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 story

Adam wasn't from Eden

When I was studying for last week’s post, I found something in the text that I hadn’t noticed before.  I have read or heard the Creation account numerous times, but I had missed a certain detail about Adam’s beginnings:

Genesis 2:7-9, 15
Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.

The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He placed the man He had formed.  The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.

So looking at these verses – we find that Adam was created out of the dust from the ground in one place and then was taken east to where God had planted the beginnings of what would become the famous “Garden of Eden”.  Adam’s creation location also comes up after Adam and Eve disobey God and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  After God kicked them out of the garden, look for where Adam and Eve went:

Genesis 3:22-24
The Lord God said, “Since the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.  He drove the man out…

When I finally noticed these references to Adam’s land of origin, I began thinking about the God’s theme, throughout the Bible, of choosing individuals and people groups for specific service – and that their origins do not negatively impact the kind of work God has for them.

To be clear – I’m not talking about “salvation” here.  God didn’t “save” Adam when He took [him] and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.  (Nor was Adam “unsaved” when he was kicked out)  God was calling Adam to a specific type of work and service, and this call-to-work theme repeats itself countless times in Scripture.

Look at what God told Abram when He called him:

Genesis 12:1-3
The Lord said to Abram:
Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

God had a mission for Abram – start a new nation in a new land.  And from one of Abram’s descendants, a nation would be chosen to serve.  God corporately called them to work:

Exodus 19:5-6
Now if you will carefully listen to Me and keep My covenant, you will be My own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine, and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.

Paul also mentioned Israel’s purpose in the beginning of his letter to the believers in Rome:

Romans 2:19-20
and if you are convinced that you [being a Jew] are a guide for the blind, a light to those in darkness, an instructor of the ignorant, a teacher of the immature, having the embodiment of knowledge and truth in the law…

There are numerous examples of God calling on individuals (Noah, David, Jeremiah, Paul) and corporate groups (Aaron’s priestly family, David’s kingly descendants, Jesus’ 12 disciples) to do specific work.

While I do not know what specific work you may be called to, or even if you’re not sure if God has personally given you a “specific mission”…know that we, corporately as believers, have been chosen by God:

2 Corinthians 5:19-20
That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us.  We plead on Christ’s behalf: “Be reconciled to God.”

I’m certain that your backstory doesn’t begin in Eden.  But it doesn’t matter how your origin story began – we have a job to do.  God has called us to work, so let’s get to it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Aftermath of a miracle: the ultimate setup

Nothing in human history “just happens”.  There’s always a backstory, a winding of paths that leads up to the moment when the whole world is captivated by an event.  Think about the recent history of the USA, and how everything seemed to stop for events of both greatness and tragedy: a man lands on the moon or an underdog hockey team wins gold at the Olympics and we’re in awe of what’s possible; yet when a terrorist attack is committed or a space shuttle explodes due to an unexpected malfunction, we stand in stunned silence.

There are always dots to connect, paths to retrace, and decisions to evaluate…all leading up to “that moment when…”.  However, as we live through the days leading up to the event, we are often unaware of how connected everything truly is.

The events of the Scriptures are of the same nature – nothing just spontaneously happened.  But to the people living their lives throughout the times of the Bible, going about their daily business, they didn’t know what was coming next.  They couldn’t predict what God was doing in their time.

One event in Jesus’ life has always seemed to me, well, a little weird.  I know, I know…Jesus’ life was full of unique experiences and happenings – He is the Son of God, after all.  All four gospel accounts recorded it, and we celebrate this particular event every year, like clockwork.  Our calendars have this day marked out for us, just like it has Christmas and Easter.  It was a huge event in the life of Christ, but up until this recent study, I just couldn’t wrap my head around why it happened.

I’m talking about the Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, celebrated in churches each year as Palm Sunday. 

The Passover was the biggest event on the Jewish calendar.  It was the annual remembrance of when God used Moses to rescue His people from their cruel Egyptian masters, and sent the children Israel on the path to having their own land.  Due to the Roman occupation in Jesus’ day, the Israelites would have held this ceremony especially close, since God had promised that He would send someone like Moses – the Messiah – to come and rescue them again…and the Messiah would be the one to set up the Jewish kingdom to rule, forever.  Of course, there were rumors that Jesus was God’s Messiah…but people weren’t quite sure…

John 11:55-57
The Jewish Passover was near, and many went up to Jerusalem from the country to purify themselves before the Passover.  They were looking for Jesus and asking one another as they stood in the temple: “What do you think?  He won’t come to the festival, will He?”  The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it so that they could arrest Him.

Jesus did come.  But first, He went to visit His friends – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  His visit happened not long after He had raised Lazarus from the dead.  Of course they were excited to see Jesus, and they threw a big dinner party for Him to say THANK YOU.

John 12:1-3, 9-11
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead.  So they gave a dinner for Him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him.  Then Mary took a pound of perfume, pure and expensive nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped His feet with her hair.  So the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume…Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there.  They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one He had raised from the dead.  But the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus also, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus.

Can you feel the tension?  The Jews has been oppressed by Rome for nearly 100 years at this point.  The Passover was coming.  The religious leaders feared the nation was on the verge of revolt, with Jesus (and Lazarus) being the tipping point.  And then…this happened:

John 12:12-14, 17-19
The next day when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him. They kept shouting:

“Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!”

Meanwhile, the crowd which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify.  This is also why the crowd met Him, because they heard He had done this sign.  Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see?  You’ve accomplished nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!”

No Facebook event page, no mass text, no TV commercial, no news broadcast coverage…and somehow, a parade breaks out?  While the people’s shouts may have contributed to the crowd swell, did you notice who John said was spreading the news of Jesus’ arrival?  The crowd which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify.

Lazarus’ pain, suffering, and death was what connected others to witnessing him being brought back to life.  These eye-witnesses were the ones who connected to an entire city, testifying that the one the Jews had heard about was, in fact, the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for.  Jesus’ Triumphal Entry didn’t just happen.  God had been coordinating events that were seemingly unconnected, all in the background, until His Plan was brought to light. 

His plan was that the world would stop and see Jesus for who He is – our Messiah, our Savior, our King.

But in order for the Triumphal Entry to happen and for Jesus to be revealed to an entire city…it cost Lazarus his life.  Christians often point to God’s willingness to send Jesus to the cross as proof that God will go to any length for us.  And that is absolutely true, God loves us that much…but the flip-side scares me, and no one ever talks about the flip-side: If God is willing to have Jesus die on a cross, then nothing in my life is untouchable or off-limits. 

Am I more valuable than Jesus?  Absolutely not.  If that’s the case, do I trust God when life hurts?  Do I believe He knows what He’s doing…even as my body fails me?  Am I willing to let God tell His story, even if He expects me to make a Lazarus-level sacrifice?

Am I willing to let my suffering set up Jesus’ Triumphal Return?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to take a compliment

We love to receive compliments.  We relish the idea of someone having a high enough opinion about us that they would either say something or write something that commends us for our actions.  “Words of affirmation” is a primary love language for many of us.  But as Christians, I think we struggle a little bit with how to handle compliments when they are given to us.

Towards the end of his letter, the author of Hebrews clues us in on the importance of how we handle compliments and praise – and the direction they need to go:

Hebrews 13:15
Therefore, through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is the fruit of lips that confess His name.


The Greek word used here for praise means to “speak of the excellence of someone or something”.  I think sometimes when we Christians are praised by someone else, we’re not sure how to receive it.  This readily apparent when we are given a compliment from another Christian about doing good to other people – we end up saying something like “I give God all the praise and glory”.  But those eight words tend to sound a little hollow, especially with the way most of us quickly say them with a dismissive tone.

However, compliments we receive in the rest of life aren’t handled that way.  When someone tells us that we are good at fixing things, or good at driving, or a hard worker, we are often quick to point out “You know, my dad taught me that when I was young.” or “Thank you, I had a boss once who showed me how.”.  Statements like that almost always come with a story of us struggling to learn and how grateful we are for the teachers we’ve had.

So now we see what it means to sacrifice our praise.  We’re intentionally putting off the idea that we are “self-made women” or “self-made men”, and placing another person’s recognition ahead of ours – because of their unseen contribution is the true cause of the good result others see in us. 

So when complimented for doing something good, instead of quickly mumbling “I give God all the praise and glory.”, let’s use our words to actually do it.  Rather than saying an eight word phrase that no one outside of Christianity understands (and I’m not convinced all of us Christians really understand that phrase either), we should use our words to speak highly of the One who is making us into something worth complimenting. 

Try something like this instead:

God taught me that when I read <insert Scripture reference or Bible story>”.
or
God taught me that when He helped me through a tough time in my life.  I learned I could trust Him because of how He showed up.”
or
God has always shown love and kindness to me, even when I don’t deserve it.  I’m just trying to do the same thing.

Rather than a blank stare, you’ll probably have an opportunity to share more with the person complimenting you.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Coming out of the detour

Seven months ago, life took a serious detour…a detour that would change the course of my family’s history from that point forward.

My company offered voluntary severance packages.  At least this time, anyway.  The previous two layoffs were not voluntary, and we all had the feeling that any future ones wouldn’t be voluntary, either.  The company’s offer this time was quite generous, but the catch (for our family, at least) was that for my line of work, we’d have to move…out of state…to find the next job.  We had built a good life in West Virginia for the last 13 years, fully expecting to raise our family in one town, one church, one house, and with the same group of friends all the way through high school. 

God had blessed us tremendously in West Virginia, but the more we talked about it, prayed about it, and mulled it over…we knew it was time to go.  So, I raised my hand and volunteered.

The hunt for the next job started immediately, even though I would stay on at work through the end of February.  At first, friends and family were happy for us and wished us well.  But as the months drug on, and the few leads I had didn’t pan out…the well-wishes turned to raised eyebrows and mumbled “hang in theres”.  No one deserted us, but their growing concern was thinly-veiled. 

We felt like we were constantly saying goodbye, but never leaving.  It became increasingly more difficult for all of us to tell people, “No news yet.  Don’t know where God will take us.”  It was wearing on me to stay vigilant over the budget and try to get the house ready to sell, while counting down the number of remaining severance checks.  I actually turned down a job offer from a good friend, because we knew it wasn’t where God wanted us next.  A few week later, the day after my next best lead went up in smoke, it happened – we got an offer on the house.

We had a solid offer on our current home and no home to go to.  Zero job prospects at that moment, and we had 10 weeks to get out of the house.  I panicked.  I didn’t sleep that night.  There was a lightning storm raging outside, but it wouldn’t have mattered…the storm inside was twice as intense. 

I don’t specifically remember accusing God of abandoning me, but that’s how I felt.  After hours of pouring my heart out to God…finally emptied out…I gave up, and gave in…

“Whatever job you want, Lord.  Whatever place you want, just show me where.  I don’t care what it is, I just need to know where to take my family next.”

I’m not kidding when I say that I woke up the next morning and found that the exact job I had been looking for…freshly posted and in the state we were most interested in – North Carolina.  I didn’t know anyone at that company.  I had no contacts or strings to pull.  Just a blind internet-submitted application and resume.  They called me three days later, and, within two weeks, I had accepted their generous offer.

To call this a coincidence would be naïve.  This whole detour journey has been a God-thing.  There’s no other way to describe it.  Even my non-Christian friends marvel at how well “everything just lined up so perfectly”.  Not that there weren’t frustrations and difficulties along the way, but this isn’t a normal, natural story.  It’s SUPERnatural, without a doubt.

We’ve closed on our house in West Virginia, and by the time this is posted, we’ll have closed on our new home in North Carolina.  We’ve come out of the unexpected detour for the better in a lot of ways…but best of all, we’ve had our faith grow and mature in ways that will echo through the future of our family.  The next chapter is just beginning…and I can’t wait to see what God wants to write.

As for this blog, I intend to continue with the once-a-week schedule until the dust settles here a little.  I’d love to get back to the twice-a-week format, but we’ll see how God leads.

For right now, though, the back end of Psalm 31 describes just how ridiculously blessed we are.  I get a little choked up each time I read it.

Psalm 31:19-24
How great is Your goodness
that You have stored up for those who fear You,
and accomplished in the sight of everyone
for those who take refuge in You.

You hide them in the protection of Your presence;
You conceal them in a shelter
from the schemes of men,
from quarrelsome tongues.

May the Lord be praised,
for He has wonderfully shown His faithful love to me
in a city under siege.
In my alarm I had said,
“I am cut off from Your sight.”
But You heard the sound of my pleading
when I cried to You for help.

Love the Lord, all His faithful ones.
The Lord protects the loyal,
but fully repays the arrogant.
Be strong and courageous,
all you who put your hope in the Lord.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Your story, as told by others

There is an old riddle that asks the question:

What belongs to you, but everyone else uses more than you do?

The answer is – your name.

All kidding aside, there is a fair bit of truth to that.  However, others rarely use just our names.  Attached to the use of our names is that person’s opinion of us…our reputation. 

Reputations can be broad and widely held, but they can also be held by individuals.  A “good” reputation can take a long time to build, and only a momentary lapse in judgment or selfishness can completely destroy one.  And to top it all off, there’s only so much we can do about them, since we’re not around when our reputation (for better or worse) is communicated to a new someone.

Therefore, our reputations will go ahead of us into places that we’ve never been to.  It may feel strange to think but people miles away from us, whom we’ve never met, could actually have an opinion about who we are.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Philemon, he was in prison, and most scholars believe he was being held in Rome.  As the crow flies, Rome is over 900 miles from Colossae.  If you were to drive a car from Rome to Colossae on today’s highways, it would take you nearly 30 hours to get there.  Now let your mind move back to ancient Bible times….no cars, no social media.  A person’s reputation could really only travel by word of mouth.

And yet, from that far away, Paul hears of Philemon’s reputation:

Philemon 4-5
I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

Whenever Philemon’s name comes up in conversation, what Paul also hears about is all the ways that Philemon demonstrates his love and faith.  By his actions and words, people can recognize his priorities.  They can also see which relationships in his life that Philemon considers the most important.  And his reputation of love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints went out for at least 900 miles!

I suppose, however, we shouldn’t be all that surprised at this, since Jesus told His disciples at the Last Supper:

John 13:34-35
I give you a new commandment: love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another.  By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

Jesus said all people.  When our love for one another is recognizable to others, it will also become our reputation.  And a reputation like Philemon’s will point others toward Jesus…even if we’re not physically there to share the gospel.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Recognizing cultural trends

My younger son and I went to a movie recently.  While we sat there waiting for the show, we were inundated with what seemed like a never-ending barrage of previews.  Trailer after trailer did its best to convince us that their show was the next movie we should be anticipating.  I don’t remember how many previews we saw – I wouldn’t be surprised if we hit double-digits – but I noticed a common thread among almost all of them:

Nearly every movie preview was about a person finding out they were part of a larger, hidden story.  And this hidden story was something they had always suspected, but finding out it was real still turned their world upside-down.

Whether the plot line contained science-fiction, horror elements, super powers, magic, or whatever…it was all different wrapping for the same idea: There is something greater than you going on, and you have a vital part to play in it.  Movies and entertainment have long been a mirror of inner thoughts and desires, and this theme of a great, adventurous story is resonating with many people. 

Being aware of the culture tendencies around us can show us ways to reach others with the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.  Take a look at the cultural theme Paul noticed when he was Athens:

Acts 17:16-23
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols.  So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshipped God, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.  Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him.  Some said, “What is the pseudo-intellectual trying to say?”

Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities” – because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection

They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you’re speaking of? For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.

Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens!  I see that you are extremely religious in every respect.  For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.  Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.”

From there, Paul went on to tell them about God’s plan for relationship with all of humanity.  During his speech he even quoted one of the Greek’s philosophers, saying that on at least one point, their philosophers got something right

Even though Paul was internally troubled by the idolatry in Athens, he didn’t blast them out of his frustration.  Instead, Paul met them where they were with the gospel and let them decide what to do with it.

Many years later, Paul wrote some instructions to the believers in Colossae:

Colossians 4:5-6
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the time.  Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.

The kind of wisdom Paul wants them to use is the same kind he did with the Athenians and that God does with us.  There were elements of truth in the culture around them, and the Colossian believers could use these touch-points to know how they should answer each person.

Our current culture is resonating with the idea that there is a larger story going on, and that they could have an important part in that story.  The thing is, they’re right.  They’re even more right than they know.  We just need to recognize these cultural trends and meet others where they are, with the good news of Jesus and the resurrection.

Keep Pressing,
Ken