to internalize the principles in a way that produces Godly character.  Imitation is the highest compliment we can give someone, which is why we are constantly encouraged to imitate God.  We were made in His image, so let’s act like Him!

Think of all the ways God has been loyal and faithful, how He has shown you hesed and emeth.  That same regard we feel toward God, others will project toward us as we imitate Him.  God will favor those who honor Him.

That’s an important lesson for us to learn…and an important one to pass along to the next generation.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Learning how to listen for God

Over the years I’ve encountered many Christians who want to “hear from the Lord.”  We desire God’s guidance for our lives, but we tend to be rather unfocused in how we go about finding it.  We know that listening for God’s guidance is something that we need to learn and practice, but what we fail to realize is that means we’re going to need someone to teach us how.

We see an example of this at the beginning of Samuel’s career as God’s prophet:

1 Samuel 3:1-11
The boy Samuel served the Lord in Eli’s presence.  In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.  One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room.  Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was located.

Then the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.”  He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call,” Eli replied.  “Go and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Once again the Lord called, “Samuel!”  Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call, my son,” he replied.  “Go and lie down.”

Now Samuel had not yet experienced the Lord, because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  Once again, for the third time, the Lord called Samuel.  He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the boy.  He told Samuel, “Go and lie down.  If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’ ”  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”  Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder…”

Then the Lord went on to give Samuel his first prophetic insight into God’s plans for the nation of Israel.

Notice how Samuel had to be taught how to respond to God’s voice.  Even though Samuel had been serving the Lord under Eli’s guidance, recognizing the word of the Lord wasn’t a skill Samuel just naturally had.  He had to be taught how to listen and how to respond to God’s call.

We’re like that, too.  We believe Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and we accept His offer of eternal life, so we’re in His family.  We may even be serving – and serving well – within our local church congregation.

But if God called out to us right now, would we know that it’s Him talking?

For our current stage of human history, God doesn’t talk through prophets like He did in Samuel’s time.  Instead, we have the recorded words of Jesus and those who interacted directly with Him.  Perhaps the same question needs to be put into our modern context:

Do we know the Bible well enough to recognize God’s voice and direction?

When Joe began to mentor me, the very first thing he taught me was how to read and understand Scripture.  Learning how to properly observe, interpret, and apply Scripture was the major catalyst for growth in my relationship with God.  As I studied the Bible, I learned to recognize how God works and what He expects from His children.  I began to know Him better as He revealed Himself to me through the pages of the Bible.

Interacting with God’s word isn’t a one-and-done type of thing, either.  We don’t learn to handle the Scriptures and then consider it checked off our list of “ways to grow”.  We need to continually go back to where God has revealed Himself to us, because that is where our relationship with Him is found. 

Samuel had the same kind of experience:

1 Samuel 3:19-21
Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let nothing he said prove false.  All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the Lord.  The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.

I love that last sentence, where God revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.  We have the same opportunity, to have God reveal Himself to us if we take the time to learn how to handle Scripture.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Practical application: parenting

In Colossians 3:18-19, Paul pointed out the oh-so-practical place to practice living like Christ – in our relationship with our spouse.  His next connection stays within the immediate family and is just as practical.

Colossians 3:20-21
Children obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing in the Lord.  Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won’t become discouraged.

As parents, we love this first sentence.  We secretly relish when the preacher or our kid’s group leader brings up teaching like this.  They need to hear this, we congratulate ourselves.  Maybe if they keep hearing from other adults, they’ll do it more at home.  Wouldn’t that be nice…

Paul gives the Colossian Christian children this command – obey your parents in everything – because it’s something they need to learn.  Let’s camp out on that thought for a moment…obedience is something that children need to learn.  They’re not going to get it right away.  Their entire focus is on their own needs, and not the needs of others.  Obedience is like any other skill we develop as we grow and mature…it’s going to take time, it’s going to take practice, and there are going to be failures along the way.

How we handle our children’s failures will heavily influence them…in their childhood for sure, but our actions will also echo throughout the rest of their lives.  We know this because we still feel the echoes from our own upbringing, but for some reason we tend to forget that reality the moment we’re dealing the shortcomings of our own kids.

More than any person in a child’s life, we fathers have the greatest influence in this area.  Apologies to all the moms out there, but we just do.  And the impact we fathers have on our child’s perspective is even greater than we realize.  Paul warns against discouraging our children, and the word he chose relates to feeling disheartened, dispirited, or broken in spirit.  A father’s reaction to his son or daughter’s failure is truly a make-or-break moment.

Paul says we push our children toward discouragement if we exasperate them.  When we push them to their whit’s end because of our insistence on “getting it right”, or when we bring them to angry tears just to make sure they understand and “get it” – whenever we take our authority too far, we run the risk of exasperating them. 

Unfortunately, I have been guilty of doing just that to my children many times over the years.  It typically happens when I’m rigidly demanding more than my son can give…and he cannot meet the standard I’ve set for him.  If my expectation was too high for his skill level, then he is doomed to failure even before he begun.  Instead of recognizing I set the bar to high, at times I’ve even doubled back and berated them for missing the mark.  I know when I’ve gone too far, too – I can see it in their eyes as they stare at the floor, their shoulders sink in despair, and their posture communicates that they’ve completely given up.

A child of any age can become exasperated and discouraged, but it is especially easy when they are young.  This doesn’t mean we don’t confront error or that we should only give easy challenges to our children; rather we need to actively match our expectations with our children’s abilities, and then be willing to be both gentle and firm as we lovingly deal with their failures.  Men, our ability to guard against this damaging practice is for us to apply the Christ-driven characteristics that Paul listed in the preceding context of 3:12-17

…put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…
…forgive one another…just as the Lord has forgiven you…
…above all, put on love…
…be thankful…
…let the message of the Messiah dwell richly among you…
…whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…

Our children’s hearts and maturity depend on it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Getting dressed

After establishing how God looks at His children, Paul has specific directions for how the Colossian believers are to conduct themselves:

Colossians 3:12
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience

The Greek word for put on carries the idea of putting on clothes or getting dressed.  Putting on these qualities is something Paul is instructing the believers to do.  God isn’t going to do this for them.  God isn’t going to make them instantly and perfectly compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, or patient.  These are skills the Colossians are going learn, practice, and develop. 

As our first son became old enough to toddle around, we began to teach him how to dress himself.  He didn’t put his shirt on right the first time he tried, either.  Sometimes his arm would go through the head-hole, which would lead to panic and tears as he tried to push his head through an arm-hole.  We would then help him back out and calm down.  Before trying again, we reminded him that if he felt stuck, all he needed to do was to ask one of us for help.

Different articles of clothing required the development of different hand-coordination skills.  While a t-shirt was more about gross motor skills, putting on socks required that different sections of the body had to work together.  Each article of clothing presented a new challenge, but after a short amount of time, he figured it out and could dress himself.

When we had our second child, the same getting-dressed skills needed to be taught to him, too.  I’m certain that we didn’t teach him in the exact same way as we taught his brother.  If he learned to put his socks on sooner than his brother did, that was great.  If it took him longer to learn how to shimmy his legs into pants, then that was ok, too.  These skills would develop the more he practiced it.  It also didn’t matter that it was easier for his brother to put his head in the shirt first, or that he preferred to put his arms in first.  The goal was the same – they both needed to put on their shirt.

I think the spiritual parallel is pretty obvious.  Paul lists out several characteristics that God wants believers to put on, but notice Paul doesn’t say exactly how the Colossians are to do it.  Maybe someone will learn how to put on heartfelt compassion while at work, and another believer will learn how to put on heartfelt compassion as they stop their busy lives for a moment to help a total stranger.

Perhaps putting on kindness comes naturally to you, but you struggle with patience.  When we see other believers being patient with their spouse, their children, or their circumstances…it’s easy to get down on ourselves.  We start feeling frustrated and stuck.  However, we shouldn’t be upset that someone else is better at putting on their socks than we are at this moment.  It’s in those moments we just need to ask our Daddy for help. 

With time and practice, we’ll learn how to put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Not only will we be dressed in them, but we will learn how they coordinate into something attractive and beautiful – they will be qualities that others see, qualities that point them toward our Savior.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

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
 

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 

Influencing generations

One day, totally unplanned, I looked in the mirror and saw my father looking back at me.  On another day, I caught myself saying something to my boys that I know I’ve heard come out of my mother’s mouth.  I often quote one of my Aunt’s favorite sayings, even though no one outside of my family knows where I learned it from.  And I am certain there are plenty of other things I do and say that were directly influenced by my family and upbringing.

In Psalm 61:4, there is an attention-grabbing phrase which David wrote to clearly express the kind of shelter and protection he was looking for as he turned to God:

Psalm 61:4
I will live in Your tent forever
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

Now compare that verse, with the first verse of Psalm 57:

Psalm 57:1
Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in You.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of Your wings
until danger passes.

In fact, several other psalms written by David use a similar metaphor to illustrate the close, intimate protection David sought as he physically ran from enemies and spiritually ran toward God.

But where did David learn the idea that God would protect him in a similar manner as an adult bird would protect their offspring? 

From his great-grandparents.

A woman called Naomi was destitute.  She had no husband, no children, no income – just her daughter-in-law Ruth, who was a foreigner.  They had recently returned to Israel, in the hopes of finding food and shelter.  Ruth did what she could to provide for the two of them, gathering the leftover grain from fields as the Law allowed the poor to do.  The owner of the field was named Boaz.  When he found out what Ruth was doing and whom she was doing it for, he had this to say to her:

Ruth 2:12 May the Lord reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.

Later on, when Ruth is petitioning Boaz for help, she said

Ruth 3:9 Spread your cloak over me, for you are a family redeemer.

Another way to translate the verse would be “Spread the wing of your cloak over me.” 

At the end of the story, Boaz and Ruth are married.  They later give birth to David’s grandfather.

Even if the phrase was culturally common for Boaz and Ruth…the concept of being protected under the wing of God was so instilled in their descendants that David repeatedly used that idea when he was in trouble and reaching for God.

We are so focused on today’s agenda, making sure ends meet, and keeping on top of the moment – and those things need to be done.  However, we often do these things without recognizing the long-term influence we have on our families.  Every day, we communicate ideas and instill patterns in our children that will echo for generations, much further down the line than we likely think about.

If you could have one idea, one aspect of your relationship with God burned into your great-grandson’s mind…what would it be?

Then let’s make sure we’re saying that to our children.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Learning to do good

As Paul closes his letter to Titus, he has one last instruction:

Titus 3:13-14 Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need.  Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.

God doesn’t give instructions or directions in the Bible as mere talking points, rather the truths we encounter are meant to be lived out in daily lives.  However, Paul also recognizes that doing what is good isn’t as simple as “always doing it” or “always not doing it”.  Notice that he tells Titus “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good”.  We must learn to be devoted to doing good in every situation.  Making these truths a lifestyle will take some time to be developed…but it is certainly achievable.

To help the Cretan believers get started on the path to making a habit of doing good, Paul ends the letter by giving the believers an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned.  That is Paul’s point here…now that you’ve been instructed in these things, the next step is to put these things into practice.

Looking at the words Paul chooses helps the Cretans see how much he wants them to take advantage of this opportunity.  The phrase do everything you can means to do something earnestly, zealously, or with special urgency.  The first step in any process is always the hardest; it is the step we are most timid about taking.  The success or failure that occurs with the first step typically sets a tone for the success of a project.  As such, Paul wants the Cretans to make a special effort to make their first step a good one.

Helping Zenas and Apollos would have been an easy first step for the Cretan believers.  They would get an opportunity to help spread the gospel to other regions, and as a result, the missionaries would be able to continue their journey with fresh supplies.  This opportunity created a win-win situation for both the givers and those receiving.

When we support missionaries, we are supporting their ability to fulfill their calling of spreading the gospel…but we’re also developing the characteristics that God wants to grow in us.  Giving is a great opportunity for us to learn how to do what is good.  It mimics God’s generosity toward us, and anytime we imitate our Creator, we are productively fulfilling the purpose of our lives.

Keep Pressing,
Ken