Pressing On


A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

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Misplaced thankfulness

Today is a day set aside for giving thanks.  It is a wonderful tradition we Americans have carried on for decades (even as Black Friday shopping deals encroach on the day).  Despite all the turmoil going on in the world, we have much to be thankful for.

But I feel the need to issue a warning:

The contents of our thankful sayings will reveal what we hold most dear.  More specifically, which person(s) we hold most dear.  So when grace is said before dinner tonight, or as everyone goes around the table to say what they’re thankful for…listen not just for their words, but listen for their heart.  Above all, we should listen to our own words and consider our motives.

The shift is subtle, but it is so easy for our prayers and thankfulness to become self-centered.  One of Jesus’ parables dealt directly with this:

Luke 18:9
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else:

Now before we ignore this parable because we think that we don’t fit Jesus’ target audience…let’s think back over our prayers for the last week.  Maybe you’ve prayed only once, or once a day, or even multiple times a day, but what has been the content of those prayers?

How do our prayers compare to these two individuals?

Luke 18:10-14
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself:

‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people – greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying,

‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’

I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Can you hear the bragging tone of the self-centered Pharisee?  He’s so thankful that he doesn’t do the wrong things and that he always does all the right things.  Certainly, God should be impressed by his actions.  In the Pharisee’s mind, he has earned his place with God by doing everything better than everyone else.

The tax collector doesn’t bother to look at what he has or has not done.  Instead, his focus is entirely on God.  He recognized that God was the foundation of their relationship.  Without God’s participation and mercy, there was no chance for this tax collector – regardless of what good things he does or has.

So let’s avoid being thankful for “things” and “stuff” simply because “things” and “stuff” are enjoyable.  Let’s not be thankful in comparison to other’s situations and life choices.  It’s ok to enjoy blessings and good moments in life; however, the amount of blessings we have is not proof of how close we are with God.

But some evidence of our relationship with God will be heard in our prayers and words of thanks.

Keep Pressing,

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,

Being Heavenly minded

The trouble with clichés is that they are typically rooted, somewhere, in reality.  The phrase that’s bothered me for a while is one that is usually muttered as a putdown in Christian circles. 

He’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good.

You can almost hear the contempt in someone’s voice as they say it.  Historically, however, there have been Christians that used the prospect of Heaven as an excuse to “check out” of the world around them.  Either pulling away as an individual or into a small community, some have sought to distance themselves from the messiness of a sinful world and just wait until God takes them away to Heaven.

However, I think us modern believers have over-reacted in an attempt to avoid being labeled as “too heavenly minded”.  We’re afraid of being labeled as a dreamer or looked at as someone who’s trying to escape the real issues facing us in the here and now.  So we tend to not think about the next life all that much…

This is what Paul told the Colossians about where their minds should be focused:

Colossians 3:1-4
So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.  When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

As we continue to read Paul’s letter, we will see him give the Colossian believers a wide variety of practical ways to live out their heavenly minded-ness.  So we can’t just pull these verses out and claim that this allows us to forsake the world and world’s problems.  Paul’s point here is that our focus in life matters.  In fact, any earthly good we do accomplish will be because we have aligned our perspective with God’s perspective.  His aim is to reach for sinners, and we can partner with Him as He continues to do so.

C.S. Lewis saw a similar issue in the church of his day:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.  It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.  If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.  The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this [one].

We modern believers are too focused on ourselves, and that clouds up our ability see the earth from God’s perspective.  Much of our time is taken up trying to “discover” ourselves or somehow project an image of ourselves into the world around us.  We will continue middling around and being unfulfilled until we seek what is above, realizing that our life is hidden in the Messiah

I take a lot of comfort in Paul’s last statement – When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 

Jesus won’t be fully revealed to the entire world until He returns.  Since His revealing is still in the future, that means the full revealing of my identity is also still in the future.  On that day, we will be shown as the ones so loved by God…because we will be with Him in glory.  My mind swirls with wonder just thinking about and desiring that day.

However, until then…we need to keep our minds fixed on what is above and love those around us, just like our Messiah does.

Keep Pressing,

Public prayer

Jesus and His disciples returned to Jerusalem the next day after clearing the money changers from the temple complex and severely rebuking the hypocrisy of Israel’s spiritual leaders.  Unsurprisingly, Israel's spiritual leaders wanted some answers and were eager to confront Jesus:

Mark 11:27-28 They came again to Jerusalem.  As He was walking in the temple complex, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came and asked Him, “By what authority are You doing these things?  Who gave You this authority to do these things?

Jesus then used a parable to convey God’s displeasure with their administration of the nation’s relationship with God the Father.  The religious leaders clearly got Jesus’ point…and begin to plan Jesus’ demise.

Mark 12:12 Because they knew He had said this parable against them, they were looking for a ways to arrest Him, but they were afraid of the crowd.  So they left Him and went away.

Other portions of the religious establishment were then sent to challenge Jesus:

Mark 12:13 Then they sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to Him to trap Him by what He said.

And again:

Mark 12:18 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and questioned Him

After rebuffing all their questions with wise answers that both amazed and delighted the crowd gathered to watch the dialogue, Jesus stopped to give them all a warning.

Mark 12:38-40 He also said in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes, and who want greetings in the market-places, the front seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers just for show.  These will receive harsher punishment.”

The scribes were members of the learned class, with responsibilities for studying the Hebrew Scriptures.  They also served as copyists, editors, teachers, and jurists.  They were held in high regard, and as such, they were also prone to holding themselves in high regard.

Jesus gave a specific list of actions that would help the crowd identify scribes to be wary of.  Their actions betrayed the heart’s true desire – to be given honor, rather than giving honor to God.

It’s the last identifier that I find rather interesting – the scribes would say long prayers just for show.  Their words were for those around them, in order that they would be noticed and highly regarded.  They would go on and on in great spiritual-sounding dialogue…and yet their target audience was only those physically around them.

We would be wise to consider the prayers of the spiritual leaders around us.  When you hear them pray, see if you can identify whom they are talking to…are they talking to God, or are they talking to you?  Are they praying for God’s will or just communicating information with their eyes closed?

Don’t forget to do a self-evaluation as well.  If my prayer habits and phrases are different when I pray by myself vs. when I pray around others, then it would be a good idea to speak to God privately about the matter.  Ask His forgiveness and for instruction on how to pray to Him when other people are around.

The last thing we want is to end up like the self-seeking scribes, because after all, their choices eventually led them to receive harsher punishment.  God has a long track record of severely correcting those who misrepresent Him in the manner which the scribes were doing.

Let’s beware leaders who act like that, and also make sure that we don’t act like that either.  As Jesus pointed out, a good litmus test to evaluate the purpose of our hearts is to listen to what is said in public prayers.

Keep Pressing,

Avoiding foolish controversies

We like to argue and debate.  From the local bar to nationally televised Presidential campaigns, we love to discuss the issues.  Even those of us that avoid conflict will tune in to a radio broadcast or to TV shows “just to hear what they’ll say next”.  Controversy also drives our 24 hour “news” networks.  We’ve even gotten to the point as a society that if there isn’t controversy, then we’ll make a situation into one.  We gripe about it, but then we turn around and eat it up like junk food.

However, when the levels of controversy we observe in society is found within our homes, life gets messy real quick.  Lines are drawn and feelings are hurt…finding consensus is difficult, if not sometimes impossible.  Relationships break down due to prolonged arguments and quarrels.  While there are subjects that are critical to a family’s foundation, we must guard against making mountains out of molehills.  As our children have grown up, my wife and I are constantly checking with each other to ensure that main things are still the main things…and that we’re not having controversies over subjects that, in the end, really don’t matter or don’t have a significant impact on how our family functions.

The same trouble with minor topics becoming major controversies can be found within the church family, and it is not a new problem for God’s family.  After encouraging Titus to instruct the Cretan believers to devote themselves to doing what is good, Paul immediately follows up with this warning:

Titus 3:9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.

Within the immediate context of Paul’s letter, these arguments and quarrels about the law were most likely coming from those in circumcision group Paul noted in Chapter 1.  These were the people who wrongly insisted that the gospel was “Jesus + the law = salvation from sin”.  However, they would often argue about what, exactly, adherence to the law really meant.  They would debate things like “How many steps a person could take on a Sabbath before walking becomes work and you break the commandment of keeping the Sabbath holy?” or “Should a Jew eat an egg laid on a festival day?” or “What sort of wick and oil should a Jew use for candles he burns on the Sabbath?”

While debating these kinds of questions may seem silly to us, the vast majority of church splits in modern times have nothing to do with doctrinal issues.  Churches have split over the color of the carpet in the sanctuary, the pronunciation of a Hebrew letter, the style of worship music, and even a piano bench…just to name a few examples.  

Paul is instructing Titus not just to avoid these pointless arguments, but to confront them head-on:

Titus 3:10-11 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time.  After that, have nothing to do with him.  You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

They were warped, sinful, and self-condemned because the controversies they were wasting their time with were ultimately self-centered endeavors – these divisive people were motivated by pride and self rather than by a relationship with God.  The same rings true for those involved in most modern-day church splits, too.

Let’s keep the main things as the “main things” and not waste our time on minor-level preferences that focus on our individual wants.  Instead, let’s follow Paul’s instruction:

Titus 3:8 I want you to stress these things [healthy teachings of salvation from sin], so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.  These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Keep Pressing,