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: remembering

Flashback Favorite - Joe Rheney has relocated to Heaven

I can’t believe that it’s been a year.

What a day that was, too.  The funeral was a wonderful representation of the man himself.  People from all walks of life, who wouldn’t have known each other if not for Joe, came together to celebrate and remember.  There were stories, smiles, unity in grief, and hope-filled relief in knowing Joe had finally reached his goal, to be in the presence of his Creator, face-to-face with Jesus.

Joe would have approved of the service, but only for one reason: the clear, good-news message of Jesus Christ was shared.  Over the years, he had lamented to me several times that the best use of a funeral service was to reach people with Christ’s offer of eternal life while they thinking about the big topics of life, death, purpose, and legacy.  The importance of this message, and its life-changing impact, were on full display during the event.

The verses that helped Joe, as a freshman at the University of Georgia, see his need for Jesus came from a letter written by the Apostle John:

1 John 5:11-13
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  The one who has the Son has life.  The one who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

As much as January 11, 2018 was a day of rejoicing and remembrance, it was under a shadow of mourning and grief.  I still miss him, terribly.  But a reunion is coming – either in Heaven or at the Rapture, whichever comes first. The next time I see him, there will only be joy and gratefulness – all because Jesus paid the price for our sins and gave eternal life to anyone who would accept His offer.

As Joe often said: I’ll see you there, or in the air!

Joe Rheney has relocated to Heaven
originally posted on January 11, 2018

On December 29, 2017, Joe Rheney, my father in the faith and the originator of THE WORD, passed on into Heaven.  Today, January 11th, he will be buried with military honors.  His family and friends have gathered to honor the man who loved and shared Jesus with countless people.  I have the double honor of being a pallbearer and speaking at his funeral.  Below is the text of my speech:

I first me Joe in 2004.  By anyone’s standards, he had already lived a successful, fulfilling life.  He had honorably served his country.  He had been married to his sweetheart for decades.  They had raised a son who was also married, with his own honorable service and thriving career, and they had grandkids.  Retirement was near, and he was entering the time of life when most everyone looks forward to putting their feet up and taking it easy.

I was at the other end of the spectrum.  25.  Married for almost 5 years.  The father of two young boys.  Just starting to get traction in my career.  And more naïve than I realized.

Joe was teaching Sunday School at Chestnut Ridge Church in Morgantown, WV, and my wife and I regularly attended his class.  One day, as the class time was wrapping up, he stated that the burden of teaching was too much for him to do alone and asked if anyone would be interested in teaching with him.  Now I had grown up in the church, and while I enjoyed tutoring and teaching during my schooling and for my job, I knew I was unprepared to stand in front of a class and teach the Bible.  However, I felt prompted to tell him, very specifically, “I would like to help you teach, but first I need to learn to study.” 

Looking back, this was clearly the Holy Spirit making sure I said the right thing, at the right time to start our relationship.  Joe began coaching me through the process of Observing, Interpreting, and Applying Scripture.  For nearly 9 years, Joe was my father in the faith – he mentored me through many of life’s early storms – ones that I didn’t even know were on the horizon.

He didn’t have to take me under his wing.  No one would have blamed him for coasting the rest of his years.  But Joe knew the value of mentoring and training the next generation of disciples.  He was the one who taught me how to study the Bible.  He taught me how to love my wife when she was rather unlovable or when I was stubborn (or when both were happening).  He constantly stressed the importance of being a Godly example for my boys, and making sure they saw me do Godly things.  He warned me about the temptations that arise when traveling for work.  My wife deals with some of the same health issues his wife has…while he couldn’t tell me how to fix them, he helped me love her and support her as she went through it.

Joe was a great mentor because he lived all these things.  He would smile that sly grin and tell me, “I’ve already made the mistakes.  If you listen you me, you won’t have to make them too.” 

I eagerly played the part of Timothy while he played the part of Paul.  Timothy was an outsider with a good reputation, potential, but someone in need of a mentor.  The Apostle Paul took him under his wing and guided him to become his eventual replacement.  Paul told Timothy do the same.  In one of his letters, Paul said, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). 

It wasn’t just me, either.  I have encountered many others over the years that refer to Joe as “my mentor”.  His openness and eternity-focused example resonated with so many.  Another one of the Apostle Paul’s protégés was a young man named Titus.  And when Titus died, his successor in the ministry referred to him as “the exalted echo of Paul’s own voice”.

As I have told friends and family of Joe’s passing on to Heaven, I have struggled with conveying everything that he meant to me, everything that he taught me, and everything did for me.  You and I would have to sit down and talk for days if I were to really attempt it.  The best way I’ve been able to quickly communicate his impact on my life is to say, “If you know me, then you’ve met him.”  I would not be the man I am today if not for his voice in my life.  Joe reflected Jesus so well that it rubbed off on anyone who spent time with him.  And that’s what Christian discipleship looks like.  This is what Jesus meant when He gave His disciples The Great Commission.  We teach the next generation how to connect with God.  We partner with them, so they learn how to partner with God.  In the end, the protégé reflects his mentor, but they both have been reflecting Jesus all along.  That is how the world will see Jesus.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - What's pursuing you?

What’s pursuing you?
originally posted on May 18, 2017

Ever feel as if something is chasing you?  We can have lingering thoughts, feelings, or memories that just won’t let go.  Their pursuit of us is constant, even though it can take different forms.  Sometimes, it’s over-bearing, always-present.  Other times, we’re able to shove it out of our minds, only to have it resurface again later (and usually when we’re drifting off to sleep, right?).

The pieces of our past can hound us in many ways.  Pain, shame, hate, anger, things we said, things we didn’t say…just to name a few.  Antagonistic people, or even those who are out-right enemies, can dominate our thinking and the thought of them can doggedly chase us down.

I’ve said many times that I love the real-ness we find in the book of Psalms.  The various psalmists explore all aspects of life, often laying out their extremely-raw emotions before God.  And we don’t see any lightning bolts striking down the psalmists for their words, either.  Instead, we find that their petitions, questions, and wrestling drive them toward God, not away. 

David is always a good example of one who openly talked with God, and in one of his psalms we find a mindset that can help us deal with the thoughts and people that pursue us.  Read Psalm 23, and pay close attention to the last stanza:

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters. 

He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

David marvels at how God has no problem with settling down for food in the presence of [David’s] enemies.  To us, that’s not the time to sit down to a nice meal.  If enemies are present, then we would think it’s time to take cover or prepare for battle…but with God on his side, David knows he is safe to camp out where God has him.

But it’s one of the lines afterward that really opens my eyes.  Despite being in the presence of [his] enemies, David isn’t chased by them forever.  Because he is with God, David recognizes that only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.

His enemies are around, there are and will be hard situations in life…but when David looks at the bigger picture, the one from God’s perspective, he finds that only God’s goodness and faithful love have been chasing after him.

That’s the key for us, too.  When our thoughts are being overtaken by memories of old sins or difficulties in the present, we need to look at life from God’s perspective.  From His vantage point, we’ll see clearly and be able to trust Him with our present and all the days of [our]life.

A few years back, a Christian band released a great orchestra-rock song about recognizing that our past doesn’t control us anymore, even when we feel pursued by memories and feelings.  The link below is to a video of the song’s lyrics.

Disciple – Dear X, You Don’t Own Me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9yIZnypqBk

Keep Pressing,
Ken

What's pursuing you?

Ever feel as if something is chasing you?  We can have lingering thoughts, feelings, or memories that just won’t let go.  Their pursuit of us is constant, even though it can take different forms.  Sometimes, it’s over-bearing, always-present.  Other times, we’re able to shove it out of our minds, only to have it resurface again later (and usually when we’re drifting off to sleep, right?).

The pieces of our past can hound us in many ways.  Pain, shame, hate, anger, things we said, things we didn’t say…just to name a few.  Antagonistic people, or even those who are out-right enemies, can dominate our thinking and the thought of them can doggedly chase us down.

I’ve said many times that I love the real-ness we find in the book of Psalms.  The various psalmists explore all aspects of life, often laying out their extremely-raw emotions before God.  And we don’t see any lightning bolts striking down the psalmists for their words, either.  Instead, we find that their petitions, questions, and wrestling drive them toward God, not away. 

David is always a good example of one who openly talked with God, and in one of his psalms we find a mindset that can help us deal with the thoughts and people that pursue us.  Read Psalm 23, and pay close attention to the last stanza:

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters. 

He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

David marvels at how God has no problem with settling down for food in the presence of [David’s] enemies.  To us, that’s not the time to sit down to a nice meal.  If enemies are present, then we would think it’s time to take cover or prepare for battle…but with God on his side, David knows he is safe to camp out where God has him.

But it’s one of the lines afterward that really opens my eyes.  Despite being in the presence of [his] enemies, David isn’t chased by them forever.  Because he is with God, David recognizes that only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.

His enemies are around, there are and will be hard situations in life…but when David looks at the bigger picture, the one from God’s perspective, he finds that only God’s goodness and faithful love have been chasing after him.

That’s the key for us, too.  When our thoughts are being overtaken by memories of old sins or difficulties in the present, we need to look at life from God’s perspective.  From His vantage point, we’ll see clearly and be able to trust Him with our present and all the days of [our] life.

A few years back, a Christian band released a great orchestra-rock song about recognizing that our past doesn’t control us anymore, even when we feel pursued by memories and feelings.  The link below is to a video of the song’s lyrics.

Disciple – Dear X, You Don’t Own Me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9yIZnypqBk

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Bedrock truth

It’s amazing to me that it’s the simple ideas that keep us going. 

I love playing in the sandbox of theology, looking over the constructs of other people’s best understanding of God.  Some ridiculously smart people have thought through God’s Word and arrived at some intricate, mind-blowing conclusions.  The mental gymnastics it takes to keep up while comparing their thoughts to Scripture is both exhausting and exciting to me.

But not when detours happen.

When I’m already mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted…I’m not looking for deep-thought theology.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want “mamby-pamby feelly-good” sentiments either.  When life takes a detour, I need simple, straight-forward, bedrock truth.

David understood this need.  He felt it, too. 

This week, I’ve been dwelling on Psalm 16.  It wasn’t until the second day, when I had already read through the psalm several times, that I noticed a four-word sentence at the end of verse five.  But as soon as I saw it, those four simple words became my anchor.

Psalm 16:5
You hold my future.

David needed to say these words to God, to remind himself of what was true.  Despite whatever he saw coming his way, how he felt, or who was causing him trouble…David’s future was in God’s hands. 

Since noticing that verse, I have kept my Bible open next to me as I work on our next step.  Whenever the tension would rise and the stress would start to build and my mind would start to cloud up with doubt…I would look over and read those words out loud.

You. Hold. My. Future.

That’s all it took to calm me back down so I would be able to go forward again.  Just that small dose of truth.  Remembering that Someone who is more powerful, who understands more, who sees more, and – most importantly – who loves me…that Someone is the One who holds my future.

When life takes a detour, what we really need is to be reminded of the simple, powerful, foundational truths.

I am not alone.  Neither are you.
I am not abandoned.  Neither are you.
I can go forward.  So can you.
He holds my future.  He holds yours, too.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The Bible: Reading vs. Experiencing

Sometimes, we forget.

We forget that the Bible wasn’t just written, it was lived.
We forget that the person we’re reading about didn’t know the next verse.
We forget the person had feelings/thoughts/worries/doubts in each moment.

The pages of Scripture describe the actions, thoughts, and desires of the individuals and groups who have uniquely interacted with our Creator, in order to demonstrate His love for us. 

But sometimes…we forget…and we just read on through the section, chapter, or book.

For example, we can open our Bibles and find:

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.

These are the words of an old man encouraging his protégé.  We have front row seats to a watershed moment in young Timothy’s life.  He has been raised and trained for this moment of service in God’s kingdom – and Paul wants Timothy to know the importance of the next steps he takes, ones without Paul’s direct supervision.  But it’s difficult to recognize the weight of Paul’s words, and their impact on Timothy, when we just read through a chapter.

However, when we are on the receiving end of a leader’s call to rise up, something deep inside resonates.  It could be a coach’s halftime speech, a father calling out to his son, or a leader inspiring a nation.  Those moments stir passions in us – even when we witness them in other’s lives, or in a movie.

So, I’m going to ask you to try a little exercise.  Follow the link below to a clip from the movie Miracle, and then read Paul’s words to Timothy again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwpTj_Z9v-c

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.

Think about Timothy, before and after receiving Paul’s letter.

Why would Paul’s words resonate with Timothy?
Which words stand out?  Why?
How will these words impact Timothy’s motivation and focus?


If Paul said these words to you, how would they impact your motivation and focus?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Remembering where we came from

Don’t forget where you came from

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

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

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

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

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

Did you see where we were before God took action?

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Identity and practice

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 to you and peace from God our Father.

After identifying himself and his protégé Timothy as the senders of the letter, Paul’s greeting is loaded of interesting word choices.  His letters’ introductions typically contained an allusion or preview of his intended focus.

To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae.

The Greek word for saints means sacred or holy, and the word is often used in the New Testament in reference to believers.  To be holy is to be set apart for God and His purposes.

Paul also calls his recipients faithful brothers.  While the term for faithful means someone who is trustworthy and faithful, it generally referred to someone who had shown themselves faithful in executing business transactions, in following commands, or performing duties.

Whenever we look up terms, it’s a good idea to go back to the verse and paraphrase it with our new understanding:

This letter is sent to those who are uniquely set apart for God’s purpose, the ones who are faithful and trustworthy family members – the people who are in Christ’s family and living in Colossae.

So whatever Paul has to say in this letter, his intended audience are those who already believe Christ for eternal life.  Paul didn’t write this letter to evangelize a group of non-believers; instead, his topics are primarily for an in-house discussion.  Remembering Paul’s target audience will help us as we interpret his words. 

Also keep in mind that out of all the letters Paul wrote – in his introductions, he referred to only two churches as being faithful – Colossae and Ephesus.

While they were saints in their position before God, they were faithful brothers because of what they did in the practice.

Paul wants them to remember their identity as saints in Christ.  How they live is an outpouring of who they are and who they understand themselves to be in Christ.  Although the Colossian church was doing well in this regard, Paul would continue to emphasize these two themes of identity and practice.  Later on in the letter, he explains why these themes are so important:

Colossians 1:28
We proclaim Him, warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

If we’re struggling and not being faithful in our God-given responsibilities, we’re not going to mature.  Perhaps it’s because we’ve forgotten our identity as saints in Christ.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Remembering God's words

Just before Jesus died on the cross, He directly quoted two different psalms.  With everything He had endured in the previous 24 hours, how was He able to keep His mind focused enough to recall something David had written 1000 years previously?

When we think about the various settings around Jesus during His week before the cross, it becomes obvious that He wasn’t spending His time skimming the scrolls or trying to cram in a phrase or two during the Last Supper.  For Jesus to clearly recall God’s Word on the cross, in the midst of such intense trial and pain, He must have spent time previously with the Scriptures available to Him…and not just a little time, either.  To have Scripture at the tip of His tongue, to be able to recall God’s exact words while the whole world is crashing down…would require both preparation and repetition. 

The Jewish education system at the time was founded upon the student’s ability to memorize large portions of the Old Testament, beginning with the first five books of our Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  If a student did well, he would move on to the prophets and wisdom literature. 

Certainly Jesus did well, not only memorizing Scripture but also understanding it.  This was evidenced when He was 12 and went to the temple:

Luke 2:46-47 After three days, they found Him in the temple complex sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all those who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers.

His ability to converse with the teachers of the Law would have come from the amount of time spent in the Scriptures.  A fair assumption would be that a significant amount of time in the Old Testament Scriptures before His public ministry began at age 30.  Doing so helps explain why Jesus was ready and able to quote Scripture when being tempted by Satan…because as a youth, He spent His time preparing for the days ahead when He would need to recall God’s Word.

The same principle is available to us as well.  The more time we spend in God’s Word, the more ready we are when difficulties arise.  When a crisis hits, how comforting would it be to be able to remind ourselves of what God has previously said?  In fact, this coincides with one of Jesus’s last promises to His disciples:

John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit – the Father will send Him in My name – will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.

However, it is more difficult for the Holy Spirit to remind us of what Jesus said, if we haven’t been looking in the first place…

Putting the same Scriptures in front of our eyes often and meditating on them helps commit them to memory.  So let’s do the same with the psalm we’ve been looking at.  Having the promises we’ve learned – that when our hearts are without strength, we can trust God to handle our current circumstances.  We can trust God with our present struggles, as well as our future issues, because we remember how God has protected and strengthened us during previous crises.

Let’s take Jesus at His word and follow His example.  Pay attention to these four verses this week.  Read them often, say them out loud.  Do your best to bury these words deep in your mind, so that when the time comes, the Holy Spirit will be able to bring them to the front of your mind and the tip of your tongue.

Psalm 61:1-4

God, hear my cry; pay attention to my prayer.
I call to You from the ends of the earth
when my heart is without strength.

Lead me to a rock that is high above me,
for You have been a refuge for me,
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.

I will live in Your tent forever
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

Keep Pressing,
Ken