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: our purpose

Trust the Process

Although in recent years the phrase Trust the Process has become a rallying cry for Philadelphia 76ers, I certainly remember hearing it said much earlier in my lifetime.  Typically it’s said by a coach attempting to win over a player’s confidence that the work put in today will reap benefits down the road.

It takes a lot of work to progress from a high school freshman to a college-ready athlete.  And it will take even more work if that college freshman wants to make it to the Pros.  And again, if you want to be among the best and have a long pro career – you better be ready to put in the work.  Few can ascend the ranks on natural talent, and those that do are forever remembered as someone who “never reached their full potential”.

Even if you have the motivation to work hard, you will need guidance.  You need that coach, that mentor, and their system – developed and refined over time to produce results in you that you may not even believe are possible.  You need someone who isn’t swayed by your emotional inner monologue.  You need a plan that takes all areas of your development into account.

However, the full list of what we need to develop is typically a blind spot.  Sure, we know our big weaknesses and a few of the little ones, for good measure.  But then the coach gives you a tough workout today after doing yesterday’s tough workout.  And then you are drilling – yet again – on the fundamentals.  You want to move on to other types of training, but coach won’t let up.  Sometimes, the drills just seem odd or unconnected to what we imagine as what’s best for us.  And it’s frustrating.

It’s in those moments you hear the phrase – Trust the Process.

Did you know that God has a development plan for believers? 

Becoming a Christian is simple enough, even a child can do it – we believe that Jesus will give us eternal life.  His death on the cross paid the penalty for all sin and His resurrection from the dead proved that He can fulfill His offer of eternal life.  Believing means we are persuaded that Jesus can do what He claims He can do; we are taking Him at His word, and we have faith in who He is.

When Paul was writing to the believers in Rome, he started his letter discussing how we are separated from God by sin and the only way to reconcile is by faith – not promises to do better, not dedicating our lives, not by effort, but by faith alone in Jesus.  At the end of this section, he says:

Romans 5:1-2
Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have also obtained access through Him by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.

But then Paul transitions his letter from how our relationship starts with God to what God has in mind for this relationship.  He spends chapters 5-8 discussing what this new life in Christ looks like; however, take a look at what idea Paul leads this next discussion topic with:

Romans 5:3-4
And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.

Do you see The Process which God has in mind?  We all want to have hope as we go through this life, looking forward to when God will set everything right…but developing that kind of solid hope has some prerequisites.     

Rather than wondering “Why did God allow this to happen to me?” we need to Trust the Process God has laid out for His children.  Afflictions are hard, but they are worth rejoicing over because we know what’s on the other side and Who is with us the whole time.

Coaches often push us out of our comfort zone, in unexpected ways, in order to develop us further.  John Wooden spent time at the beginning of each season teaching his players how to put on their socks.  Mr. Miyagi gave Daniel-san the wax-on-wax-off chore.  I had a baseball coach insist that I learn how to juggle two baseballs.  None of these situations make sense to the athlete at the time, but they were all intentionally designed by the coach – John Wooden didn’t want his players dealing with foot blisters, Mr. Miyagi was teaching muscle memory, and my coach needed me to improve my hand-eye coordination.

God never promised Christians that life would be easy.  Jesus was quite clear that we will have trouble in this world (John 16:33).  However, our afflictions aren’t meaningless.  God has a purpose for us in them.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Perspective and a prayer request

Ever see a situation on the horizon, and you know, without a doubt, it’s something that you’re going to have to deal with?  You know you can’t avoid it.  It won’t be pleasant.  It’s probably not what you would have wanted.  But somehow, you just know – that the only way out is through.

Maybe you’ve been there with a relationship.  Maybe it was your friend, a boss, a competitor, or even a government office.  Right now, for me – it’s my health.  I greatly appreciate the emails of concern, consolation, and the offers to pray for me (and I really, really hope you follow up on that!).  I’m on the mend, but this is not the end of whatever is off-kilter in my systems.  There will be more tests to take at a later date, more mysteries to be unraveled.  But for now, I am to rest and recover, knowing full well that the only way out is through.

Just yesterday, God brought a passage to me that helps put it all in perspective.  Near the end of Paul’s recorded ministry, he is on his way to Jerusalem.  He knows what will happen if he goes back.  In fact, everyone knows what he will face.  The devout Jews would turn on this former rabbinical star in a heartbeat.  Paul would be arrested, beaten, and quite likely killed.  So, why go back?  I’ll let him answer that:

Acts 20:17-24
Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church.  When they came to him, he said to them:

“You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and during the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.  You know that I did not avoid proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching you publicly and from house to house.  I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.

And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, compelled by the Spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, except that in every town the Holy Spirit warns me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me.  But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.”


Oh wow, does that resonate!  But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose…that is a man who has clear eyes and proper perspective.  He sees the value of his life, not in his own comforts and desires, but in his purposeful pursuit of the work God has given him – to testify to [the good news] of God’s grace.

That’s the perspective we need in order to handle the difficulties we see on the horizon.  Stop looking at our immediate circumstances, get aligned with God, see from His vantage point, and then look back down on what we’re facing.  Difficulties can be managed when they have been placed in their proper context.  That doesn’t mean that the difficulties will be removed – Paul knew there were chains and afflictions waiting.  There’s no amount of perspective that makes them go away.  However, looking at life from God’s viewpoint gives us the strength to go through.

So if you choose to petition our Great God on my behalf, I would rather you not pray for healing.  If I fully recover, that’s great.  If I end up worse off, that’s fine.  If I now have a “new normal”, so be it.  Instead, I would ask that you pray I stay aligned with God, keep His perspective on everything, and do the work God has given me.  My prayer is that you also learn to live this way.

Acts 20:24
But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.


Keep Pressing,
Ken

Settling accounts (part 3)

As Jesus’ time on earth was coming to a conclusion, He took His disciples aside and strongly encouraged them to be prepared for His eventual return.  As He often did, Jesus stressed His point through a series of parables.  In this parable, two slaves did well as they prepared for their master’s return and one slave did not.  Last time, we looked at how the two were successful in the eyes of their master.  Now, let’s see what happened to the one who did not prepare:

Matthew 25:14-19
For it is just like a man going on a journey.  He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one – to each according to his own ability.  Then he went on a journey.  Immediately the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more.  In the same way the man with two earned two more.  But the man who had received one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground, and hid his master’s money.  After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

After heaping praise on the two servants who worked their talents to the fullest extent of their ability, the master turned his attention to the last slave.  When the time came to settle accounts, the last servant was not prepared…and there was no way to do a last-minute fix.  So this servant did what we often do – he tried to shift the blame for his lack of productivity.

Matthew 25:24-25
Then the man who had received one talent also approached and said, ‘Master, I know you.  You’re a difficult man, reaping where you haven’t sown and gathering where you haven’t scattered seed.  So I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground.  Look, you have what is yours.’

As you can imagine, the master was not impressed with the servant’s actions or words.

Matthew 25:26-27
But his master replied to him, ‘You evil, lazy slave!  If you knew that I reap where I haven’t sown and gather where I haven’t scattered, then you should have deposited my money with the bankers.  And when I returned I would have received my money back with interest.

If that is what the he truly believed about his master (who had just entrusted him with the equivalent of $720k), the servant could have, at a minimum, put the money in the bank and let the interest compound over the long time the master was on his journey. 

The problem with putting it with the bankers is that there would be an official record that the servant had some of the master’s money.  It’s possible that the servant wanted the money for himself and his own desires.  Perhaps he was hoping the master wouldn’t return, or that one day in the future he could declare to the community that he had “found” this large sum of money buried in a field.  Whatever excuse or plan this servant convinced himself with, the master’s promised arrival undid them all.  Instead of the praise given to the other two servants, this evil, lazy servant received a harsh rebuke.

Matthew 25:28-30
So take the talent from him and five it to the one who has 10 talents.  For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have more than enough.  But from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.  And throw this good-for-nothing slave into the outer darkness.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

When we look at someone who we think God gave more talents to, we tend to get jealous.  We often convince ourselves that we should just quit, saying things like: “I’m not the preacher.”, or “I can’t sing like that.”, or “God didn’t give me lots of finances.  If He had, I could sure help a lot of people.”  None of those self-defeating thoughts help us fulfill the opportunities and mission God gave us.  And these excuses for our lack of effort shift the blame back at God, just like the foolish servant did.

God wants us to fully utilize the gifts He gave us, not stew over how well we’d do with someone else’s.  Don’t convince yourself that your talents are not valuable enough to make an invested impact.  The finances, skills, and abilities you have are specific to you for a reason.  If the servant who received just one talent worked and invested like the other two; he certainly would have received the same praise and rewarding from the master.

Don’t hide your talents

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Settling accounts (part 2)

We were created to work.  God gave Adam and Eve jobs to do, long before Satan ever tempted them.  Even after sin entered the picture and our work became hard, we still retained the internal drive to explore, design, create, and produce.  However, our sin and selfishness will often cloud our reason and motivation to fulfill our innate urge to work.

Being a Christ follower has an advantage when we deal with the inevitable thistles and thorns of modern-day work.  We have perspective.  We understand where the work ultimately comes from and Who enables us to accomplish the goal of our labor.  However, we might too quickly assume that our efforts are only focused on taking care of our family’s immediate needs.  Those responsibilities are important, but have you considered that our work could have even larger implications?

As Jesus’ time on earth was coming to a conclusion, He took His disciples aside and strongly encouraged them to be prepared for His eventual return.  As He often did, Jesus stressed this point through a series of parables.  In this parable, two slaves did well as they prepared for their master’s return and one slave did not.  Let’s take a look at how the two were successful in the eyes of their master:

Matthew 25:14-17, 19
For it is just like a man going on a journey.  He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one – to each according to his own ability.  Then he went on a journey.  Immediately, the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more.  In the same way the man with two earned two more.  After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

These weren’t small amounts of money, either.  If we were handed modern-day lump sums, it would look like this: five talents = $3.6 million, two talents = $1.44 million, one talent = $720,000. 

Jesus didn’t say exactly how these two were able to double their master’s investment, but we do know that they worked within their ability and they did so immediately.  They weren’t messing around when it came time to work. 

However, their results didn’t happen overnight.  They didn’t work a get-rich-quick scheme.  How do we know this?  Because Jesus tells us they settled accounts with their master after a long time had passed.  So, what was the master’s reaction?

Matthew 25:20-23
The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents.  Look, I’ve earned five more talents.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave!  You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Share your master’s joy!”

Then the man with two talents also approached.  He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents.  Look, I’ve earned two more talents.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave!’  You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Share your master’s joy!’

Did you notice?  Both good servants received the same praise and type of reward.  The one with 10 was not praised above the one with 4.  The one with 4 was not compared against the one who had 10.  The master was overjoyed with their results because each one had worked to their full ability

So don’t worry that someone else appears to have received more (or even less) talents than you, we are responsible to handle what God has given us.  We get tripped up when we start looking around and comparing ourselves against the others around us…and we only see the outer portion of their efforts and struggles. 

When we look at someone who we think God gave more talents to, we have a tendency get jealous.  However, if we look at someone who appears to have received less talents than we did, it’s easy to look down on them…or wish that we had it “so much easier”.

These two successful servants remind us to keep our focus on the talents God has given to us, and to make sure that we’re investing them properly and for the long haul.  It would have seemed like the master was gone for a long time while they were putting in the work, but when the master arrived to settle accounts, every drop of effort was rewarded.

Can you imagine?  The Creator of this vast, incredible world – where we still have not exhausted everything to explore, learn, and create – will reward those of us who have been faithful with a few things.  Out of His joy, He will reward us with responsibilities, according to our ability, in eternity future.

What will those responsibilities be?  I don’t know.  But as good as this world is, when God gives out of his joy, you can trust it will be incredible.

So, let’s get to work with the talents we have.  Immediately.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Pleasing others, for their good

Think of a major accomplishment in your life.  To get there, you had to work hard.  Perhaps you worked for a long time, even years.  Significant progress was made, and you know – more than anyone else – how much effort and time and worry and late nights went into finally “arriving.”

Maybe your mountain is a promotion or tenure.  Maybe it’s a high school or college degree.  Maybe it’s the applause of your peers, the community, or even your family.  We strive and work toward many noble goals in this life – financial freedom, career advancement, raising a family, business success, doing adult-things and doing them well.

Whenever we get to the point where we feel like “we’ve arrived”, there’s a seemingly innocent urge that sneaks into our minds.  While we relish the moment and reflect on the work that got us there, there is also a subtle tug to coast (just a little) and take it easy.

Now, don’t misunderstand me…rest is good.  Rest is Biblical.  God rested after six days of creation.  However, when rest is complete, we will have to make a choice – will we allow our rest to become self-indulgent, or will we face the difficult question of what to do next?

As Paul was finishing up his letter to the believers in Rome, he touched on several practical issues.  He approached these issues from two sides –  from those believers who had already arrived at maturity and those who had not yet matured.  We find that kind of mixed company in the church today also.  Here, Paul talks about the responsibility of those who have developed a strong relationship with God:

Romans 15:1-2
Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.  Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, in order to build him up.  For even the Messiah did not please Himself.

When we have a mature, developed relationship with God, it is not time to be self-centered.  God doesn’t want us to sit around being full of ourselves.  Rather, He wants us to leverage our development in a way that pleases our neighbor

And this kind of pleasing isn’t about just making them feel happy, either.  We are to purposely act for their good, encouraging them and building them up so they can experience and live out the same kind of relationship we have with the Father.

Honestly, even for someone who has walked with God for a long time – developing others is hard.  Building up a fellow believer can be really messy sometimes, it’s not a give-advice-once-and-be-done kind of thing.  In case we have any question as to what that looks like, Paul says that the model for the mature believer to follow is Christ’s example.  Jesus found motivation to continue on, complete His mission, and please His Father by looking ahead to the mission’s end result.

A few verses later, Paul points his audience toward the end result of building up their fellow believers:

Romans 15:5-6
Now may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you agreement with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a unified mind and voice.

That’s the goal here, humanity’s created purpose – to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and for us to do so with a unified mind and voice.  We who are strong and mature are to bear with those who haven’t made it yet.  Not just to tolerate them, either.  After we build them up to maturity, together we can all give God the glory He deserves.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

For those not in the limelight

In 1937, the Academy Awards began giving out an award for “Best Supporting Actor” in movies.  This recognition was given in honor of an actor who had delivered an outstanding performance in a supporting role.  Having a supporting role meant that the actor wasn’t the main character of the story; however, he held an important role in the movement of the plot and/or the development of the lead character.

Paul certainly was the main character and lead preacher of the gospel in the first century.  He authored approximately half of the New Testament and was the focal character throughout most of the book of Acts.  However, Paul rarely traveled by himself.  Other believers traveled with him and on behalf of him to evanglize the known world.  Some people would help for a short time, others for longer periods.  Some, like Timothy and Titus, became his protégés…while others held varying roles within to the ministry.

Based on the number of times he’s mentioned and the type of work he’s given, Tychicus was one of Paul’s best supporting ministers.  Tychicus was Paul’s personal letter-bearer for the New Testament letters to the churches in Ephesus and Colossae.  Tychicus was also likely the one who delievered Paul’s letter to Philemon. 

However, Tychicus was more than just a mail carrier delievering letters.  Take a look at how Paul described him – and his role – to the believers in Colossae:

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.

Paul’s words are very high praise.  From these verses, we see that Tychicus was both trusted and up to the task at hand.  In addition to delivering Paul’s messages, Tychicus was also ready to encourage their hearts.  He was ready to be a surrogate minister when Paul couldn’t be there because he was in prision for preaching about Jesus.

In one of his last letters, Paul tells Titus that he would send either Artemas or Tychicus to give Titus a break from his ministry overseeing all the churches on the island of Crete.  That would have been a significant task, one that Paul would not entrust to just anyone.

However, the Bible doesn’t record Tychicus’ encouraging words to the Colossian believers.  We don’t know if he went to Crete, or if Artemas went instead.  Tychicus’ job in Paul’s ministry wasn’t to do big enough things that he would be recognized in Scripture.  Instead, Tychicus found a purpose for his God-given talents while being the best supporting minister for the Apostle Paul.  From Paul’s words, we see that Tychicus did well in his role.

It helps us to have this kind of reminder – that we don’t have to be a main character in the Bible to have an impact for God in other peoples’ lives.  Although everyone that comes to your local church knows who the lead pastor is, or who the worship leader is…God knows where our talents are best suited and most profitable for the advancement of His kingdom.  It’s not just the “upfront” leaders that will be rewarded by God, either. God has promised a rich reward in Heaven for those who do well in supporting roles also.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Finding our purpose

A few years ago, I was having a “parental discussion” with one of my sons.  As he was struggling with the situation at hand, I pointed him toward what God had to say about the subject…to which he snapped in frustration, “Does everything have to be about God?

I honestly can’t blame him for asking.  In fact, he verbalized something we all struggle with, but are typically too scared to say out-loud.  We don’t want to think about the bigger, God-sized perspective when we’re angry about our current circumstances.  We secretly don’t want to admit that we are not the main character in our life’s story.  We’re afraid that if we’re not in control of the situation, everything will fall apart…or at least not turn out the way we think would be best for us.

These kinds of questions and struggles are not new.  It is part of the sanctification process, part of us growing closer to God after we’ve accepted Jesus as our Savior.  Even believers in the first century dealt with the same struggles we face.  In his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul’s solution to these kinds of doubts is to have an accurate view of who Jesus truly is.

Speaking about Jesus, Paul states:

Colossians 1:15-16
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation;
because by Him everything was created, in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities –
all things have been created through Him and for Him.

The fact that Jesus is the One who created everything is explored in these verses.  The last line says it clearly – all things have been created through Him.  However, I don’t think that any of us believers have a problem accepting that.  We look at the magnificent world around us, and understand that it was created.  The design and detail we find as we explore creation points us toward an intelligent purpose rather than suggesting the world “happened” by some “random chance”.

However, it’s the last two words of the sentence that give us pause:

all things have been created…for Him

Did anything inside you bristle or pull back, even just a little bit?
With that slight recoil, we’re internally asking, “Does everything have to be about God?

Because if those two words are true, if all things have really been created for Him, then our perspective on all things will have to change, won’t it?  When I’m honest with myself, I worry that I won’t have any say over what happens next if I’m not the most important person in my life-story.   I’m not sure of where this new understanding of life will take me.  In a word, accepting that all of creation – including my life – was created for Jesus…it scares me.

But let’s take a breath and think through this a moment…

The one who creates is the one who knows the full purpose of his or her creation.  Ask any artist, architect, or teacher, and they will tell you how both the design and purpose of their music, their building, or their lessons are intertwined.  Each one of them knows the detailed reasons for their creation.  Each of them has a specific design and purpose for their creation to fulfill. 

Likewise, since we know that we have been created by Jesus – we should also recognize that He knows our purpose.

So don’t bristle, don’t pull back.  Even though we may not fully understand, even if the future looks murky…the One who designed us is with us, and He perfectly knows what to do with us.  And we can take comfort in the very next verse:

Colossians 1:17
He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.

We don’t have to be the one to hold all things together, that’s not our job.  Instead, we just need to trust the One who created us, the One who created our purpose.

Are we willing to let go and trust that we were created for Him?

Keep Pressing,
Ken