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: love

My daddy said "STOP!"

When our boys were small, there were only two ways to get spanked in our house.  First, was for lying.  Didn’t matter what you lied about, that violation of trust received a spanking…and then we would deal separately with whatever had been lied about.  Second, a spanking would occur for blatant, deliberate disobedience. 

Our boys were typical little boys, and they thoroughly tested both of these rules.  After each time, I would pull them into my lap and let them cry into my chest until they had calmed down.  It was in this teachable moment that we talked about what had brought them to this point and how to avoid it in the future.  I would also repeat one of two phrases that I borrowed from Jesus:  “If you love me, follow my directions.” or “Hear my voice and follow my directions.”  The first comes from John 14:15 and the second from John 10:27:

John 14:15
If you love me, you will keep my commands.

John 10:27
My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.

You always hope your children get the lessons you try to teach them, but these verses ended up being applied in an unexpected way:

For our second Halloween in West Virginia, we walked around the neighboring side-street houses with other families that lived near us.  Our younger son was too little to walk the entire distance, so we pulled him in a wagon.  Our older son was Kindergarten-age, and he walked about a block ahead of us with some of the neighbor’s kids and friends who were in upper elementary school.  The kids were told to stay within eye-sight of the parents.  The weather was pleasant and it was a fun, relaxing stroll around the area.

At the very end of the designated Trick-or-Treat time, we started to head back home.  Our group of kids was about two blocks ahead of us, but we could still see each other.  At an empty side-road intersection, the group of kids went left, toward home…except for one, who looked left and then right and then left again.  Even from our vantage point, you could see our son’s mind spinning the options.  To the left, was home and the end of the night…but to the right were more houses with their porch lights on and other kids still getting candy.  So after weighing his options, he booked it to the right.

I didn’t mind his choice.  He was still within eye-sight, but I could see something that he couldn’t, because of the rolling hill the street was on.  There was a car, moving carefully up the road, but heading toward my son.  He was safely off the side of the road, running on the grass, but he was solely focused on getting more candy.  Depending on which house he targeted first, I was afraid he would dart out into the street.

I took a deep breath, barked out his name and gave him a loud, one-word direction: “STOP”.  He immediately stopped in his tracks.  I gave the wagon handle to my wife and ran to our son.  I got there just as the car slowly rolled by him.  He was crying because he didn’t understand why I yelled and likely thought he was in trouble.  The house he had targeted was on his side of the street and turned out to be the home of one of my co-workers.  She told me that she had heard him crying and was worried that he thought they were out of candy.  She called to him, saying, “It’s ok little boy, we still have candy.  You can come get some.”  Through his choked back tears, he gave this response: “No.  My daddy said stop.”

It didn’t hit me until the next day that although I could see him – he couldn’t see me.  While he was focused on something good, something he could have, as soon as he heard my voice…he knew he had to trust me and do what I said.  Even if it didn’t make sense to him in the moment.  Even if it meant missing out on something he wanted.

How well do we know our Savior’s voice?
Enough to recognize it above all the noise of life?
Do we trust Him enough to do what He says?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Cure for snakebite

Without a doubt, the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16.  If you grew up in the church, it was probably the first verse you memorized.  We also see it at various places in the culture – signs at sporting events, on the bottom inside edge of In-N-Out’s drink cup (one more reason to love that place!), on a Monster Jam truck, in songs on the radio, in comic strips, and even in Tim Tebow’s eye black.

John 3:16 is appropriately hailed as “the gospel in a nutshell” as it succinctly summarizes the Good News of Jesus and His mission here on Earth.  Even better, the verse is a direct quote from Jesus, and obviously, He would be the authority on the subject of the gospel.  As a refresher:

John 3:16
For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

This quote from Jesus comes out of a discussion He had with Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was trying to figure out exactly who Christ was.  Just before He says those famous John 3:16 words, in order to help Nicodemus understand what He was about to say, Jesus curiously references an incident from Israel’s past:

John 3:14-15
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

Jesus compares Himself to a snake?  How does that help?

As Paul Harvey would say – and now, the rest of the story:

When Moses was leading the Israelites away from Egypt toward the land God had promised to the nation, the people routinely became whiny and rebellious.  Each time this occurred, God intervened to bring them back to their senses, forcing the nation to recognize their only chance of survival was to look to God.  This time, God’s “attention grabbing messenger” were poisonous snakes:

Numbers 21:4-9
Then they set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea to bypass the land of Edom, but the people became impatient because of the journey.  The people spoke against God and Moses: “Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness?  There is no bread or water, and we detest this wretched food!”  Then the Lord sent poisonous snakes among the people, and they bit them so that many Israelites died.

The people then came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you.  Intercede with the Lord so that he will take the snakes away from us.”  And Moses interceded for the people.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake image and mount it on a pole.  When anyone who is bitten looks at it, he will recover.” So Moses made a bronze snake and mounted it on a pole.  Whenever someone was bitten, and he looked at the bronze snake, he recovered.

There is a lot of symbology here.  Bronze is always representative of judgement.  While the snake represented the present danger, it also harkened back to the Garden of Eden where Satan, in the form of a serpent, helped to usher sin into the world and separate people from God.

But of all the parts of this story Jesus could have referenced to help Nicodemus understand the good news of the gospel, Jesus said “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.

What did the Israelites have to do to be immediately rescued from their snake-bitten death sentence?  Only to look at the bronze snake.  Not say a particular prayer.  Not promise to do better.  Not confess all their sins.  No requirement to make God the “Lord of their life” from here on out.  Only to look, because they believed God when He said that was the only thing for them to recover their earthly lives.

Jesus is telling Nicodemus – just like the Israelites looked to the bronze snake – everyone who looks to Him, everyone who believes in Him (no other conditions apply) will have eternal life!

Some may accuse me of “easy believism”, but they’ll have to take it up with Jesus first.

Why would God do such a thing?  Why would Jesus make something so incredibly valuable as eternal life available to everyone who (simply) believes in Him?

It’s the gospel in a nutshell:

John 3:16
For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Love grows

We often say that our “love grows.” 

When we put these two words together, we generally mean that we want our feelings of affection increase or that we want the bond felt between us to become stronger.  We recognize that a loving relationship isn’t a static, one-and-done feeling, that it does develop…but I think we’re a little squishy when we try and describe exactly how this happens.

Sure, we’ll say that love grows in a variety of ways: over time, through shared experiences, and being together in the ups and downs of life.  If you talk to others about growing in love with their spouse, their closest friends, or with a group of people, what is usually identified as the main driver of growth seems to be surviving a long time without abandoning one another.

In his letters, Paul often told his readers that he was praying for them, but it wasn’t a generic “I’ll be praying for you” platitude.  He didn’t just ask God to “help” them with their “stuff”.  We’re going to take a close look at not only what Paul told the believers in Philippi that he was praying for them, but also the reasons Paul gave for making his specific prayer requests.

So for starters, let’s look at the beginning Paul’s prayer request:

Philippians 1:9
And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment


Immediately, we see that Paul wants their love to grow in two specific areas.  We’ll take a look at the outcome of this kind of growth in a later post.  First we need to understand what he means by knowledge and every kind of discernment.

The Greek word for knowledge refers to a full, intimate understanding of a subject.  Similarly, the Greek word Paul chose for discernment speaks to how we perceive something or someone.  The word refers to something deeper than just a sensory perception – sight, touch, smell – instead this discernment relies on the intellect.

Blind love or a love that is dependent upon our emotions is not ground for the growth of a relationship.  As our feelings ebb and flow, we can end up doing more harm then good.

True Christian love isn’t shallow or squishy.  It is grounded in an clear understanding and has an intelligent direction.  This shouldn’t surprise us, because, after all, that’s exactly how God loves us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Follow the leader (part 2)

When the Scriptures give us a direction, it’s always best that we pay attention.  If we observe God talking about the same subject more than once…well…then He’s putting down some emphasis that we need to linger on.

Twice in his closing statements and encouragements, the author of Hebrews mentions how the church body should be acting toward our church leaders.  The second one reads as follows:

Hebrews 13:17
Obey your leaders and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.


Some days, it’s great to be the leader.  You get to help people understand God and His purpose.  You see the fruit of your efforts paying off as your people mature.  People say ‘thank you’.  Sometimes, they do something to say ‘thank you’.  The sun shines and you can see God moving in the community through the work of those you lead.

Other days…being the leader doesn’t feel all that good.  People who are supposed to care about each other end up selfishly hurting each other.  They want you to fix it.  Maybe they blame you for it happening – or they blame God and you just happen to be a more convenient place to blow up.  You offer a helping hand to the community, and instead of taking it, they reject it…and you.  To the surprise of many, your own family has struggles and issues.  The pressure to be ‘perfect’ is constant.  You are always ‘on call’ – expected to effortlessly represent God and be the calm voice of reason in any situation that happens.

As members of the church body, we need our leaders.  We need them to guide us when we are walking close to God, and we need them to correct us when we are wandering (or running) away from Him.  We look to our leaders for acceptance and love, even when life has gone completely sideways and we feel like a hopeless mess.  Their reliance on God helps us believe that we can trust God, too.

To those who lead a church, in any capacity, God takes their role very seriously.  He expects the leader to maintain His perspective, so that they can keep watch over your souls.  One day, those who lead will give an account of all they taught others about Jesus – through their words and their actions.  Remember how Jesus’ harshest criticisms and biggest frustrations were because of the hypocritical Pharisees?  When it comes time to give an account, God is not going to be any easier on today’s leaders who take a similar, selfish path.

So, let’s be honest – Being a church leader is not an easy job, but the author of Hebrews says there a couple of ways we could make it easier on them.

First, he says to obey your leaders and submit to them.  I will guarantee that your church leadership will not always ‘do church’ exactly they way you want them to.  But before we go to complain, we need to check our motivations and make sure we’re not just advocating for our personal preferences.  There are likely other factors influencing your leaders’ decisions, and if God is leading them – then you don’t want to be fighting against God’s direction for your church.  By all means, we should feel comfortable bringing issues and concerns to our pastor’s attention; however, let’s be very careful and selective in what we find fault with.

Second, he says our interactions with our leaders should help them do their job with joy and not with grief.  A leader who dreads dealing with those he is responsible for is someone who will lead others as little as possible.  Certainly, a hands-off pastor would be unprofitable for you

When we obey our leaders and submit to them, we show that we trust them to follow God’s lead.  While that trust is a big responsibility, being trusted by the congregation gives our leaders confidence to do God’s work with joy and profitable to those who follow them.

So how can we support our leaders in their all-important (and sometimes draining) work?  The New Living Translation of Proverbs 11:25 is a good place to start:

Proverbs 11:25
The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.


Let’s be refreshing to our leaders when we interact with them.  Don’t bring them the unnecessary burdens of self-centered complaints.  Trust them enough to obey and submit to them.  If you don’t need something at the moment from them, then show/tell your leaders they are appreciated.

Let’s love on them, so that they can do this with joy.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback favorite - Where is the hope?

I am not immune to irony.  My current line-of-thinking/focus-of-study is on the importance of being prepared for Christ's return.  However, I was not prepared for being sick the last couple of days, which means the next post isn't ready.  As such, I am reposting something that I learned two years ago...something that may be even more relevant now than it was then.

Where is the Hope?
originally posted on July 8, 2015

There is a lot going on in the world today, and much of it isn’t good.  Although humans were created in the image of God, the “news broadcasts" continue to report society’s deterioration as we run further and further from God and the purposes He created us for. 

Oftentimes, the sin-caused crumbling is beneath the surface, stewing at the individual level – things like dads not being fathers, pornography replacing love, or self-centered pursuits of money and power.  Other times, this deterioration appears in massive public displays – things like wars and terrorism, the abandonment of God’s definition of marriage, and government progressively taking on the role of final authority in peoples’ lives.

I have to admit to feeling overwhelmed from some of the sin-affected problems I’ve dealt with lately, both in my own individual life and as a part of our larger American society.  The Bible tells us that the world will worsen before Christ returns, but it is certainly difficult to watch unfold.  Sometimes, it feels like we have front row seats to a car accident that no one else can see coming.

But we have to ask the question: “What are we hoping in?  Where does our hope come from?”

Are we hoping that the lawyers gets it right and all the laws make society behave as it should? 
Are we hoping that the government makes the best decisions and keeps life at a comfortable level?

When individuals, society, or the government runs contrary to God’s design…and we lose hope…it forces us to assess just where our motivation and trust are anchored.

While imprisoned for preaching the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul wrote a letter to a church he had never met.  He knew of them through an associate named Epaphras; however, what he wrote indicates that they had a well-known, Godly reputation.  They had both strong faith and strong love, but to know why they were so good at pointing others toward God, read the verses below and see what their faith and love were rooted in:

Colossians 1:3-6
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.  You have already heard about this hope in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you.

Their anchor wasn’t in the culture around them.  In fact, their anchor wasn’t even in the hope that God would work through their government.  The Colossian believers had faith and love, and had them abundantly, because they were focused on the hope reserved for you in heaven.  Their hope was in Jesus’ promise of eternal life.  Their hope was found within the good news of the message of truth.

So where is our hope?  Are we trusting our culture, our circumstances, our government, or our job security to be the foundation of truth in our lives?  As society crumbles, will our hope and strength go with it?

Although he said it a number of years ago, Chuck Colson’s words still ring true:

“Where is the hope?  I meet millions who tell me that they feel demoralized by the decay around us.  Where is the hope?  The hope that each of us have is not in who governs us, or what laws are passed, or what great things that we do as a nation.  Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, and that’s where our hope is in this country; that is where our hope is in life.”

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Unworthy or Unlovable?

May I ask you a deep, hard question?

When each of us take an honest, serious look at everything we’ve done in this life – the good and the bad – do we think we deserve God’s love? 

You and I both know that our “bad” far outweighs our “good”, especially if we admit to the sinful thoughts that we keep buried inside.  Even after we place our trust in Jesus for eternal life, we can still wrestle with feelings that based upon our past sins, we are not worthy of God’s love or that God shouldn’t love us.

Our response to our feelings is often shame-driven hiding.  We avoid God and other believers because “if they only knew the real me…they wouldn’t want me around anymore, they’d abandon me”.

However, this kind of thinking is flawed because it assumes that all our relationships must be created and maintained on our own merits or worthiness.  Rather than fooling ourselves and others (and trying to fool God) into thinking that we’re “good enough” to be around…we need to honestly recognize that we’re not worthy of love, nor do we really deserve it.

But that hard, honest truth doesn’t mean we’re unlovable.

David also recognized the discrepancy in his own life between what things he had done and God’s immense love.  Look and see how he was still able to approach God:

Psalm 25:4-7
Make Your ways known to me, Lord; teach me Your paths.
Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation;
I wait for You all day long.
Remember, Lord, Your compassion and Your faithful love,
for they have existed from antiquity.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my acts of rebellion;
in keeping with Your faithful love,
remember me because of Your goodness, Lord.

The Hebrew word translated as faithful love is hesed.  Hesed 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 people or that one person may show to another.

God’s compassion and faithful love have existed longer than David’s sin.  We are just a flutter and a flash in comparison to the infinity of God and His love.  David understands that for him to have any relationship with God, it must be based upon God’s qualities – and not on David’s actions.

So, is David unworthy of God’s love?  Absolutely.  He doesn’t deserve it at all.  And he knows it.

Then is David unlovable because he’s unworthy?  No.  He is loved by God, because of who God is.

It’s not our job to carry the responsibility of being the foundation of our relationship with God.  He established that already through Christ’s death on the cross.  Are we humble enough to accept this?

Are we humble enough to accept that we are unworthy, but that we are still loved?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Worth reading and worth fighting for

Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself a rather embarrassing question:

When was the last time you actually read something?

It’s not that I don’t read at all.  Like most everyone, there are many things every day that I need to look at and read.  Work policies, news stories, sports articles, emails, text messages, magazines, internet searches…we read lots of stuff, right?  Well, sort of.

Truth be told, I don’t read much of what’s put in front of me.  I skim.  And not just a little…I skim everything

Whether it’s the lunch menu or an official document, my tendency is to scan for key words and trust my assessment based upon what I find.  With the amount of information we’re bombarded with on a daily basis, it feels like we’d never make it through a day if we stopped to really, truly read and understood everything.  I’ve managed along through life alright with this method…it only occasionally causes me issues…but I find this habit creeping into my time with God, as well.

When reading the Bible, it’s very easy to fall into the habit of skimming so we can just “get it done” and move on the next task for the day.  And while Jesus did promise that one of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to remind us of everything He taught (John 15:4), it’s really tough to be reminded of something we skimmed and didn’t fully understand in the first place.

So, let’s slow down, for just a moment.  Let’s read the oh-so-easy-to-skim list of characteristics Paul told Timothy to pursue.  Paul said these things were worth fighting for.  We’ll make sure we understand them…and then we’ll make sure we know how to pursue them ourselves.  You with me?

1 Timothy 6:11-12
Now you, man of God run from these things,
but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith,
love, endurance and gentleness.

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.

Now, let’s look at what these terms mean.

righteousness – being in a right relationship with God; living a life according to God’s standards of integrity and purity, with correct thinking, feeling, and action

godliness – reverence and respect towards God, with the desire to imitate God’s qualities

faith – the belief that God is truthful and trustworthy

love – this is agape love, a love that is specific in affection, intention, and benevolence; it is given without condition or requirement of reciprocity

endurance – steadfastness, consistency, and patient continuance; the characteristic of a person who is not swerved from their deliberate purpose and their loyalty to God, by even the greatest trials and sufferings

gentleness – mildness, humility, meekness; strength under control when interacting with others

Now that we’ve read and understood Paul’s words, where do we go from here?  Paul said they’re worth fighting for, so how do we go about doing that?

For you, maybe one characteristic stood out from the rest.  Take the next week, and ask God each day to show you ways to pursue that specific trait in your life.

Alternatively, take one characteristic each day and focus in on that.  Today, tell God you want to increase your righteousness with Him.  Ask Him to point out the areas of your life that are rightly aligned with Him.  And then ask Him to show you what parts need to be cleaned up.  Tomorrow, purse godliness and pray specifically about a characteristic of His that you want to imitate – His kindness, His generosity, His strength.  The next day, talk to God about faith and increasing your trust in Him.  And so on, for each of the six characteristics.

Follow either plan…and in a week’s time, you’ll be amazed at what God has taught you.

Thanks for reading.  Now, take hold of eternal life, to which you were called.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

To run or to fight?

Some battles are worth fighting, and other times we’re better off just walking away.  It would be easy to talk in these terms about conflict with other people…but let’s ask the harder question instead:

How do we know the difference – when to run and when to fight – when it comes to our internal struggles and desires?

Because here’s our dilemma:

If we run when we should fight, it is a clear loss.
If we fight when we should run, then we waste time in a losing battle and risk injury or ruin.

Last time, we looked at Paul’s warning to Timothy regarding the seductively destructive desire for money and wealth.  Paul’s advice for dealing with money-love? RUN AWAY

1 Timothy 6:9-11
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Now you, man of God, run from these things;

Loving money and what money can do for us will inevitably pull us away from God.  That pull can be as subtle as a distraction or as painful as a trap.  As such, Paul says having money as our primary driver is something to get away from.  And rather than dreaming of riches, Timothy needs something better to chase after:

1 Timothy 6:11-12
Now you, man of God, run from these things;
but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

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.

Paul has presented a practical contrast for Timothy:

He is to run from the trapping desire to get rich and get away from loving/craving money.
Instead
He is to fight to acquire the eternal life qualities of God and what God has called Timothy to do.

Beyond the direct application of Paul’s instruction (which would be extremely helpful), we can also draw out these principles:

We are to run from – the attitudes and actions that pull us away from God, from those things that try and take His top place in our lives.

We are to fight for – the attitudes and actions that draw us closer to God, for those things that keep Him in the top place in our lives.

When (not if) we find ourselves presented with an internal conflict, we need to check which direction we’re being pulled in…and then choose to either run or fight accordingly.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

The heart condition of our teachers

Have you ever listened to someone giving a presentation or a training and realize that they don’t know what they’re talking about?  How frustrating is it to recognize that they haven’t completely thought through the plan they are advocating…and, in fact, what they plan to implement will be detrimental or even harmful?

Unfortunately, this kind of thing can even happen in the church.  Paul warned Timothy about fellow believers acted in this manner:

1 Timothy 1:5-7
Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.  Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion.

They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

Why do they want to be teachers of the law?  Given Paul’s comments, they were likely after the things that come with leading and teaching, namely status, popularity, and authority – all of which are easily self-focused and not God-focused.  The goal of their instruction would be the promotion of themselves, which is the exact opposite of agape love.  Instead of leading for the benefit of others, these wannabe leaders are focused on themselves. 

If you replace the word ‘love with ‘self-focus’ you quickly realize that Paul’s statement becomes almost ridiculous:

Now the goal of our instruction is self-focus from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

Their self-focus betrays the true condition of their heart.  Jesus similarly cautioned His disciples about inter-family relationships:

Luke 6:43-45
“A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit.  For each tree is known by its own fruit.  Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. 

A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart.  An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”

Since these wannabe teachers in Ephesus have deviated from their pursuit of God via a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, what comes out of their mouths isn’t agape love – it’s just fruitless discussion.

Later on, Paul tells Timothy that it is a good thing to desire a leadership position and that those in charge reap extra rewards from God.  However, Paul will also caution against appointing someone before they are ready.

That’s the situation here – this group that want to be teachers has an incomplete knowledge base, an incorrect understanding, and as a result, they are focused on themselves.  Because of all this, the logical conclusions of what they are insisting on is either harmful to others or contradicts what God actually meant.

After we believe in Jesus for eternal life, the early steps of Christian living are more focused on us “being” rather than us “doing”.  God cares more about our character as a reflection of Him than He is about us doing “big things” for Him.  After we have the foundation of a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, the agape love pouring from that character will give us opportunities to lead – at church, at work, or in the home – and then we will produce good fruit

However, without that character foundation, we are prone to self-centeredness, fruitless discussion, and teachings that misrepresent God.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to give correction, lovingly

No one likes a phony, especially when we are on the receiving end of correction. 

When presented with correction, our human nature will begin to build a defense any way that it can.  We justify our understanding, we make excuses for any gaps, and – if possible – we challenge the credibility of the messenger.

Because – we rationalize – if the person correcting us can be shown to be deficient, then we feel justified in not heeding their correction.

So does this mean we must have our lives perfectly put together before we can rebuke anyone?  Of course not.  However, those of us who lead know how difficult it can be for correction to be received and implemented…and how even more difficult it is to prompt a change in behavior when our own actions need some work.

Throughout his letter, Paul is mentors and advises Timothy on how those in charge in the church are supposed to lead and live.  Paul knows that it is not enough for a leader to just “go through the motions”.  So in addition to discussing what a leader is supposed to do, Paul also points out how they are to do these things, as well as their motivation of character behind doing them.

So when it comes to correcting error, take a look at where Paul tells Timothy he should be coming from:

1 Timothy 1:3-5
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach other doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies.  These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.

Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

This love is the agape love, which is a ‘give-all’ kind of love that one has for the benefit of others.  This is the kind of love that God shows us; and in the context of giving correction, it is the kind of love Timothy is to have for his fellow believers who are messing around with bad teachings.

The goal of Timothy’s instruction is to show love to those he is correcting and that they will accept the correction, change their focus back to God’s plan, and also participate in the same agape love.

But this is where character matters.

Timothy could say “I’m correcting you because I love you” and still be a total jerk about it.
Timothy could say “I’m telling you this because I love you” and be a hypocrite.
Timothy could say “I’m commanding you to stop because you’re wrong and I’m in charge”.

In each of these situations, Timothy would be right – they need to be corrected – but he would have a difficult time convincing his fellow believer that change is necessary.

When we own ‘our stuff’, it is much easier to lovingly comment on ‘other people’s stuff’.  This applies to everyone, but especially those of us in leadership positions – at church, at work, or in the home.  Let’s take steps to keep our hearts pure, our conscience clear, and our faith sincere…and then love others accordingly, especially when they need correction.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Proud papa

How do you spell “love” to a child?

T-I-M-E

The same is true in mentoring.  Even a cursory look at the relationship between Paul and Timothy shows two things – that they spent a lot of time together, and Paul was proud of the man Timothy had grown into.

After leaving his family to join Paul and Silas, Timothy was present in many significant events in Paul’s missionary travels.  Timothy was at Philippi when the mob had Paul and Silas arrested.  Later an earthquake leveled the jail, which led to the jailer and his family to believe the gospel.  Timothy was also in Thessalonica when the riots started there, and he stayed with Silas in Berea when Paul was forced to travel ahead of them.

Timothy was also with Paul when he spent 18 months in Corinth, starting a church and ministering there.  Similarly, Timothy was with Paul during his two year stay in Ephesus.  Piecing together the timeline from other New Testament writings, we find that Paul would send Timothy out as his representative to encourage the churches they had previously established.

Timothy’s efforts mirrored his mentor’s so closely that Paul even referred to Timothy as “my co-worker” (Romans 16:21) and “our brother” (2 Corinthians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, Philemon 1).  Even more impressive is that Paul listed Timothy as a co-author in six of his letters – 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  None of Paul’s other ministering partners come anywhere close to that.

Over the years and years of working together, Paul also witnessed a lot of growth in Timothy.  Notice how Paul proudly recommends Timothy to the believers at the church they had established in Philippi:

Philippians 2:19-24
Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I also may be encouraged when I hear news about you.  For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father.  Therefore, I hope to send him as soon as I see how things go with me.

Their relationship is an excellent example of what a mentoring relationship should look like.  Timothy wouldn’t have developed without Paul’s guidance and the time Paul invested.  Timothy was able to learn from Paul; and not just to become a carbon-copy of his mentor, rather he would use Paul’s investment as the launching point of his own efforts to live out and spread the gospel.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Reflecting love

After all the dysfunction and relationship problems that Onesimus had previously caused Philemon, take a look at Paul’s appeal to Philemon to now accept Onesimus.  Does this sound familiar?

Philemon 17-22
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.  I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it – not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self.  Yes, brother, may I have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 

Since I am confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.  But meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I hope that through your prayers I will be restored to you.

Can you see how Paul is standing in the gap for Onesimus with Philemon, just like Jesus stands in the gap between us and God the Father?

Paul is confident that Philemon will listen to his request and accept Onesimus because Paul is the one making the request.  In order for the reconciliation to happen, Paul is willing to be charged for wrongs that he didn’t commit.  Paul is choosing to spend of himself – both in monetary resources and in relationship capital – to repair the relationship between two people he dearly loves.  Additionally, Paul was confident that Philemon would accept his offer and would do even more than simply tolerating Onesimus – it’s clear from his request that Paul fully believed Philemon would accept Onesimus back into his family.

Similarly, Jesus is confident that God the Father will accept those who trust Him for eternal life because Jesus is the one making the request.  In order for our reconciliation to happen, Jesus was willing to be charged for wrongs that he didn’t commit.  Jesus chose to spend of himself – by leaving behind the glory of Heaven, willing to be separated from the Father, and then to die a horrible death – to repair the relationship between those he dearly loves.  Additionally, Jesus knew that the Father would accept His offering and that the Father would do even more than just tolerate those who believe in Jesus for eternal life.  Jesus knew that because of His sacrifice, the Father would bring us into His family.

Paul’s actions are small-scale reflection of what Jesus did for each of us.  Without Paul’s assistance, it is doubtful that Onesimus could have been reconciled with Philemon.  Without Jesus, there was no way for us to be reconciled with God the Father. 

Great things happen when we imitate Jesus.  Relationships can be restored and lives can be changed – because we are acting like the One who restored our relationship with God the Father.  Our Jesus-changed life will positively affect the lives of others around us and simultaneously point them toward God’s bigger story.  The world doesn’t just need to hear the message of Jesus – they need to see it, too.

Paul was able to stand in the gap for his friends because he knew Jesus well enough to imitate Him.  If we stay close to Jesus, we too can be small-scale reflections of His great love.

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

Time to get personal

Although Paul wasn’t directly involved with Colossian church, several people he knew and cared about were.  Epaphrus, Archippus, Nympha, and Philemon all played various roles and had specific ministries to the believers in Colossae.  The rest of the congregation hadn’t met Paul.  So when he sent Tychicus with the letter to the Colossian church, Paul wrote from a position of a guest preacher who would teach them important truths and show them practical ways to live out their new life in Christ.

Notice how Paul identifies himself at the beginning of the letter:

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

From the get-go, Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus, which also provides the credibility for the things he wrote to them.  However, along with this letter, Paul had Tychicus deliver a second, more personal note.  The subject of this second letter was Tychicus’ traveling partner, Onesimus.  We were briefly introduced to him at the end of Colossians:

Colossians 4:7-9
Tychicus, a loved brother, a faithful servant, and a fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me.  I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are, and so that he may encourage your hearts.  He is with Onesimus, a faithful and loved brother, who is one of you.  They will tell you about everything here.

Onesimus needed to be reconciled with Philemon.  We’ll get into the details of what was broken in their relationship later, but it was serious enough that Paul chose to step into the fray with these two people he dearly loved.  For now, notice how Paul identifies himself at the beginning of his letter to Philemon:

Philemon 1-3
Paul, a prison of Christ Jesus, and Timothy, our brother:
To Philemon, our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your house.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

A little later, Paul says

Philemon 8-9
For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal, instead, on the basis of love.

There is no appeal to his apostleship.  Paul doesn’t take a stance or tell Philemon what to do based upon his authority in the family of believers.  Instead, Paul appeals to his friend out of love.  This is where the rubber meets the road – where teaching meets real life.  Paul taught the Colossians about the importance of having Jesus as the focus of our lives and the difference made because of it…but Paul himself must also live it out. 

There are many relationship lessons we can glean from reading Paul’s personal letter to Philemon, but it will be of greater importance for us to take those observations and apply them to those around us.  After all, a Christ-focused life is not found in the teaching of the theoretical, but in the personal living of the practical.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Practical application: marriage

Paul has spent more than half of his letter to the believers in Colossae telling them that because of Jesus’ sacrifice for their sins, they have a new relationship with God.  Paul continued to describe the impact this relationship has on their lives now and in eternity…with the entire focus on Jesus.   As they grow in understanding of who Jesus is and what a relationship with Him is like, these believers will live a fulfilled life of continual thankfulness that reflects the glory of God.

As Paul encourages the Colossian believers to press on toward maturity, in 3:12-17 he gives them a list of Christ-like characteristics that will come from their relationship with God:

…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…

And then, Paul gets real specific as to where these characteristics are to be practiced and developed.

Colossians 3:18-19
Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives and don’t become bitter against them.

That’s about as real as it gets, isn’t it?

We go from talking about theoretical living – yeah, I need to be more compassionate…I know I should be more thankful…and I’ve been working on my patience – to suddenly being told to apply these things to the person we see the most of in life.  We know our spouse’s good points, and we also know their flaws.  In fact, we probably know their flaws better than they even recognize them.

Submissive is hard word these days.  Keep in mind, though, that Paul does not say that all women are to be submissive to all men.  This direction is only for Christians in a marriage relationship.  The basis for submission has nothing to do with inferiority, but is instead grounded in respect for the position God has placed her husband in.  There is an important qualifier here, too – as is fitting in the Lord.  If your husband is rebelling against God and his leading of the family is contrary to Scripture, then you have the right and responsibility to not follow him.  However, if you don’t agree with the direction your husband is leading and there is no sin involved, a conversation needs to be had – first between you and God.  Maybe he does need to change.  Maybe you need to change.  But you will need to sort your own heart out with God before trying to change your husband’s mind.

Paul’s direction to husbands is equally challenging – to love your wife.  The Greek word for love here is agapao, the “give all” kind of love, and not the phileo “give and take” type, and not the erao “take all” type.  Men, how much are you willing to “give all” for your wife?  Sure, we all say we’d take a bullet for her…but what parts of ourselves are we willing to give up for her well-being?  When was the last time we set aside our hobby time to take care of her needs?  Are you willing to turn down an “opportunity” if the new job would take you away from her?  Also, if life’s circumstances change her – due to illness, injury, hardship, or anything else – will you stick to your commitment to love her, for better or worse?  Or will we allow those changes to be our excuse to become bitter toward her?  Will we resent her for not being the same woman we initially married? 

In no way does submissiveness or guarding against bitterness mean that we avoid the issues that will naturally come up when two sinful people get married and live life together.  Notice that in Paul’s practical application of marriage, none of the previous Christ-driven characteristics are disqualified or removed.  Godly submission and love without bitterness will only happen in our marriages as we

…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…

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

In the heat of the moment

Living with family is hard.  We have different likes, preferences, reactions, attitudes, and opinions.  With all of these differences, conflict becomes a “when” not an “if”.  When we get into the heat of conflict, it is pretty difficult to remember in that moment all of the ways we should be acting toward the other person.  Trying to guard our tone, volume, our word choice, and to listen before speaking are all very difficult to remember when we’re in the middle of defending our position.

A list of conflict resolution skills to practice is helpful…but only before the moment arrives.  When conflict hits, we’ll remember one or two of them, at best.  Since the way disagreements are handled can make or break relationships, it’s important to ask,

“Which skill or attitude is the most important?  What is the one thing to remember when conflict comes?”

In his letter, Paul coached the Colossian believers on how to prepare themselves to handle conflict within God’s family.  Earlier, he listed five character traits that they were to practice putting on, just like they would put on their clothes.  As they practiced the traits of heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, they would be able to accept and forgive each other when issues arose. 

However, the heat of the moment is a difficult time for those involved.  That’s why I think Paul continued with this piece of guidance:

Colossians 3:14-15
Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts.

This is the “if you forget everything else, remember what I’m about to tell you” moment in Paul’s letter.  Paul flags this most important direction with the key phrase above all.  So above all the Colossians are to remember to put on love.  They are to get dressed in the same kind of love that God has extended to us in Christ Jesus. 

Jesus himself gave the same answer when He was asked which section of the Jewish law was most important.  The person asking wanted to know what part of Moses’ law would be a guiding principle above all the other laws:

Matthew 22:37-40
He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  This is the greatest and most important commandment.  The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Jesus said that for us to love is our highest aim…but also notice that everything else flows out of that love.  Paul is telling the Colossians the same thing – Above all, put on love.  The other characteristics would flow out of how well we love, especially in the midst of conflict.

But how do we know what is the best way to show love?  How will we know what is best for the other person when we’re in the middle of a fight?

To that, Paul throws in an “and”.  The Colossians were to let the peace of the Messiah control their hearts.  The peace of the Messiah was what Jesus brought to the sin-caused conflict between the human race and God.  Jesus was willing to give Himself up to address the problem head-on, so that our relationship with God the Father could be restored.

Paul uses an interesting word for what this kind of peace is supposed to do to us.  The Greek word for control comes from a context of athletic games, where an official would serve as an umpire in the match.  Paul wants the peace of the Messiah then to guide, direct, and umpire our love for the family member we’re clashing with.  So when family conflict comes, and it will, this all we need to remember:

Above everything else, let’s aim for peace because we love them. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How God sees us

As Paul is wrapping up the transition point in his letter to the believers in Colossae, he makes an incredible statement that reveals how God views believers.  Previously, Paul urged them to kill off their old sinful habits because they

Colossians 3:9-10
…have put off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man

For the rest of the letter, Paul is going to describe what the life and practices of the new man will look like.  Reading ahead, you’ll find that Paul describes a life of freedom, love, and thankfulness.  However, the beginning of this new section says something we need to pause and consider.

Colossians 3:12
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on…

These three descriptions – chosen, holy, and loved – come before Paul lists out the qualities that he wants the Colossian believers to put on and practice.  This means that God views us by these descriptions – regardless of how well we live life wearing the practices of the new man.

So what, exactly, do these descriptions mean?

Although some people assume that the word chosen means that Paul is talking about God choosing people out of the world to be believers, the context doesn’t allow for that interpretation.

Keep in mind that Paul wrote to those who already trusted Jesus as their Savior.  Also remember that in the previous sentence, Paul described the family of God, saying

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

From this context, we see that all believers are chosen ones.  In fact, this entire section is only dealing with internal, family matters.  After Paul refers to the Colossian believers as chosen ones, the rest of sentence talks about the qualities of a maturing believer’s life.  Therefore, it is clear that God is choosing all believers to mature and become more Christ-like.  Not just some of us.  Not just the “good kids.”  God chooses all of us for maturity.

The word holy conveys the idea of being set apart for a special purpose.  A word that also embodies this idea is the word sacred.  Whenever we refer to something as sacred, we imply that it is in a category all to its own.  Sacred things are handled reverently and carefully…not because of weakness, but because holy and sacred things are considered to have a priceless value.  Notice that God sees us as holy, set apart, and He considers our relationship with Him to be a sacred one.

Lastly, Paul says that God sees us as loved.  We’ve heard that God loves us so many times that we can have trouble remembering the depth of His love.  Here, however, the tense of the verb loved helps to remind us.  Loved is a perfect passive verb in this sentence.  The perfect tense in Greek describes an action which is viewed as having been completed in the past, once and for all, not needing to be repeated.  A passive voice means that the subject is the recipient of the verb’s action.  Taken together, when Paul says that we are loved by God – it means that we are the recipient of His love, and His love for us was firmly established a long time ago.

God sees us as chosen ones, holy and loved.  Think about that.  Smile about that.  No matter what happens today, or how well you handle it, those things do not change.

God sees you as His chosen one, holy and loved.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Love, in context

Love.  Love.  Love.

We are very fascinated by the word, and the implications of what we think it is supposed to do in our lives.  We write songs that say we could live on love instead of money, or food, or air.  However, I would challenge anyone to pay their light bill with “love” and see how well that goes over.  Or better yet, try to sustain your body on “love” and skip your next 10 meals.  Similarly, we already know what would happen if we gave up breathing air and tried to breathe only “love”.

Each of these examples demonstrate the importance of context.  Nothing can be correctly understood outside its proper context – and “love” is no exception.  In fact, nowadays, we use “love” to mean such a wide variety of things, that our intended meaning can be easily misunderstood:

“I love chocolate.”
“I love your hair.”
“I love my wife.”
“I love politics.” (sarcasm there)

So clearly, “love” is only understood within the proper context.  As you read Paul explain his desire to have all believers reach full maturity, look for love’s context in the life of a believer:

Colossians 2:2-3
I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding, and have the knowledge of God’s mystery – Christ.  In Him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden.

When we in God’s family are encouraged and joined together in love, these actions and relationship characteristics are the riches of our assured understanding.  Growing in our own relationship with Jesus means that we grow in our understanding of who He is and what He means to us.  As this maturity happens, our actions will take on the love that He demonstrated.  The outpouring, or riches, of our understanding is found in the love we give to other believers.

And just to be clear…what is our understanding?  The Greek word used here carries the idea of a running or flowing together – much like the visual of two rivers flowing together.  What Paul is trying to convey is our assured understanding comes from our thoughts and choices merging with God’s flow and direction.

Paul’s words for the Colossians are also an echo of what Jesus told His own disciples:

John 13:35
By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.

In its proper context of our knowledge of Christ and our relationship with God, love brings forth an unmistakable richness in believers that is so unique that it is recognized by everyone.

Let’s make sure our understanding and knowledge are grounded in Christ, so we can keep the most important love of all in its proper context.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The heart of the matter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Where is the hope?

There is a lot going on in the world today, and much of it isn’t good.  Although humans were created in the image of God, the “news broadcasts" continue to report society’s deterioration as we run further and further from God and the purposes He created us for. 

Oftentimes, the sin-caused crumbling is beneath the surface, stewing at the individual level – things like dads not being fathers, pornography replacing love, or self-centered pursuits of money and power.  Other times, this deterioration appears in massive public displays – things like wars and terrorism, the abandonment of God’s definition of marriage, and government progressively taking on the role of final authority in peoples’ lives.

I have to admit to feeling overwhelmed from some of the sin-affected problems I’ve dealt with lately, both in my own individual life and as a part of our larger American society.  The Bible tells us that the world will worsen before Christ returns, but it is certainly difficult to watch unfold.  Sometimes, it feels like we have front row seats to a car accident that no one else can see coming.

But we have to ask the question: “What are we hoping in?  Where does our hope come from?”

Are we hoping that the lawyers gets it right and all the laws make society behave as it should? 
Are we hoping that the government makes the best decisions and keeps life at a comfortable level?

When individuals, society, or the government runs contrary to God’s design…and we lose hope…it forces us to assess just where our motivation and trust are anchored.

While imprisoned for preaching the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul wrote a letter to a church he had never met.  He knew of them through an associate named Epaphras; however, what he wrote indicates that they had a well-known, Godly reputation.  They had both strong faith and strong love, but to know why they were so good at pointing others toward God, read the verses below and see what their faith and love were rooted in:

Colossians 1:3-6
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.  You have already heard about this hope in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you.

Their anchor wasn’t in the culture around them.  In fact, their anchor wasn’t even in the hope that God would work through their government.  The Colossian believers had faith and love, and had them abundantly, because they were focused on the hope reserved for you in heaven.  Their hope was in Jesus’ promise of eternal life.  Their hope was found within the good news of the message of truth.

So where is our hope?  Are we trusting our culture, our circumstances, our government, or our job security to be the foundation of truth in our lives?  As society crumbles, will our hope and strength go with it?

Although he said it a number of years ago, Chuck Colson’s words still ring true:

“Where is the hope?  I meet millions who tell me that they feel demoralized by the decay around us.  Where is the hope?  The hope that each of us have is not in who governs us, or what laws are passed, or what great things that we do as a nation.  Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, and that’s where our hope is in this country; that where our hope is in life.”

Keep Pressing,
Ken