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: relationships

An engagement ring, the Holy Spirit, and witnessing

It felt like any other workday as everyone came in, but before I could even start with the normal Monday morning pleasantries – How was your weekend?  What did you do? – a coworker actually jumped into my path and started waving her left hand in my face.  The diamond on her ring was close enough to poke me in the nose, and as I pulled back, I could see the large smile on her face.  She was practically giddy that the man she had spent so much time getting to know had asked her to marry him.  All day long, she bounced from person to person, telling anyone she knew about their relationship and future together.

My co-worker had gotten to know this man and was already in love with him.  Most people at work knew she was dating, but didn’t really know how serious they were or if they had any future plans together.  However, when the proposal moment came and he placed the ring on her finger, everything snapped into focus.  Because of the ring and her bubbly excitement, everyone at work soon found out that she had experienced a life-changing moment and that she was in a life-changing relationship.

The memory of that Monday has stuck with me for many years.  It was so easy for her to tell others about her relationship, how special it was for her, and how her talking about it felt like a celebration of their relationship.  I’ve often compared this to how most Christians share their faith with others, and obviously there are significant differences.  I think every Christian would love to have the confidence, boldness, and excitement that my coworker had, and we often scold ourselves for not having the courage to share.  So, what do we do?  Typically, we go one of two ways: either we grit our teeth and fumble around in the awkwardness of forcing “Jesus” into a conversation, or we resign ourselves to shame for being too scared to bring it up.

However, we’re not alone in this.  The Biblical parallel that comes to mind is what Jesus told His 11 disciples just before He ascended into heaven:

Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you,
and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem,
in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the end of the earth.

When reading Scripture, one way to sharpen our Observation skills is to look for the particular order things are presented.  Us modern-day believers tend to key in on the phrase “you will be My witnesses…to the end of the earth”, and while that is where we are on this list, we need to be aware that Jesus said there was a part that comes before becoming His witnesses.

Jesus told His disciples that first the Holy Spirit has to come into their lives and that He would be the power for them to be His witnesses – and if you continue to read in Acts, you find out that is the case.  The disciples knew Jesus well because they had just spent the last 3 years with Him, watching everything He did and being personally taught by Him.  Yes, they did do some preaching and teaching under Jesus’ leadership, but that all stopped when Jesus was taken from them.  Scripture does not show them telling others about Jesus until after the Holy Spirit came.  The disciples had all the information and relationship basis to tell others, but they were lacking the boldness and power to talk about Him.  The arrival of the Holy Spirit in their lives gave them the confidence they needed to share what they already knew.

For us, we are given the Holy Spirit the moment we believe in Jesus for eternal life (Ephesians 1:13).  The point is the same, however.  The Holy Spirit is the one who enables us to witness…it’s not something that can be drummed up or done by our own strength.  And yet, we shame ourselves for not being able to do the Holy Spirit’s job!  The disciples could not effectively witness without Him, and neither can we.

Our efforts should not be in finding and perfecting a “witnessing moment” because that’s not our jurisdiction, not our focus.  Our witness is an outpouring of our relationship with Jesus.  We can only share what we know.  As such, our efforts are better used in purposely spending time with Jesus – getting to know Him by talking with Him in prayer and watching what He did in the Scriptures.  The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A 911 call to Jesus

We’ve all been there.  At some point in our lives, the situation is so bad that we feel like we have no where else to turn.  Maybe it is a diagnosis, a car accident, or even a prolonged illness…but we’ve tried everything we know to do to cope, and the only thing left is to hope that God does a miracle.

That’s where we find the people in this story from Jesus’ life.  Two sisters and their brother, all loved by Jesus.  They have an established relationship with each other.  By all indications, Jesus has even stayed at their house, possibly several times.  But something bad has happened to their brother, and the sisters can’t do anything else about it:

John 11:1-3
Now a man was sick, Lazarus from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped His feet with her hair, and it was her brother Lazarus who was sick.  So the sisters sent a message to Him: “Lord the one you love is sick.”


Let’s stop here and think about logistics for a moment.  How did they get in touch with Jesus?  According to the text at the end of chapter 10, Jesus wasn’t in Bethany.  Instead, he was a couple days’ journey away.  Martha and Mary couldn’t text or call to ask Him to come to Bethany or to even find out exactly where He was at the moment.  Someone had to physically make the long journey to go to the last place Jesus was known to be, and then go searching for Him from there. 

How time-consuming and risky!  They would have no guarantee of Jesus still being where He was before or that the messenger would end up asking the right person who knew where Jesus and His disciples had gone to next.  Going to this effort only underscores how sick Lazarus really was.  Mary and Martha must have believed that their brother would not live without some sort of divine intervention.

But also keep in mind that Jesus had performed long-distance healing miracles before.  Jesus healed the servant of a Roman centurion without even entering the house.  Jesus then publicly praised the centurion for his faith in Jesus’ authority.  You can read about it in Luke 7:1-10.  Surely, the sisters thought, if Jesus was willing to heal a complete stranger, who was the servant of a leader in a foreign army that was occupying Israel…then without a doubt Jesus would heal a fellow countryman that He knew and loved, right?

We don’t know how long it took, but the messenger did eventually find Jesus:

John 11:4-5
When Jesus heard it, he said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.

The messenger and the disciples likely thought Jesus’ statement meant that Lazarus wouldn’t die.  I’m sure they all took some measure of comfort from thinking this.  However, as the story continues, we will see that Lazarus did die from his illness.  Jesus was still right, though – Lazarus’ sickness did not end in death, but death was part of God’s plan this time.

We need to stop here and wrestle with a few observations, even if they are uncomfortable:

·       Sometimes, God allows really bad things to happen to people, even ones He loves.
·       Just because God healed someone else doesn’t mean healing is coming in the same way for us.
·       God performing healing miracles is more about the glory of God than it is about our preference for comfort.

We trust that God hears us when we pray.  We trust that He loves us.  However, just because those two things are true does not mean that He will swoop in and respond in the way that we think He should fix everything. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

For my son - When it's time to let go

My oldest son has officially finished high school and is getting ready to embark on the next phase of his life.  As I am nostalgically thinking of that time in my own life, I am also thinking of the things God has taught me since then.

This is the third post in a three-part series where I am remembering lessons I have learned later in life that I would love for my son know now...

I chose this post because letting go is hard…for everyone involved.  I don’t know how to be the parent of an adult child.  I’ve never done it before; I’ve never had a relationship like this.  But then again, neither has he.  We both will have to learn to trust God in new ways, as faith can only grow like this when we let go.

When it’s time to let go
originally posted on February 3, 2016

Paul began his letter to Philemon by telling him how he’s being prayed for:

Philemon 4-5
I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

These aren’t just words of flattery.  Instead, they are Paul’s acknowledgment of Philemon’s maturity and his deserved reputation for his recognizable love and faith.  It is because of Philemon’s progress in becoming Christ-like that Paul can make a very personal request:

Philemon 8-11
For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal, instead, on the basis of love.  I Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, whom I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me.

We are now introduced to the subject of Paul’s letter.  Onesimus and Philemon had some sort of relationship problem…but at that time, Philemon was a Christian and Onesimus was not.  Since that time, Onesimus has met up with Paul, who then taught him about Jesus.  Under Paul’s guidance, Onesimus trusted Jesus for eternal life and became part of God’s family.

While Paul would often refer to the churches he planted as “his children,” there are only three people in the Scriptures that Paul directly refers to as “his child” – Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus.  Given Paul’s reference to being an elderly man, it’s probable that Onesimus was, like Timothy and Titus, at the other end of the age spectrum.  As the letter continues, it is clear how much Paul cares for Onesimus.

However, as a good father, Paul knows that the next step in Onesimus’ growth and development as a believer is to reconcile with Philemon. 

Philemon 12-14
I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will.

I’m certain that the tough part for Paul is that he will not be present to facilitate their meeting.  Paul won’t be there to make sure Philemon and Onesimus do this right.  He won’t be able to mediate their grievances.  There’s no guarantee they can successfully reconcile on their own, but there little Paul can do about that while he’s in prison.  So Paul does the best he can – he writes a personal letter to his dear friend on behalf of his son – and he sends Onesimus on his way.

He lets go.

Sometimes, as hard as that is…it’s for best.  No matter how great our parents were, we couldn’t have grown like we did unless we left the comforts of their home.  Mentors are beneficial for a season, and the best bosses can develop us for a time…but we grow the most when we have to trust God and apply the lessons we’ve learned.

Paul even admitted his struggle – I wanted to keep him with me.  But he knew that Onesimus and Philemon would benefit more from this opportunity to be Christ-like after previously hurting one another.  They couldn’t hold on to Paul’s hand and toddle around anymore; they needed to trust God and walk on their own.  Both Onesimus and Philemon needed to choose the right thing, not out of obligation, but of their own free will.

I’ve been on both sides before.  I’ve left my childhood home and the church I grew up in.  I’ve had my mentor leave.  I’ve also been the boss who left the team, knowing that my absence would be a catalyst for their growth.  And soon, I’ll be sending my sons out into the world.  Both sides are hard.

When those moments arrive, it’s best to trust God and let go.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

How to deal with conflict

Ever get the urge to just “knock some sense” into someone?

Or at the very least, give them a verbal beat down that will “set them right” – and maybe let us blow off a little steam?

Take Paul’s protégé Timothy as an example.

He’s in a major metropolitan city he didn’t grow up in, he’s (at most) 30 years old, he’s in charge of the entire Christian church family in the city, and Paul has charged him with combating false doctrine and incorrect teachings of others.

How much conflict is going to come his way?  How many folks will be coming at him to argue with him?  Think he’ll have days where he feels the need to put someone in their place?

The Greek word for rebuke means just that – to strike or beat upon, to chastise with words.  I’m sure there were more than a few people (even some of them believers) who would have needed a strong dose of correction.

But look at how Paul says the young leader Timothy should handle those people:

1 Timothy 5:1-2
Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and with all propriety, the younger women as sisters.

While a rebuke would be a sharp, cutting word of correction, Timothy’s choice to exhort the person sits at the opposite end of the spectrum.  The Greek word translated exhort means to call to one’s side, to encourage and strengthen by consolation, comfort, or instruction.

Paul knew his Old Testament well.  As he directed Timothy, he likely had this proverb in mind:

Proverbs 15:1
A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.

In a separate letter, Paul reminded the believers in Rome:

Romans 2:4
Or do you despise the riches of His kindness, restraint, and patience, not recognizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

Going toe-to-toe with an angry patron would make it difficult for Timothy to reach them with lasting correction and change.  Nor would harsh words model how God treats us.

One last observation to make.  Did you see the extra note Paul included for Timothy’s interaction with younger women?  With all propriety, [exhort] younger women as sisters.  We’ve all seen it too many times.  A high-ranking church leader losing his reputation, his job, and his influence for Christ due to an inappropriate relationship with another woman. 

Men, hear me clearly – if we do not keep ourselves intentionally pure and sinless in this area, especially with younger women, then we are inviting destruction into our lives.  Carelessness in this area will bring shame to ourselves and significant damage to God’s reputation in this life…and then we’ll have to answer to Jesus at the Bema Seat judgment.  You don’t want that.  I don’t want that.  We must take any steps necessary to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

So, here’s Paul direction to Timothy, all fleshed out:

Do not rebuke and older man, but exhort him as a father
Do not rebuke a younger man, but exhort him as a brother
Do not rebuke an older woman, but exhort her as a mother
Do not rebuke a younger woman, but – with all integrity – exhort her as a sister.

Put these into practice, and you will reflect God to others.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Much ado about mentoring

Many years ago, I was given a rather simple – and yet deep – illustration for the kinds of relationships each of us needs within the body of Christ. 

Everyone needs a Paul, a Barnabas, and a Timothy.

This straightforward description has always stuck with me.  Whenever I share it with someone else, I usually don’t have to give it much explanation – they immediately understand the details of these relationships:

Paul – someone who leads me toward God, provides a more mature example
Barnabas – someone who comes along side me as an equal, to both encourage and challenge
Timothy – someone who I am pouring my life into and providing a Godly example for

These relationships, especially those between a “Paul” and a “Timothy”, are commonly referred to as either discipleship or mentoring relationships.  While the term mentor is not specifically stated in the Bible, the word disciple is – and it generally refers to someone who is a learner, a follower, and an imitator of their instructor.  Howard Hendricks best described these special kinds of relationships:

Discipleship, as we know it today, tends to narrow its focus to the spiritual dimension. Ideally, it should touch on every area of life – our personal life and lifestyle, our work, our relationships. But discipleship always looks at these areas by asking the question, how do they relate to Christ? How does following Christ affect my personal life, my work, my relationships, and so on?

Mentoring, at least when practiced by Christians, certainly ought to center everything on Christ. But mentoring is less about instruction than it is about initiation – about bringing young men into maturity. Whereas the word for disciple means learner, the word ‘protégé’ comes from a Latin word meaning “to protect.” The mentor aims to protect his young charge as he crosses the frontier into manhood.

For my own part, I do not make a hard and fast distinction between discipleship and mentoring. There is a great deal of overlap. But I like the concept of mentoring because it focuses on relationships.

The point is we need the mature and experienced to kneel down with those of us in the family who are immature and have limited experience.  I feel that is one of the greatest areas where our modern church family has faltered – especially among the men, but women need these kinds of relationships, too.  We all need someone to challenge, guide, and protect us as we mature.  However, it is also vital that we turn to those around us and become the mentor they so desperately need.

To understand how to do this, we’re going to take a look at various mentor relationship examples that God has provided for us throughout the pages of Scripture.  We’ll watch how the mentors interact with their protégés.  We’ll observe their successes and their failures.  Most of all, we’ll be looking for how God was able to work with both of them because of their relationship.

A good starting point is a statement the apostle Paul gave to the believers in Corinth.  Right in the middle of his instruction about the many ways they needed to mature, Paul makes this bold statement:

1 Corinthians 11:1
Imitate me, as I also imitate Christ.

Whether you are the mentor or the protégé, for this special relationship to work we must both desire the same thing – we must desire to imitate Christ.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Reoccurring themes and second chances

As Paul wraps up his personal letter to Philemon, he also lists out final greetings from those who are ministering with him at the moment:

Philemon 23-25
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

In light of Paul’s plea for Philemon to reconcile with Onesimus – despite the wrongs Onesimus had committed – one name on Paul’s final greeting list stands out: Mark.

Paul’s letter to Philemon and his letter to the Colossian church were very likely to have been written and delivered at the same time.  In fact, one of the great evidences for this timeline is the near-identical final greeting list at the end of Colossians, where Paul says:

Colossians 4:10
Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him)

This is the same Mark who deserted Paul and Barnabas on a missionary trip approximately 20 years before Paul wrote his letter to Philemon.  Although the Scriptures do not record why Mark abandoned the team, we do know that his reasons caused significant problems later on:

Acts 15:36-41
After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord, and see how they’re doing.”  Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark.  But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work.  There was such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus.  Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers.  He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.

At that time, it was Barnabas standing in the gap for John Mark and pleading for Paul to reconcile over the past wrongs that John Mark had caused.  However, Paul did not want to trust John Mark after his previous failure. 

The disagreement over John Mark’s usefulness was significant enough for Barnabas and Paul to part company.  They are never mentioned together again in the rest of the New Testament.

Now fast-forward 20 years.  John Mark, through Barnabas’ mentoring, has become useful to Paul as they work together spreading the gospel.  There is no doubt in my mind that Paul saw in Onesimus the same need for a second chance that John Mark had needed so many years prior.  While Paul could not go back to change his previous choices, he was presented with an opportunity to make the better choice this time.

You can almost hear the echo of Barnabas’ plea on behalf of John Mark when Paul writes about Onesimus:

Philemon 17-18
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. 

Maybe we’ve messed up opportunities to reconcile relationships in the past.  We can’t go back and change those.  We have to trust that God will work in other people’s lives.  However, we will run into reoccurring themes the longer we walk with Christ.  There will be opportunities for us to make the right choice and help someone else.

Our great God is a God who gives second chances.  And He is patient enough to show us the reoccurring themes of life – even decades later – to give us another chance to act like Him toward another person.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Reflecting love

After all the dysfunction and relationship problems that Onesimus had previously caused Philemon, take a look at Paul’s appeal to Philemon to now accept Onesimus.  Does this sound familiar?

Philemon 17-22
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.  I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it – not to mention to you that you owe me even your own self.  Yes, brother, may I have joy from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 

Since I am confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.  But meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I hope that through your prayers I will be restored to you.

Can you see how Paul is standing in the gap for Onesimus with Philemon, just like Jesus stands in the gap between us and God the Father?

Paul is confident that Philemon will listen to his request and accept Onesimus because Paul is the one making the request.  In order for the reconciliation to happen, Paul is willing to be charged for wrongs that he didn’t commit.  Paul is choosing to spend of himself – both in monetary resources and in relationship capital – to repair the relationship between two people he dearly loves.  Additionally, Paul was confident that Philemon would accept his offer and would do even more than simply tolerating Onesimus – it’s clear from his request that Paul fully believed Philemon would accept Onesimus back into his family.

Similarly, Jesus is confident that God the Father will accept those who trust Him for eternal life because Jesus is the one making the request.  In order for our reconciliation to happen, Jesus was willing to be charged for wrongs that he didn’t commit.  Jesus chose to spend of himself – by leaving behind the glory of Heaven, willing to be separated from the Father, and then to die a horrible death – to repair the relationship between those he dearly loves.  Additionally, Jesus knew that the Father would accept His offering and that the Father would do even more than just tolerate those who believe in Jesus for eternal life.  Jesus knew that because of His sacrifice, the Father would bring us into His family.

Paul’s actions are small-scale reflection of what Jesus did for each of us.  Without Paul’s assistance, it is doubtful that Onesimus could have been reconciled with Philemon.  Without Jesus, there was no way for us to be reconciled with God the Father. 

Great things happen when we imitate Jesus.  Relationships can be restored and lives can be changed – because we are acting like the One who restored our relationship with God the Father.  Our Jesus-changed life will positively affect the lives of others around us and simultaneously point them toward God’s bigger story.  The world doesn’t just need to hear the message of Jesus – they need to see it, too.

Paul was able to stand in the gap for his friends because he knew Jesus well enough to imitate Him.  If we stay close to Jesus, we too can be small-scale reflections of His great love.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

When it's time to let go

Paul began his letter to Philemon by telling him how he’s being prayed for:

Philemon 4-5
I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

These aren’t just words of flattery.  Instead, they are Paul’s acknowledgment of Philemon’s maturity and his deserved reputation for his recognizable love and faith.  It is because of Philemon’s progress in becoming Christ-like that Paul can make a very personal request:

Philemon 8-11
For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal, instead, on the basis of love.  I Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, whom I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me.

We are now introduced to the subject of Paul’s letter.  Onesimus and Philemon had some sort of relationship problem…but at that time, Philemon was a Christian and Onesimus was not.  Since that time, Onesimus has met up with Paul, who then taught him about Jesus.  Under Paul’s guidance, Onesimus trusted Jesus for eternal life and became part of God’s family.

While Paul would often refer to the churches he planted as “his children,” there are only three people in the Scriptures that Paul directly refers to as “his child” – Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus.  Given Paul’s reference to being an elderly man, it’s probable that Onesimus was, like Timothy and Titus, at the other end of the age spectrum.  As the letter continues, it is clear how much Paul cares for Onesimus.

However, as a good father, Paul knows that the next step in Onesimus’ growth and development as a believer is to reconcile with Philemon. 

Philemon 12-14
I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will.

I’m certain that the tough part for Paul is that he will not be present to facilitate their meeting.  Paul won’t be there to make sure Philemon and Onesimus do this right.  He won’t be able to mediate their grievances.  There’s no guarantee they can successfully reconcile on their own, but there little Paul can do about that while he’s in prison.  So Paul does the best he can – he writes a personal letter to his dear friend on behalf of his son – and he sends Onesimus on his way.

He lets go.

Sometimes, as hard as that is…it’s for best.  No matter how great our parents were, we couldn’t have grown like we did unless we left the comforts of their home.  Mentors are beneficial for a season, and the best bosses can develop us for a time…but we grow the most when we have to trust God and apply the lessons we’ve learned.

Paul even admitted his struggle – I wanted to keep him with me.  But he knew that Onesimus and Philemon would benefit more from this opportunity to be Christ-like after previously hurting one another.  They couldn’t hold on to Paul’s hand and toddle around anymore; they needed to trust God and walk on their own.  Both Onesimus and Philemon needed to choose the right thing, not out of obligation, but of their own free will.

I’ve been on both sides before.  I’ve left my childhood home and the church I grew up in.  I’ve had my mentor leave.  I’ve also been the boss who left the team, knowing that my absence would be a catalyst for their growth.  And soon, I’ll be sending my sons out into the world.  Both sides are hard.

When those moments arrive, it’s best to trust God and let go.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Time to get personal

Although Paul wasn’t directly involved with Colossian church, several people he knew and cared about were.  Epaphrus, Archippus, Nympha, and Philemon all played various roles and had specific ministries to the believers in Colossae.  The rest of the congregation hadn’t met Paul.  So when he sent Tychicus with the letter to the Colossian church, Paul wrote from a position of a guest preacher who would teach them important truths and show them practical ways to live out their new life in Christ.

Notice how Paul identifies himself at the beginning of the letter:

Colossians 1:1-2
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother. 
To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae. 
Grace and peace from God our Father.

From the get-go, Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus, which also provides the credibility for the things he wrote to them.  However, along with this letter, Paul had Tychicus deliver a second, more personal note.  The subject of this second letter was Tychicus’ traveling partner, Onesimus.  We were briefly introduced to him at the end of Colossians:

Colossians 4:7-9
Tychicus, a loved brother, a faithful servant, and a fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me.  I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are, and so that he may encourage your hearts.  He is with Onesimus, a faithful and loved brother, who is one of you.  They will tell you about everything here.

Onesimus needed to be reconciled with Philemon.  We’ll get into the details of what was broken in their relationship later, but it was serious enough that Paul chose to step into the fray with these two people he dearly loved.  For now, notice how Paul identifies himself at the beginning of his letter to Philemon:

Philemon 1-3
Paul, a prison of Christ Jesus, and Timothy, our brother:
To Philemon, our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your house.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

A little later, Paul says

Philemon 8-9
For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal, instead, on the basis of love.

There is no appeal to his apostleship.  Paul doesn’t take a stance or tell Philemon what to do based upon his authority in the family of believers.  Instead, Paul appeals to his friend out of love.  This is where the rubber meets the road – where teaching meets real life.  Paul taught the Colossians about the importance of having Jesus as the focus of our lives and the difference made because of it…but Paul himself must also live it out. 

There are many relationship lessons we can glean from reading Paul’s personal letter to Philemon, but it will be of greater importance for us to take those observations and apply them to those around us.  After all, a Christ-focused life is not found in the teaching of the theoretical, but in the personal living of the practical.

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 

Bridging the gap between God and others

We mentally separate the parts of our lives in order to keep everything straight.  The typical division of our time and relationships is into sections of church, family, work, school, and spare time.  However, we tend to make these areas into islands with little or no connection to the other areas.

As Christians, we also tend take this practice one step further – we see our relationship with God as something separate from our relationship with others.  While we know that both are important and need to be cultivated, we often deal with one while excluding the other.  However, the two are more connected than we realize.

This is the next point Paul wanted to convey in his letter to the believers in Colossae.  Look at the verses below and see if you can identify how our relationships with other Christians connects to our relationship with God:

Colossians 3:14-16
Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.  And let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were called in one body, control your hearts.  Be thankful.  Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you

We can become so comfortable in our established family position that our relationship with God and our relationship with others can seem like mutually exclusive ideas.  The way these two concepts are connected for us is in the same manner Paul connected them for the Colossians. 

However, his bridge sentence is comprised of just two words, so it is easily missed.  Likewise, the full impact of this small sentence is also overlooked.  Paul says that we are able to aim for peace-driven love with those around us only as the message about the Messiah is present among us.  To be thankful is the bridge between the two.

We are truly thankful when we are mindful of the favor extended to us by someone else.  It shifts the focus off of ourselves and recognizes who the other person is and what we have become because of their actions.  The better we understand and think about Christ’s incredible love for us, the more we are thankful for the choices He made on our behalf. 

To be thankful is focus-shifting experience.  Being thankful towards God puts him in the proper place in our lives; it shows us how to lovingly and peacefully relate to others.  So our ability to bridge the mental gap between of our relationship with others and our relationship with God comes down to two words – Be thankful.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Undercutting relationships

After warning the Colossian believers to pay attention to the negative, selfish words that can come out of their mouths, he gives one last warning about a type of speech that has the potential to destroy a relationship.

Colossians 3:9-10
Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his practices and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator.

When my boys were young, there were only two misbehaviors that would warrant getting spanked.  The first was willful disobedience – we give a direction, they would blatantly defy.  The second type of behavior that would result in spanking was considered much worse than the first – lying.

We typically lie to someone else in an attempt to make ourselves look better or to maintain someone else’s impression of us…that we’re really rather nice, or have disposable income, or not rude, or not selfish.  Sometimes we tell ourselves that we lie only to protect others or ourselves; but in reality, lies only protect the façade we’re trying to project.  When the truth comes out – and it eventually does – we find that the lie we used for “protection” has now severely undercut the relationship.

This is why we made such a big deal about lying with our children.  When a parent lies to a child, or a child to his parent, their relationship is taken out at the knees.  While trust in a specific instance was violated by the lying, we justifiably begin to wonder “When else has that person lied to me?”. 

The same thing happens in God’s family when we lie to each other.  Seeds of mistrust will eventually lead to a harvest of dysfunction.

Paul says that our habit of lying can be set aside, like all of our sinful tendencies, as we continue to identify with who we are now in Jesus instead of being like who we were before we met Jesus.  We put on the new man when we first trusted Jesus as our Savior.  Our identity is forever wrapped up in His, however, that is just the start of our relationship.

Paul says that our identity is being renewed, or growing up, in knowledge according to the image of [our] Creator.  The better we know our Savior and Creator, the faster we grow up in our new identity. 

When we recognize who we are and how well we’re loved in Christ…we won’t need to promote a façade, we’ll see that there’s no reason to lie about ourselves. 

So our lying habit won’t be fixed by washing our mouths out with soap, putting a dollar in a jar whenever we get caught, or by promising to do better next time.  The fix for our brokenness is found in spending time with Jesus.  Are we taking the time to develop in the knowledge of our Creator?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Harsh words

The quickest way to change a situation is to open our mouths and have something selfish and negative come out.  With just a few harsh words, the tone of a conversation can be altered and the general mood of the room is radically different.  Depending on what we say and how we say it, relationships can be damaged for a significant amount of time. 

Recognizing this, it’s easy to see how careless words can tear apart family members.

After warning the Colossian believers to put to death any idolatry and greed that comes out of their hearts, Paul encourages them to take their conduct up to the next level by closely watching what comes out of their mouths.

Colossians 3:8
But now you must also put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.

Paul says that these types of words must be put away.  The Greek word for put away means to “put off or aside”.  This action is intentional, and there’s no wiggle room here, it must be done.

Not to be self-congratulating, but I would like to use an example from my own life – I have decided there are some things that my boys will never hear from me.

I can clearly remember stories, jokes, and advice given to me over the years…but I will not repeat them.  Some memories go way back into my youth.  The stories and jokes were meant to be funny, and honestly, I laughed quite a bit at them.  My immaturity was in full bloom as I listened intently to my friends’ stories, trying to add in some off-color or inappropriate joke of my own.  My quick wit was good for that, or so I thought.

I also have distinct memories of “advice” given to me by people who were lashing out in anger and frustration, either at someone else or at the world in general.  I can still hear their voices say those words as they angrily warned me to avoid certain individuals or people groups.

However, I will not place the burden of these words on my children, or anyone else around me.  The memory of these words will die with me.

Now that the memories have been put away, the real challenge is to follow Paul’s direction and keep anything new from springing out of my mouth.  Now you must put away he says.  Paul’s direction needs to be applied moment by moment – even when things go sideways at work, or I’m caught off-guard, or my plans for the evening get wrecked, or I am hurt (yet again) by someone close to me.

Paul isn’t saying it’s wrong to be upset, frustrated, or even angry; we just need to be watchful for how our mouths express those emotions.  Guarding what comes out of our mouths is vital for maintaining healthy relationships within the family of God and with those outside of the family. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken

In this family...

At some point in our lives, I think we’ve all had our parents tell us “If you’re part of this family, then you’ll…<insert particular actions, thoughts, or words>”.  And now as a parent, I’ve said it, too.  When I use the word “If” in these kinds of statements, my boys know that I’m not questioning if they are truly my children.  Instead, I’m implying that they know they are part of the family, and since they are, then a particular course is expected of them.

Throughout his letter to the Colossians, it is abundantly clear that Paul is writing to believers.  

1:2 To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae
1:13 [the Father] has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son He loves
2:12 ...you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God
2:13 And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him

However, even though they were in the family, the Colossians still needed help understanding how relationships worked inside God’s family.  In some ways, they were still acting and thinking like they had before they entered into God’s family.

After affirming that they are part of the family, Paul had this to say about how they were thinking and acting:

Colossians 2:20
If you died with Christ to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?

You can hear what Paul’s implying here: If you died with Christ (and you did), why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?

But just as the Father has rescued believers from the domain of darkness and into the kingdom of Jesus, Paul says that our relationship with Jesus will similarly rewire our thoughts and actions. 

Colossians 3:1
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 earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God.

Again, he uses the same implied-relationship statement: if you have been raised with the Messiah (and you have), seek what is above.

The Greek word for seek is a pretty intense one.  It means to seek in order to find out – by thinking, meditating, reasoning, and enquiring.  It carries the idea of striving and craving (even demanding) something from someone.

Paul is letting these believers know that in this family, we don’t establish and maintain a relationship with God by following a set of man-made rules.  Instead, we passionately pursue Jesus.  We seek Him out.  The same thing happens with my boys – they don’t create a “good” relationship with me when they follow self-imposed rules in order to avoid punishments; we have a “good” relationship when they are interested in who I am and what I am like, because it is then that they reciprocate my love for them.

So don’t mess around with the old way of life, the way the world thinks that “religious” people should live.  Following rules doesn’t create a relationship with God, but actively pursuing Him will create this new relationship. 

Want to know what the new relationship is like in God’s family?  Seek Jesus, and he’ll show you.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Dangerous rules

We like rules.  We like them a lot.  Rules seem to make things easier, right?  Everything boils down to either black or white.  “Do this.  Don’t do that.”  No in between, no grey, no guesswork, and no mess. 

While there are clear-cut areas in life, the unfortunate truth is that most of our lives aren’t lived in black and white – not only are there grey areas, but life comes at us in a full spectrum of colors.  How do we deal with such a variety of circumstances and people?  How would God want us to deal with them?  When faced with difficult questions and situations in our relationship with God and with others, we often start looking for rules to clarify our course of action.

The believers in Colossae were dealing with a “new” teaching that was likely taught as a guideline for interacting with God and others, but it seems that the teachers were also insisting on rules to prove one’s spirituality.  From Paul’s letter we see that the rogue teachers were advocating rules for food, drink, festivals, sabbath days, worship of angels, and visions.  Paul took issue with these performance-based, surface-level-focused teachings primarily because they took the believer’s focus off of Jesus and put the attention on themselves. Paul summed it up this way:

Colossians 2:20-23
If you died with Christ to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?  Why do you submit to regulations: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”?

All these regulations refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines.  Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.

In the centuries since Paul wrote these words, the church has struggled with human commands and doctrines.  Attempting to earn God’s love, people have given in to legalistic, rules-focused teachings.  Teachings such as earning one’s salvation by doing enough good works, or maintaining one’s salvation by doing enough good works, or trying to live under the Mosaic Law are all examples of false teachings based on human ideas and desires.

Others have tried fasting with the intention to force God to decide in their favor.  Some have lived in isolation with the intention to avoid the temptations that could arise when around other people.  People have even gone as far as self-mutilation to try to keep their sinful urges in check.

On the surface, these ideas seem to have merit…but the truth is they’ve all failed to do what God desires to do in our lives.  God desires to make us Christ-like.  Paul was right when he said that the man-made rules have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, [but] they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.

These practices don’t get to the heart of the problem – because our ultimate problem isn’t our behavior, it’s our sinful nature.  These practices distract us from the real solution.  So we have to be just as careful as Paul wanted the Colossians to be – watching out for false teachings and ascetic practices.

Warren Wiersbe accurately described the dangers that modern believers must be wary of:

“When we make Jesus Christ and the Christian revelation only part of a total religious system or philosophy, we cease to give Him the preeminence.  When we strive for ‘spiritual perfection’ or ‘spiritual fullness’ by means of formulas, disciplines, or rituals, we go backward instead of forward.  Christian believers must beware of mixing their Christian faith with such alluring things as yoga, transcendental meditation, Oriental mysticism, and the like.  We must also beware of ‘deeper life’ teachers who offer a system for victory and fullness that bypasses devotion to Jesus Christ.  In all things, He must have preeminence!”

If the purpose of the rules, principles, or guidelines we follow are doing anything other than pointing us toward Christ or making us more Christ-like…then they are a waste of time and they will eventually lead us astray.  Our first clue that a particular practice is potentially dangerous is to ask the question “Where is the focus placed, on Jesus or on me?

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Forgiveness and prayer (part 1)

We have been taking a close look at what Jesus has prescribed as the model for our prayers:

Matthew 6:9-13 Therefore, you should pray like this:
Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Amen.

In the middle of Jesus’ model prayer, we find a peculiar statement.

Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.

This statement stands out because it is the only conditional statement in the entire model prayer. 

It’s conditional in that it is self-limiting.  In effect, I’m asking God to forgive me to the degree that I have forgiven others.  And that’s a pretty scary thought – because I’m quick to ask God for his forgiveness of my own sins and failings, but I also tend to harbor grudges against those who have hurt me.  To ask for God’s forgiveness when I am unwilling to extend the same grace to others is hypocritical…and how offensive would that be to ask God for something I am unwilling to give to others in my life?

Jesus affirms the importance of this relationship habit when immediately after giving the model prayer, he says

Matthew 6:14-15 For if you forgive people their wrong-doing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well.  But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrong-doing.

Christ’s main purpose in the model prayer is the development of the relationship between us and God.  However, it seems that our relationship with others also affects how well we can relate to God.  We demonstrate our own understanding of God’s unconditional forgiveness toward us in how well we forgive those who have wronged us.

Whenever my family members wrong me, or my coworker backstabs me, or my friend neglects me…to the degree that I harbor my anger toward them and let my resentment linger, Jesus says my relationship with the God of the Universe will be hindered! 

When my boys are not getting along, their individual relationships with me are also affected.  There have been plenty of times where we do not move forward until their relationship with each other has been addressed.  My son has no standing with me to ask for forgiveness when he is unwilling to forgive his brother.

I think that is why Jesus includes a direction in his model prayer to pray conditionally about us restoring our relationship with God through our forgiveness of others.

Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors.

A difficult thing to pray, that is for sure…but keeping it in mind helps guide us to the goal of fulfilling our created design – we were made in God’s image, as a reflection of who he is, so we should forgive like he does.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Excellent and profitable

Titus 3:8 This is a trustworthy saying.  And I want you to stress these things,

The New Testament church was living during the time when the New Testament was being written.  While that seems like an obvious statement, we need to remember that when Paul wrote this letter to Titus, the amount of Scripture available to believers was significantly less that what is available to us. 

If an actual parchment copy was available, then the Cretan believers would have had the Old Testament, and perhaps a few of Paul’s early letters.  That’s it.  So the first century church developed Creeds, or statements that could be memorized, which explained their faith in Jesus and encouraged the believers to live out their faith before others.  These Creeds needed to be dependable and worthy of confidence, short enough to memorize, and pity enough to communicate truth.  The section we have been looking at contains one of those statements.

Titus 3:3-7 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

While it might seem impossible to memorize this much of Scripture all at once…when we’re honest with ourselves, we know many songs longer than these verses, and we know the songs word-for-word as soon as we hear the first three chords. 

Memorizing these five verses helped the first century believers stay on track with their relationships with God and with those around them.  If we take the time and put in a little effort, they can be the same life-giving reminder to us as well.

But you don’t have to take my word for it, take a look at what Paul told Titus about this Creed:

Titus 3:8 And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.  These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Strive to have everything we do be something both excellent and profitable.  Committing God’s truth to memory will definitely do that.  You’ll be surprised at how easy it really is to memorize Scripture, and you’ll be even more amazed at the impact it will have on your life.

Keep Pressing,
Ke