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: putting into practice

Comfort food

When the world has us feeling tired and worn down, we often seek an escape in what’s comfortable.  Maybe it’s a particular type of music, a favorite movie, a hot bath/shower, or curling up in a blanket on the couch.  Typically, though, when we’re looking for comfort, we go looking for what’s known as “comfort food”.

A family recipe or a dish from a favorite restaurant is what we usually go after.  Living down here in the South, the term takes on a whole new meaning.  They take their “Southern Comfort Food” pretty serious.

A few years back, I was in a men’s Bible study and heard another guy talk about finding his comfort in God.  He said it was kinda weird at first, but that after some practice, he was naturally turning to God when he was feeling battered and tired.  He also said that going to God first helped him rest and recharge faster than the other things he had been previously seeking out for comfort.

To be honest, it sounded a little weird to hear him talk about it.  I had my suspicions that it was just “Christian talk” as opposed to real practice (we wouldn’t say that out-loud, right?).  But really, I think my skeptical thoughts were more out of a deeper concern that he had figured out something that I hadn’t yet.

But maybe he had.

When Paul was writing to a group of believers in the sin-saturated city of Corinth, he acknowledged their difficulties and pointed them toward finding their comfort in God.  However, he also gave them perspective on why God allows us to have afflictions in the first place:

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Notice that God will comfort us in ALL our trials.  That’s a great promise!  In addition, as we learn to lean into God for comfort, we are also learning how to comfort others in their afflictions.  While our afflictions and difficult seasons can be all-consuming in the moment, God sees them as the vehicle to demonstrate His love and comfort to others. 

I find it interesting, too, that while He comforts us in ALL our affliction, we will then be able to comfort those who are in ANY kind of affliction.  We don’t have to have traveled through the exact situation someone else is going through in order to provide care and comfort.

I fully admit, this is a concept that I am still learning.  But maybe that’s why I’ve had the health issues that I’ve dealt with and are still dealing with.  God is teaching me to lean into Him, to find my comfort in Him.  At some point in the future, I can expect to share comfort with someone else, the same kind of care and compassion that I have received from God.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Laying the foundation

I’ve been fascinated by harmonicas for a while now.  Listening to people who can pull a harmonica out of their pocket and just jam away on some jazzy, country, or bluesy music has made me want to do so as well.  I never acted on that desire, until recently.  And I learned something rather important – playing the harmonica isn’t super easy.  In fact, some parts of it are rather difficult.

The first skill to learn is to blow and draw single-hole notes clearly.  Makes sense to start there, but that’s easier said than done.  And my lips got sore/tired after about 10 minutes of squeaking around, so I had to wait until the next day to try again.  Day two wasn’t any better.  Neither was day three.  It took me months of work before I could play a scale without messing it up (and mess ups still happen, occasionally). 

The next skill to learn is to move around the harmonica, playing notes out of order so that I play a recognizable tune.  More work, and still not easy.  I’m much better at it now, after another couple of months, and I can now get about 80-90% of “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain” on a consistent basis.

On the horizon is a skill called ‘bending’.  It’s being able to change notes using the same hole by changing the position of your tongue and throat.  The video instructor I’m following called the practice time of learning this skill the ‘dark hours’ of learning to play.  He warned that it will take some time, and that it takes some people longer than others to figure out how to consistently bend notes.  His tone and cautiously chosen words were a little unsettling…but he did reassure that this skill is the gateway to learning all the jazzy, country, and bluesy jam session stuff that I really want to play.  If I don’t spend this time grinding through the ‘dark hours’, then I will be unable to play the harmonica to its full potential.  I’ll miss out on what I’m capable of because I won’t have the foundation I need to play like that.  But who knows how long it’s going to take for me to get this part figured out…

We’ve been looking at a passage from Paul’s letter to Timothy, who is overseeing the church in the melting-pot metropolis of Ephesus.  While being poor has its own challenges (and Paul addressed some of them earlier in this letter), Timothy also needed to instruct the wealthy members of the church how to handle their finances in a way that is productive and honors God. 

If we modern-day, American believers widen our lens to include the rest of the world, we quickly see that we too fit Paul’s definition of those who are rich.  With our smart phones, cable TV, and cars, in addition to our air conditioning, clean water, and indoor plumbing…It’s hard to argue that we’re “not that rich”.  Here are the things Paul says we need to learn:

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy. 

Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

Being others-focused like this does not come naturally, though.  We’re ok saying polite things and throwing a little money in the offering plate at church.  But we know that if we’re going to really do what God is asking of us here – do goodbe rich in good worksbe generousbe willing to share – that is asking for a change in us at a deeper level.  We’re going to have to take on our deep-seeded attitudes about ‘my time’ and ‘my money’.

And that wrestling match is hard.  When we finally step out and try to follow God’s instructions here, we find that we’re not very good at it.  It’s more uncomfortable that we want it to be.  We struggle with questions like ‘How will I know when I should help someone financially vs when it would be unwise to offer money?’ and ‘What does be generous really mean for my level of income?’ and ‘If I give and share when I really don’t want to, does that “count”?  Does God still consider my actions to be “good”, or should I skip giving until don’t feel any resentment about it?’.

Wrestling though these kinds of questions will be some dark hours.  We might be ok with being generous today, but lose the fight tomorrow.  We will want to throw in the towel and go back to just being nice (and comfortable).  We’ll get to the point where we can handle our wealth 80-90% of the time, and then lapse back into a selfish attitude. 

But it will be worth it in the end, He says.  Our work now, when it’s hard, is laying a good foundation for the age to come.  Learning how to be wealthy AND others-focused is the gateway to being able to partner with God in Eternity Future.  Without this practice time, we won’t be able to fully do the things we were made to do. 

I can’t answer your ‘dark hour’ wrestling questions, but God can.  My advice (for you and me) is to keep practicing.  Let’s trust God in this and take hold of life that is real.  Eternity future awaits.  Let’s make sure we’re prepared to partner with God and fully enjoy it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Practicing to be like Jesus

“When am I ever going to use this stuff?”

That phrase is the rally cry of every student who has had their fill of theory and talk.  I wondered it when I was a kid, and now my kids have asked it of me.

Earlier in his letter to Timothy, we observed that Paul made the connection between godliness and being like Jesus.  There were three Jesus-like-ness observations we noted:

·        Jesus knew the Scriptures – He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Often during His teaching, Jesus would reference the Scriptures by saying “It is written” or asking the question “Have you not read?
·        Jesus was totally focused on His part in God’s plan and kingdom – He was on mission and would not be deterred.  In John 6:38, He said “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
·        Jesus knew both the Scriptures and His mission well enough that He could impact the lives of others – He cared for others, met them where they were, and pointed them toward God the Father.

Just a handful of verses after Paul made the connection between godliness and being like Jesus, he encouraged Timothy with these words:

1 Timothy 4:12-16
No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Paul’s instructions for Timothy match the three attributes of Jesus-like-ness we noted earlier.  First, Paul told Timothy to know the Scriptures. Through his devotion to public reading, exhortation, and teaching, Timothy would be immersing himself in God’s Word. 

Next, Paul urged Timothy to focus on his part in God’s plan and kingdom.  While he was a unique combination of skills and experience, when you add in the gift given to him by God, Timothy was especially prepared for this work in Ephesus. 

Lastly, Paul encouraged Timothy to practice these things; be committed to them…persevere in these things and his end result would be like Jesus’ – Timothy would know both the Scriptures and his mission well enough to impact the lives of others, or, as Paul put it, Timothy would save both himself and his hearers.  Now Timothy could not add to Jesus’ finished work on the cross, so we know that Paul isn’t referring to an eternal salvation here.  But then what would Timothy be saving them all from?

A few verses back, right after equating godliness with being like Jesus, Paul warned:

1 Timothy 4:1
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons

As Timothy applies what he’s learned from Paul, as he endeavors to be like Jesus – then he, too, will have the opportunity to save both himself and his hearers from the pitfalls of false teachings.  What a great rescue mission!

What could we do if we also imitate Jesus by knowing the Scriptures and using our God-given gifts?  What kind of rescuing could we do?  Will we trust God and find out?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The tension is real

I’m sure I’m not the only one, but there have been times that I have felt as if the message being delivered by the preacher to the congregation was aimed squarely at me.  It is as if God Himself has sat me down and said “Look, Ken this applies directly to you today – and you need to do it.

When Tychicus delivered the letter to the church in Colossae and Paul’s personal letter to Philemon, suddenly Philemon and Onesimus were having one of those rubber-meets-the-road moments.  Take a look at Paul’s specific request to Philemon:

Philemon 15-18
For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother.  This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me.  And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.

This request put Philemon in a position where he would need to apply God’s direction on family matters that was just delivered to his local church:

Colossians 3:12-14
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another.  Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive.  Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.

For Philemon, the tension is real.  God’s Word is directly challenging him, and he has a choice to make with how he will respond to God’s directions.

However, a different section of Paul’s letter to the Colossian church would have been more applicable (and challenging) to Onesimus:

Colossians 3:22-24
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.  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.

For Onesimus, the tension is also real.  After everything he and Philemon had been through, would Onesimus humbly take his place and do his work enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord?

God’s Word is just as practical today as it was for Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus.  As we allow the Scriptures into our lives, we too will be challenged.  It will be as if God Himself has sat us down and said “Look, this applies directly to you today – and you need to do it.

The tension is real.  Will we trust God and respond accordingly?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Practical application: marriage

Paul has spent more than half of his letter to the believers in Colossae telling them that because of Jesus’ sacrifice for their sins, they have a new relationship with God.  Paul continued to describe the impact this relationship has on their lives now and in eternity…with the entire focus on Jesus.   As they grow in understanding of who Jesus is and what a relationship with Him is like, these believers will live a fulfilled life of continual thankfulness that reflects the glory of God.

As Paul encourages the Colossian believers to press on toward maturity, in 3:12-17 he gives them a list of Christ-like characteristics that will come from their relationship with God:

…put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…
…forgive one another…just as the Lord has forgiven you…
…above all, put on love…
…be thankful…
…let the message of the Messiah dwell richly among you…
…whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…

And then, Paul gets real specific as to where these characteristics are to be practiced and developed.

Colossians 3:18-19
Wives, be submissive to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.  Husbands, love your wives and don’t become bitter against them.

That’s about as real as it gets, isn’t it?

We go from talking about theoretical living – yeah, I need to be more compassionate…I know I should be more thankful…and I’ve been working on my patience – to suddenly being told to apply these things to the person we see the most of in life.  We know our spouse’s good points, and we also know their flaws.  In fact, we probably know their flaws better than they even recognize them.

Submissive is hard word these days.  Keep in mind, though, that Paul does not say that all women are to be submissive to all men.  This direction is only for Christians in a marriage relationship.  The basis for submission has nothing to do with inferiority, but is instead grounded in respect for the position God has placed her husband in.  There is an important qualifier here, too – as is fitting in the Lord.  If your husband is rebelling against God and his leading of the family is contrary to Scripture, then you have the right and responsibility to not follow him.  However, if you don’t agree with the direction your husband is leading and there is no sin involved, a conversation needs to be had – first between you and God.  Maybe he does need to change.  Maybe you need to change.  But you will need to sort your own heart out with God before trying to change your husband’s mind.

Paul’s direction to husbands is equally challenging – to love your wife.  The Greek word for love here is agapao, the “give all” kind of love, and not the phileo “give and take” type, and not the erao “take all” type.  Men, how much are you willing to “give all” for your wife?  Sure, we all say we’d take a bullet for her…but what parts of ourselves are we willing to give up for her well-being?  When was the last time we set aside our hobby time to take care of her needs?  Are you willing to turn down an “opportunity” if the new job would take you away from her?  Also, if life’s circumstances change her – due to illness, injury, hardship, or anything else – will you stick to your commitment to love her, for better or worse?  Or will we allow those changes to be our excuse to become bitter toward her?  Will we resent her for not being the same woman we initially married? 

In no way does submissiveness or guarding against bitterness mean that we avoid the issues that will naturally come up when two sinful people get married and live life together.  Notice that in Paul’s practical application of marriage, none of the previous Christ-driven characteristics are disqualified or removed.  Godly submission and love without bitterness will only happen in our marriages as we

…put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…
…forgive one another…just as the Lord has forgiven you…
…above all, put on love…
…be thankful…
…let the message of the Messiah dwell richly among you…
…whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Getting dressed

After establishing how God looks at His children, Paul has specific directions for how the Colossian believers are to conduct themselves:

Colossians 3:12
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience

The Greek word for put on carries the idea of putting on clothes or getting dressed.  Putting on these qualities is something Paul is instructing the believers to do.  God isn’t going to do this for them.  God isn’t going to make them instantly and perfectly compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, or patient.  These are skills the Colossians are going learn, practice, and develop. 

As our first son became old enough to toddle around, we began to teach him how to dress himself.  He didn’t put his shirt on right the first time he tried, either.  Sometimes his arm would go through the head-hole, which would lead to panic and tears as he tried to push his head through an arm-hole.  We would then help him back out and calm down.  Before trying again, we reminded him that if he felt stuck, all he needed to do was to ask one of us for help.

Different articles of clothing required the development of different hand-coordination skills.  While a t-shirt was more about gross motor skills, putting on socks required that different sections of the body had to work together.  Each article of clothing presented a new challenge, but after a short amount of time, he figured it out and could dress himself.

When we had our second child, the same getting-dressed skills needed to be taught to him, too.  I’m certain that we didn’t teach him in the exact same way as we taught his brother.  If he learned to put his socks on sooner than his brother did, that was great.  If it took him longer to learn how to shimmy his legs into pants, then that was ok, too.  These skills would develop the more he practiced it.  It also didn’t matter that it was easier for his brother to put his head in the shirt first, or that he preferred to put his arms in first.  The goal was the same – they both needed to put on their shirt.

I think the spiritual parallel is pretty obvious.  Paul lists out several characteristics that God wants believers to put on, but notice Paul doesn’t say exactly how the Colossians are to do it.  Maybe someone will learn how to put on heartfelt compassion while at work, and another believer will learn how to put on heartfelt compassion as they stop their busy lives for a moment to help a total stranger.

Perhaps putting on kindness comes naturally to you, but you struggle with patience.  When we see other believers being patient with their spouse, their children, or their circumstances…it’s easy to get down on ourselves.  We start feeling frustrated and stuck.  However, we shouldn’t be upset that someone else is better at putting on their socks than we are at this moment.  It’s in those moments we just need to ask our Daddy for help. 

With time and practice, we’ll learn how to put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Not only will we be dressed in them, but we will learn how they coordinate into something attractive and beautiful – they will be qualities that others see, qualities that point them toward our Savior.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Learning to do good

As Paul closes his letter to Titus, he has one last instruction:

Titus 3:13-14 Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need.  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.

God doesn’t give instructions or directions in the Bible as mere talking points, rather the truths we encounter are meant to be lived out in daily lives.  However, Paul also recognizes that doing what is good isn’t as simple as “always doing it” or “always not doing it”.  Notice that he tells Titus “Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good”.  We must learn to be devoted to doing good in every situation.  Making these truths a lifestyle will take some time to be developed…but it is certainly achievable.

To help the Cretan believers get started on the path to making a habit of doing good, Paul ends the letter by giving the believers an opportunity to apply what they’ve learned.  That is Paul’s point here…now that you’ve been instructed in these things, the next step is to put these things into practice.

Looking at the words Paul chooses helps the Cretans see how much he wants them to take advantage of this opportunity.  The phrase do everything you can means to do something earnestly, zealously, or with special urgency.  The first step in any process is always the hardest; it is the step we are most timid about taking.  The success or failure that occurs with the first step typically sets a tone for the success of a project.  As such, Paul wants the Cretans to make a special effort to make their first step a good one.

Helping Zenas and Apollos would have been an easy first step for the Cretan believers.  They would get an opportunity to help spread the gospel to other regions, and as a result, the missionaries would be able to continue their journey with fresh supplies.  This opportunity created a win-win situation for both the givers and those receiving.

When we support missionaries, we are supporting their ability to fulfill their calling of spreading the gospel…but we’re also developing the characteristics that God wants to grow in us.  Giving is a great opportunity for us to learn how to do what is good.  It mimics God’s generosity toward us, and anytime we imitate our Creator, we are productively fulfilling the purpose of our lives.

Keep Pressing,
Ken