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: preparation

Hurricane on the doorstep

Hurricane Florence is barreling its way toward the East Coast.  We’re in central North Carolina, so we’re inline for some weather.  No one really knows how bad it’s going to be or where the worst will end up happening, but we’ve been preparing all week as best as we can.

I’d like to share with you some of the things (among the many thoughts) I’ve been thinking these last few days:

·       On a daily basis, we are rather careless with our words, aren’t we?  This was the best dinner ever made.  That was the worst meeting in the history of meetings.  She’s clueless.  He’s stupid.  This Netflix show is the greatest thing ever invented.  However, for the aftermath of Hurricane Florence…the word “devastation” will not be an exaggeration.  That’s a tough word to say.  It’s tougher to witness.  It’s a word we’re afraid to live through.


·       For some people…eternity will begin this weekend.  No matter how many precautions we take, the unpredictableness and utter ferocity of the storm will certainly lead to people losing their earthly lives.  We’ve been preparing for this massive storm…seeking out information and supplies, and then making our best decision based upon what we’ve found.  But are we prepared for the most important event of our lives?  How have we responded to Jesus’ claims of being the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Me [John 14:6]?  Our acceptance or rejection of Jesus is the most important preparation decision we can make.

·       I keep coming back to the most famous line in Moses’ psalm:

Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days carefully
so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.


·       We may lose possessions when, or even after, Hurricane Florence makes landfall.  However, everything we own is ultimately destined for a garage sale, the garbage dump, or the recycle bin.  Our things won’t last, hurricane or no hurricane.  Even if we lose everything we own…there is a higher, more impactful, purpose for this life.  Sometimes, it takes a tragedy for us to see from that vantage point.  I wish it didn’t.

If you are not in this storm’s path, please petition God on our behalf.  Pray that He will be seen in the way His children handle this event.

If you are in any way affected by this storm – be wise.  Paul wasn’t directly discussing natural disasters, but his direction still applies:

1 Corinthians 10:31, 33
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God…not seeking [your] own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.


How can we ride out, survive, shine, and rebuild from Hurricane Florence for the glory of God?  After all…everything means everything…even the hard circumstances.  So be wise and number your days carefully.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Wedding preparations (part 1)

So much goes into a wedding.  In our culture, it’s more than just the day-of ceremony between two people.  There’s the decorations and the rehearsal dinner and procession lines and the wedding reception and dancing and eating and gifts and on and on and on.  More than just the bride and the groom, other friends and family members have their “parts” to play in the various events.

In the second of three parables, at the end of what is referred to as ‘The Olivet Discourse,’ Jesus continued with the theme of being prepared for his unannounced return.  He used an illustration from something his disciples would be familiar with – one aspect of the Jewish wedding procession. 

Matthew 25:1-5
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like 10 virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the groom.  Five of them were foolish and five were sensible.  When the foolish took their lamps, they didn’t take oil with them.  But the sensible ones took oil in their flasks with their lamps.  Since the groom was delayed they all became drowsy and fell asleep.”

Jesus was a master storyteller, and the disciples would have immediately picked up on the tension in the story.  They knew the Jewish marriage customs: that the bridegroom would travel to the home of his prospective bride, he would pay a purchase price for her, and at that time she was declared to be set apart exclusively for the groom.  The groom would return to his father’s house, for an unspecified time, to prepare their new home.  The bride would prepare herself for his eventual return.  Typically, about a year later, he would lead a procession to fetch his bride and bring her to their new home.  Their return home would be heralded with a shout and a torch-lit ceremony – where all invited guests were ready to attend the wedding feast.

Jesus’ parable takes place at the return of the groom with his bride.  However, there were some waiting for his return that were not completely ready.  They expected the groom to return quickly, and not be delayed.  As Jesus continues, we find that their lack of preparation will certainly cost them.

Matthew 25:6-13
“In the middle of the night there was a shout: ‘Here’s the groom!  Come out to meet him.’

 Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.  But the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, ‘Give us some of your oil, because our lamps are going out.’

 The sensible ones answered, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you.  Go instead to those who sell, and buy oil for yourselves.’

 When they had gone to buy some, the groom arrived.  Then those who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet and the door was shut.  Later the rest of the virgins also came and said, ‘Master, master, open up for us!’

 But he replied, ‘I assure you; I do not know you!’

 Therefore, be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.”

The foolish virgins knew the groom was coming back.  They had every right to be out waiting for his return.  They were on equal footing with the sensible ones in terms of position and ability.  It’s almost like they ‘knew’ when the groom would return, so they didn’t make any provision beyond their immediate needs.  They were not prepared to wait for the long haul, in case (according to their plans) the groom was delayed.  Their lack of preparation meant that they missed out on that portion of the joyous wedding festivities.

Jesus re-emphasized the point of His parable with His last sentence: Therefore, be alert, because you don’t know either the day or the hour.

Even though it’s been many years since Jesus gave this warning…His return is still imminent.  His promise still stands.  He is coming back.  We shouldn’t be lulled in to slothfulness, thinking that every day will go on like the last one did.  TODAY could be THE DAY.  Are we watching?  Are we ready?  We don't want to miss out on anything Jesus has in store for us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

One servant, two paths (part 1)

The disciples wanted to know when Jesus would return to set up His kingdom.  Near the end of His ministry, just before the Passover, the Last Supper, and the cross…they plucked up the courage to ask Jesus about it.  Matthew 24-25 records His answer.  Jesus finishes with three parables to illustrate the importance of being ready for His return.  But interestingly enough, the first of the three is something He has told them before.  Since Matthew 24:45-51 is a condensed version of His earlier teaching, it will be more instructive for us to look at Luke’s record.

Luke tells us that Jesus was teaching both His disciples and a crowd numbering in the thousands.  His teaching would ebb and flow, with some things directed toward His disciples and other topics were addressed to everyone present.  When Jesus transitioned to the topic of being prepared for His return, He told a story about slaves anticipating the return of their master.  Jesus said that “Those slaves the master will find alert when he comes will be blessed.” (Luke 12:37).  Immediately, Peter asked Jesus for clarification.  He wanted to know who, exactly, was going to be in line for this blessing – the disciples or everyone in the crowd.  I suspect Peter wanted to make sure that he was in the front of the line for this reward.

Instead of directly answering his question, Jesus give Peter a second parable – and this one contained both the promise of a blessing and the warning of punishment.

Luke 12:42-46
The Lord said: “Who then is the faithful and sensible manager his master will put in charge of his household servants to give them their allotted food at the proper time?  That slave whose master finds him working when he comes will be rewarded.  I tell you the truth: he will put him in charge of all his possessions.  But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and starts to beat the male and female slaves, and to eat and drink and get drunk, that slave’s master will come on a day he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know.  He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

Wow.  You asked a big question there, Peter.  And Jesus certainly gave you a big answer.

Let’s use our observation skills and determine who Jesus is referring to and what kind of reward is offered.

The master in this parable clearly refers to Jesus.  It would make little sense for Jesus to refer to someone who has not placed their faith in Him as faithful and sensible, or to put that person in a position of responsibility over those in the master’s household.  So clearly, the slave in this parable refers to someone in the family of God, someone who has responsibility here on Earth towards others in the family.  This servant isn’t in charge of everything on the master’s schedule, but he has an important supervisory job to do – one that directly influences the well-being of his fellow servants.

After this faithful and sensible manager has been given this responsibility, his course of actions have two possible outcomes: either the master will find him dutifully performing his task, or the master will return to find him derelict in his assigned duties.  We’ll examine the negative outcome next time.

However, if that slave is found to be continuously faithful in his allotted tasks until his master returns, Jesus says the slave will be rewarded by the master.  The Greek word for rewarded means to be supremely blessed, fortunate, or well off.  This reward comes in the form of a promotion within the master’s household.  No longer is the slave responsible for mealtime; instead, he going to oversee what the master owns, along with the status and privilege a position like that entails.

Our application is to look at the servant responsibilities God has given us.  Are we doing our part within the body of Christ?  If Jesus came back today, would we be ‘caught in the act’ of doing what he asked us to do?

There is great reward in taking our responsibilities seriously.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Warnings and Preparedness

Natural disasters have dominated the headlines lately – from Harvey to Irma to the fires out West.  If you are not directly affected, there is a good chance you know someone who is.  The hurricanes, especially Irma, have left me marveling at how well prepared we can be when it comes to natural disasters.  Not that long ago, we would have had no clue about the impending danger.  But in our lifetime, the state of Florida just performed the largest mass-exodus in US history, and those that couldn’t leave were given ample warning to prepare themselves for the impending storm.

But why was everyone on high alert?  Because they were warned by someone who had a better vantage point then those on the ground.  Satellite images and projections dominated the news broadcasts.  Prominent politicians repeatedly warned their constituents.  Local police and fire fighters went door-to-door, warning people of the danger.  No one knew the exact hour the hurricane would hit, but those who had seen the satellite images knew that without a doubt, the hurricane was coming.

Even still, some did not heed the warnings.  In the hours leading up to Irma’s landfall, I remember watching one live-on-scene news reporter discussing the worsening conditions – and in the background, you could see people out surfing the increasingly angry waves.  ‘Foolish’ would be a mild descriptive term for these people.

The concept of ‘preparedness’ also got me thinking about our lives, in general.  Jesus promised that He would return for us.  However, when He described His impending return to His disciples, it was as much a promise as it also was a warning.  Jesus was constantly telling them, ”Be prepared for my return”.  Here’s just one example:

Matthew 24:36-39, 42
Now concerning that day and hour no one knows – neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son – except the Father only.  As the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be.  For in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah boarded the ark.  They didn’t know until the flood came and swept them all away.  So this is the way the coming of the Son of Man will be…Therefore be alert, since you don’t know what day your Lord is coming.

We’re going to spend some time looking at what Jesus had to say about how He expected His disciples to be alert and ready to see Him again.  While we may not know the exact time for Him to return, we can certainly take steps now to be prepared for it.  We don’t want to be one of the ones who continue to drift through life as if there is always going to be a ‘tomorrow’ just like every day that has come before it…because at some point, there won’t be.

Jesus is coming back, that much is certain.  Our journey through the implications of His return is not meant to scare anyone into ‘proper’ behavior; rather, we will make sure that the promise – and warning – of His return is fully understood.  So as we start this journey, I ask for both me and you:

If Christ’s return was today, what would the face to face introduction be like?  Are we prepared to meet Him, or would we be ashamed at His coming?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Be Prepared

Nearly everyone knows the Boy Scout motto of Be Prepared.

This motto is repeated to the young men over and over, encouraging them to think past their immediate circumstances.  This simple phrase shifts their gaze to what the future may bring and instructs them to consider what they may need to do now in order to be prepared for various scenarios.

Similarly, when Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy, he wrote to encourage his protégé to be prepared for all parts of his job as leader of the church in Ephesus.  We have observed Paul writing things like I urged you and I am giving you this instruction…so that by them you may strongly engage in battle.  Later we’ll see Paul write if you point out these things and be conscientious about yourself and your teaching

And in the middle of his letter, Paul gives his thesis – his entire purpose for writing:

1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon.  But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Notice that Paul admits to not knowing the future.  If anyone in Scripture was going to be clued-in by God as to what the future holds, Paul would be a good candidate.  But God didn’t tell him what personal, day-to-day events were coming next.  Peter wasn’t told those things, either.  Moses, David, Solomon…nope, nope, and nope.  While a vision or two was occasionally given by God to select individuals, those events happened only for very specific purposes.  Even when we consider the extensive Revelation given to the exiled Apostle John while he was on Patmos, future events were foretold; however, John was not informed if (or when) he would get to leave the island.

Paul has plans to work with Timothy again in Ephesus, but just in case something happens to change his plans, Paul wants Timothy to be prepared to continue his mission.

Timothy’s purpose was to take those who are saved – those who have trusted Jesus for eternal life – and help them answer the question: “Well, now what?”.  This is an incredibly important mission.  If Timothy were not there, then most folks would probably just go back to whatever sin-focused lifestyle they had before they encountered Christ…because that’s all they knew. 

They needed to build their new lives on the foundation of the truth.  Timothy was to show them how to cut the wood, hammer in the nails, and make their home with Jesus.  Paul wasn’t there to help them do that, and there was a chance that he could be delayed in doing this good work alongside Timothy.  So Paul did the next, best thing.  He still made an eternal contribution to the Ephesian believers (and us, too!) by writing Timothy a letter, making sure that Timothy was fully prepared to do the work God had called him to do.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The invitation that launched a ministry

Let me introduce you to one of the great mentors in the Bible:

Acts 4:36-37
Joseph, a Levite and a Cypriot by birth, whom the apostles named Barnabas, which is translated ‘Son of Encouragement’, sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Barnabas shows up many times throughout the New Testament.  He was always well respected, and he lived up to his nickname by encouraging others.

After Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, not everyone believed that he had really changed.  Imagine if the top leader of ISIS, who had personally killed or imprisoned your friends and family, suddenly declared that he was now a believer.  Wouldn’t you be nervous to have him over for dinner?

Acts 9:26-30
When [Saul] arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple.  Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how, on the road, Saul had seen the Lord, and that He had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.

Saul was coming and going with them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.  He conversed and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they attempted to kill him.  When the brothers found out, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

Saul was accepted by the disciples only after Barnabas vouched for him.  However, soon after, the one who had once hunted believers was now being hunted for being a believer.  They needed to get Saul to a safe place, so the disciples sent him far away to Tarsus, back to his hometown.

About a decade later, we find that the persecution of Christians which had begun under Saul was the driver for getting good news of salvation through Jesus to those outside of Jewish boarders.

Acts 11:19-24
Those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one except Jews.  But there were some of them, Cypriot and Cyrenian men, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Hellenists, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus.  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.

Then the report about them reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to travel as far as Antioch.  When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart – for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith – and large numbers of people were added to the Lord.

It's what Barnabas does next that I find surprising: he leaves.  In the middle of a great spiritual awakening in an important ancient city, Barnabas leaves the many to go find one man – Saul. 

Acts 11:25-26
Then he went to Tarsus to search for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch.  For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers, and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Tarsus was further out from Jerusalem than Antioch.  Barnabas was willing to go out beyond his initial orders to find the man that he knew would be of great help to the newly formed church.  The church in Antioch would also be an opportunity for Saul to grow personally and for him to learn to lead both Jews and Gentiles in their new Christ-focused lives.

The work of Barnabas and Saul in Antioch would prepare them for future missionary journeys throughout the known world.  All because Barnabas invited Saul to participate.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Praying to the Lord of the Harvest

Later on in his ministry, Jesus would send heralds ahead of Him to prepare the town for His teaching.  Whether the townspeople accepted the heralds or not, their message was to be the same: The kingdom of God has come near you.  The goal of this preparation work was very similar to John the Baptist’s mission to prepare hearts and minds for when the Messiah would arrive.

Jesus gave these followers specific instructions on how to carry out their portion of His ministry.  We’re going to focus in on just one part of the instructions they received.

Luke 10:1-2 After this, the Lord appointed 70 others, and He sent them ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place where He Himself was about to go.  He told them: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Harvest time was always a joyous time in Jewish society.  Much work needed to be done, but the benefits were well worth the effort.  Hearts were ready to receive the good news of the Messiah’s arrival, but someone had to get the word out to them.  Those who were willing to spread the message had a significantly large task ahead of them.  In comparison to the task at hand, there were too few workers.

Jesus’ first direction to the 70 was to pray that God would send out even more workers to help spread the good news of Jesus’ arrival, to bring in the abundant harvest of those who would respond and belong to God.  The 70 were going to need all the help they could get!

Jesus’ directions to the 70 heralds was very similar to what He has previously taught to the 12 disciples.  While journeying through Samaria, Jesus spoke to a woman at Jacob’s well and told her that He was the Messiah.  She immediately ran back to her village to tell others.  While she was gone, the disciples urged Jesus to eat…but as the Samaritans made their way toward Jesus and His disciples, He used their arrival as a teaching moment:

John 4:34-35 “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work,” Jesus told them.  “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’?  Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest.”

Our application is to do the same – open our eyes, see their need, and participate in the harvest.  There is more work to be done than we can handle on our own.  So ask God to send out even more workers…the benefits of this work is worth it because this harvest is of eternal value.

Keep Pressing,
Ken