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.

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Flashback Favorite - My first assignment

My first assignment
originally posted on April 20, 2016

Wait, I’m going to teach what?

That was my mental reaction to my first teaching assignment from my mentor, Joe.

Our mentor-protégé relationship began when he was teaching a Sunday School class and had asked if anyone was interested in team-teaching with him.  I was eager to teach, but I knew that I had to learn how to better handle the Scriptures if I was going to take on the responsibility of teaching God’s Word to others.  Joe pointed me toward Howard Hendricks’s Living by the Book and, with his guidance, I began to learn how to Observe, Interpret, and then Apply the Bible.

I figured that my first teaching lesson would cover one of the passages I had just learned from…instead, Joe said that my first teaching experience would come from teaching the class how to study the Bible, like I had just learned.  I was instantly nervous and gave Joe a weak “You sure about this?”.  But he assured me that this was the best topic for me to start with.

I profusely prayed over every lesson.  I did my best to communicate the three steps, as well as provide good examples and practice exercises – some lessons went well; others didn’t feel like they went anywhere.  To anyone who was in those first classes of mine, I say thank you for your patience!  That experience was a huge step for me and my growth – both in my relationship with God, as well as in learning how to organize and teach.  It certainly helped to have my mentor’s example, his directions, and his confidence in me.

Reading through the gospels, we find that Jesus did something similar with his protégés:

Matthew 9:35-10:1
Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.  When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.  The He said to His disciples,

“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Summoning His 12 disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness.

When Jesus told them to pray that the Father would send out workers to reach the people of Israel, I’m sure they agreed that would be a good thing to do…but then Jesus turns around and tells them that it is time for them to go out and participate in the harvest, by doing what they had only previously watched Jesus do!  Imagine everything that must have been going through their minds – anticipation, nervousness, excitement, tension?  Trust me, it was all those and then some.

Matthew 10:5-8
Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town.  Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  As you go announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons.  You have received free of charge; give free of charge.”

Notice how Jesus gave them parameters and direction for their first assignment.  They weren’t supposed to go outside of Israel.  They had a very specific message to proclaim.  They were also given authority to do what Jesus did – heal, raise the dead, cleanse, and drive out demons – and they were not to charge the people for these acts, just as Jesus hadn’t charged anyone.

The disciples would eventually be ready for the larger assignment of the Great Commission, where they were instructed to go make disciples of people from all nations.  They were not ready for that yet, though.  The disciples were still going to do what they had seen Jesus do, but their first assignment was on a much smaller scale.

As a mentor, we need to give our protégé assignments that will begin to stretch them now and incrementally prepare them for later.  On the flip side, when our mentor gives us an assignment that seems like a very large leap, we need to trust them. 

Looking back, it was that first assignment that propelled me closer to God and sharpened my teaching ability.  Joe was making sure that I was not going to be just another teacher who can only feed people The Word, but he wanted me to be able to show others how to feed themselves.  Following through on that first assignment, despite how rough it may have been on me and/or the class, has paid many dividends over the years since.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Watching with purpose

Back in the dark ages – before we all had our phones constantly in-hand – I had to pick up my wife and boys from the airport.  The three of them were returning home after visiting her parents for few weeks.  I knew the flight number and expected time of arrival, and so I parked the car and waited in baggage claim.  I was there early and with nothing to do – because nobody stared down at their phones back then – I decided to do some people-watching while I kept an eye out for them.

It doesn’t matter how eclectic your social circles are, when you’re at an airport, you will see all kinds of people you don’t normally run into.  However, one cannot simply “watch people” when they are “people-watching”; there is a certain level of discretion that has to be maintained.  The trick is to observe without others catching you doing what really amounts to some short-term staring.  Locking eyes with an observee can be awkward at the very least, and depending on the person (or their companion), being caught could lead to an uncomfortable scene in a public place.

Between the clothing chosen, the style of walk, and the expression on their faces, each person was making some sort of statement about who they were and what they were about.  There were fashion statements, financial statements, sports statements, political statements, attitude statements – a sweeping variety of stories were being told as I watched them all walk by me.  Some people treat the airport like a catwalk runway, others do their best to go unnoticed.  Some people obviously chose to wear too many clothes, but as this was summertime, many others decidedly wore too few.

As my eyes bounced from person to person and from story to story, I quickly became lost in this time-killing activity.  I hadn’t forgotten why I was at the airport, but watching for my family was no longer my primary task.  After some time, my situation dawned on me.  What would happen if my wife and kids found me and walked up before I even saw them?  Simply missing them because I was watching others would be embarrassing enough, but imagine the kind of reception if they walked up while I was distracted and observing someone who had chosen to wear as little as possible?

With that revelation, I quickly snapped back to the task at hand.  I wasn’t unaware of the other people around me, but my focus was now on what was most important to me.  A short time later, they came down the escalator and toward their baggage carousel.  I was greeted with hugs from my boys and a kiss from my wife – and I was thankful that I had made the right choice before it was too late.

We, as Christians, also have a return to watch for.  Jesus said He will be coming back, and He told many parables alluding to His future return.  However, by our reckoning, it has been many years since He said that, and there are many distractions in this life – fashion, finances, sports, politics, attitudes, and numerous others.  It’s easy to lose focus and start living selfishly. 

So let’s take a look at something Jesus said about His return:

Luke 12:43-46
Blessed is that servant whom the master finds doing his job when he comes.  Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But if that servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, that servant’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unfaithful.

While being afraid of getting “caught in the act” should not be our main motivation to avoid selfish behavior, there are certainly consequences to how we spend our time while we wait for Jesus’ promised return.  There are significant opportunities and honors available for those who continue to do the work God has given them; but there are equally dire punishments for the servants of God who neglect their responsibilities and abuse others.

Notice that the servant never forgot that His master was returning, but doing his job and watching for the master’s return was no longer his primary task.  He convinced himself that his master’s delay would continue, so he selfishly took advantage of those around him.  He probably believed he had plenty of time to clean up his mess before the master came back.  He couldn’t have been more wrong – and there wasn’t a chance for a do-over.

We certainly don’t want to end up like that!  We want to be like a soldier found at his post, faithfully trusting the promise of the one who said He would return.  But with all the distractions we face, how can we keep our focus?  Our best option is to take the Apostle John’s advice:

1 John 2:28
So now, little children, remain in Him so that when He appears we may have confidence and not be ashamed before Him at His coming.

When we intentionally spend time with Jesus, we remain in Him and keep His priorities.  Doing so means we will avoid the embarrassment and shame of the wicked servant.  Instead, Jesus’ return will be a joyful occasion, one where we can be confident that He will approve what we have been doing while we watch for His return.

Keep Pressing,
Ken  

Dance floors and lampstands

On a busy Monday afternoon, a second shift co-worker walked into the open office the four of us shared, looked right at me, and with an accusing tone she said, “I saw you.”

My confused look didn’t deter her.  She said it again, but this time with more emphasis: “I saw you!”  And then, it hit me.  I knew exactly what she was talking about. 

The previous Saturday evening had been the company’s annual Holiday party.  Most years, our family’s schedule had prevented my wife and I from going.  However, this year we had decided to get dressed up and attend.  This was no small event, either – there were fancy drinks, several buffets of rich foods, and lots of dancing.

I have to admit, I felt a pang of self-consciousness when we decided to hit the dance floor.  Not because I was afraid to dance with my wife – we always have a great time, and her dance moves make mine look good – but I was fully aware that almost none of my co-workers had ever seen me in this type of setting.  At work, I was the reliable answer-guy you brought your investigations to, a professional to help you figure out your industry-regulated best next step – not exactly the type of person you would expect to groove through the songs of the decades.  I wasn’t so much worried that they would think less of me, but I was certainly curious as to what their reaction would be.

As we made our way to the floor, I had an important realization.  Under no circumstances should I look around for people’s reactions.  As much as I was either self-conscious or curious, focusing on anyone else while dancing with my wife would give the complete wrong impression.  So as we started to move with the music, my attention was focused solely on enjoying the moment with my bride.  We danced the night away, had a blast, and I completely forgot my curiosity surrounding my co-workers’ potential reactions.

Apparently, we were noticed.  And talked about.  Even to the point where a co-worker was excited to point out, two days later, that she had been a witness to the event.  But what, exactly, did they see?  They saw a couple totally focused on each other and enjoying the moment at hand.  It stood out from what they expected.  Watching it unfold was attractive.  Seeing it first-hand was something they thought about, and even talked about days later.

But I think there’s an even bigger lesson here, one that pertains to how we, as Christians, actually show others that we are Christ-followers.  It seems that every ten years or so, there’s a new witnessing technique or life-story-sharing strategy that comes out.  But “witnessing” is much simpler than we make it out to be, because we tend to forget what Jesus said near the beginning of His ‘Sermon on the Mount’, when He looked at disciples and said:

Matthew 5:14-16
You are the light of the world.  A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

The disciples would best represent Christ – shine their light – through the lives they would lead and the choices they would make.  Jesus said that their good works would be what would stand out to and attract others to their Father in heaven.

It can be hard to wrap our heads around how doing good works makes that much of a “witnessing” impact; however, demonstrations of patience, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness are not things the world is used to seeing.  Imitating Jesus will cause others to take notice…but we cannot be concerned if anyone has noticed our light.  Instead, our focus should be solely on the fuel for our light – our relationship with Jesus.  As we spend time with Jesus through prayer and studying the Scripture, our good works will be naturally fueled so they shine brightly from the lampstand location we find ourselves in.

In order for Christians to tell others about Jesus, the world doesn’t need us to be schooled in the latest witnessing techniques or debate programs.  We don’t have to have all the answers to the tough theological questions people will ask.  But in order for others to come to the point where they give glory to your Father in heaven, they need to see us Christians doing good works from the platform of our day-to-day lives.

So make sure you spend time with Jesus so you can shine your light today.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Clarity in a cloud

Ever feel like you just gotta get out of the house?  You have no idea where you will go or what you will do, but if you stay indoors much longer, you’re probably going to lose your mind…can you relate?

Well, that happened to me and the Mrs. on Monday evening this week.  We just needed o-u-t, OUT.

Not wanting to waste money or gas, we ended up at a park next to a reservoir, not too far from home.  She sat down in a pavilion to sketch, but I felt like strolling.  I wandered down to a large wooden platform at the water’s edge.  I found that I could sit on the platform and my dangling feet would hover just above the water.  The sun’s rays were warm, the slight breeze was cool, and sound of city traffic was barely above the level of a quiet hum.  That’s when I saw it.

Above the pavilion my wife was sitting under, I saw a large puffy cloud that loosely resembled a bowler hat.  While the breeze at my level was light, you could tell the air at the cloud’s level was moving quickly.  So I watched.

Admittedly, I do not give much thought to clouds – unless they’re going to drop some rain.  And if I happen to think about clouds, I tend to imagine them making their trek across our sky as an unchanging blob, just a fluffy block of moisture.

But as I sat and watched, that’s not what I saw.

What I saw was a mass that was constantly changing shape as it moved.  It wasn’t uniform.  It wasn’t symmetrical.  The cloud, as a whole, was moving in a direction, but it was vigorously forming and reforming as it proceeded across the sky.  In order to really see and understand how it shifted from one movement to the next, I had to focus on one small part of the cloud at a time.  When my eyes moved to a new section – I could only tell that it was different, but I had no understanding of how the cloud made its new edge.  All the while, my previous focus-point continued to roll into new areas of the atmosphere.

What really stood out was the cloud’s depth.  As the cloud would billow and expand, stretching and reshaping, it was obvious there was a lot going on beneath the cloud’s surface that I was not able to see, understand, or predict until the movement happened.

Then it dawned on me…creation was giving me a lesson about our Creator.

God is on the move.
We are privy to the overall direction where God is moving history.
While history is happening, God doesn’t move in ways we expect.
When I try to take in the grandeur of God, I cannot see the beauty in His intricate details.
When I focus on an intricate detail, I am blown away by what He reveals.
While I am focused in, God is still moving in other ways that are outside my vision.
I am unable to keep up with all of God’s details.
There is a depth to God that we are not privy to.
We cannot fully see, understand, or predict how and when God will move, proceed, or pull back.

While even the best of analogies will breakdown (for example – God moves as He pleases, not because He is forced to, like the wind and sun move the clouds), creation can tell us much about our Creator.  Both David and Paul wrote about this:

Psalm 19:1-2
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the expanse proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour out speech;
night after night they communicate knowledge.


Romans 1:20
For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.

In order to have this teachable moment with creation, I had to sit down, be still, and think. After all these realizations had flooded my mind, I was convinced that I had sat there too long and my wife was likely waiting on me to come find her. I looked at my phone to see how long I had been there:

Not even 15 minutes.

In less than 15 minutes of looking up at the sky, God used His creation to remind me of His greatness, His beauty, and His depth. Day after day and night after night, the lesson was there, ready for me to learn – but I wasn’t looking or listening. For certain, I am without excuse.

Will you take 15 minutes today to look at creation…and see His eternal power and divine nature?

The heavens declare the glory of God, so let’s take just a few moments…and look up.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Follow the leader (part 1)

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 first one reads as follows:

Hebrews 13:7
Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you.  As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith.

When looking for a mentor, role model, or Godly example, those who lead in the church should be at the top of our list.  However, the author does not give his approval to cast a wide net and grab ahold of any church member in any leadership position.  He says to focus on the ones who have spoken God’s word to you.  Does your preacher teach from the Bible, or does he only teach from pop-psychology to keep the audience engaged?  When you ask a question, does your teacher point you toward God’s perspective, or she rely on feel-good statements and stories?

The leaders who have spoken God’s word to you are the ones worthy of observation and imitation

Learning to be like Jesus is a lifelong journey.  We’re not going to figure out whose lives and faith are worth imitating by only checking them out at a surface level.  It will be impossible for us to evaluate the outcome of a leader’s relationship with God if our only interaction is by watching him online or reading her books.  This is why it is best to be involved with our local church.  Find a leader there who is worth partnering with and learning from.

Once you’ve found a good example, how should we follow them?  Notice the author says to imitate their faith.  Now, let’s be clear – he doesn’t tell his readers to act out their faith in the same way their leaders have done.  They don’t also have to be preachers, teachers, worship leaders…instead they should be trusting God as they use the gifts He has given them. 

They are to imitate the leader’s character and reliance on God – not to try and do the exact same skill in the exact same way their leader operates.  This is why the author says to carefully observe the outcome of their lives.  When we are able to watch closely, we can see the strength of their faith in God…which drives their ability to lead (instead of us guessing about their relationship from afar).  We must also keep in mind there are many ways to exercise our faith and demonstrate our reliance on Him.  God does not expect us to be carbon-copies of our pastor, teachers, and other leaders.

So, the first part of following church leadership looks like this:

·       Stay local
·       Find a leader who points you toward God’s Word and God’s perspective
·       Observe their lives
·       Imitate their faith in God as you act out your own

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

How to be rich and live richly

We discovered last time that we’re rich.  Richly rich.  That if we make over $32,400 per year ($15.59/hour)…we’re in the top 1% of the world.  But we also found out that no matter what our income amounts to, we shouldn’t feel guilty that we have wealth, because God richly provides us with all things to enjoy

God gives good gifts, and gifts are given for the enjoyment of the one receiving it.  Maybe someone got a better gift than you, and it doesn’t seem fair…however, our jealousy tends to evaporate once we expand our comparison circle to include the rest of the world.

So now that we know we’re rich, what do we do?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught:

Matthew 6:19-21
Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.  But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

A few observations:
·        Jesus gave no indication that being wealthy in this life (or the next) is wrong.
·        What is considered valuable now is not going to be what is considered valuable in the next life.
·        How we obtain wealth in this life is not how we store up treasures for the next life.

During his ministry, Jesus met many rich folks who didn’t handle their wealth very well in light of eternity.  A few examples include the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22), also the Pharisees and their scribes (Luke 5:29-31).  The rich were also featured in Jesus’ parables as bad examples of how to live life in the present age (Luke 12:13-21, Luke 16:19-31, and Luke 18:9-14).

So, what should us rich 1%ers do?  What does God consider the right way to handle the wealth He’s given us?

Paul addressed that topic in his instructions to Timothy:

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

Being rich in the age to come means being other-focused in the present age.  Whether we make $15,000 a year or $1,500,000 a year – what we do with what God has given us will determine the foundation of our lives in the next life.

That thought just blows me away, so dwell on it for just a moment with me.  Everything in this life is building *only* the foundation for our lives in eternity.  What we build, the work we do, the experiences we will have in the next life…are going to be based upon the choices we make in the present age.

My mentor, Joe, would tell me often “This life is just boot camp for the next.”  C.S. Lewis wrote that our present lives are simply the cover and the title page…when we enter Eternity future, we will begin Chapter 1 of the Great Story that never ends, where each chapter is better than the one before.

Partnering with God now affects how we can partner with God in Eternity.  We should absolutely enjoy the gifts God has given us, but don’t enjoy them selfishly.  Do goodBe rich in good worksBe generousBe willing to share.

Lay a good foundation for the age to come.  Find and take hold of life that is real.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to handle counterfeit beliefs

Do you know how the best-trained money handlers are taught to identify counterfeits? 

Somewhat surprisingly, they do not spend time studying counterfeit money.  Mainly because there’s too many ways to make a fake.  With so many variations out there that are trying to pass off as the real thing, it would be impossible to keep up with all of them.

Instead, they are taught all the security features on real money.  They are quizzed about the features and practice handling the real thing.  The goal is to be so familiar with what is truly valuable that the fake will be easily seen for the worthless paper that it is.

Similarly, Paul wanted Timothy to have his training focused in the right place:

1 Timothy 4:6-8
If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. 

But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness

The word but always signals a contrast.  When studying God’s Word, if we come across it, then we need to stop and understand the difference being presented.  In our verses above, the word rather works in the same way.

When we step back and look at Paul’s structure here, we see he’s following a “concept-opposite-concept” pattern.  Paul is equating the words of the faith and good teaching Timothy is familiar with and training yourself in godliness.  Paul is also saying that in opposition to these things are irreverent and silly myths.

The myths around the first century church would have been fantasy stories passed off as special histories of Biblical characters.  The false teachers of Paul and Timothy’s day claimed that these stories led to deeper piety and special insights into the background of Bible characters.  But what, exactly, did Paul mean when he referred to them as irreverent and silly?

irreverent – combination of two Greek words that paint the picture of crossing a threshold and this term is repeatedly used in Paul’s letters to Timothy regarding people or subjects that are opposed to God.  Paul would say irreverent topics are those that “cross the line” and are rude or derogatory toward God and his people.

silly – Paul doesn’t mean “cute” silly here, instead he’s referring to what we would call an old wives’ tale – something that people generally believe because it’s comfortable or seems likely, but on closer inspection we find that it’s not really based on anything concrete.

So what are some modern-day irreverent and silly myths that can steal our focus away from the words of faith and good teaching?

Some people believe that dancing, in any form, is a sin.
There are those who say eating or drinking certain foods (like red meat or caffeinated drinks) is sinful.
Others teach that good health always means that God likes you and that you have “enough faith”.
A growing number of Christians prefer feel-good stories to what we find in the Bible.
Every few years, a new “gospel” is discovered and people chase after it, like “The gospel of Thomas” or “The gospel of Judas”
Many authors have taken Biblical names or settings and reinvented them into conspiracy stories or “modern myths”, like The Da Vinci Code or stories of Jesus as a young boy.
And there are many, many more…

How do we avoid being distracted by these irreverent and silly myths?  Paul says we should have nothing to do with them.  They can’t steal our focus if we’re not giving them attention.  Instead, we need to choose to train in godliness, and be nourished by the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Do you see what I see?

The three rules of real estate are Location, Location, and Location.

Similarly, the three rules of Bible Interpretation are Context, Context, and Context

Whenever we’re trying to understand God, His plan, or the world He created, we must keep in mind the Context of His initial, intended design for the world. 

As Paul warned Timothy about the coming false teachers and the believers who would follow them, their lens of context would protect them – or be their downfall:

1 Timothy 4:1-3
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.  They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods that God created to be received with gratitude by those who believe and know the truth.

While the false teachings come from forces outside of the church – from deceitful spirits and demons – the actual teaching of their false doctrine comes from within church – through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared.  Later on, Paul will address how these believers became deceived, but for now, his focus is on what they are teaching.

These teachers would take their incorrect understanding of God and then instruct others to apply their teachings in ways that God never intended us to live.  From Paul’s two examples here, we see that these false teachers are advocating rules that fully separate the believer from the world around them.  It is likely that their seared consciences has allowed them to think that the only way to avoid the sinful lifestyle around them was to completely remove themselves from participating in any corrupted part of creation.

On the surface, the application sounds noble.  But that kind of thinking does not produce the kind of life God designed us to live.

1 Timothy 4:4-5
For everything created by God is good, and nothing should be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, since it is sanctified by the word of God and by prayer.

Let’s go back to the Garden of Eden.  At the end of each day, God saw that what He created was good.  It wasn’t until after sin corrupted everything that God’s intended design for creation was perverted.  Marriage – as created by God – is a good thing.  Food – as created by God – is a good thing.  However, the false teachers aren’t looking at God’s creation within that context.  Instead, they are only seeing the current corrupted state of the world.  Rather than understanding God’s initial design and use for marriage and food, they are advocating the outright rejection of them in order to prove their status with God.

However, those who believe and know the truth understand that we are not made holy because of the rules we follow or the things we do.  We are holy because through Jesus, God has made us holy and our relationship with Him has been restored to the good that it was before Adam and Eve sinned.

Despite the sin-corruption of the world, our food can still be received with gratitude since the believer can understand in the proper context as a gift from God.  Marriage, in all its difficulties and struggles, can still be lived out under God’s design.  In fact, a proper use of both will do a better job of pointing others toward God than an outright rejection of marriage or abstaining from particular food.

It all depends on the Context we use to live our lives.  Will our focus be on trying to manage the sin-corruption we see, or will we look at the world around us through the lens of God’s intended design?

The first one puts us in charge, while the second one reminds us that God is really in charge.

It’s all a matter of Context.

Keep Pressing
Ken
 

My first assignment

Wait, I’m going to teach what?

That was my mental reaction to my first teaching assignment from my mentor, Joe.

Our mentor-protégé relationship began when he was teaching a Sunday School class and had asked if anyone was interested in team-teaching with him.  I was eager to teach, but I knew that I had to learn how to better handle the Scriptures if I was going to take on the responsibility of teaching God’s Word to others.  Joe pointed me toward Howard Hendricks’s Living by the Book and, with his guidance, I began to learn how to Observe, Interpret, and then Apply the Bible.

I figured that my first teaching lesson would cover one of the passages I had just learned from…instead, Joe said that my first teaching experience would come from teaching the class how to study the Bible, like I had just learned.  I was instantly nervous and gave Joe a weak “You sure about this?”.  But he assured me that this was the best topic for me to start with.

I profusely prayed over every lesson.  I did my best to communicate the three steps, as well as provide good examples and practice exercises – some lessons went well; others didn’t feel like they went anywhere.  To anyone who was in those first classes of mine, I say thank you for your patience!  That experience was a huge step for me and my growth – both in my relationship with God, as well as in learning how to organize and teach.  It certainly helped to have my mentor’s example, his directions, and his confidence in me.

Reading through the gospels, we find that Jesus did something similar with his protégés:

Matthew 9:35-10:1
Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.  When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.  The He said to His disciples,

“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Summoning His 12 disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness.

When Jesus told them to pray that the Father would send out workers to reach the people of Israel, I’m sure they agreed that would be a good thing to do…but then Jesus turns around and tells them that it is time for them to go out and participate in the harvest, by doing what they had only previously watched Jesus do!  Imagine everything that must have been going through their minds – anticipation, nervousness, excitement, tension?  Trust me, it was all those and then some.

Matthew 10:5-8
Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town.  Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  As you go announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons.  You have received free of charge; give free of charge.”

Notice how Jesus gave them parameters and direction for their first assignment.  They weren’t supposed to go outside of Israel.  They had a very specific message to proclaim.  They were also given authority to do what Jesus did – heal, raise the dead, cleanse, and drive out demons – and they were not to charge the people for these acts, just as Jesus hadn’t charged anyone.

The disciples would eventually be ready for the larger assignment of the Great Commission, where they were instructed to go make disciples of people from all nations.  They were not ready for that yet, though.  The disciples were still going to do what they had seen Jesus do, but their first assignment was on a much smaller scale.

As a mentor, we need to give our protégé assignments that will begin to stretch them now and incrementally prepare them for later.  On the flip side, when our mentor gives us an assignment that seems like a very large leap, we need to trust them. 

Looking back, it was that first assignment that propelled me closer to God and sharpened my teaching ability.  Joe was making sure that I was not going to be just another teacher who can only feed people The Word, but he wanted me to be able to show others how to feed themselves.  Following through on that first assignment, despite how rough it may have been on me and/or the class, has paid many dividends over the years since.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Learning how to listen for God

Over the years I’ve encountered many Christians who want to “hear from the Lord.”  We desire God’s guidance for our lives, but we tend to be rather unfocused in how we go about finding it.  We know that listening for God’s guidance is something that we need to learn and practice, but what we fail to realize is that means we’re going to need someone to teach us how.

We see an example of this at the beginning of Samuel’s career as God’s prophet:

1 Samuel 3:1-11
The boy Samuel served the Lord in Eli’s presence.  In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.  One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room.  Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was located.

Then the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.”  He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call,” Eli replied.  “Go and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Once again the Lord called, “Samuel!”  Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call, my son,” he replied.  “Go and lie down.”

Now Samuel had not yet experienced the Lord, because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  Once again, for the third time, the Lord called Samuel.  He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the boy.  He told Samuel, “Go and lie down.  If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’ ”  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”  Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder…”

Then the Lord went on to give Samuel his first prophetic insight into God’s plans for the nation of Israel.

Notice how Samuel had to be taught how to respond to God’s voice.  Even though Samuel had been serving the Lord under Eli’s guidance, recognizing the word of the Lord wasn’t a skill Samuel just naturally had.  He had to be taught how to listen and how to respond to God’s call.

We’re like that, too.  We believe Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and we accept His offer of eternal life, so we’re in His family.  We may even be serving – and serving well – within our local church congregation.

But if God called out to us right now, would we know that it’s Him talking?

For our current stage of human history, God doesn’t talk through prophets like He did in Samuel’s time.  Instead, we have the recorded words of Jesus and those who interacted directly with Him.  Perhaps the same question needs to be put into our modern context:

Do we know the Bible well enough to recognize God’s voice and direction?

When Joe began to mentor me, the very first thing he taught me was how to read and understand Scripture.  Learning how to properly observe, interpret, and apply Scripture was the major catalyst for growth in my relationship with God.  As I studied the Bible, I learned to recognize how God works and what He expects from His children.  I began to know Him better as He revealed Himself to me through the pages of the Bible.

Interacting with God’s word isn’t a one-and-done type of thing, either.  We don’t learn to handle the Scriptures and then consider it checked off our list of “ways to grow”.  We need to continually go back to where God has revealed Himself to us, because that is where our relationship with Him is found. 

Samuel had the same kind of experience:

1 Samuel 3:19-21
Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let nothing he said prove false.  All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the Lord.  The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.

I love that last sentence, where God revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.  We have the same opportunity, to have God reveal Himself to us if we take the time to learn how to handle Scripture.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A front row seat

One of the greatest benefits in a mentoring relationship is the unique access the protégé has with their mentor.  There is the opportunity for private life moments to be shared between them, if the mentor is willing to be completely open.

Moses has now taken on an assistant, or protégé, named Joshua.  One day, while the nation of Israel was camped at the base of Mt. Sinai, Moses receives an invitation to bring the priests and tribal leaders part way up the mountain to fellowship with the Lord.  Moses also brought Joshua to this meeting.

Exodus 24:9-14
Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and 70 of Israel’s elders, and they saw the God of Israel.  Beneath His feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire stone, as clear as the sky itself.  God did not harm the Israelite nobles; they saw Him, and they ate and drank.

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain and stay there so that I may give you the stone tablets with the law and commands I have written for their instruction.”

So Moses arose with his assistant Joshua, and went up the mountain of God.  He told the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you.  Aaron and Hur are here with you.  Whoever has a dispute should go to them.”

God personally invites Moses further up Mt. Sinai to receive the law directly from Him.  This meeting will be one of the biggest moments in the young history of the nation of Israel.  This was big-time stuff, definitely not for those who hadn’t left the kiddie table.  Not even the nation’s elders were going.  If there ever was a time to leave the trainee behind, this was understandably one of those times. 

Instead, when God invited Moses, Moses essentially turned to Joshua and said, “That means you, too.”  Moses’ words to the elders were pretty clear: “Wait here for us until we return to you.”  Joshua was going to have a front row seat to watch his mentor interact with God.

This wasn’t the only time, either.

Exodus 33:7-11
Now Moses took a tent and set it up outside the camp, far away from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting.  Anyone who wanted to consult the Lord would go to the tent of meeting that was outside the camp.  Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would stand up, each one at the door of his tent, and they would watch Moses until he entered the tent.

When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and remain at the entrance to the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses.  As all the people saw the pillar of cloud remaining at the entrance to the tent, they would stand up, then bow in worship, each one at the door of his tent.  The Lord spoke with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend.

Then Moses would return to the camp, but his assistant, the young man Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the inside of the tent.

Every time Moses spoke to God, Joshua was there to watch and listen.  Think of the conversations he overheard.  Imagine the discussions between God and Moses that Joshua was able to witness.  Joshua was able to see what God is like and he was being taught about leadership, governance, and God’s expectations – all personally by God – because of his special mentoring relationship with Moses. 

Joshua could observe God and Moses interact, away from all the noise of the people.  The lessons he learned would affect how he would one day lead the nation.

If you have a mentor, be sure to observe how he or she interacts with God when no one else is around.  If you are a mentor, don’t withhold these moments from your protégé.  Allowing them to observe you pray and wrestle with God will be just as impactful as your teaching.

Keep Pressing,
Ken