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: perspective

Flashback Favorite - It's all good

Work has been kicking my tail lately, so I need this reminder. Hopefully, it’s something useful for you as well.

It’s all good
originally posted on October 20, 2016

It’s all good!

I might be giving away my age here, but that phrase became pop culture slang in the middle of my teenage years.  Typically said with twang that made the “all” sound like “awl”, the person who used the phrase was telling everyone that they were not going let a situation bring them down or derail their direction in life – even if the circumstances or news was really bad.

As cool as we thought we were for saying it, we didn’t realize that the Apostle Paul said it almost 2000 years before we did.

While instructing Timothy on how he needs to lead the church in Ephesus, Paul informs him of the following:

1 Timothy 4:4-6
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.  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.

Did you catch that?  Everything God created is good.  Going back to original creation and the Garden of Eden, at the end each day, God looked at what He created and saw that it was good (See Genesis 1).  Despite the ways sin has corrupted the world, we can still approach everything through the lens of the word of God and by prayer When we use these two tools, we can see God’s original design and intent for our lives. 

Paul wants the believers in Ephesus to know this, but he also knows that they must be reminded of it.  Why does Paul tell Timothy to point these things out to the brothers?  Because he knows that the troubles of this sin-soaked world will skew our vision.  We must keep coming back to God’s word and prayer if we’re going see properly.

Can I be honest, though?  Sometimes I tire of hearing that message, even though I know it is right.  It happens to all of us.  Our sin-nature gets emboldened, and we resent the messenger who reminds us of our need for God’s word and prayer.  Being resented can be difficult for our church leaders, even though they are correctly doing the things God has asked them to do.  Paul knows this and encourages Timothy:

if you point out these things, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus

Paul uses the same word for good here that he did earlier.  So he’s essentially saying that as good as God made the initial creation and design, that’s how good of a servant Timothy will be when he carries out his mission and points the believers back to the importance of God’s word and prayer.

So we should ask ourselves:

Do I see today as something good?
Do I see my home, my family, my work, my food, and my responsibilities as something good?
Am I thankfully receiving everything from God, seeing it all through the lens of His word and prayer?
Am I resentful when someone reminds me that I need to see life through this lens?

Despite what sin-soaked mess comes our way, when we see this world from God’s vantage point, we can honestly say

It’s all good.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Big dumb animal

Ever wonder if living for God is worth it?

Why do corrupt people get to enjoy nice things?  Why do greedy, manipulative people get away with their actions?  How can someone run a company into the ground and then walk away, scot-free?  Why are many believers struggling with health issues, money issues, and relationship issues when so many non-believers appear to live on Easy Street?

Maybe you have asked someone these questions, or perhaps you’re like a lot of Christians – we have secretly wondered, but are afraid to admit to it.  Either we’re ashamed of our doubts, or we don’t want to trip up someone else by vocalizing our own struggles.

However, we’re not alone in our wonderings.  3,000 years ago, a poet named Asaph wondered the same things.  While we enjoy the historical perspective of being able to look back to Jesus’ life and Asaph was alive well before Christ’s arrival, his writings still resonate with us:

Psalm 73:1-3
God is indeed good to Israel, to the pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my steps nearly went astray.
For I envied the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

It’s hard not be discouraged by the state of the world.  It only appears to get worse as the years move along.  How many of Asaph’s descriptions sound familiar?

Psalm 73:4-12
They have an easy time until they die, and their bodies are well fed.
They are not in trouble like others; they are not afflicted like most people.
Therefore, pride is their necklace, and violence covers them like a garment.
Their eyes bulge out from fatness; the imaginations of their hearts run wild.
They mock, and they speak maliciously; they arrogantly threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues strut across the earth.
Therefore His people turn to them and drink in their overflowing words.
The wicked say, “How can God know?  Does the Most High know everything?”
Look at them – the wicked!
They are always at ease, and they increase their wealth.

After making these disturbing observations, Asaph begins to wonder if his efforts to stay connected to God are worth it.  Although he keeps his doubts to himself, his hopeless feelings were ones he was unable to change on his own:

Psalm 73:13-28
Did I purify my heart and wash my hands in innocence for nothing?
For I am afflicted all day long and punished every morning.
If I had decided to say these things aloud, I would have betrayed Your people.
When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless until I entered God’s sanctuary.
Then I understood their destiny.
Indeed, You put them in slippery places; You make them fall into ruin.
How suddenly they become a desolation!
They come to an end, swept away by terrors.
Like one waking from a dream, Lord, when arising, You will despise their image.

When I became embittered and my innermost being was wounded,
I was stupid and didn’t understand;
I was an unthinking animal toward You.
Yet I am always with You; You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory.
Who do I have in heaven but You?
And I desire nothing on earth but You.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.
Those far from You will certainly perish; You destroy all who are unfaithful to You.
But as for me, God’s presence is my good.
I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all You do.

I can so relate to Asaph’s path of doubt and wondering – which was taken care of by a perspective-changing encounter with God.  Seeing life from God’s vantage point helps us out of our legitimate worries and our self-created pity parties.  There have been times in my life when I, too, was a “big dumb animal” and didn’t trust God with my present circumstance.  But His guidance and counsel are always there for us.

We can rest knowing that our God is big enough to handle our doubts.  He’s also patient with us when we get caught up in comparing our lives with the short-term pleasures we see other people enjoy.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

On suicide and despair

This past week, a news story caught my attention.  A young New York dietitian committed suicide.  By most people’s standards, she was successful and in the prime of her life.  She had earned her Master’s degree and was working in her chosen field.  She had friends and co-workers that valued her.  Her Instagram pictures showed her enjoying a wide variety of food from places all over the world. 

And yet, she felt empty.  Here’s part of the note she left behind:

I have written this note several times in my head for over a decade, and this one finally feels right. No edits, no overthinking. I have accepted hope is nothing more than delayed disappointment, and I am just plain old-fashioned tired of feeling tired. 

I realize I am undeserving of thinking this way because I truly have a great life on paper. I’m fortunate to eat meals most only imagine. I often travel freely without restriction. I live alone in the second greatest American city (San Francisco, you’ll always have my heart). However, all these facets seem trivial to me. It’s the ultimate first world problem, I get it. I often felt detached while in a room full of my favorite people; I also felt absolutely nothing during what should have been the happiest and darkest times in my life. No single conversation or situation has led me to make this decision, so at what point do you metaphorically pull the trigger?

Her words ooze feelings of despair, bleakness, and hollowness.  Usually it takes many years on this earth before we reach a point with this level of emptiness – but most, if not all, of us feel like this at some point.  We look around at the state of the world and find ourselves agreeing with the writer of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself “The Teacher”:

Ecclesiastes 1:2-4, 8-9, 11
Absolute futility,” says the Teacher.  “Absolute futility.  Everything is futile.”  What does a person gain for all his efforts that he labors at under the sun?  A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever…

All things are wearisome, more than anyone can say.  The eye is not satisfied by seeing or the ear filled with hearing.  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun…

There is no remembrance of those who came before; and of those who will come after there will also be no remembrance by those who follow them.

These musings are real, the emotion behind them should not be simply dismissed.  They may hit us in a moment, or they may linger in the back of our mind for years.  If life is only made up of what we see in front of us, then the feelings of despair are accurate and we should do our best to eat, drink, and enjoy our work as best we can for as many trips around the sun we can manage. 

However, there is a flaw to this kind of thinking…what we need to recognize is the limit of our own perspective.  It’s hard to see beyond what is directly in front of us, but that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do.  When He spoke to the woman at the well, Jesus made this incredible statement:

John 4:13-14
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again.  But whoever drinks form the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again.  In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up in him for eternal life.”

The world’s water never satisfies – it always leaves us thirsty again.  But with one drink from Jesus, our thirst for fulfillment can be satisfied.  And it doesn’t stop there – a full, abundant, eternal life begins at the moment we believe in Jesus.

Walking with Jesus ensures that our perspective contains more than the unsatisfying things in front of us.  This doesn’t mean we will never experience the pain of despair or that we will never feel empty.  But we will know the truth of our place in God’s larger story.

If you are feeling bleak and hollow, turn these over to Jesus.  You don’t have to be afraid, He can handle your feelings.  Also be sure you’re talking with fellow believers about these feelings and your perspective.  We are to carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), and know that you’re not alone.  Your family is here for you.

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

Is God ever late?

When I was a kid, I remember the preacher telling us “God is rarely early, never late, and always right on time.” While I don’t think the math quite adds up in his statement, the truth is that “being on time” is a matter of perspective.

But, if you had asked anyone…this time, Jesus was late.

After Lazarus became sick, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, asking Him to come heal their brother.  When He receives the news, Jesus waited two days before heading out on the several-days-long journey to where Lazarus was in Bethany.  When Jesus arrived, Lazarus had already died and had been buried for four days.  Both sisters lamented that if Jesus had made it in time, their brother wouldn’t have died.  Friends and family who had come to mourn witnessed Jesus weeping with Mary and commented:

John 11:36-37
So the Jews said, “See how He loved him!” But some of them said, “Couldn’t He who opened the blind man’s eyes also have kept this man from dying?”

The rabbinic custom said that a body had to be identified by family and/or friends within three days, or else the decay of a person’s face would leave them unrecognizable.  Additional rabbinic belief of the time said that after 3 days, there was zero hope of a person to have been “mistakenly” declared dead and for them to come back to life.  At four days out, Jesus was well-past the time to heal His friend from his illness.

John 11:38-41
Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb.  It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

“Remove the stone,” Jesus said.

Martha, the dead man’s sister, told Him, “Lord, there is already a stench because he has been dead four days.”

Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

So they removed the stone…

While Jewish burial rituals used spices, they did not embalm the corpse, like the Egyptians did or us modern folks do.  A body will naturally decay rather quickly.  Between 24-72 hours, all organs have decomposed.  By the end of 5 days, the body has become bloated and…well, if you want to know the full details, feel free to google them.  They’re not pretty.  Suffice it to say, though, Martha was quite right when she told Jesus not to remove the stone covering her brother’s cave-tomb, saying “Lord, there is already a stench”.

Jesus was too late to perform a healing miracle.  He wasn’t too late for a resurrection, though – in fact, Jesus was right on time:

John 11:41-44
So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard Me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”


There would have been no resurrection without the death happening first.  Where a healing would have been another great display of Jesus’ power and authority – a resurrection was irrefutable proof that God the Father was the one who sent Jesus into the world.

So yes, Jesus was too late to do what Mary, Martha, and even Lazarus so desperately wanted.  But He was on time to show everyone who was there to mourn the glory of God…so that they may believe.

Has it felt like God is running late in your life?  Has society wandered too far away from God’s design?  Are you feeling like you’re out of hope? 

If life seems like that, it’s probably time to adjust our perspective.  Instead of lamenting on ‘what God should have done’, let’s expectantly watch for the greater thing God has in store.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Is Jesus boring?

One of the keys to good parenting that I’ve discovered over the years is to be so predictable that I’m boring…at least when it comes to discipline and behavioral expectations – first for myself, and then for my children.  While it may have looked ‘boring’ at a surface level or even felt ‘boring’ to me, the consistency of my character provided the foundation for relationship with my children.

Especially through their younger years, our relationship always seemed to go smoother when I was most consistent.  It’s as if they took a measure of comfort in knowing not just the boundaries, but who their dad is as a person.  When I was out of sorts, they could sense it, and they became unsteady.  Looking back, the season when I was traveling extensively for work certainly took a toll on our family dynamic.  Dad wasn’t consistently there, and it showed.

However, the flip side also rang true.  The times when I was consistently tuned in to both who I am with God and what my purpose is for my children – those seasons have resulted in some of our best family memories.  (Notice I didn’t say easiest, I said best…and there is often a difference)

My consistency came directly from my connection to God.  He is our ultimate example for the parent-child relationship, such that His consistency of character (from the surface level) may even appear ‘boring’.  But when we lean into His consistency of character, we find the things we cannot achieve anywhere else in life – identity, perspective, foundation, and purpose.

But it’s hard to rely on God for those things.  We struggle with the idea that we must earn everything, including relationships.  We don’t want to admit dependency or, quite frankly, our inner-most need for it.  And this is where the recipients of the letter we call Hebrews were in danger of slipping.  The author had already shown them Jesus’ fulfillment of Mosaic law and superiority over its decrees, but there would be the temptation for them to go back to trying to build a relationship with God based upon what actions they choose.

The author addressed this concern both as a warning and an encouragement:

Hebrews 13:8-9
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Don’t be led astray by various kinds of strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be established by grace and not by foods, since those involved in them have not benefited.

The author says his readers cannot establish their relationship with God due to the ceremonial foods they would eat, or rituals they follow.  The people’s activities were shadows that pointed to Jesus and the relationship with God only He could provide. 

Jesus hasn’t changed.  Jesus doesn’t change.  Who He was in the Old Testament, who He is in the New Testament, and who He will be in eternity future is the same Great God who loves us unconditionally, entirely based upon grace.

If you come across any teaching that even suggests otherwise, don’t be led astray.  Reject such foolishness.  We cannot earn God’s love, by cash now or on credit later.  We cannot do enough good things today to earn the start of a relationship with Jesus.  We cannot do enough good deeds later to justify His investment of eternal life in us.  No matter what we’ve done, are doing, or will do – our standing with God is entirely established by grace.

We will not find His consistency boring; rather His consistent character will show us our true identity, proper perspective, a solid foundation, a life’s purpose, and a heart established by grace.  Most of all, His consistent character shows us…Him.

Don’t be led astray.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

When life gets hard

Let me be honest with you.

If we choose to live our lives with the goal of obtaining God’s promised opportunities for kingdom partnership, it’s not going to be easy.  That kind of life was not easy for any of the ancient faith heroes listed in Hebrews Chapter 11.  It wasn’t easy for Jesus either – the whole world system was against Him.

But that is precisely what we need to keep in mind when it does get tough:

Hebrews 12:3, 7-8
For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up…Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons.  For what son is there that a father does not discipline?  But if you are without discipline – which all receive – then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

Perspective matters.  Are we trying to merely endure our difficulties until we find our next moment of rest/pleasure/escape…or are we looking at opposition from other people as useful discipline from the Lord?

Hebrews 12:9-10
Furthermore, we had human fathers discipline us, and we respected them.  Shouldn’t we submit even more to the Father of spirits and live?  For they disciplined us for a short time based on what seemed good to them, but He does it for our benefit, so that we can share His holiness.


One Sunday, every year in June, we stop and reflect on all the lessons our human fathers taught us.  We learned lessons directly from him, and we had to learn some the hard way.  Looking back now, we are thankful for all he did and taught to prepare us for our adult life.

Even more so, we can trust God’s discipline to be in our best interest.  The lessons we learn now will carry over to our next life in eternity.

Hebrews 12:11
No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.


Will we allow ourselves to be trained by God’s discipline, trained to be Christ-like in our approach to difficulties?  We will not experience the peaceful fruit of [right-living] unless we are trained by the hard stuff God allows to happen in our lives.

When life gets hard…not if, but when…look at it as training that has a purpose.  And we can have the endurance to learn and grow as we consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, so that [we] won’t grow weary and give up.

Perspective matters.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

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

The author of Hebrews gave his readers a three step description of what Christian living looks like.  Each step begins with the phrase “let us”.  After drawing near to God and then holding on to our reliance on Him, the next step is this:

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

We can’t do this alone.  We need to be watching out for one another.

How many times have you heard (…or said) the following:

I don’t need to go to church.  I can be with God just fine by myself out in nature.
I don’t need to go to church.  Everyone there is a judgmental hypocrite.
I don’t need to go to church.  I don’t really get much out of it.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it is very, very self-centered.

What if we viewed our weekly gatherings as an opportunity to help others in God’s family?  Try this line of thinking instead:

I need to go to church because a little boy needs to know that God loves him.
I need to go to church because a teenage girl needs to know that God accepts her, just as she is.
I need to go to church because a struggling mom needs a smile and someone to talk to.
I need to go to church because a man doubting his marriage needs reassured in order to keep at it.

I need to go to church because we will all encourage each other while we wait for Jesus to return.

We must watch out for and encourage each other.  The perspective we develop when we give Godly encouragement is just as important as the perspective we develop when we receive Godly encouragement.

The rest of the Scriptures certainly bear this out, too:

Acts 20:35
…remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Proverbs 11:25
A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water.

Mark 10:45
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.


If we’re going to live the Christian life…If we’re going to live the Christ-like life…then we need to take the focus off of ourselves.  Encouraging each other is a great way to put our focus on others.

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Running away

We all had moments like this as kids.  We saw the danger coming, and it was coming in fast.  Maybe for you it was a schoolyard bully, or the neighbor’s large dog, or the owner of a property that you were not supposed to be on.  Whatever it was, the adrenalin kicked in and you instinctively knew what you had to do next…

RUN!

Adrenaline is not called the “fight or flight” hormone for nothing.  When it starts pumping through our body, we are suddenly stronger, more focused, and significantly faster than we have ever been.  But we must decide, and decide quickly, how we are going to use our enhanced capabilities.  Some things aren’t worth fighting over, it’s best just to get away…and get away as quickly as possible.

As he was wrapping up his letter of direction and encouragement to his protégé Timothy, the Apostle Paul warns:

1 Timothy 6:9-11
But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

Now you, man of God, run from these things;

For Timothy to try balancing the pursuit of riches and being a man of God would have been completely futile.  Not only would he waste his time, but he would risk becoming trapped or falling into ruin and destruction.  A chasing after money leads to all kinds of compromises he would have never thought possible…it would lead him away from the faith and his reward would be many pains.

Jesus gave a similar warning:

Matthew 6:24
Not one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot be slaves of God and of money.

No wonder Paul’s advice to Timothy was to RUN.

But Paul doesn’t leave Timothy hanging either.  God isn’t just handing out a set of rules “Don’t do this.  Don’t do that.”  Whenever you find a “don’t” in Scripture, it’s almost always accompanied by an alternative “do”.

1 Timothy 6:11
Now you, man of God, run from these things;
but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.

Earlier, Paul told Timothy that godlinessholds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:8). 

So, we see the contrast here: Paul says to run from what the world sees as lifegiving now and to pursue what God says is lifegiving both now and in eternity.

Timothy had to choose what he was going to run from and what he would pursue

We must make the same choice.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

It's all good

It’s all good!

I might be giving away my age here, but that phrase became pop culture slang in the middle of my teenage years.  Typically said with twang that made the “all” sound like “awl”, the person who used the phrase was telling everyone that they were not going let a situation bring them down or derail their direction in life – even if the circumstances or news was really bad.

As cool as we thought we were for saying it, we didn’t realize that the Apostle Paul said it almost 2000 years before we did.

While instructing Timothy on how he needs to lead the church in Ephesus, Paul informs him of the following:

1 Timothy 4:4-6
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.  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.

Did you catch that?  Everything God created is good.  Going back to original creation and the Garden of Eden, at the end each day, God looked at what He created and saw that it was good (See Genesis 1).  Despite the ways sin has corrupted the world, we can still approach everything through the lens of the word of God and by prayer.  When we use these two tools, we can see God’s original design and intent for our lives. 

Paul wants the believers in Ephesus to know this, but he also knows that they must be reminded of it.  Why does Paul tell Timothy to point these things out to the brothers?  Because he knows that the troubles of this sin-soaked world will skew our vision.  We must keep coming back to God’s word and prayer if we’re going see properly.

Can I be honest, though?  Sometimes I tire of hearing that message, even though I know it is right.  It happens to all of us.  Our sin-nature gets emboldened, and we resent the messenger who reminds us of our need for God’s word and prayer.  Being resented can be difficult for our church leaders, even though they are correctly doing the things God has asked them to do.  Paul knows this and encourages Timothy:

if you point out these things, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus

Paul uses the same word for good here that he did earlier.  So he’s essentially saying that as good as God made the initial creation and design, that’s how good of a servant Timothy will be when he carries out his mission and points the believers back to the importance of God’s word and prayer.

So we should ask ourselves:

Do I see today as something good?
Do I see my home, my family, my work, my food, and my responsibilities as something good?
Am I thankfully receiving everything from God, seeing it all through the lens of His word and prayer?
Am I resentful when someone reminds me see life through this lens?

Despite what sin-soaked mess comes our way, when we see this world from God’s vantage point, we can honestly say

It’s all good.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Practical application: work (part 1)

After giving specific examples of how to live out a Jesus-focused life among our immediate families, Paul turned his readers’ attention to the next most common area of their lives – where they do their daily work.

Paul specifically addresses these next directions to slaves; however, the Greek word he used could also be translated as servant, attendant, or bondsman.  Roman slavery had many more similarities to an indentured servant system than to the version of slavery in America’s past or in other parts of the world.

Regardless of his readers’ circumstances, Paul’s application of God’s truth for their lives is clear.  Additionally, his reasoning is something that we can also apply in any area we are working:

Colossians 3:22
Slaves, obey your human masters in everything: don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 

The first observation here is that Paul’s direction is proof that laziness at work isn’t a new concept.  It wasn’t introduced into our economic system by Gen-X, Gen-Y, or everyone’s current favorite target, the Millennials.  Working only when being watched is an expression of selfishness and self-centeredness…conditions that have plagued all of humanity since The Fall.

Looking back at the creation account, we find that God gave Adam work to do – long before sin entered the world.  He and Eve were to partner together with God and work in the Garden of Eden.  Paul wants his readers to see their daily work as Adam and Eve saw their work, as an occupation entrusted to them by God and they were to work for Him. 

Colossians 3:23-24
Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord – you serve the Lord Christ. 

Remember, Paul is writing to believers here…so the reward of an inheritance isn’t eternal salvation from the penalty of sin, because that is a free gift.  Based on the context, the reward in these verses is something that can be earned through working wholeheartedly and enthusiastically.

Given these observations, several application questions come to mind:

How do we approach the workday? 
When do we work hard? 
If our attitudes are the measuring stick, whom are we working for? 
Paul says there is a reward for good work, so what is it?

When we view our work properly – as someone who working for God – our perspective immediately changes.  We see the successes, failures, and difficulties in completely different light and are able to trust God in all areas of our work.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How God sees us

As Paul is wrapping up the transition point in his letter to the believers in Colossae, he makes an incredible statement that reveals how God views believers.  Previously, Paul urged them to kill off their old sinful habits because they

Colossians 3:9-10
…have put off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man

For the rest of the letter, Paul is going to describe what the life and practices of the new man will look like.  Reading ahead, you’ll find that Paul describes a life of freedom, love, and thankfulness.  However, the beginning of this new section says something we need to pause and consider.

Colossians 3:12
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on…

These three descriptions – chosen, holy, and loved – come before Paul lists out the qualities that he wants the Colossian believers to put on and practice.  This means that God views us by these descriptions – regardless of how well we live life wearing the practices of the new man.

So what, exactly, do these descriptions mean?

Although some people assume that the word chosen means that Paul is talking about God choosing people out of the world to be believers, the context doesn’t allow for that interpretation.

Keep in mind that Paul wrote to those who already trusted Jesus as their Savior.  Also remember that in the previous sentence, Paul described the family of God, saying

Colossians 3:11
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

From this context, we see that all believers are chosen ones.  In fact, this entire section is only dealing with internal, family matters.  After Paul refers to the Colossian believers as chosen ones, the rest of sentence talks about the qualities of a maturing believer’s life.  Therefore, it is clear that God is choosing all believers to mature and become more Christ-like.  Not just some of us.  Not just the “good kids.”  God chooses all of us for maturity.

The word holy conveys the idea of being set apart for a special purpose.  A word that also embodies this idea is the word sacred.  Whenever we refer to something as sacred, we imply that it is in a category all to its own.  Sacred things are handled reverently and carefully…not because of weakness, but because holy and sacred things are considered to have a priceless value.  Notice that God sees us as holy, set apart, and He considers our relationship with Him to be a sacred one.

Lastly, Paul says that God sees us as loved.  We’ve heard that God loves us so many times that we can have trouble remembering the depth of His love.  Here, however, the tense of the verb loved helps to remind us.  Loved is a perfect passive verb in this sentence.  The perfect tense in Greek describes an action which is viewed as having been completed in the past, once and for all, not needing to be repeated.  A passive voice means that the subject is the recipient of the verb’s action.  Taken together, when Paul says that we are loved by God – it means that we are the recipient of His love, and His love for us was firmly established a long time ago.

God sees us as chosen ones, holy and loved.  Think about that.  Smile about that.  No matter what happens today, or how well you handle it, those things do not change.

God sees you as His chosen one, holy and loved.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Being Heavenly minded

The trouble with clichés is that they are typically rooted, somewhere, in reality.  The phrase that’s bothered me for a while is one that is usually muttered as a putdown in Christian circles. 

He’s so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good.

You can almost hear the contempt in someone’s voice as they say it.  Historically, however, there have been Christians that used the prospect of Heaven as an excuse to “check out” of the world around them.  Either pulling away as an individual or into a small community, some have sought to distance themselves from the messiness of a sinful world and just wait until God takes them away to Heaven.

However, I think us modern believers have over-reacted in an attempt to avoid being labeled as “too heavenly minded”.  We’re afraid of being labeled as a dreamer or looked at as someone who’s trying to escape the real issues facing us in the here and now.  So we tend to not think about the next life all that much…

This is what Paul told the Colossians about where their minds should be focused:

Colossians 3:1-4
So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.  When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

As we continue to read Paul’s letter, we will see him give the Colossian believers a wide variety of practical ways to live out their heavenly minded-ness.  So we can’t just pull these verses out and claim that this allows us to forsake the world and world’s problems.  Paul’s point here is that our focus in life matters.  In fact, any earthly good we do accomplish will be because we have aligned our perspective with God’s perspective.  His aim is to reach for sinners, and we can partner with Him as He continues to do so.

C.S. Lewis saw a similar issue in the church of his day:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.  It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.  If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.  The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this [one].

We modern believers are too focused on ourselves, and that clouds up our ability see the earth from God’s perspective.  Much of our time is taken up trying to “discover” ourselves or somehow project an image of ourselves into the world around us.  We will continue middling around and being unfulfilled until we seek what is above, realizing that our life is hidden in the Messiah

I take a lot of comfort in Paul’s last statement – When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 

Jesus won’t be fully revealed to the entire world until He returns.  Since His revealing is still in the future, that means the full revealing of my identity is also still in the future.  On that day, we will be shown as the ones so loved by God…because we will be with Him in glory.  My mind swirls with wonder just thinking about and desiring that day.

However, until then…we need to keep our minds fixed on what is above and love those around us, just like our Messiah does.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Remembering where we came from

Don’t forget where you came from

We’re all familiar with the intention of this phrase.  Whenever someone moves on to something bigger than their previous circumstances, this piece of advice usually finds its way to them.  We want the recipient to keep his or her new life in a certain perspective, to remember the lessons (and a few of the people) that brought them to this new phase in life.

Similarly, we can find this same advice scattered throughout the Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  However, instead of wanting us to pull specific lessons from our past to guide us through our future circumstances, each author wants his readers to find value in remembering who we were before God met with us.

Paul brings up the idea of remembering our lives before meeting Christ in his letter to the believers in Colossae.  Although he had never personally met them, he knew their pre-Christ story – because we all start from the same place.  We all start out separated from God.  Speaking about Christ, Paul wrote:

Colossians 1:19-22
For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him,
and through Him to reconcile everything to Himself
by making peace through the blood of His cross –
whether things on earth or things in heaven.

And you were once alienated and hostile in mind because of your evil actions.  But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him

Did you see where we were before God took action?

We were alienated.  We were unable to participate in a relationship with the One who created us.  The Greek word for alienated means to be shut out from one’s fellowship and intimacy – a perfect description of how separated we were from God. 

We were estranged from God, but don’t think for one moment that we were the victim in the relationship.  For not only were we alienated, but we were also hostile in mind.  We were enemies toward God in our thoughts and feelings; we were angry with Him.  We resisted His overtures.  We argued.  We sought to bring God down to our level and our definition of what a relationship with Him would look like.  We accused Him of expecting too much, that His standard of perfection was unrealistic.

But was it God’s fault that the relationship was broken?
Were we justified in our hostile attitude?

Paul gives the reason for our alienation and our hostility – it was because of your evil actions.  Our own rebellion and our rejection of God is what lead to our separation from the One who created us and gave us our purpose.  We did this to ourselves, with no recourse to make amends.

It is while we were still in our rebellious, alienated, angry state that God chose to act.  We are reconciled only because God made a way to do so.  Keeping this mind reminds us of how we have been brought back into relationship and purpose because of God’s actions.  Remembering where we came from helps us to stay both focused and thankful.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Finding strength in joy

Ever notice that feeling “blah” often goes hand-in-hand with feeling “weak”?

I’ve never had a moment where my mood was kinda “eh” and I was also feeling strong, or empowered, or engaged in life.  Instead, when I’m discontented or feeling a little down…it seems like everything takes additional effort – thinking, handling routine responsibilities, or just moving my body all seem to be a chore.

As he opens his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul tells them what he has been praying for them.  He’s been petitioning God for three specific things – first, that God would fill them with the knowledge of His will; second, that God would strengthen them with His power, so they could have both endurance and patience; and now, we’ll take a look at Paul’s third request.

Paul is still asking God to give the believers strength; however, this time, Paul wants them to find strength in joy.  We can all recognize that a lack of joy usually accompanies a lack of strength, but the idea of joy actually giving us strength might seem a little strange.  To fully understand his reason for connecting both strength and joy, take a look at where Paul says that our joy should come from:

Colossians 1:11-12
May you be strengthened…with joy giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light.

The Colossians’ joy, and ultimately their strength, was directly tied to their perspective.  If they were looking only at their present circumstances, their own failings, or the hopelessness in the world around them, they would not be able to find any lasting enjoyment. 

Instead, Paul prays that they would recognize the benefits the Father bestows on His children.  He is the one who made it possible for them to share in the saints’ inheritance.  There was no way for any of us to merit eternal life, or to merit becoming part of God’s family.  Eternal life and the opportunity to share in the family inheritance are both gifts of God to us; all because of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. 

Think back over the other gifts that God has given you…if He is able and willing to bless His children in so many ways while we still wrestle with our sinful desires, imagine how great our inheritance will be when our sin-natures have been left behind!

Thinking about such big ideas and big topics leads us to wonderment and thankfulness for what the Father has done.  Whenever we stop and honestly thank someone, we are shifting the focus off of us.  We look at the gift and the giver in full appreciation; we stop looking at ourselves.  It is in this attitude of thankfulness that we find joy, because being thankful towards God puts Him in the proper place in our lives.

As we joyfully thank God for who He is and what He has done, we are strengthened.  We can deal with the sin-soaked world that pulls us down, because we see more than just the circumstances and difficulties that are momentarily in front of us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Family perspective

It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own little corner of Christianity.  We sometimes forget that “the church” consists of the entire body of believers, and not just the building we go to on Sundays.  We can even get so wrapped up in what we see God doing in our immediate Christian community that the idea of God working anywhere else seems like a weird, foreign concept. 

However, the gospel grows the church body wherever it goes.  Whoever hears and believes the gospel message of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection and trusts Him for forgiveness of sins and eternal life is someone who joins the church body.  Getting reminders of how the good news is received in distant places helps us keep God’s perspective and His larger mission in mind.  Knowing how God is transforming lives in other locations also helps guard us from thinking that God only works through “my church” or “my pastor”.

As Paul opened his letter to the believers in Colossae, he remind them that they are part of a much larger church community:

Colossians 1:5-8
You have already heard about this hope in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you.  It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and recognized God’s grace in the truth.  You learned this from Epaphras, our much loved fellow slave.  He is a faithful minister of the Messiah on your behalf, and he has told us about your love in the Spirit.

The Colossian believers were part of the larger church body because they heard the gospel and recognized God’s grace in the truth.  They were brought the message by Epaphras, who was faithfully using his gifts and talents to proclaim the gospel.

Since Epaphras was now working side by side with Paul, he had the opportunity to share the gospel with other people in new locations.  Since their work for Christ had them working in multiple communities, both Paul and Epaphras could see the larger family picture.  They wanted the Colossians to see themselves as part of a whole, and not just an isolated patch of believers.

Do we remember that we’re part of a much larger community?  If you haven’t looked outside your church’s bulletin in a while, take a look at the work that organizations like Voice of the Martyrs or Compassion International are doing.  Go for a larger picture our believing family, and ask God to help you see His family like He does.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The aftermath of affliction

Time has a funny way of changing our perspective on things, doesn’t it?

The most important topics to us in our teens are no big deal in our thirties – and just a flash of a memory in our fifties.  We also see how time changes our perspective in raising our children, while we’re doing our daily parenting, it seems to go on forever…but then when they become adults, the entire process seems to have happened just in a blink of an eye.

Time also changes our perspective when it comes to learning life lessons.  Sometimes we learn from others’ words or example, other times we must learn the hard way, on our own.  It’s typically later on, when we have the benefit of hindsight that we are able to see clearly what we did wrong, why we had the trouble we caused, and what God was doing for us during that time in our lives.

In this section of Psalm 119, the author speaks from a perspective with the benefit of hindsight.  What has he learned from his past afflictions?

Psalm 119:65-72
Lord, You have treated Your servant well, just as You promised.
Teach me good judgment and discernment, for I rely on Your commands.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.
You are good, and You do what is good; teach me Your statutes.
The arrogant have smeared me with lies, but I obey Your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are hard and insensitive, but I delight in Your instruction.
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statutes.
Instruction from Your lips is better for me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

It was good for me to be afflicted” isn’t something we typically say when we’re in the middle of a mess.  The author also takes responsibility for the trouble when he says, “before I was afflicted I went astray”.  The rest of the text suggests that if he hadn’t strayed from God’s commands and statutes, then he wouldn’t have dealt with the affliction.

The Hebrew word for afflicted means to be humbled, humiliated, or oppressed.  When left to our own devices, we stubbornly take paths contrary to the one God lays out in His Scriptures.  We create situations that eventually come back to bite us, and that is when affliction comes.  Sometimes the consequence of our humbling and humiliation is temporary…sometimes, though, the consequences echo throughout the rest of our lives.

But why would God allow for us to experience such hard, painful, life-altering consequences?  We often charge God with not really loving us because we see ourselves (or others) dealing with very difficult afflictions.  However, it is the benefit of hindsight that gives us a glimpse of our lives from God’s perspective.  Look again at what the author said about being afflicted:

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statues.
Instruction from Your lips is better for me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

If the lesson learned as a result of his affliction is better than large amounts of riches, then the lesson learned would also trump any lasting consequences from dealing with his self-inflicted troubles.  What was his lesson learned?

The superior value of God’s instruction in his life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Ask, Search, Knock

Here are some commonly quoted verses regarding how we should pray

Matthew 7:7-8 Keep asking, and it will be given to you.  Keep searching, and you will find.  Keep knocking and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Pretty clear, right?  The text says everyone who asks, so all we have to do is keep pestering God, and he’ll eventually give us what we’re asking for. 

Honestly, we don’t think of praying quite in those terms, but we do convince ourselves (and others) of similar thoughts, such as

·        If I pray about a situation every day for 40 days, God will hear and answer my request.
·        God hasn’t answered my prayer yet…maybe I’m not praying “hard enough”.
·        If I get a lot of people praying about my request, then God will be convinced to give me the outcome I want.

However, our experience tells us otherwise…everyone doesn’t get everything they pray for.  Healing doesn’t always come.  There are relationships that never reconcile.  Opportunities are lost forever because in some situations there are no take-backs, no do-overs, no mulligans.

So then what is Jesus really getting at here when he tells us to persistently ask, search, and knock?

We never want to read a few verses from the Bible without considering the context of the other verses around them.  In our case, we’re still looking at what Jesus taught during his Sermon on the Mount.  In a few verses previous to the ones we’re looking at, Jesus was teaching about how to avoid the trap of worrying, and said this:

Matthew 6:31-32 So don’t worry saying ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’…your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

Try to imagine life without a grocery store or clothing store.  The basic necessities of getting our next meal would be pretty high on our priority lists.  However, Jesus is instructing them to not get wrapped up in these kinds of questions…there is something more important than food and clothing, something else they should be pursuing.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you.

All these things – food, drink, and clothing – will be provided by God when we focus on his purpose, his right way of living.  That’s a fantastic promise in and of itself…but then just a little bit later Jesus says

Matthew 7:7-8 Keep asking, and it will be given to you.  Keep searching, and you will find.  Keep knocking and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Now that we see these verses context, it’s clear that Jesus is urging his followers to ask for, seek out, and pursue entrance into the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  Jesus is guaranteeing that his followers will obtain what they are after…the very thing they hold as more important than food and clothing…a relationship and partnership with the God of the Universe.

No other god, human, or religious system can fulfill a guarantee like this one.  Jesus claims that our Father in heaven will see us though.  Once again, Jesus’ teaching leaves us with the realization that the content of our prayers is much, much too small…and the relationship we’re being invited into is something much bigger and much better than anything in this life. 

That relationship is worth the effort it takes to persistently seek God.  Just like Jesus, I encourage you to keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking, and keep praying that God reveals the kingdom and His righteousness

Keep Pressing,
Ken