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: next step

Flashback Favorite - How to avoid the sin cycle

I’m reposting this one based upon a conversation I had recently. Even though our family no longer lives in West Virginia, there’s still a lot of truth to be found in this observation.

How to avoid the sin cycle
originally posted on November 3, 2016

Do you know which plant grows best in West Virginia?

Weeds.  The weeds grow best in West Virginia.

We get a lot of snow and rain here, and the ground is rather fertile.  However, if a piece of land is cleared, the grass and flowers in the area do not take it over.  The weeds do, and quickly.

There’s a spiritual lesson in there, if we’re open to seeing it.  It’s not enough for Christians to just clear out the “bad” portions of our lives.  Clearing out sinful actions, bad habits, and distractions does take monumental effort.  Taking steps to avoid going back to those old ways will be a significant challenge.  But if we forget to take the next step, we’ll wear ourselves out, only to be caught in a sick cycle of clearing out the weeds and then letting them creep back in and take over…only to have to clear out the weeds (again) to then let them creep back in (again) and take over (again)…and again…and again…

Paul knew this, too.  He wanted Timothy to instruct the believers in Ephesus on how to avoid being stuck in this perpetual cycle.  Take a look at what “next step” Paul says they should take after avoiding the things that will distract us from God and His purpose:

1 Timothy 4:7
But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness,

When we clear out the ungodly distractions in our lives, we MUST refill the time and use the effort we would previously spend on those distractions.  If we want grass and flowers to grow in our cleared-out land, then we must plant them immediately after doing the work of clearing out the garbage weeds.  It is at that moment that the ground (and our lives) are most willing to accept the change in direction.  If we wait to fill the void – the world will gladly fill it for us…

Paul knows it’s not enough to just avoid the irreverent and silly myths out there.  So, he tells Timothy to replace any time previously spent on those things with a specific plan that has a Godly focus.  His focus is to be on the things that have a “God-like-ness”, the things that point himself and others toward the God of the Universe.

Paul’s use of the phrase train yourself is no accident, either.  The Greek phrase means to exercise vigorously.  Given the city’s prominence in Greek culture, this is clearly a reference to the effort and dedication a Greek athlete would put toward his training to compete in the Ancient Olympic Games. 

Lastly, notice how Timothy had to choose to do the training.  No one else could do the work for him.  No one else is going to develop his relationship with God.  No one else can focus Timothy’s thoughts on God’s words and direction for his life.  As he chooses to plant the seeds of godliness, the growth that comes will fill up the area that was previously overrun with any irreverent and silly ideas.  Timothy’s training will become the long term investment that will keep him out of the sin cycle.

There’s a life lesson in there, if we are open to seeing it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The best "Next Step"

Have you ever learned something – some perspective-changing information – and then have it stuck in your thinking?  It’s like the concept has taken up residence your brain, and the implications of your new understanding suddenly bleed over into other areas of your life?

Well, that’s been me recently…with this whole “better meal” concept that Jesus pointed out.  In the previous post, we looked at the dynamic between Martha and Mary, when Jesus arrived at their house for a visit.  Martha got busy serving, but Mary chose to spend her time receiving what she could from Jesus’ conversation and teaching.  Here’s how that day played out:

Luke 10:38-42
While they were traveling, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.  She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  So tell her to give me a hand.”

The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What has stuck in my mind is how Jesus acknowledged that Martha was worried about the meal preparations, but He gently told her that Mary had chosen the “better meal”. 

So…if spending time with Jesus is the best choice – the right choice – for us believers, then we need to ask ourselves: How am I doing with that?  When was the last time I sat and listened for what He has to say?

That’s a great place to start; however, my line of thinking didn’t stop with just me and my relationship with Jesus.  My mind then made the short leap to thinking about how well the entire body of Christ is partaking in the “better meal”.  And if we, as Christians, need help to understand what this “better meal” looks like in our lives – then what is the church doing to promote this?

Since we are all at different stages in our relationship with God, churches often talk about and encourage believers to take the right “Next Step” from wherever they are.  And rightfully, they should.  But what are the most common “Next Steps” made available?

After checking out a number of church’s websites, it really is a mixed bag in terms of what steps are presented (if any) as being part of a believer’s walk with Christ.  The most common suggestions are volunteering to serve within the church or plugging into a small group or community group.  The group activities typically range from social hangout events to community volunteer work, and people are generally encouraged to “do life together”. 

While these options do good, helpful actions…they generally fall under the ‘Martha’ category and not the ‘Mary’ category.  They aren’t what Jesus referred to as the “better meal”.  We can learn a lot, grow a lot, and do a lot of good with our actions…but eventually, we’ll grow weary and burn out, wondering if this “Christian-life thing” is really worth all the effort.

The truth of the matter is we can’t confidently do what Jesus wants us to do until we know what Jesus wants us to know.  We must make the same choice that Mary made – we must choose the better meal – to sit at the feet of the master and focus on Him.

During last weekend’s sermon, our lead pastor asked the question “Do you know why most people fall asleep in church? It’s not just the boring guys that stand up here.  It’s because this is the most still and quiet you sit for this period of time all week long.”

If we’re honest, we know that listening to someone else talk about Jesus for 30 minutes isn’t enough to maintain us, let alone for us to live fully alive.  We need better fuel than what comes second-hand and once-a-week.  We need to go directly to the source.  We need Jesus.

But in our crazy world how does that work?  How do we find time to sit at His feet?  Better yet, how do we sit at His feet, if we can’t see His feet?  The two best ways for us modern believers to sit at Jesus’ feet is to engage in prayer and look at Jesus’ life in the Bible. 

Maybe we avoid these things because we don’t believe we have the time.  If this is you, then I encourage you to ask God to show you were you can carve out 15 minutes of your day.  It’s a simple, straight-forward request, “God, I want to prioritize time with You, but I don’t know when I can.  You know my schedule, please show me a time to meet with You.”  Trust me, God will show you a time, and you’ll be amazed at what He can do in your life with just 15 minutes.

Maybe we avoid these things because we’re not confident in our ability to do them.  No one is expected to be a Prayer Warrior or a Bible Scholar the moment they believe.  We can take comfort in knowing there are many examples in the Bible of people asking to be taught how to pray or how to handle the Scriptures.  In my upcoming posts, we’ll look at a few of the examples.  The important thing right now is that we start – talk to God and read some of Luke or John.  Look at one story from Jesus’ life and see what you can learn about Him.  If you still feel like you need help, ask God to point out someone who can assist you.

Mary had to pass on some good things in order for her to do the best thing.  We may need to make some similar choices to fit the time into our daily schedule.  But remember…Jesus called spending time with Him “the right choice”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The Christian life, in 3 steps. Seriously. (part 1)

Seems like every other day I see an article telling me that someone has figured out how to boil down a daunting life scenario into simple, easy-to-do steps.  We find stories with titles like: “5 steps to a successful marriage” or “8 things that will get you promoted this year” or “10 best vacations on a budget”.  When I read the title, I typically roll my eyes, mutter a ‘yeah right’…and then click to see if they really have something useful to say.

But can following Christ really be broken down in to easy-to-do steps?  Apparently many Christian authors think so, because their Bible-referenced lists are just as prevalent as anything else online.  But do any of them…well…work?  Or are they just peddling pop-psychology wrapped in a Bible verse?

While I’m not so sure about the internet, I know I can rely on the Bible.  In the later sections of his letter, after the author of Hebrews has fully demonstrated his initial thesis point from Chapter 1 – that Jesus truly is the Greater Messenger of the Greater Covenant – he proceeds with encouragement, a warning, and an example from Old Testament scripture.

First, let’s look at the encouragement:

Hebrews 10:19-21
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus – He has inaugurated for us a new and living way through the curtain (that is, through His flesh) – and since we have a great high priest over the house of God,

Because of these three things, which the author previously covered:

·        We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place (4:16)
·        By Christ’s sacrifice (9:11-12)
·        And we have a great high priest (8:1)

From this launching point, we are encouraged to follow through in three ways, and each one begins with the phrase let us.  It is in these three steps that we find essence of Christian living. 

Here’s the first one:

Hebrews 10:22
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.

Since Christ’s sacrifice was so great, He has given us – the muddy, messy, undeserving us – access to God.  And not just sneaking-in-the-backdoor access, oh no.  Instead, because Jesus identified with us and paid our sin-debt, we can boldly enter into God’s presence at any time and from any place.

When we enter God’s presence, we don’t need to become wallflowers, either.  We don’t have to hide or avoid eye contact.  Through Christ’s approval, we can draw near to God…we can get up close and personal. 

And if our shame has us worried about coming in close to God, remember that our sins aren’t just covered up or glossed over by Jesus’ sacrifice…our sins and their stains have been wiped out, erased, removed.  Our hearts have been sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies have been washed in pure water

If Jesus can cleanse the Heavenly tabernacle, then our individual guilty consciences and physical acts of sin are well within His cleansing ability. 

So, our first step in Christian living is to draw near.

But how do we draw near?  We need to intentionally spend alone time with God.  We’ll get to the ‘with others’ stuff later.  The first step is to make sure we each develop our relationship with God.  I can’t do it for you, and you can’t do it for me.  Drawing near means one-on-one time.

How much time?  I suggest we start with just a little more that whatever time we’ve been giving Him.  Maybe we go from 0 minutes to 5 minutes, maybe that’s 15 minutes at night before bed.  Maybe it’s as simple as shutting off the radio the next time we drive a car so we can talk with Him (trust me, other people won’t think you’re crazy…).

What should we do with that time?  Talk to Him.  Ask God a question and then be silent, waiting for an answer.  Read a psalm.  Think about what the psalm tells you about God.  Ask Him to show you how and where He’s active in your life. 

For the next week, intentionally practice drawing near.  Then we’ll be ready for what the author of Hebrews says is our next step.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

How to avoid the sin cycle

Do you know which plant grows best in West Virginia?

Weeds.  The weeds grow best in West Virginia.

We get a lot of snow and rain here, and the ground is rather fertile.  However, if a piece of land is cleared, the grass and flowers in the area do not take it over.  The weeds do, and quickly.

There’s a spiritual lesson in there, if we’re open to seeing it.  It’s not enough for Christians to just clear out the “bad” portions of our lives.  Clearing out sinful actions, bad habits, and distractions does take monumental effort.  Taking steps to avoid going back to those old ways will be a significant challenge.  But if we forget to take the next step, we’ll wear ourselves out, only to be caught in a sick cycle of clearing out the weeds and then letting them creep back in and take over…only to have to clear out the weeds (again) to then let them creep back in (again) and take over (again)…and again…and again…

Paul knew this, too.  He wanted Timothy to instruct the believers in Ephesus on how to avoid being stuck in this perpetual cycle.  Take a look at what “next step” Paul says they should take after avoiding the things that will distract us from God and His purpose:

1 Timothy 4:7
But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness,

When we clear out the ungodly distractions in our lives, we MUST refill the time and use the effort we would previously spend on those distractions.  If we want grass and flowers to grow in our cleared-out land, then we must plant them immediately after doing the work of clearing out the garbage weeds.  It is at that moment that the ground (and our lives) are most willing to accept the change in direction.  If we wait to fill the void – the world will gladly fill it for us…

Paul knows it’s not enough to just avoid the irreverent and silly myths out there.  So, he tells Timothy to replace any time previously spent on those things with a specific plan that has a Godly focus.  His focus is to be on the things that have a “God-like-ness”, the things that point himself and others toward the God of the Universe.

Paul’s use of the phrase train yourself is no accident, either.  The Greek phrase means to exercise vigorously.  Given the city’s prominence in Greek culture, this is clearly a reference to the effort and dedication a Greek athlete would put toward his training to compete in the Ancient Olympic Games. 

Lastly, notice how Timothy had to choose to do the training.  No one else could do the work for him.  No one else is going to develop his relationship with God.  No one else can focus Timothy’s thoughts on God’s words and direction for his life.  As he chooses to plant the seeds of godliness, the growth that comes will fill up the area that was previously overrun with any irreverent and silly ideas.  Timothy’s training will become the long term investment that will keep him out of the sin cycle.

There’s a life lesson in there, if we are open to seeing it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Rooted and growing

I love word pictures.

Similes and metaphors have the incredible ability to communicate broad concepts in simple images.  We come across one of the most famous Biblical examples when we read about the psalmist’s desire for God:

Psalm 42:1
As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God.

The imagery is so strong that I honestly think he could have stopped the psalm right there.  We clearly understand the level of desire he is trying to communicate.  Later on, the psalmist also uses a metaphor to demonstrate how much he relies on God:

Psalm 42:9
I will say to God, my rock…

This comparison grabs our attention as well.  By referring to God as “my rock”, all the associated ideas of strength, stability, and reliability are understood.

This is why we need to pay attention to any word pictures that we come across when reading Scripture.  When we pause to consider what the imagery represents, we will get a fuller understanding of what the author is trying to communicate – and better understanding always leads to better application.

As Paul was encouraging the believers in Colossae to develop and mature in their relationship with God, he used two powerful metaphors.  The first one equated our relationship with Jesus to our walk, which carries the idea of us traveling together with Christ.  Take a look at these verses and find the second word picture.  It gives us the characteristics of how our walk should go.

Colossians 2:6-7
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Just in case the Colossian believers were wondering what their walk in Him should look like, Paul jumps to an agricultural metaphor to explain.  Clear images come to mind when he says that the path of our lives should be rooted and built up in Him.  This word picture makes it easy for us to take the concept of a tree driving roots deep into the ground for both stability and nutrients and associate it with the need for us to drive our own spiritual roots deep into Christ.

From the moment life bursts forth from an acorn, we have an oak tree.  It is weak and susceptible to damage from a variety of sources – weather, disease, other creatures, etc.  Its only hope of protecting itself is to establish roots.  Strong roots make a strong tree.  Weak roots make a weak tree.  As the oak tree’s roots find good soil and water, the tree can be built up and develop.

This metaphor is easily applicable to our lives.  From the moment we receive Jesus, we are a Christian.  But we are also weak and susceptible to damage from a variety of sources – life’s circumstances, poor teachings, other people, etc.  Our only hope of protecting ourselves is to establish roots.  As we are rooted and built up in Him, we can grow, develop, and be established in what we believe.

Pausing to consider this metaphor also gives us a chance to ask the question:

Am I making sure I’m rooted in Jesus?  What steps am I actively taking so I can walk in Him, and walk with Him?

Think about this today.  This word picture, and its implications, are worth meditating over.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Maturing together

When we think of a “mature” person, we typically remember an adult that doesn’t laugh at inappropriate or innuendo kinds of joking.  We also imagine someone who is more formal than messy, stoic rather than expressive, and nice…but probably a little boring.  Maturity is a trait that we know we should eventually have, or should probably have a little bit more than we currently do.  Acting like we’re mature typically leads to people thinking we’re mature – and when we reach the point that people think of us as a mature person, it means that we are one…right?

As with everything else in life, this a good topic to see from God’s perspective.  When we look at the Scriptures, we find that God’s already provided an explanation of what maturity looks like for us.  A survey of the New Testament shows that many authors touch on this topic, and some do so repeatedly.  Whenever the maturity of a believer is discussed, the author speaks of it as a goal or as the ultimate destination for those who already trust Jesus for eternal life.

The Greek word most commonly translated as mature carries the idea of someone or something that is finished and “perfect” in terms of being fully completed.  The end goal of the maturing process has been met.  There is no longer potential to be something…because now the person or object has achieved all of its potential.

However, reaching maturity isn’t an end to itself.  When we become mature, we won’t sit around and be impressed with ourselves; instead, maturity is the starting point for an especially close relationship with God, where He reveals Himself and the deep things about Him.  A mature Christian has the strength, the self-control, and the wisdom to live life as God designed us.   

Even still, we are quick to think that maturity is something that happens to us on an individual basis.  We also expect that it occurs only after we’ve obtained enough knowledge or experience.  However, that’s not how Paul described the goal of maturity to the believers in Colossae:

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.

Did you notice how Paul desires that all believers reach maturity…and then immediately talks about their hearts?  Paul includes understanding and knowledge as part of our maturing process, but those are listed after the needs of our hearts.

Also notice that Paul uses the plural here – I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love.  Maturity happens within the context of community in God’s family.  We won’t become complete or reach our full potential outside of our relationships with other believers.  

This kind of maturity will be more messy than formal, expressive instead of stoic, and certainly full of never-dull moments.  Growing together will be hard at times, but it brings about the kind of maturity we were made for.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Set apart by truth

As Jesus continued to petition the Father during His ‘High Priestly Prayer’, the disciples discovered a central truth of how they were going to maintain their oneness with the Father.

John 17:16-19 They are not of the world, as I am not of the world.
Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.
As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
I sanctify Myself for them, so they also may be sanctified by the truth.

Because they believed in Jesus for eternal life, the disciples were no longer of the world, meaning that they no longer represented the world’s values and the world’s values no longer represented them.  They were, in fact, separated out from the world.  From this, Jesus requests that the Father would sanctify them.  To be sanctified means to be set apart for a Holy purpose.  Jesus will be sending His disciples into the world, into a realm that no longer represents them.  In this way, their mission will be just like Jesus’ mission – enter into hostile territory in order to proclaim the good news of salvation and Christ’s offer of eternal life for all who believe.

However, the part that blows me away is verse 17 – Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.

Jesus asks the Father to set apart the disciples for a Holy purpose, and He requests that the Father accomplishes the sanctification by the truth…which sounds all well and good, and would be a wonderful request if Jesus had stopped His sentence right there.  But He didn’t stop…instead, in His request to the Father, Jesus revealed one of the most rock-bottom, foundational, and practical realities for anyone who follows Jesus:

Your word is truth.

It is only in the Father’s statements that the truth of life is found.  The Father proclaims truth, and it is by that truth the disciples will be set apart.  As the Father’s truth enters their lives and they become more like Jesus, they will be made ready to participate in God’s Holy purposes – both in this life and in eternity.

And it gets better as Jesus continues…

John 20-21 I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message.
May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You.
May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.

Jesus prayed SPECIFICALLY for us.  We are the ones who have believed in Jesus through the disciples’ message.  Jesus asked the Father that we would also experience the same intimately connected “oneness” with the Father that Jesus was praying for His disciples.

At the end of verse 21, Jesus revels our purpose in being so intimately connected with each other and with God: so the world may believe You sent Me.  Just like the disciples, we too are set apart, for God’s Holy purpose of showing the world that the Father sent Jesus to be our Savior and that eternal life is available for those who trust in Him for it.

Our “oneness” with the Father is what spreads this message.  Being one with the Father, as Jesus was, will sanctify us…and our relationship with the Father is maintained by focusing on the truth of God’s word. 

God has spoken His word to humanity in two distinct ways – through the Bible (which we commonly refer to as ‘God’s Word’) and through His son Jesus (who is referred to as ‘the Word’). 

If we are going to participate in God’s Holy purpose and share the good news in the world, then our next step is both straightforward and practical – we must spend time in God’s Word and with Jesus, the Word.

Keep Pressing,
Ken