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: life choices

How to clear the path

“But what does God want me to DO?”

Ever ask that question?  Yeah, me too.

We are now at the start of Hebrews 12.  From here to the end of the book, the author gives specific details about the doing of a Christian’s life.  And we’re prepared to fully understand what he recommends…because we have traveled with the author as he directed the orchestra of examples, warnings, and encouragement around the one central theme – the importance of our life choices now and how they affect our participation with Christ in the future.

We are ready to ask, “So what does this type of life look life?  What are we supposed to DO?”  Now that we have the context, the WHY behind the author’s direction to DO will make more sense than if we just plopped the Bible open to Hebrews 12 and began to read.  Even better, knowing the context always makes the text easier to apply.  So, let’s take a look:

Hebrews 11:39-12:1
All these [Old Testament heroes] were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us.  Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us


The ancient heroes of the faith act as courtroom witnesses who testify that living for God now is worth the sacrifice.  We can, by our actions now, participate in the fulfillment of what the ancients longer for.  It is almost as if the author is asking:

If God sticks to His promises, why wouldn’t we want to avoid sin altogether…but also avoid anything that may hinder us in our pursuit of the life Jesus has laid out for us?

But that’s just hard, isn’t it?

Not only do we have to contend daily with the nagging desire to sin…there are a lot of things that clamor for our time, many ‘good’ things that can take up a lot of our day.

Social media, hobbies, app games on our phones, sports, TV shows, and movies can quickly take up our free time.  Let’s be honest – we watch a ton of TV, and if we’re not watching TV then we’re probably on our phones.  (Or maybe we’re doing both at the same time?  Yep, I'm guilty of this, too.)

We start ‘relaxing’ and oh-so-easily slide into indulgence.  Is it time to set a timer on our TV?  Is it time to delete that app? (You know the one.) How can we use our hobbies to invest in others and contribute to God’s purposes, not just our own?

It’s a mental shift.  It’s a purposeful decision.  It is a constant, day-by-day choice, which is why the author says to do it, we must run with enduranceEndurance is only needed for hard things, but he says that it is worth it in the end.  Even if I have to give up a ‘good’ thing now, in order to do the ‘best’ thing for eternity future.

But we’re not left hanging with a simplistic ‘you should do this’ statement, either.  Not only does the author give us that WHAT to do, but the HOW to accomplish this lifestyle:

Hebrews 12:1-2
Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.  For the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

We end up where we look.  Our focus determines our direction.  We aren’t the first one to walk this path.  With Jesus as our example to imitate, we know what success looks like.  As we focus on Him – there is nothing that can deter us from our task, no earthly hindrance that will keep us from completing our race.

And as we are among those who complete this race, we will also participate with God when He fulfills the trust of the Old Testament heroes.

What an opportunity!

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A warning, some encouragement, and a choice

Be careful here.  The author of Hebrews has an important warning to give his readers, but if these next 14 verses are taken out of context or read individually…not only would the reader miss the intended point, but it could cause significant confusion about God’s dealing with humanity.  HOWEVER, since we have traveled through the author’s major points of the letter, we are less likely to have a misinterpretation.  But we sill must approach the text with our thinking caps on and with the preceding context in mind…

Remember that the author is writing to eternally secure believers.  Also remember his previous warnings about what happened to the Israelites that disregarded their generation’s messenger:

Hebrews 10:26-31
For if we deliberately go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries.

Anyone who disregarded the law of Moses died without mercy, based on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much worse punishment do you think one will deserve who has trampled on the Son of God, who has regarded as profane the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know the One who has said,

Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay
(Deuteronomy 32:35)
and again,
The Lord will judge His people.
(Deuteronomy 32:36)

It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.


Like any of us who selfishly choose to go against our parents’ directions, those of us in the “Holy family” who purposely choose to continue a sin-filled life are going to have a very angry Heavenly Father to deal with.  This is the same warning the author gave in Chapters 2 and 3 – the consequences of failing away, of having a sinful and unbelieving heart – but now we know the full ramifications of intentionally making sinful choices since we now understand the Greater Message that Jesus has delivered.

Recognizing the implication of their choices, the author then encourages his readers:

Hebrews 10:32-36
Remember the earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings.  Sometimes you were publicly exposed to taunts and afflictions, and at other times you were companions of those who were treated that way.  For you sympathized with the prisoners and accepted with joy the confiscation of your possessions, because you know that you yourselves have a better and enduring possession.

So don’t throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.  For you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised.


What Jesus has promised is the opportunity to participate in His future kingdom.  Just as they were confident in Christ’s authority to forgive their sin debt and bring them into the family, the author encourages them to put that same level of faith and trust in the future which Jesus has promised is available to them.  To do so, the author relies again on an Old Testament passage:

Hebrews 10:37-39
For yet in a very little while,
the Coming One will come and not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith;
and if he draws back, I have no pleasure in him.
(Habakkuk 2:3-4)

But we are not those who draw back and are destroyed, but those who have faith and are saved.


These three verse require the most care.  Do not read our modern-day assumption that the words “destroyed”, “have faith”, and “saved” always mean “sent to Hell”, “saving faith”, and “eternally secure, going to Heaven”.  A look into the multiple Greek words that go into each of these three words reveals the following:

destroyed = into ruin, waste
have faith = trust, with implications that the one who is trusted will do actions because of that trust placed in them
saved = into gaining, sharing in life

Given that the author includes himself when he says “but we are not those who draw back” and also remembering the context of him encouraging believers, a good paraphrase of verse 39 would read:

But we are not of those who shrink back now into a wasted life, but we are those who trust and act upon the Greater Message now and will therefore gain the rewards in the next life that have been promised.

The same choice is available to us today…will we draw back rom the Greater Message, or will we trust Jesus and act on His word?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

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

Remembering in order to persevere

We all have special moments of truth in life.  These drive-a-stake-in-the-ground moments happen when we discover or decide something to be true, and we choose to change the direction of our lives because of them.  These moments include times like taking vows when getting married, signing to purchase a home or vehicle, and when we accept Christ as our Savior. 

Based upon these declarations, we confirm to ourselves and others that, going forward, we will take action that is dependent upon this truth.  In our three examples above, we are confessing that we choose this person as our spouse above all others, that we’re going to pay off the loan, and that we’re trusting Christ for eternal life.

When times get tough – marital problems, financial issues, spiritual doubts – we can look back to those special moments of truth, remember what we said we would do, and then draw the strength from our initial resolve.

Timothy had moments like that, too.  Given the struggles he was going to face as he dealt with the melting pot culture of Ephesus and the abundance of false teachings, he would need some encouragement.  Paul instructed him to find encouragement in what he already knew to be true.

1 Timothy 6:12
Fight the good fight for the faith;
take hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
and have made a good confession
before many witnesses.

However, this is more than a “you said you would” moment…Paul didn’t want Timothy to think he was the only one.  So, he also gives Timothy an example to remember and lean upon:

1 Timothy 6:13-15
In the presence of God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good confession before Pontius Pilate, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in His own time.

Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, point blank, if He was the King of the Jews (John 18:33).  And when asked, Jesus didn’t shy away from stating his mission.  Earlier, when He was struggling with the impending pain and suffering and death, Jesus’ high priestly prayer was about relying on God the Father.  When He would struggle later as He hung on the cross, Jesus quoted scripture to help Him stay on mission.

Paul’s point is that Timothy, too, can stay on mission…he can keep the commandment to fight the good fight and take hold of eternal life in the here and now.  No matter what life throws at him, and no matter the opposition this young leader would face in Ephesus, Timothy can look back to his own good confession of who Christ is in his life…and find the strength to complete his own mission and calling.  Just like Jesus did.

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
 

Reoccurring themes and second chances

As Paul wraps up his personal letter to Philemon, he also lists out final greetings from those who are ministering with him at the moment:

Philemon 23-25
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

In light of Paul’s plea for Philemon to reconcile with Onesimus – despite the wrongs Onesimus had committed – one name on Paul’s final greeting list stands out: Mark.

Paul’s letter to Philemon and his letter to the Colossian church were very likely to have been written and delivered at the same time.  In fact, one of the great evidences for this timeline is the near-identical final greeting list at the end of Colossians, where Paul says:

Colossians 4:10
Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him)

This is the same Mark who deserted Paul and Barnabas on a missionary trip approximately 20 years before Paul wrote his letter to Philemon.  Although the Scriptures do not record why Mark abandoned the team, we do know that his reasons caused significant problems later on:

Acts 15:36-41
After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord, and see how they’re doing.”  Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark.  But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work.  There was such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus.  Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers.  He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

At that time, it was Barnabas standing in the gap for John Mark and pleading for Paul to reconcile over the past wrongs that John Mark had caused.  However, Paul did not want to trust John Mark after his previous failure. 

The disagreement over John Mark’s usefulness was significant enough for Barnabas and Paul to part company.  They are never mentioned together again in the rest of the New Testament.

Now fast-forward 20 years.  John Mark, through Barnabas’ mentoring, has become useful to Paul as they work together spreading the gospel.  There is no doubt in my mind that Paul saw in Onesimus the same need for a second chance that John Mark had needed so many years prior.  While Paul could not go back to change his previous choices, he was presented with an opportunity to make the better choice this time.

You can almost hear the echo of Barnabas’ plea on behalf of John Mark when Paul writes about Onesimus:

Philemon 17-18
So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me.  And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 

Maybe we’ve messed up opportunities to reconcile relationships in the past.  We can’t go back and change those.  We have to trust that God will work in other people’s lives.  However, we will run into reoccurring themes the longer we walk with Christ.  There will be opportunities for us to make the right choice and help someone else.

Our great God is a God who gives second chances.  And He is patient enough to show us the reoccurring themes of life – even decades later – to give us another chance to act like Him toward another person.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Conditional goals

What is our goal as parents?  We spend 18ish years feeding, clothing, nursing, caring, teaching, testing, training, guiding, and living with our children.  While the “goal for today” may look different from last year’s “goal for today”, there is also a long-term target that we are trying to make sure they hit.

We don’t often verbalize what that “active-parenting-is-done-end-game” goal looks like.  Truthfully, the busyness of the moment makes it easy to forget that we’re aiming toward anything other than survival.  However, if we were to list out what we desire for our kids to be like when they finally become adults, it would probably look something like this:

I want them to be healthy, active members of society.  I want them to love God and others, and to be growing in both of those areas.  I hope they have a “good” career that uses their talents.  I really want them to be happy with their life/spouse/family/etc.

These are all good dreams for us to have for our children.  But it’s not very often that these ideas are forefront in our minds, especially as they get older.  I have to wonder, though, if we don’t think about this goal as much, not because of the busyness – but because we’re worried they may not be 100% ready when the time comes. 

No matter how well we parent, no matter how pure our love is, and no matter how spot-on our advice is – our kids’ lives could still be derailed by their own choices.  Lots of things in this world are ready to be distractions or disruptions: unhealthy relationships, various addictions, rejection of God, rejection of family, wasting of talents, etc.  But those are the reason WHY we parent them.  We give them guidance, love, direction, opportunities, and education so they CAN reach their full potential.

It’s no wonder we do these things – since God does the same with each of us.  Once we have been born again, we become part of God’s family, and He has a plan to mature each one of us.  He has an incredible end-goal in mind for what our full potential looks like.  Paul pointed this out in his letter to the believers at Colossae.  Look for God’s goal for them, but also be on the lookout for what will help them reach that goal:

Colossians 1:21-23
And you were once alienated and hostile in mind because of your evil actions.  But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him – if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith, and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard.

God the Father has reconciled you…to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him.  That goal is a HUGE change from where I’m currently at.  But looking back on my life, I can see that I’m closer now than I was when I became a Christian.  God’s been patiently working on me, and I trust that He will continue to do so, all the while aiming for His goal in my life.

But we both know that I’m susceptible to distractions and disruptions.  I can be my own worst enemy.  I could derail God’s plan to mature me if I rebel and disregard His leading and direction in my life.  That kind of behavior wouldn’t mean that I’m not part of the family – instead it would mean that God would have to address my rebellion before getting back to developing my maturity.

That’s why Paul says that God’s goal for believers – to be shown as holy, faultless, and blameless before Him – is conditional.  Some of us won’t make it to full maturity.  That’s why Paul prays that the believers may walk worthy of the Lord (1:10).  That’s why Paul says his goal is that we may present everyone mature in Christ (1:28).  These things may happen…they may not.  Throughout the rest of the letter, Paul warns the Colossians about other distractions and how to keep step with God and His aim for us.

However, Paul’s best advice comes in verse 23.  We will be able to reach full maturity if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith, and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard.

Our starting point is also our anchor.  The hope of the gospel – Jesus coming to earth to save us when we couldn’t save ourselves – is what grounds us.  Just as we trust God for salvation, we must also trust Him for our maturity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken