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: pain

Announcing our new home

The right announcer for an event makes all the difference, doesn’t it?  Memorable moments in the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup Finals, and all the other great sporting events are accentuated by memorable calls by a great announcer.  Even our level of engagement in a sporting event changes drastically depending upon the announcer’s passion and delivery as they describe the events as they unfold.

While John is watching the new Jerusalem, the Holy City, come down to the new earth, a proclamation accompanies its arrival:

Revelation 21:3
Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them.  They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and will be their God.

I’m willing to bet that this wasn’t a monotone, stuffy delivery either. 

In what’s commonly referred to as the “love chapter”, Paul told the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 13:12
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; but then face to face.  Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.

Do you see what is being proclaimed about the new Jerusalem?  That the dwelling of God is with humanity, and He will live with them.

The Presence which you have only felt up until now…will be the Person in front of you.  Living in the same city as you.  Even walking down the same streets…but it won’t be like God is a distant celebrity that you can only occasionally get a glimpse of, either.  No, you’ll have personal access and interactions: 

Revelation 21:4
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes.  Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away.

Try to imagine this life without the fear of death hanging over humanity, people having no reason to mourn or cry, no situations of anguish.  A removal of those things now would bring about what we would be happy to refer to as “heaven”…but God has more in mind:

Revelation 21:5
Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.”

Everything. New.

Just let that sink in…everything…every thing…all that we know…made new…

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The tunnel-vision trap

Tunnel vision is almost never a good thing, and it can be an easy trap to fall into if we get wrapped up in the troubles of this world.  Politics, in all nations, is a mess – but we fret and twist and turn and argue about them.  Overall, humans haven’t taken great care of the environment, and we can get sole-focused worried about correcting our influence.  We inflict pain on each other, on a scale that ranges from our nearby neighbors and that reaches other countries – and they do the same back to us.  Watch any news broadcast, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in someone else’s tunnel-visioned issue being presenting at that moment.

Christians are also capable of falling into this tunnel-vision trap.  We can get so wrapped up in church issues, community issues, and even just the day-to-day grind that we forget about the larger picture God is painting.  God’s plan for humans started at Creation and stretches all the way into Eternity Future. 

Thankfully, God left us reminders.  During his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul discussed how our present identity in Christ relates to our Eternity Future:

Romans 8:16-18
The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children also heirs – heirs of God and coheirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.

The troubles of this world and the suffering we all encounter – personal, health, and for being a Christian – can really bog us down.  We can easily become tunnel-visioned on all that is wrong with the world and wonder if any of this “Christian stuff” is worth it.  But when we keep this glory-filled future in mind, our perspective changes and we begin to see the world around us differently.  If fact, Paul also tells us that the creation itself is also looking forward to the revealing of that glory in us:

Romans 8:19-21
For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it – in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage to decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

When Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world, all of creation was frustrated, muted, and corrupted – and it hasn’t been fixed yet.  At times in nature, we seem to get a glimpse of a deeper beauty, or the potential for something greater…but that notion is fleeting at best.  However, when God brings humans back to the perfection we were created for, the creation will be liberated as well.

Romans 8:22-23
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now.  Not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as firstfruits – we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

Both the creation and Christians are yearning for this future renewal.  This longing for newness will be fulfilled.  Until then, it is good to recognize our desire for our eternal home with Christ.  It keeps today’s difficulties in perspective:

Romans 8:18
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - What's pursuing you?

What’s pursuing you?
originally posted on May 18, 2017

Ever feel as if something is chasing you?  We can have lingering thoughts, feelings, or memories that just won’t let go.  Their pursuit of us is constant, even though it can take different forms.  Sometimes, it’s over-bearing, always-present.  Other times, we’re able to shove it out of our minds, only to have it resurface again later (and usually when we’re drifting off to sleep, right?).

The pieces of our past can hound us in many ways.  Pain, shame, hate, anger, things we said, things we didn’t say…just to name a few.  Antagonistic people, or even those who are out-right enemies, can dominate our thinking and the thought of them can doggedly chase us down.

I’ve said many times that I love the real-ness we find in the book of Psalms.  The various psalmists explore all aspects of life, often laying out their extremely-raw emotions before God.  And we don’t see any lightning bolts striking down the psalmists for their words, either.  Instead, we find that their petitions, questions, and wrestling drive them toward God, not away. 

David is always a good example of one who openly talked with God, and in one of his psalms we find a mindset that can help us deal with the thoughts and people that pursue us.  Read Psalm 23, and pay close attention to the last stanza:

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters. 

He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

David marvels at how God has no problem with settling down for food in the presence of [David’s] enemies.  To us, that’s not the time to sit down to a nice meal.  If enemies are present, then we would think it’s time to take cover or prepare for battle…but with God on his side, David knows he is safe to camp out where God has him.

But it’s one of the lines afterward that really opens my eyes.  Despite being in the presence of [his] enemies, David isn’t chased by them forever.  Because he is with God, David recognizes that only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.

His enemies are around, there are and will be hard situations in life…but when David looks at the bigger picture, the one from God’s perspective, he finds that only God’s goodness and faithful love have been chasing after him.

That’s the key for us, too.  When our thoughts are being overtaken by memories of old sins or difficulties in the present, we need to look at life from God’s perspective.  From His vantage point, we’ll see clearly and be able to trust Him with our present and all the days of [our]life.

A few years back, a Christian band released a great orchestra-rock song about recognizing that our past doesn’t control us anymore, even when we feel pursued by memories and feelings.  The link below is to a video of the song’s lyrics.

Disciple – Dear X, You Don’t Own Me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9yIZnypqBk

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Aftermath of a miracle: the ultimate setup

Nothing in human history “just happens”.  There’s always a backstory, a winding of paths that leads up to the moment when the whole world is captivated by an event.  Think about the recent history of the USA, and how everything seemed to stop for events of both greatness and tragedy: a man lands on the moon or an underdog hockey team wins gold at the Olympics and we’re in awe of what’s possible; yet when a terrorist attack is committed or a space shuttle explodes due to an unexpected malfunction, we stand in stunned silence.

There are always dots to connect, paths to retrace, and decisions to evaluate…all leading up to “that moment when…”.  However, as we live through the days leading up to the event, we are often unaware of how connected everything truly is.

The events of the Scriptures are of the same nature – nothing just spontaneously happened.  But to the people living their lives throughout the times of the Bible, going about their daily business, they didn’t know what was coming next.  They couldn’t predict what God was doing in their time.

One event in Jesus’ life has always seemed to me, well, a little weird.  I know, I know…Jesus’ life was full of unique experiences and happenings – He is the Son of God, after all.  All four gospel accounts recorded it, and we celebrate this particular event every year, like clockwork.  Our calendars have this day marked out for us, just like it has Christmas and Easter.  It was a huge event in the life of Christ, but up until this recent study, I just couldn’t wrap my head around why it happened.

I’m talking about the Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, celebrated in churches each year as Palm Sunday. 

The Passover was the biggest event on the Jewish calendar.  It was the annual remembrance of when God used Moses to rescue His people from their cruel Egyptian masters, and sent the children Israel on the path to having their own land.  Due to the Roman occupation in Jesus’ day, the Israelites would have held this ceremony especially close, since God had promised that He would send someone like Moses – the Messiah – to come and rescue them again…and the Messiah would be the one to set up the Jewish kingdom to rule, forever.  Of course, there were rumors that Jesus was God’s Messiah…but people weren’t quite sure…

John 11:55-57
The Jewish Passover was near, and many went up to Jerusalem from the country to purify themselves before the Passover.  They were looking for Jesus and asking one another as they stood in the temple: “What do you think?  He won’t come to the festival, will He?”  The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it so that they could arrest Him.

Jesus did come.  But first, He went to visit His friends – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  His visit happened not long after He had raised Lazarus from the dead.  Of course they were excited to see Jesus, and they threw a big dinner party for Him to say THANK YOU.

John 12:1-3, 9-11
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead.  So they gave a dinner for Him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him.  Then Mary took a pound of perfume, pure and expensive nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped His feet with her hair.  So the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume…Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there.  They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one He had raised from the dead.  But the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus also, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus.

Can you feel the tension?  The Jews has been oppressed by Rome for nearly 100 years at this point.  The Passover was coming.  The religious leaders feared the nation was on the verge of revolt, with Jesus (and Lazarus) being the tipping point.  And then…this happened:

John 12:12-14, 17-19
The next day when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him. They kept shouting:

“Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!”

Meanwhile, the crowd which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify.  This is also why the crowd met Him, because they heard He had done this sign.  Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see?  You’ve accomplished nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!”

No Facebook event page, no mass text, no TV commercial, no news broadcast coverage…and somehow, a parade breaks out?  While the people’s shouts may have contributed to the crowd swell, did you notice who John said was spreading the news of Jesus’ arrival?  The crowd which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify.

Lazarus’ pain, suffering, and death was what connected others to witnessing him being brought back to life.  These eye-witnesses were the ones who connected to an entire city, testifying that the one the Jews had heard about was, in fact, the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for.  Jesus’ Triumphal Entry didn’t just happen.  God had been coordinating events that were seemingly unconnected, all in the background, until His Plan was brought to light. 

His plan was that the world would stop and see Jesus for who He is – our Messiah, our Savior, our King.

But in order for the Triumphal Entry to happen and for Jesus to be revealed to an entire city…it cost Lazarus his life.  Christians often point to God’s willingness to send Jesus to the cross as proof that God will go to any length for us.  And that is absolutely true, God loves us that much…but the flip-side scares me, and no one ever talks about the flip-side: If God is willing to have Jesus die on a cross, then nothing in my life is untouchable or off-limits. 

Am I more valuable than Jesus?  Absolutely not.  If that’s the case, do I trust God when life hurts?  Do I believe He knows what He’s doing…even as my body fails me?  Am I willing to let God tell His story, even if He expects me to make a Lazarus-level sacrifice?

Am I willing to let my suffering set up Jesus’ Triumphal Return?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

What's pursuing you?

Ever feel as if something is chasing you?  We can have lingering thoughts, feelings, or memories that just won’t let go.  Their pursuit of us is constant, even though it can take different forms.  Sometimes, it’s over-bearing, always-present.  Other times, we’re able to shove it out of our minds, only to have it resurface again later (and usually when we’re drifting off to sleep, right?).

The pieces of our past can hound us in many ways.  Pain, shame, hate, anger, things we said, things we didn’t say…just to name a few.  Antagonistic people, or even those who are out-right enemies, can dominate our thinking and the thought of them can doggedly chase us down.

I’ve said many times that I love the real-ness we find in the book of Psalms.  The various psalmists explore all aspects of life, often laying out their extremely-raw emotions before God.  And we don’t see any lightning bolts striking down the psalmists for their words, either.  Instead, we find that their petitions, questions, and wrestling drive them toward God, not away. 

David is always a good example of one who openly talked with God, and in one of his psalms we find a mindset that can help us deal with the thoughts and people that pursue us.  Read Psalm 23, and pay close attention to the last stanza:

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters. 

He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

David marvels at how God has no problem with settling down for food in the presence of [David’s] enemies.  To us, that’s not the time to sit down to a nice meal.  If enemies are present, then we would think it’s time to take cover or prepare for battle…but with God on his side, David knows he is safe to camp out where God has him.

But it’s one of the lines afterward that really opens my eyes.  Despite being in the presence of [his] enemies, David isn’t chased by them forever.  Because he is with God, David recognizes that only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.

His enemies are around, there are and will be hard situations in life…but when David looks at the bigger picture, the one from God’s perspective, he finds that only God’s goodness and faithful love have been chasing after him.

That’s the key for us, too.  When our thoughts are being overtaken by memories of old sins or difficulties in the present, we need to look at life from God’s perspective.  From His vantage point, we’ll see clearly and be able to trust Him with our present and all the days of [our] life.

A few years back, a Christian band released a great orchestra-rock song about recognizing that our past doesn’t control us anymore, even when we feel pursued by memories and feelings.  The link below is to a video of the song’s lyrics.

Disciple – Dear X, You Don’t Own Me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9yIZnypqBk

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Hello, my name is Timothy

Given the numerous mentoring examples in the Bible, it’s easy to see that God values the mentor-protégé relationship.  It is a special bond at an intimate level between two people.  Most of the Biblical examples give us just a snapshot – a mentoring moment or lesson taught – and then we must look at what happened next to the mentor and the protégé to find out how well the lesson was applied.  However, there is one mentoring relationship in the Scriptures where we get to see much more than a glimpse.  Paul and Timothy spent many years together, and much of their efforts and relationship is on display throughout the New Testament.

But who was Timothy?  How did they meet?  Why did they pair up?

We are first introduced to Timothy at the start of Paul’s second missionary journey:

Acts 15:40-16:2
Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers he traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. 

Then he went on to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek.  The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him.

Timothy was a young man stuck between two worlds.  He believed in Jesus as the Messiah who would come from the Jewish half of his parents, but Timothy was also half Greek and grew up in a Greek city, surrounded by Grecian culture.  Since no additional information is given about his father, we can’t be sure of how much influence that heritage had – but the fact that he had not been circumcised suggests that Timothy wasn’t raised in a strictly observant Jewish household.  However, both worlds were still a part of him and people were aware of his mixed-race background. 

Although such mixed marriages were illegal in Jewish law, rabbinic texts reckoned a person’s decent through the mother’s line; and as such, Timothy would have been considered to be a Jew by the Jewish community.

Acts 16:3-5
Paul wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek.  As they traveled through the towns, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem for them to observe.  So the churches were strengthened in the faith and were increased in number daily.

Was it necessary for Timothy’s salvation that he be circumcised? 

No, not at all.  Salvation from eternal separation away from God is only through believing (i.e. – trusting) Jesus for eternal life.

Then was Paul being inconsistent by circumcising Timothy?  Was this an example of Paul “giving in” to local peer pressure?

No, not at all.  Timothy was already a believer before he met Paul.  However, given Timothy’s well known heritage, for him to come with Paul and have access to be a missionary in Jewish synagogues, he would need to be circumcised.  Otherwise, the Jewish communities would consider Timothy an apostate, and they would not be willing to listen to what he had to say about Jesus.

Timothy was willing to endure significant physical pain in order to share the gospel message with those who would have looked down on him as a “half-breed”, the same way that Jews had historically looked down on Samaritans.  In fact, by agreeing to be circumcised, Timothy boldly demonstrated an evangelistic principle which Paul would later pass on to the believers in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 9:19-22
For although I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to all, in order to win more people.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law – though I myself am not under the law – to win those under the law.  To those who are outside the law, like one outside the law – not being outside God’s law, but under the law of Christ – to win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. 

I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some.

That is an incredible lesson for Timothy to grab a hold of so early in his mentoring relationship under Paul.  And it’s certainly not the last time Timothy is a reflection of his mentor.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Worth the effort

We usually have a rather negative understanding of the words “struggle” and “striving”.  Maybe it’s because of our risk-adverse mentality…we don’t like pain, so we want to avoid difficult situations.  Maybe it’s because of our egos…we don’t want to appear inadequate, so we skip out on anything hard.

Whatever our reasons may be – when we think about struggling, it’s assumed to be a bad thing.

Paul did not hold to this kind of thinking, at least not with his mission from God.  Paul’s goal wasn’t just to get people “saved” and then move on to the next group of people.  Instead, look at who Paul was willing to struggle and labor for:

Colossians 1:28-2:1

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.  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.

He desired that everyone who believes on Jesus would become mature in Christ.  In Paul’s mind, if people are important enough for Jesus to die for, then they are important enough for Paul to labor, strive, and struggle for.  He is not just being twisted up in anguish, wishing the people of the world would just get better.  Instead, Paul takes specific actions – to proclaim Jesus, and then both warn and teach everyone who will listen.

Paul proclaimed the good news of the gospel wherever he traveled.  After someone would believe on Jesus for eternal life, Paul would then give them their next steps – providing both cautions and encouragements for how to live their new life in Christ.  However, these steps aren’t always easy to communicate, and many times these messages are hard to receive.  Making sure we give clear instruction and guidance, as well as being sure that the message is correctly understood, can take great effort on our part.  Paul was up front when he said that these actions were a labor for him. 

However, did you notice how Paul was able to press on in this important task?  As Paul labored and struggled in maturing others, he didn’t do this out of his own bull-headed effort.  Instead, he trusted that Jesus would provide His strength and that strength would work powerfully through him.  Paul knew that since God had given him this mission to develop and mature others, then God would provide him with the means and the strength to get through the struggles that would come.

Are there people in our lives that are worth the effort to strive and labor for their maturity?  You bet there are.  But we can’t just sit around and wish that they would mature or that someone else will help them along.  We need to be the ones to proclaim Jesus, and then be willing to both warn and teach those whom God has placed in our path.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Suffering for outsiders

Pain is both a motivator and a deterrent.  Physical, mental, emotional pain…it doesn’t matter the type, because pain is, well, a pain to deal with.  Usually, it’s the desire to avoid pain that leads to us promptly finishing a given task or ensuring that we do not do a particular task.  We don’t like pain, and we’re willing to go to great lengths to make sure we don’t experience it.

There are very few things in life we willingly suffer for.  Since our default is to avoid pain, it is a significant decision when we are willing to endure pain and suffering.  Even then, the only people we may willingly suffer for would be a family member or an incredibly close friend.  However, most everyone understands our motivations when we do choose to endure pain for those close to us.

But that’s where the gospel turns things upside down.  When we accept the truth of the good news – that Jesus loved us enough to die in our place – we see others differently.  After Paul became a believer, Jesus gave him the task of spreading the gospel message.  As he describes his calling to the Colossians, Paul mentions that he suffers…but notice who it is he’s suffering for.

Colossians 1:23-27
This gospel has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and I Paul, have become a minister of it.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for His body, that is, the church.  I have become its minister, according to God’s administration that was given to me for you, to make God’s message fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to His saints.

God wanted to make known to those among the Gentiles the glorious wealth of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Since the implications of Christ’s death and resurrection was a mystery hidden for ages and generations, no one fully understood it.  Even the disciples had to have Jesus explain it to them.  This means that everyone else would have trouble grasping this mystery, also.  As the gospel message was explained and spread throughout the world, some people “got it”; they understood and believed, and yet some people didn’t. 

It’s amazing to think that Paul was willing to suffer for something that the outsider Gentiles didn’t understand.  In fact, some of them would never understand.  They would fight against the message and the person delivering it.  On several occasions, they even attempted to “kill the messenger”.

However, because the message was so big and so important, Paul was willing to take the chance that he would suffer for it.  In fact, he did suffer a lot of pain.  But he also found joy in his pain – because he knew that he was doing the job God gave him to do.

Looking a Paul’s example, each of us should pause and ask the question –

Am I willing to suffer in order to do the job God gave me to do…even if everyone doesn’t understand the gospel message or my motivation to share it?

Keep Pressing,
Ken