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: partners

Work and a hobo’s paradise

The Big Rock Candy Mountain was a song made famous by Harry McClintock in 1928.  Every few years, it finds its way back into pop culture; with some versions a little more cleaned up than others.  The gist of the song is a hobo singing about his version of paradise – a land of ease, described in fanciful terms.  There are cigarette trees, lemonade springs, and hens that lay soft-boiled eggs.  The cops have wooden legs and bulldogs have rubber teeth, and if you happen to get caught doing something you shouldn’t, then don’t worry about it – because the jails are made of tin and you can leave just as soon as you get there.  I think my favorite line is hobo’s boast that in the Big Rock Candy Mountains “there’s a lake of stew and of whiskey too, you can paddle all around it in a big canoe.

While it is a cute little song, no one would take it seriously when considering their eternal destiny.  However, there is one line in the song that stuck out to me when I first heard it.  Out of all the cartoonish imagery, there was one sentiment that made me think: “Wow.  That’s kinda funny and would be nice.”  Here’s the line:

I'm goin' to stay, where you sleep all day, where they hung the jerk, that invented work, in the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Because work is…well, “work”…right?  It’s often a pain.  We view it as some “necessary evil” that we must endure because we like to eat food and have working light switches.  Given the choice between going to work and not going to work – I’m pretty sure that 99% of us would not go.  Throw in the idea that someone, somewhere may have invented the concept of work?  Yeah…nobody would care much for that guy.

But is work really our problem?  And who invented it, anyway?

I think most Christians and Jews would place the blame solely on Adam.  After he and Eve blew it, here’s what God had to say about Adam’s curse:

Genesis 3:17-19
And He said to the man, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’:

The ground is cursed because of you.  You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. 
It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it.  For you are dust, and you will return to dust.

Adam and Eve sinned by eating – from here on, they would suffer in order to eat.  Notice that God didn’t hand out working assignments.  He didn’t have to explain what “work” was; instead, God said that work would now become painful labor.  While his efforts would be able to feed his family, Adam would have to contend with thorns and thistles.

We have to go a little further back in Adam and Eve’s story to find the origin of work:

Genesis 1:27-29, 2:15
So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He create them male and female

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.  Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”  God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree who fruit contains seed.  This will be food for you…

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.

To fulfill these directions from God, Adam and Eve would have to do some work!  But since this was before sin corrupted everything – including the ground – what do you think their work was like?  What would you do if all creatures and plants cooperated with you and your efforts? 

Don’t think of the garden of Eden as being a little vegetable plot.  This “garden” was more like an arboretum.  So in addition to their responsibility to rule over the world, Adam was also God’s official landscaper…and there wasn’t a weed, thistle, or thorn to be found.  Imagine what a master gardener could do if they didn’t have to fight off the weeds!

This was how paradise started – not with lakes of stew and all-day sleep-fests, but with Adam and Eve partnering with God.  They worked and managed creation.  They walked and talked with God.  The land readily produced food for them.

I look forward to the day when Paradise Lost becomes Paradise Restored.  In Eternity Future, we’ll be able to live and work without sin and selfishness thwarting our efforts.  Just like we were created to do.

Keep Pressing
Ken

Making the effort, but struggling in weakness

Christ, the Greater Messenger, has invited us to partner with Him now.  The reward for doing so is entering God’s rest, which is the administration of His future kingdom.  The author of Hebrews is using the example of the Israelites leaving Egypt and their opportunity to participate in the administration of the future county of Israel as a parallel to our own lives:

Hebrews 4:9-11
A Sabbath rest remains, therefore, for God’s people.  For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His.  Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience.

Notice that the author is stressing our need to make every effort to enter that rest; as such, he is clearly not taking about Jesus’ offer of eternal salvation from the penalty of our sins.  If the rest discussed here were simply heaven, we wouldn’t have to work for it, because eternal life is an unearned gift (John 3:16; John 10:25; Ephesians 2:8-9; Revelation 22:17).  Effort, however, is needed if we are going to be partners with Jesus and His administration of the universe.  Our efforts now do not affect “where” we will spend eternity, but our efforts now will effect “what” we will be doing in eternity future.

Since the Israelites’ example and Jesus’ superior message are available in Scripture, this is the place we should be looking to see what we must do NOW in order to enter into the future kingdom participation LATER.  However, when we look through Scripture, we discover:

Hebrews 4:12-13
For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart.  No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.

Since an account for my life will be given, all my times of having a sinful, unbelieving heart will be known…and I remember how God dealt with the Israelites for the unbelief (they missed out on participating in the establishment of the kingdom of Israel!)  What am I going to do, then?  Given my mistakes, sins, and all the times I act selfishly…How can I ever be considered qualified to partner with God in the future?

Hebrews 4:14-15
Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens – Jesus the Son of God – let us hold fast to the confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin.

This tells me that Christ is on my side, as my brother in the family and the bridge for my relationship between me and God the Father.  I am not alone in my struggles!  Even greater still, we are told:

Hebrews 4:16
Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.

In all honesty, my human mind would not expect this.  We are so weak…so very, very weak.  We do not deserve the first, second, or any chance to partner with God.  And once again, our God blows away our expectations with His mercy and grace.

Jesus is here to sympathize with our weaknesses and to help us in our time of need, so that we can make every effort to enter that rest.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Unlikely partners

After identifying himself as the letter’s author, Paul then turns his attention to his letter’s recipient:

Titus 1:4 To Titus, my true son in our common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.

I absolutely love the way Paul addresses Titus – my true son, and he emphasizes their shared, common faith.  In just a few words we get a strong sense of the depth of relationship between these two men.  This bond was founded upon their shared belief that Jesus is who he claimed to be – the Savior of all mankind, the promised Christ.

Outside of this connection, their friendship likely wouldn’t have happened.  There is a very good chance that they would not have even known each other.  Paul was a circumcised Jew, and before meeting Jesus he was well on his way to becoming the top Jewish rabbi in known world.  Titus, on the other hand, was an uncircumcised Greek.  These two didn’t just become the first century’s version of “the odd couple”, they were polar opposites!  Outside of Jesus, they had no known commonalities or expected connections.  Their social circles would not have intersected.

However, because of Jesus, these two men formed an incredible partnership.  Paul mentored Titus.  Titus became Paul’s protégé.  Titus responded and matured so well that Paul trusted him with many important responsibilities.  The main one we’re going to be focusing on is outlined in verse 5:

Titus 1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

This was not a small task.  The island of Crete is about 3,200 square miles, and although mountainous, it was heavily populated.  When Paul left to continue his travels, Titus was to carry on in Paul’s authority, as an apostolic representative…and Titus was up for the challenge.  He loved the people of Crete and worked with them for many, many years.  In fact, one source I found stated that “Tradition has it that Titus, having become first bishop of Crete, died there in advanced years.  His successor, Andreas Cretensis, eulogized him in the following terms: ‘The first foundation-stone of the Cretan church; the pillar of the truth; the stay of the faith; the never silent trumpet of the evangelical message; the exalted echo of Paul’s own voice’.”

This kind of impact was achieved because Paul took the time to mentor someone that he had no previous connection with.  Their friendship, partnership, and resulting impact would not have occurred if either of them had held to their societies’ norms and prejudices.

Our relationship with Jesus radically changes the nature of our relationships with people we would have never known otherwise.  God puts the unlikely together and then accomplishes great things.  Are you being mentored right now?  Are you mentoring someone?  If the answer is “no” to either one of those questions, I urge you to ask God to fill that void.  When you ask, he will answer…but your mentor or mentee may be someone you would have never expected.  Will you trust his selection?  Your partnership will have a future impact greater than you can know right now.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hope

Titus 1:1 Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness –

We saw last time that Paul identifies himself as both a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ; however, he doesn’t end his letter’s introduction with just this statement.  After identifying himself with God the Father and Jesus Christ, he also explains the out-flowing purpose of his association with them.

Paul is a servant…for the faith of God’s elect and an apostle…for…the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.  These two dynamics – strengthening the faith of believers and making unbelievers aware of the truth of Christ – are Paul’s driving mission in life.

If any of us gave that kind of Mission Statement for our lives, we would likely be applauded by those in the church and the statement wouldn’t be questioned further.  However, Paul does not stop there.  Instead, he explains where the faith and knowledge find their source:

Titus 1:2 a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time

“Hope” is a term that is thrown around a lot; however, in this context it’s not flippant as in “Gee, I hope it doesn’t rain.”  Rather this hope is a confident expectation of future events.  When I placed my hope in my wife’s pledge “until death do us part”, I confidently expect that she will fulfill her promise.  This kind of hope can be either strong or weak…because it doesn’t depend on the person who is hoping; instead it depends on the person that is being hoped in.  We’ve all seen marriages where vows are broken and the hope for a life-long relationship was unfulfilled.  Paul’s hope of eternal life is sourced in God’s ancient promise of a Messiah, that a Redeemer would one day come to the earth.

Curiously though, Paul adds a qualifier to his explanation of hope, namely that God is someone who does not lie.  While it might seem a little odd to us for him to say that, a quick look at the Cretan culture reveals Paul’s purpose in emphasizing this character trait of God.

This description of God is in direct contrast to both the deserved reputation of Cretans and the Greek/Cretan gods.  If you remember any of your Greek mythology, the most powerful gods were better tricksters and liars than the lesser gods.  The Greek gods routinely deceived the Greek people and each other – often on a whim or out of some corrupt desire.  Paul is stating from the outset that the one true God can be trusted, for he always speaks and acts in perfect truth.

We’ve made it to the foundational basis for Paul’s identity, his motivation, and his actions – he takes God at his word, that in contrast to the world, God is trustworthy.  And because of this trust, Paul was able to partner with God in incredible ways. 

How is our partnership with God?  Do we find the basis for our identity, motivation, and actions in him?  If not, is it because we are not fully taking God at his word?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hello, my name is Titus

Although we don’t know exactly when Paul began working with Titus, the two had a significant partnership in spreading the gospel.  They were the first century’s polar opposites – Paul was a circumcised Jew, while Titus was an uncircumcised Greek.  In Galatians, we read that Titus accompanied Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to discuss the inclusion of non-Jews in the Christian church.  In 2 Corinthians, we find out that Titus was Paul’s letter-bearer for both letters to the Corinthian church.  He was also in charge of collecting the money that the church in Corinth had raised for the church in Jerusalem.  Paul refers to Titus as my partner and fellow worker among you (2 Corinthians 8:23) and as my true son in our common faith (Titus 1:4).

Late in his life, Paul gave Titus a difficult solo mission – to the island of Crete.  The locals had a deserving reputation for being “liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons”…hence the derogatory name of “Cretan” that is still around today. They had a horrible reputation for cheating in business deals.  They were looked down on by nearly all Mediterranean people. They were “those people” that you didn’t want to be around or be associated with.  And yet these are the people that Paul and Titus brought the gospel to.

However, Paul didn’t stick around long.  Instead, he left Titus behind to work with all the new Christians on the island of Crete.  This was a huge job, so Paul sent a letter of encouragement and instruction.  The new Cretan believers would be surrounded by a culture that would drag them back to their old way of life, so Paul instructed Titus to “Encourage and rebuke with all authority.(Titus 2:15) 

Paul’s instructions throughout the letter give us a great inside-out look at what God expects of his church while we wait for Christ’s promised return.  Chapter 1 covers what characteristics a church leader is expected to have; Chapter 2 discuss what life topics are most applicable for different groups within the church; and Chapter 3 talks about the church’s relationship with outsiders.

Paul’s concern is for the choices that these new believers are making in light of their new relationship with Jesus.  Several times he mentions that they should be doing what is good as a result of their new identity in Christ, as seen at the end of the letter:

Titus 3:14 Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.

The Greek word for unproductive refers to being unfruitful or generally useless.  Now that the Cretans have been saved from an utterly ruining eternity, where they are separated from God – the last thing these Christians need to be doing is idly wasting their new life!

There will be a lot in this short letter that challenges us, and we will be faced with the constant question of Will I choose to act like the Cretan I was before I met Jesus, or will I devote myself to living the life that he rescued me for?

Keep Pressing,
Ken