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: self-centered

Misplaced thankfulness

Today is a day set aside for giving thanks.  It is a wonderful tradition we Americans have carried on for decades (even as Black Friday shopping deals encroach on the day).  Despite all the turmoil going on in the world, we have much to be thankful for.

But I feel the need to issue a warning:

The contents of our thankful sayings will reveal what we hold most dear.  More specifically, which person(s) we hold most dear.  So when grace is said before dinner tonight, or as everyone goes around the table to say what they’re thankful for…listen not just for their words, but listen for their heart.  Above all, we should listen to our own words and consider our motives.

The shift is subtle, but it is so easy for our prayers and thankfulness to become self-centered.  One of Jesus’ parables dealt directly with this:

Luke 18:9
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else:


Now before we ignore this parable because we think that we don’t fit Jesus’ target audience…let’s think back over our prayers for the last week.  Maybe you’ve prayed only once, or once a day, or even multiple times a day, but what has been the content of those prayers?

How do our prayers compare to these two individuals?

Luke 18:10-14
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself:

‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people – greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying,

‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’

I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”


Can you hear the bragging tone of the self-centered Pharisee?  He’s so thankful that he doesn’t do the wrong things and that he always does all the right things.  Certainly, God should be impressed by his actions.  In the Pharisee’s mind, he has earned his place with God by doing everything better than everyone else.

The tax collector doesn’t bother to look at what he has or has not done.  Instead, his focus is entirely on God.  He recognized that God was the foundation of their relationship.  Without God’s participation and mercy, there was no chance for this tax collector – regardless of what good things he does or has.

So let’s avoid being thankful for “things” and “stuff” simply because “things” and “stuff” are enjoyable.  Let’s not be thankful in comparison to other’s situations and life choices.  It’s ok to enjoy blessings and good moments in life; however, the amount of blessings we have is not proof of how close we are with God.

But some evidence of our relationship with God will be heard in our prayers and words of thanks.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The Christian life, in 3 steps. Seriously. (part 3)

The author of Hebrews gave his readers a three step description of what Christian living looks like.  Each step begins with the phrase “let us”.  After drawing near to God and then holding on to our reliance on Him, the next step is this:

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

We can’t do this alone.  We need to be watching out for one another.

How many times have you heard (…or said) the following:

I don’t need to go to church.  I can be with God just fine by myself out in nature.
I don’t need to go to church.  Everyone there is a judgmental hypocrite.
I don’t need to go to church.  I don’t really get much out of it.

The problem with this line of thinking is that it is very, very self-centered.

What if we viewed our weekly gatherings as an opportunity to help others in God’s family?  Try this line of thinking instead:

I need to go to church because a little boy needs to know that God loves him.
I need to go to church because a teenage girl needs to know that God accepts her, just as she is.
I need to go to church because a struggling mom needs a smile and someone to talk to.
I need to go to church because a man doubting his marriage needs reassured in order to keep at it.

I need to go to church because we will all encourage each other while we wait for Jesus to return.

We must watch out for and encourage each other.  The perspective we develop when we give Godly encouragement is just as important as the perspective we develop when we receive Godly encouragement.

The rest of the Scriptures certainly bear this out, too:

Acts 20:35
…remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Proverbs 11:25
A generous person will be enriched, and the one who gives a drink of water will receive water.

Mark 10:45
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.


If we’re going to live the Christian life…If we’re going to live the Christ-like life…then we need to take the focus off of ourselves.  Encouraging each other is a great way to put our focus on others.

Hebrews 10:24-25
And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

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

Praying for those in authority

Whom do you pray for?  When you petition God the Father, which person do you talk about the most?  Given that the average person prays about 8 minutes per day, that’s not a lot of time to discuss other people.

If I were to measure, from most to least, the time I spend on the people I talk to God about it, the list would look pretty close to – myself, my wife, my kids, my job, my extended family (sometimes), people in my church (occasionally), and then a rare ten seconds for people I don’t know who are dealing with circumstances that deep down I’m thankful I’m not personally going through.

Looking back on that list, I see a whole lot of me.  Myself, my wife, my kids, my life’s circumstances.  It’s low hanging fruit to bash myself for being so self-oriented toward God.  I’ve heard many preachers, when teaching about prayer, make the point that we’re too self-focused.

On the one hand, though, it’s hard to pray for people we don’t personally know.  We don’t know their issues and hang-ups.  We don’t know where they struggle, so it feels a little hollow to continually pray “God help them…with…their stuff”.  But just because it feels awkward or difficult seems like a flimsy reason to exclude those outside of my life’s circle from being brought up before the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

On the other hand, when I look back over my list and I look at the motivation behind the ‘me’ and the ‘my’, it comes down to the fact that I’m looking for peace in my life and the world around me that I know.  I desire for life’s events to go well.  I don’t mind the work involved, provided I can see that the outcome is beneficial.  Deep down, I long for the time when sin won’t derail what God made us to do, and I’m asking God for just a taste of that now.

So which approach is better?  Praying about my stuff (which I know all too well) or praying about other people’s stuff (which I don’t know hardly at all) ?  We could talk circles around these questions for quite a while and do nothing but increase our frustration level.

Perhaps instead of getting all twisted up about what we’re bringing to God in prayer, we should focus on what subjects God tells us He wants to hear about in our prayers.  Paul gave direction on what topics Timothy and the church in Ephesus should be bringing to God.  Remember, Ephesus wasn’t a ‘Christian’ city.  It didn’t have God-focused government.  Their history, laws, and business practices weren’t Biblically rooted.  It was a cosmopolitan metropolis with people from all over the known world passing through.  Their ideas of ‘higher powers’ in the world primarily came from Greek and Roman gods, Egyptian gods, pagan gods, and Jewish myths.

So, how does the one true God expect a Christian to pray in the midst of all that?

1 Timothy 2:1-2
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

Paul tells Timothy that every subject we could possibly communicate to God – needs, discussions, interventions, and thankful acknowledgments – are all fair game when talking to God about our stuff and everyone else’s stuff.  But what I find interesting here is that Paul calls out a very specific group of people that the Ephesian believers shouldn’t forget to pray for – kings and all those who are in authority.

While I might pray that a certain candidate win an election, how long has it been since I petitioned God on behalf of President Obama?  Or prayerfully interceded on some issue between God and the President?  Or thanked God for something the President has done? 

But Paul didn’t just specify the top individual in a society as being the subject of our prayers, he said to pray for all those who are in authority.  Honestly, I don’t recall ever petitioning God on behalf of our town’s mayor or city council.  It’s very rare that I have asked God to send the gospel message to our county representatives or, for that matter, even the local school board.

Paul’s point is that those who have authority in our society need us to approach God on their behalf.  Paul is serious about this, too.  He’s urging believers to pray for leaders.

I think we’re going to need more than 8 minutes.

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

 

The heart condition of our teachers

Have you ever listened to someone giving a presentation or a training and realize that they don’t know what they’re talking about?  How frustrating is it to recognize that they haven’t completely thought through the plan they are advocating…and, in fact, what they plan to implement will be detrimental or even harmful?

Unfortunately, this kind of thing can even happen in the church.  Paul warned Timothy about fellow believers acted in this manner:

1 Timothy 1:5-7
Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.  Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion.

They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

Why do they want to be teachers of the law?  Given Paul’s comments, they were likely after the things that come with leading and teaching, namely status, popularity, and authority – all of which are easily self-focused and not God-focused.  The goal of their instruction would be the promotion of themselves, which is the exact opposite of agape love.  Instead of leading for the benefit of others, these wannabe leaders are focused on themselves. 

If you replace the word ‘love with ‘self-focus’ you quickly realize that Paul’s statement becomes almost ridiculous:

Now the goal of our instruction is self-focus from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

Their self-focus betrays the true condition of their heart.  Jesus similarly cautioned His disciples about inter-family relationships:

Luke 6:43-45
“A good tree doesn’t produce bad fruit; on the other hand, a bad tree doesn’t produce good fruit.  For each tree is known by its own fruit.  Figs aren’t gathered from thornbushes, or grapes picked from a bramble bush. 

A good man produces good out of the good storeroom of his heart.  An evil man produces evil out of the evil storeroom, for his mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.”

Since these wannabe teachers in Ephesus have deviated from their pursuit of God via a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, what comes out of their mouths isn’t agape love – it’s just fruitless discussion.

Later on, Paul tells Timothy that it is a good thing to desire a leadership position and that those in charge reap extra rewards from God.  However, Paul will also caution against appointing someone before they are ready.

That’s the situation here – this group that want to be teachers has an incomplete knowledge base, an incorrect understanding, and as a result, they are focused on themselves.  Because of all this, the logical conclusions of what they are insisting on is either harmful to others or contradicts what God actually meant.

After we believe in Jesus for eternal life, the early steps of Christian living are more focused on us “being” rather than us “doing”.  God cares more about our character as a reflection of Him than He is about us doing “big things” for Him.  After we have the foundation of a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, the agape love pouring from that character will give us opportunities to lead – at church, at work, or in the home – and then we will produce good fruit

However, without that character foundation, we are prone to self-centeredness, fruitless discussion, and teachings that misrepresent God.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Avoiding spiritual distractions

We are spiritual beings.  That’s how God made us.  So naturally, we gravitate toward the spiritual aspect of life.  We look at design in nature and recognize that there must be a designer.  We observe the happenings around us and acknowledge that there is more going on than only what we can see with our eyes.  We read history from God’s perspective and marvel at His-story.

However, since we are also fallen and sinful, our understanding of spiritual topics is easily knocked off course. 

Human history is littered with wrong ideas about God, what He is like, and how we can know Him.  Before we came to know Jesus, our internal desire for “spiritual things” led us down all sorts of paths.  The difficulty, then, becomes what we will do with our old understandings in light of our relationship with Jesus?

The believers in Paul’s day had the same issues.  Ephesus was a magnificent, melting-pot metropolis.  In that town there were numerous Greek gods and goddesses – the people not only worshiped them, but also told stories, explained their history, and held festivals in their honor.  The Jewish community had many fantasy stories of angels and how to manipulate them, as well as various speculative “biographies” of Biblical characters.

These are the kinds of topics Paul wants Timothy to tackle head-on.

1 Timothy 1:3-4
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach other doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. 

These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.

The Greek word for pay attention was used to convey the word picture of bringing a ship to land.  It was also used to describe how a person is attached to someone or something, with a level of devotion or even addiction.

One of Timothy’s goals was to weed out these false ideas about God and correct the people’s fascination with myths and endless genealogies.  It wouldn’t be easy.  Some of these myths were quite popular in the culture.  Some Jews would trace their tribal heritage as proof of personal importance or value to God.

However, Paul nails down the problem with focusing on these things – they promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan.  Paul knew they couldn’t walk with God while deceiving themselves with feel-good stories or puffing themselves up with information about their lineage.  The mythical stories detracted or even contradicted God’s story.  The genealogies put the focus on them, rather than on God.  Instead, the Ephesian believers were in danger of missing the point – our relationship with God and our ability to live rightly before Him only comes through a faith that is focused on God.

However, on rare occasion, Paul would reference that a philosopher correctly identified a spiritual truth (Acts 17:28), yet this acknowledgment was stepping stone to point others toward Jesus.  He didn’t dwell there.  To continue the word picture – Paul didn’t dock his ship on the philosopher’s point.  Instead, as he continued on in his message, Paul then dropped anchor on the truth of the resurrection (Acts 17:31).

We see this same tendency toward distraction in the modern church as well.  There’s a fascination with stories of people who have gone to Heaven and come back.  There’s wide-spread speculation about angels and an abundance of feel-good stories.  We look for “Bible codes” and try to match up prophecy with the newspaper.

Whenever the next “big thing” comes through Christian-living literature, we must ask ourselves: Does the author promote empty speculations or God’s plan?  Where will we choose to drop our anchor?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Practical application: work (part 1)

After giving specific examples of how to live out a Jesus-focused life among our immediate families, Paul turned his readers’ attention to the next most common area of their lives – where they do their daily work.

Paul specifically addresses these next directions to slaves; however, the Greek word he used could also be translated as servant, attendant, or bondsman.  Roman slavery had many more similarities to an indentured servant system than to the version of slavery in America’s past or in other parts of the world.

Regardless of his readers’ circumstances, Paul’s application of God’s truth for their lives is clear.  Additionally, his reasoning is something that we can also apply in any area we are working:

Colossians 3:22
Slaves, obey your human masters in everything: don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 

The first observation here is that Paul’s direction is proof that laziness at work isn’t a new concept.  It wasn’t introduced into our economic system by Gen-X, Gen-Y, or everyone’s current favorite target, the Millennials.  Working only when being watched is an expression of selfishness and self-centeredness…conditions that have plagued all of humanity since The Fall.

Looking back at the creation account, we find that God gave Adam work to do – long before sin entered the world.  He and Eve were to partner together with God and work in the Garden of Eden.  Paul wants his readers to see their daily work as Adam and Eve saw their work, as an occupation entrusted to them by God and they were to work for Him. 

Colossians 3:23-24
Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord – you serve the Lord Christ. 

Remember, Paul is writing to believers here…so the reward of an inheritance isn’t eternal salvation from the penalty of sin, because that is a free gift.  Based on the context, the reward in these verses is something that can be earned through working wholeheartedly and enthusiastically.

Given these observations, several application questions come to mind:

How do we approach the workday? 
When do we work hard? 
If our attitudes are the measuring stick, whom are we working for? 
Paul says there is a reward for good work, so what is it?

When we view our work properly – as someone who working for God – our perspective immediately changes.  We see the successes, failures, and difficulties in completely different light and are able to trust God in all areas of our work.

Keep Pressing,
Ken