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: salvation

First day jitters and the start of a new life

Remember that first day at a new school?  Those feelings of being nervous, curious, not quite sure what was going to happen?  Or how about your first day in a new job?  Probably had flashbacks to being the new kid in school…

Being a rookie, at anything, is rough.  Everywhere you look, you see people who look like they’ve been successful for years.  You definitely don’t want to interrupt the way things seem to naturally flow, and you certainly don’t want to be in the way.  It’s easy to allow the doubt to creep in and cloud our thinking – Do I really belong?  Will they think I’m stupid or ignorant?  Will I mess this up?  Will I even know that I messed something up?  How many times can I mess up before they don’t want me around anymore?

Whenever we venture out into something new, no matter what it is, there’s always one thing we’re hoping for: someone kind enough to help us out and show us around.

We all have vivid memories of that first person to befriend us when we were feeling more lost than we cared to admit.  Their willingness to reach out to the newbie made it easier for us to find our place and figure out the rhythm to our new settings.

Honestly, the Christian life isn’t any different.  Being a newbie is a little scary.  We’re unsure of what to say or what to do next.  Everyone around looks like a spiritual veteran, like they’re a half-step away from perfection…and we’re just sitting here, surprised that God let someone like us into His family.

So, how is this supposed to work for a newbie Christian?  Since Jesus brought us into the family, why doesn’t He immediately take away all the junk and bad habits left over from our previous life?

Tucked away in John’s account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, there is a six word command where Jesus clues us in:

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

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

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

Not to make too much out of a minor detail, but I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t unwrap Lazarus from his burial cloths.  Lazarus didn’t unwrap Lazarus.  Instead, Jesus instructed those closest to the resurrected man to “Unwrap him and let him go.”

Jesus had just brought a man back from the grave, but He gave others the responsibility of helping Lazarus remove the remnants of his old life.  This wasn’t going to be a task Lazarus could do on his own.  He needed someone who was willing to reach in close and help deal with the dirty death-rags left over from his previous life. 

Let’s be clear:
If you were a world-class jerk when you met Jesus and accepted His offer of eternal life, you’re still going to have a lot of jerk-ness that needs to be dealt with, even after being saved. 

Anyone who tells you that you should be immediately perfect after encountering Jesus hasn’t read their New Testament in a while.  Instead of placing perfection-level expectations on a brand-new Christian, us veterans need to be willing to get our hands dirty.  We need to show them around, help them see the rhythm and flow of living a Christ-centered life.

Also note that Jesus didn’t tell Lazarus to go ask someone to help him remove his burial cloths.  Us veterans shouldn’t wait for a newbie to come up and ask for assistance.  We approach them, help them, and then smile as we watch them go in their new, life-long adventure.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A question of belief

Can I be open and honest with you?

Throughout my decades as a follower of Jesus, I have had several mini-crises of faith.  Times of struggle or tragedy in my own life (or in the lives of those that I love) have caused me to pause and wonder a number of different things, like:

·       Does God really care what happens to us?
·       Is living the Christian life really worth it?
·       Do I really believe all this “Jesus stuff”?

These are hard-core questions, and our pride may make it difficult for us to admit to other people that we wrestle with these kinds of thoughts.  But we wonder, just the same.  And it’s hard to reason through these kinds of questions.  Our feelings can be all over the places, especially when life goes sideways.  Throw in the daily struggle with sinful desires, and we can easily start a mental tailspin.

As our feelings ebb-and-flow and our actions are typically tainted with at least some level of selfishness, we can’t rely on ourselves to answer these questions and doubts.  This is where it is helpful to look at what Jesus explicitly said about us and about Himself. 

John’s record of a conversation between Jesus and Martha can help as we deal with our questions and doubts:

John 11:17-27
When Jesus arrived, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.  Bethany was near Jerusalem (less than two miles away).  Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.

As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, but Mary remained seated in the house.  Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.  Yet even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give You.”

“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus told her.

Martha said to Him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live.  Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she told Him, “I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who comes into the world.”


Martha was going through what was likely the toughest time of her life – her brother had fallen sick and she watched over him as he died.  God hadn’t answer her prayers to heal Lazarus.  Jesus didn’t arrive in time to rescue Lazarus from the pain he was suffering.  Martha had been grieving for four days when Jesus arrived.

Martha was looking toward future events for comfort, instead Jesus directed her to look at who was standing next to her.  What Jesus offered was Himself.  It is in this conversation that Jesus states one of His greatest “I am” statements: I am the resurrection and the life.  If we believe this statement, then Jesus guarantees that even if our bodies experience physical death, we will still live – forever.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say to clean up our lives and then He’ll give us eternal life.  He does not tell Martha to examine her life to see if she really does believe in Him.  He also does not tell her to make sure she continues to act a certain way.  In fact, Jesus does not tell Martha to look at herself, at all.

Jesus said that those who believe in Him have eternal life, no matter what else happens in this life.  Based upon what Jesus said, our hope and eternal security are found exclusively in Him – not in our circumstances, not in how we feel, not in how we behave.

Do you believe this?

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

For my son - Swim strokes and the effect of a quiet life

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 first 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 it reminds us that our biggest and best way of introducing others to Jesus will likely come from what we consider the normal, small portions of life.  The closer we walk with God, the more "His normal" becomes "our normal"...the more His life will stand out to others, even if we don't necessarily notice.

Swim strokes and the effect of a quiet life
originally posted on July 15, 2016

I’ve raced in a handful of triathlons.  No crazy, Ironman distances; but I have completed several of the short, “sprint” distances.  When I started, I figured that biking I can do, running I can do, but it was the first event that scared me the most – the swim.  I had taken swimming lessons as a kid, but as an unpracticed adult, my activity in the water fell more into the “not drowning” category rather than in the “swimming” category.

After a friend lent me a DVD on swimming for triathletes, I began practicing several times a week.  Sometime later, on one particular night, I was at a local gym and was using their lap pool.  A friend of mine was in the first lane, getting his laps in.  I was in the middle lane, just doing my thing.  Shortly after we started, an older lady started using the other outside lane for water aerobics and walking.

During one of my breaks, the lady turned to me and said, “I’ve just got to tell you.  You have a very quiet stroke.”  I chuckled a little bit, and then thanked her.  She had apparently been comparing my smooth stoke to the thrashing around my friend was doing in the next lane over.  My wife had previously told me that at races, my swim sticks out in comparison to the others; she says it looks like I’m moving with the water instead of fighting my way through it, like everyone else.

By the time the older lady gave me the compliment, I had practiced this style of swimming so much that it had become second nature.  I didn’t even notice I was doing it – to me, I was just swimming.  After thanking the lady for her compliment, I informed her that my swim stroke was something I had been taught, it didn’t come naturally.  I also told her that it was a skill that she could learn as well.  She immediately shook her head ‘no’ and said, “I really don’t think so.”

Similarly, Paul gave Timothy instructions for the church in Ephesus that if followed, would stand out to culture around them.

1 Timothy 2:1-4
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

How we live is an indicator of our relationship with God our Savior.  Paul tells Timothy that the best kind of life, one that shows we are walking close to God, is a tranquil and quiet life where our godliness and dignity are on full display.

When we focus on knowing God well and practice ways to imitate Him, our godliness will become second nature.  While our “God-like-ness” will feel normal to us, the tranquil and quiet life we lead will stand out to those around us.

God and His love for us is so big that He wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth – the amazing thing is that we are his main ambassadors for doing so.  Paul says we fulfill our role as God’s representative in two ways: through praying for our leaders and living a godly life.

These two things will give us the platform to reach out to everyone with the same love that has been extended to us.  Some will desire the life they see in us; others won’t believe that it’s possible.  As ambassadors, we’re just responsible to represent God.  It’s not up to us to convert anyone, that’s God’s arena.

We have to keep in mind that the gospel will be communicated through our lives before anyone will likely read the Bible on their own.  Honestly, the people in my life will read the ‘gospel of Ken’ long before they read the Gospel of John.  Living a tranquil and quiet life will not come naturally for us, either.  But with practice, we will begin to inherently reflect God and all His attractive qualities.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Why God makes us wait

I am a rather weak creature, much weaker than I care to admit.

When life is “good”, I am content to coast as long as possible.  I expend as little effort as I can, so I don’t rock the boat and change the comfortable circumstances.  However, my inactivity quickly leads to stagnation.  When I’m stagnant, I become sluggish and self-centered.  I neglect my time with God, and I resent my time around others.  I become fully focused on me and the protection of my comfortable circumstances.

It’s for these reasons that I believe God allows difficulties and adversaries into my life.  When life gets bumpy or takes a detour, I am jarred out of my stagnation.  I am forced to recognize that I am not the one in charge…and that my best course of action is to pray to the one Who is.

At some level, it’s comforting to me to know that I’m not the only follower of God who struggles with this.  Because of his adversaries, David also recognized his immediate need for God and His guidance.

Psalm 27:11-14
Because of my adversaries,
show me Your way, Lord,
and lead me on a level path.
Do not give me over to the will of my foes,
for false witnesses rise up against me,
breathing violence.

I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be courageous and let your heart be strong.
Wait for the Lord.

At the beginning of this psalm, David said: 

The Lord is my light and my salvation –
whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life –
of whom should I be afraid?

When David referred to the Lord as my salvation, he wasn’t talking about eternal salvation from the penalty of sin.  David has confidence that he will see the Lord’s goodness in this life, that he would be saved from those who wanted to do him harm…but David also recognized that he would have to wait for the Lord’s assistance.

I believe that for the same reasons He allows adversaries and difficulties into our lives, God also allows us to wait for His rescue.  Our struggle to patiently anticipate the Lord’s salvation develops our faith in ways that only waiting can.

When life takes a detour, be courageous and let your heart be strongSalvation is coming, you just have to trust and wait for the Lord.

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

Swim strokes and the effect of a quiet life

I’ve raced in a handful of triathlons.  No crazy, Ironman distances; but I have completed several of the short, “sprint” distances.  When I started, I figured that biking I can do, running I can do, but it was the first event that scared me the most – the swim.  I had taken swimming lessons as a kid, but as an unpracticed adult, my activity in the water fell more into the “not drowning” category rather than in the “swimming” category.

After a friend lent me a DVD on swimming for triathletes, I began practicing several times a week.  Sometime later, on one particular night, I was at a local gym and was using their lap pool.  A friend of mine was in the first lane, getting his laps in.  I was in the middle lane, just doing my thing.  Shortly after we started, an older lady started using the other outside lane for water aerobics and walking.

During one of my breaks, the lady turned to me and said, “I’ve just got to tell you.  You have a very quiet stroke.”  I chuckled a little bit, and then thanked her.  She had apparently been comparing my smooth stoke to the thrashing around my friend was doing in the next lane over.  My wife had previously told me that at races, my swim sticks out in comparison to the others; she says it looks like I’m moving with the water instead of fighting my way through it, like everyone else.

By the time the older lady gave me the compliment, I had practiced this style of swimming so much that it had become second nature.  I didn’t even notice I was doing it – to me, I was just swimming.  After thanking the lady for her compliment, I informed her that my swim stroke was something I had been taught, it didn’t come naturally.  I also told her that it was a skill that she could learn as well.  She immediately shook her head ‘no’ and said, “I really don’t think so.”

Similarly, Paul gave Timothy instructions for the church in Ephesus that if followed, would stand out to culture around them.

1 Timothy 2:1-4
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.

This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

How we live is an indicator of our relationship with God our Savior.  Paul tells Timothy that the best kind of life, one that shows we are walking close to God, is a tranquil and quiet life where our godliness and dignity is on full display.

When we focus on knowing God well and practice ways to imitate Him, our godliness will become second nature.  While our “God-like-ness” will feel normal to us, the tranquil and quiet life we lead will stand out to those around us.

God and His love for us is so big that He wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth – the amazing thing is that we are his main ambassadors for doing so.  Paul says we fulfill our role as God’s representative in two ways: through praying for our leaders and living a godly life. 

These two things will give us the platform to reach out to everyone with the same love that has been extended to us.  Some will desire the life they see in us; others won’t believe that it’s possible.  As ambassadors, we’re just responsible to represent God.  It’s not up to us to convert anyone, that’s God’s arena.

We have to keep in mind that the gospel will be communicated through our lives before anyone will likely read the Bible on their own.  Honestly, the people in my life will read the ‘gospel of Ken’ long before they read the Gospel of John.  Living a tranquil and quiet life will not come naturally for us, either.  But with practice, we will begin to inherently reflect God and all His attractive qualities.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The purpose of our salvation

When we think about the ‘worst sins’ a person can commit, we immediately jump to all the atrocities that people commit against other people.  While humans have done horrific things to other humans throughout the centuries, alongside every event is an act of rebellion against the One who created us.  When we look at the motivation for our sin, many sinful actions are the result of our own selfishness taking precedence over the well-being of others; however, some sinful actions are a full-frontal assault on God, with people being the collateral damage.

When Paul was describing the ultimate purpose of his conversion to Timothy, he gave a saying of the time his own personal twist:

1 Timothy 1:15
This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance:

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”

and I am the worst of them. 

A few sentences before, Paul admitted to directly challenging God when he was a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man.  He did everything in his power to exterminate the belief that Jesus is the Savior that for centuries God had told the Jews to watch for.  Paul had used all available means – jail, torture, even death – in order to eliminate the teaching of Jesus as Messiah.  

If there was anyone on the planet who could be considered a ‘lost cause’, someone who had absolutely zero chance of believing that Christ could give him eternal life – it was Paul.  Paul was so dead-set against Jesus that no one could reach him.  Any time he heard the gospel message, he set out to kill the person who delivered it.  Only a dramatic, direct encounter with the risen Jesus could convince Paul to change his mind…there was no other way.

No wonder the first century believers were afraid of him!  The church had their reservations and doubts about Paul’s conversion…think about it…why would God save that guy?  I’m sure there were more people praying that Paul would be hit with a lightning bolt than there were people praying that God would reach him.

However, God had other plans for Paul.  In fact, his conversion wasn’t only for his own personal salvation, it wasn’t just a means to avoid eternal separation from God:

1 Timothy 1:16
But I received mercy because of this, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate the utmost patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

Because of Paul’s conversion, no one has the excuse of being “too bad” or “too unworthy” or “too far gone” for Jesus to save.  This worst of all sinners became a ‘first copy’ to all future believers.

God accepts and forgives people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.  Each one who believes in Jesus for eternal life will demonstrate some aspect of God’s character to the world around them.  What does your story show?  Perhaps you’re from a certain segment of society, or you’re in a particular socio-economic class, or you struggle with a specific kind of sin…God can point at each one of us, as an example, and say “See my generosity?  I will even give eternal life to someone like that.”

When we recognize the great privilege and honor it is to partner with God in this way – as an example of His love – we can confidently say, along with Paul:

1 Timothy 1:17
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Ignorant, undeserving, and accepted

Parenting small children is not for the faint-hearted.  As Dr. Kevin Leman is fond of saying, “We have seen the enemy, and they are small.”  There’s just so much of life – both good and bad – that they simply do not understand.  It’s good how they try to cure their ignorance by asking ‘Why?’ all the time, but even then, a child will trust her own interpretation more than she trusts the answer for her question.

A child’s perception also skews how they interact with the world.  Simple things – like the dark, mannequins, or balloons – paralyze them in fear; but they are oblivious to the real dangers in life – like poisons, traffic, and sharp objects.

A child may even fully believe he is doing a good thing, when in fact, there is a dangerous consequence and he is totally unaware of where his actions will take him.  When one of my boys was quite young, he was wearing a set of headphones and wandering around the house while he played.  However, he was quite upset and threw large fit when I wouldn’t let him plug the headphones into a light socket.  In his mind, everything was fine and dad was being completely unreasonable.  Even after I told him ‘no’ and removed him from area, he stubbornly persisted.

I think we act toward God like my obstinate little boy.  We want what we want, when we want it.  We think we’re doing something ok, even something good…but God knows the real, eternal consequence of our actions.  Just like a small child…even if we know that what we’re doing is wrong, we still chase after our ignorant desires.

But thankfully, God is willing to forgive our selfish, self-focused actions.  Take a look at how Paul describes God’s forgiveness:

1 Timothy 1:12-14
I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry – one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man.

Since it was out of ignorance that I had acted in unbelief, I received mercy, and the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

Like a small child, Paul ignorantly acted on his own self-focused desires.  He didn’t believe God, Paul thought he knew better.  However, despite Paul’s actions, God extended mercy.  The term mercy means to help the afflicted, to show compassion to the wretched.  I’ve often heard it described as not giving someone the punishment or consequence they fully deserve.

How was this mercy extended?  Paul gives Timothy the first of three trustworthy sayings to take to heart:

1 Timothy 1:15
This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance:

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”

Paul didn’t say that Jesus came to save those of us who were trying hard to be good.  Jesus’ offer of salvation isn’t just to those people who are “basically good” but just mess up every once in a while. 

Let’s not gloss over what Paul says Timothy should fully accept – Jesus came for the sinners.  Jesus came for those of us who think that God’s work is evil.  Jesus came those of us who support harassment and oppression of Jesus followers.  Jesus came for those of us who vainly believe that we are the most important.  Jesus came for us, despite our ignorance and unbelief.

And after Paul accepted His mercy, Jesus didn’t stop there.  Immediately, the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.  The wretched received an undeserved belonging.  He was no longer one of the afflicted ones.  He had a family and a purpose.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Hello, my name is Timothy

Given the numerous mentoring examples in the Bible, it’s easy to see that God values the mentor-protégé relationship.  It is a special bond at an intimate level between two people.  Most of the Biblical examples give us just a snapshot – a mentoring moment or lesson taught – and then we must look at what happened next to the mentor and the protégé to find out how well the lesson was applied.  However, there is one mentoring relationship in the Scriptures where we get to see much more than a glimpse.  Paul and Timothy spent many years together, and much of their efforts and relationship is on display throughout the New Testament.

But who was Timothy?  How did they meet?  Why did they pair up?

We are first introduced to Timothy at the start of Paul’s second missionary journey:

Acts 15:40-16:2
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. 

Then he went on to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek.  The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him.

Timothy was a young man stuck between two worlds.  He believed in Jesus as the Messiah who would come from the Jewish half of his parents, but Timothy was also half Greek and grew up in a Greek city, surrounded by Grecian culture.  Since no additional information is given about his father, we can’t be sure of how much influence that heritage had – but the fact that he had not been circumcised suggests that Timothy wasn’t raised in a strictly observant Jewish household.  However, both worlds were still a part of him and people were aware of his mixed-race background. 

Although such mixed marriages were illegal in Jewish law, rabbinic texts reckoned a person’s decent through the mother’s line; and as such, Timothy would have been considered to be a Jew by the Jewish community.

Acts 16:3-5
Paul wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek.  As they traveled through the towns, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem for them to observe.  So the churches were strengthened in the faith and were increased in number daily.

Was it necessary for Timothy’s salvation that he be circumcised? 

No, not at all.  Salvation from eternal separation away from God is only through believing (i.e. – trusting) Jesus for eternal life.

Then was Paul being inconsistent by circumcising Timothy?  Was this an example of Paul “giving in” to local peer pressure?

No, not at all.  Timothy was already a believer before he met Paul.  However, given Timothy’s well known heritage, for him to come with Paul and have access to be a missionary in Jewish synagogues, he would need to be circumcised.  Otherwise, the Jewish communities would consider Timothy an apostate, and they would not be willing to listen to what he had to say about Jesus.

Timothy was willing to endure significant physical pain in order to share the gospel message with those who would have looked down on him as a “half-breed”, the same way that Jews had historically looked down on Samaritans.  In fact, by agreeing to be circumcised, Timothy boldly demonstrated an evangelistic principle which Paul would later pass on to the believers in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 9:19-22
For although I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to all, in order to win more people.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law – though I myself am not under the law – to win those under the law.  To those who are outside the law, like one outside the law – not being outside God’s law, but under the law of Christ – to win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. 

I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some.

That is an incredible lesson for Timothy to grab a hold of so early in his mentoring relationship under Paul.  And it’s certainly not the last time Timothy is a reflection of his mentor.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Our identity in the gospel

The Bible wasn’t dropped out of the sky as a complete revelation of God to mankind.  Instead, the Scriptures were assembled from the writings of God-inspired authors over hundreds of years.  Through these authors, God revealed more and more of His plan for the world and the salvation of those who trust Jesus for eternal life.  This process is referred to progressive revelation.

Therefore, we must consider each section of Scripture in light of the larger context of the God’s story throughout the Bible.  Most of the letters in the New Testament are addressed to a particular group of believers or an individual believer to discuss specific topics.  Since the letters’ recipients have already placed their faith in Jesus, getting an “in a nutshell” explanation of the gospel doesn’t appear very often, as the author typically spends his time instructing his readers about the effects of the gospel in their lives or encouraging them to live their lives with eternity in mind.

Paul certainly wrote to the Colossians to give them instruction and encouragement.  However, after he reminds them of where their identity comes from, in verses that follow, he gives them a wonderful “in a nutshell” statement of the gospel message:

Colossians 2:9-10
For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

Paul then uses two illustrations that his readers would have been very familiar with.  These physical examples had been previously used to confirm a person’s identification with a group of people.  Both illustrations contain the imagery of a permanent change that takes place in a person’s life. 

Colossians 2:11
In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah.

Circumcision was the physical removal of flesh that the Israelites performed as a symbolic indication of their identification with God and a separation from the surrounding nations and their gods.  However, a physical circumcision was no longer necessary after Christ’s death and resurrection – our identity with Him is a spiritual circumcision.  In Jesus, we have rejected, or put off, the selfish desires of our flesh.

Continuing with his next example, Paul says

Colossians 2:12
Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

The Greek word for baptism means “to be placed into”.  When we are physically immersed in a water baptism, we are symbolically demonstrating what has already happened to us spiritually.  We were set apart and placed into Christ the moment we put our faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead

The beauty of our salvation is that we don’t have to try and earn it.  The truth is – we can’t earn it.  God knew that, but still desired relationship with us.  As Paul reminds the Colossians, Christ took care of our sin debt while we were still rebels. 

Colossians 2:13-15
And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses.  He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.

While we were still sinners, Christ paid humanity’s sins.  Because of their faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead, God forgave all their sin.  Christ’s standing with the Father is credited to each person who places their faith in Jesus. 

We’ve all had times in our lives where we messed up and afterward we had the offense forgiven, but we still had to live with the consequences of our actions.  However, that’s not the case when it comes to our salvation from sin.  Not only has Jesus erased the certificate of debt but He has also erased…its obligations.  In Christ, we are free from sin – and its penalty.

Our salvation wasn’t secured by some back-door, secret deal, either.  Christ was publicly humiliated and crucified – the kind of death and separation from God that we deserved.  Jesus’ sacrifice was on display for entire world to see.  By His loving actions, He disarmed the rulers and authorities set against us, and, as Paul stated in verse 9, Jesus became the head over every ruler and authority

In these verses, we find that we have been set apart (11-12), our sins forgiven (13-14), and we have victory over forces of evil (15) – all because of Jesus.  That’s the gospel “in a nutshell”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Saved from what?

As modern-day believers, we have a habit of over-spiritualizing everything we read in the Bible.  We tend to read our understanding of words and phrases from one section of the Bible into all other sections.  Instead, we need to remember that the meaning of a word or phrase is always understood based upon the context that word is used in. 

Take, for example, the word run:
I run for public office.
I run marathons.
Allergies make my nose run.

Same word – three totally different meanings.  However, what I am communicating to you in each sentence is clear, based upon the context of the surrounding words.

When we read the Bible, what is the word that we most typically ignore the context of and mis-read the author’s meaning?

It’s the word salvation or save.

In both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, the word for save simply means to be rescued or delivered.  What we typically assume is the New Testament concept of Jesus rescuing us from the consequences of our sin and giving eternal life to those who believe in Him for it.  And that is a proper use of the word save – as long as that idea is the author’s topic.  Other things that Biblical authors need saved from include: enemies, danger, circumstances, physical death, illness, captivity, and several others. 

So whenever we come across the word salvation or save, we need to stop and ask the question “Saved from what?”.

When David writes Psalm 57, he’s not asking God to rescue him for eternal life…even though it would be tempting for us to read that into the text:

Psalm 57:1-3
Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in You.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of Your wings
until danger passes.

I call to God Most High,
to God who fulfills His purpose for me.
He reaches down from heaven and saves me,
challenging the one who tramples me.

God sends His faithful love and truth.

So how do we know that David isn’t talking about (or even alluding to) eternal salvation when he says that God reaches down from heaven and saves me, challenging the one who tramples me?

By looking at the context.

While the numbering system used for the Psalms isn’t original to the text, there are sometimes instructions or notes about the psalm left by the author.  The instructions can vary from what kind of instrument or tune is needed for the psalm, who wrote the psalm, or even give detail as to when the psalm was written.

In the case of Psalm 57, the notes tell us the circumstances which influenced David to write. 

For the choir director: “Do Not Destroy.”  A Davidic Miktam.  When he fled before Saul into the cave.

David was hunted by Saul for four years.  Saul resented that God had chosen David to succeed him as king, and Saul rationalized that if he killed David, then he could continue being King of Israel.  There were many tense occasions during those four years, several times where it looked like Saul had David trapped. 

Psalm 57 was born out of one of those times.  David was in trouble.  Like the text says, Saul was trampling David.  The grace, refuge, and salvation that David was petitioning God for was his physical rescue from Saul.  Based upon the Biblical account of those years, and that David did eventually become King of Israel…we know God’s answer to David’s prayer in Psalm 57.

We don’t have to find inspiration by reading eternal salvation from sins into the text…because a plain reading of what the text is actually talking about is plenty encouraging – from David’s example, we see how God cares enough about our current physical situations to protect us and to fulfill His purpose for us.

God keeps His promises.  He’s willing and able to protect us in this life, even in the times we feel completely trapped.  That great truth is there for us to see, as long as we read the text for what it says and resist the urge to read something else into it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Great grace, great love

Titus 3:5-6 ...He [God the Father] 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

All three members of the Trinity – God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit – participated in securing our salvation from sin’s ultimate penalty.  Without God acting on our behalf, we would have been eternally separated from God and unable to become whom God created us to be. 

While our rescue from eternal death was God’s primary motivation, it wasn’t the only outcome from what God did for us.  Paul continues and explains God’s motivation in providing such a great salvation:

Titus 3:7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

To be justified means to be declared legally righteous.  Not guilty of the sin I’ve committed.  Since Jesus paid the penalty for all of humanity’s sin, and I have accepted that he took the punishment I deserved, I cannot be condemned to eternal separation from God.  As Paul said in his letter to the believers in Rome:

Romans 8:1-2 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

But did you catch what Paul was saying to Titus?  There is more to a believer’s life, something that goes beyond the initial salvation moment and experience.

Titus 3:7 so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

I have often heard justification explained as God treating the believer “just-as-if-I-had-never-sinned”, however Paul is saying that there is more to it than that.  We become heirs, we now have hope in an eternal future of life with God.  Perhaps a better statement for justification would be that God now treats the believer “just-as-if-I-were-Jesus-himself”.

While I am now treated as if I were sinless, I am also received as a member of the family and brought into the relationship found within the Trinity.  That does not mean that I become God, but I am loved as much as God the Father loves God the Son…which is an eternal, unbreakable love.  We are given privileges unknown to any other created being…and it’s all because we are associated with Jesus.

Also notice how we are justified…it is by his grace.  Not by anything we did or will do.  We saw earlier that our rescue was not because of righteous things we had done, it’s all a gift. 

How great is God’s love toward us?!

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The Trinity in action

Did you know that there are some words common to Christian discussions, which are not found in the Scriptures?  Two examples include the words “Atheism” and “Bible”.  Try to find them in a concordance (a dictionary-type book that alphabetically lists all words used in the Scriptures), and you won’t find them.  However, the concept of both Atheistic beliefs and the collection of God-inspired books forming the Bible are clearly taught within God’s Word.

Atheistic beliefs:
Psalm 14:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

God inspires the Bible:
2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Another Christian term that critics like to point out as being “un-Biblical” because it is not found in the Bible is the word Trinity.  Many believers struggle to understand, let alone explain, the concept of a 3-person/1-being God.  God has always been “one” in direction, purpose, and essence. 

Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.

However, we do find throughout Scripture that each person – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit – are identified as God (Galatians 1:1, Titus 2:13, Romans 8:14), and each person relates to the others in specific, unique roles and actions (John 15:26, Hebrews 9:14, 1 Peter 1:3).  There are many other Scripture references that could be used to further these points, but the ones cited are a good starting place.

While we may not fully understand all the particulars of how God is like this, we can certainly recognize the Trinity when we see it in action.  Paul brings up the concept of the Trinity as he instructs Titus to teach the Cretans.  Look for the actions of each member:

Titus 3:4-6 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

When we read these verses, we find that Paul refers to both God the Father and Jesus Christ as Savior and also states that it is the actions performed by the Holy Spirit that saved us.  The fullness of the Godhead, all three persons of the Trinity, were involved with our rescue from the penalty of our sinful living. 

You can easily tell the importance of a project based upon the rank of the one who leads it.  A project led by a Manager has a different emphasis from a project personally led by the CEO.  Given that all three members of the Trinity participated in our salvation…the value that God placed on us and our rescue cannot be understated.

God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit acted in concert to redeem us, and not because of righteous things we had done, but because of [God’s] mercy.

When I stop, take a deep breath, and let that one truth sink in…it blows my mind.  Literally makes my head hurt.  I struggle to fathom it.  It’s almost too good to be true, right?

Gifts are like that.  Spend some time thinking about it, you’ll be glad you did.  When you’ve fully wrestled with it, when you’ve accepted his gift that none of us deserve, there’s only one thing left to say:

“Thank you.”

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Our greatest need

Life is messy.  Our selfishness and sin tangles up everything, doesn’t it?  I can make such a tangled mess out of my life that I am bound by knots that I cannot undo…however, our sin-soaked human condition is made even more difficult as each of our tangled messes become interwoven in everyone else’s tangled messes.  Every mess we face is caused by either our own selfishness or someone else’s selfishness. When we recognize our sin for what it is, we quickly realize that life is so messy that we could never un-messy it.

Titus 3:3-4 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…

In our heart-of-hearts, when we are honest…that is who we were.  Disobedient fools that happily chased and submitted to all kinds of destructive behaviors.  We lived in constant suspicion and envy of others, hating anyone who appeared to have something we did not.  Every aspect of our existence was focused completely on ourselves.

The word “but” always signals a change in direction.  It is a key term to look for when we read the Scriptures.  “But” tells us that the subject matter is about to change, that something different is coming.

Titus 3:4-5 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.

In direct contrast to the hateful, envious, disobedient mess that all people are in, God steps in to rescue us.  God intervened in the mess of our sinful lives.  When our lives were full of malice, envy, and hate – God stepped in with kindness, love, and mercy.

These qualities of God and his salvation are the polar opposite of the qualities we possessed.

And just in case we ever think that we maybe earned it, or we somehow convinced God to save us, or that we were “good enough” – Paul instructs us that God’s rescue was not because of righteous things we had done

but because of his mercy – in direct contrast to any outside influence of our works, (because there wasn’t any), God’s motivation for saving humanity comes from his own mercy.  Mercy is defined as the moral quality of feeling compassion and especially showing kindness toward someone in need.  What better way to describe the entire human race? 

We needed someone to feel compassion toward us, to act in kindness on our behalf, someone to deal with our need to have our sin nature resolved.  We couldn’t do it – individually or corporately – and there was nothing about us that could influence God to act on our behalf.

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

While we were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures…living in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.

We couldn’t fix our mess.  So God did for us what we could never do for ourselves.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The gift that keeps on giving

After spending the previous 10 verses explaining to specific groups within the Cretan church “What’s next” for them after becoming believers, Paul goes on to give the over-arching and insightful reason as to why those teachings were selected for them:

Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. 

Notice that it is by God’s grace that salvation is available to everyone.  No one deserves it, no one can contribute toward it.  God’s favor was given to us by his own choice, without influence by us.  Like a light piercing the darkness, he has chosen to offer this gift of salvation to all mankind. 

But the workings of God’s grace doesn’t stop there.  After stating the general mission of the grace of God, Paul then gets specific as to how it still works within a believer’s life, even after accepting Jesus as Savior:

Titus 2:12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age

God’s grace continues on by teaching and training us.  We didn’t merit salvation from sin’s eternal penalty of separation from God…and we don’t merit the training God gives us after we are saved, either.  Thankfully, God shows us love as adoptive sons and daughters – which means he cares for our development and growth.

We have to be taught how to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, because on our own we give in to them every time.  Turning away from sin isn’t easy, and our old nature battles against this kind of change.  By God’s grace, we were transferred from the kingdom of darkness and into God’s kingdom of light; and also by God’s grace, we are taught to turn away from ungodliness and worldly passions in order that we can say “Yes” to the kind of life we were created to live in this present age.

However, looking at this leaves me wondering:

If I was willing to accept his gracious gift of salvation, why do I fight his gracious gift of training for my life in this present age?

Keep Pressing,
Ken