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: sin

Work and a hobo’s paradise

The Big Rock Candy Mountain was a song made famous by Harry McClintock in 1928.  Every few years, it finds its way back into pop culture; with some versions a little more cleaned up than others.  The gist of the song is a hobo singing about his version of paradise – a land of ease, described in fanciful terms.  There are cigarette trees, lemonade springs, and hens that lay soft-boiled eggs.  The cops have wooden legs and bulldogs have rubber teeth, and if you happen to get caught doing something you shouldn’t, then don’t worry about it – because the jails are made of tin and you can leave just as soon as you get there.  I think my favorite line is hobo’s boast that in the Big Rock Candy Mountains “there’s a lake of stew and of whiskey too, you can paddle all around it in a big canoe.

While it is a cute little song, no one would take it seriously when considering their eternal destiny.  However, there is one line in the song that stuck out to me when I first heard it.  Out of all the cartoonish imagery, there was one sentiment that made me think: “Wow.  That’s kinda funny and would be nice.”  Here’s the line:

I'm goin' to stay, where you sleep all day, where they hung the jerk, that invented work, in the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Because work is…well, “work”…right?  It’s often a pain.  We view it as some “necessary evil” that we must endure because we like to eat food and have working light switches.  Given the choice between going to work and not going to work – I’m pretty sure that 99% of us would not go.  Throw in the idea that someone, somewhere may have invented the concept of work?  Yeah…nobody would care much for that guy.

But is work really our problem?  And who invented it, anyway?

I think most Christians and Jews would place the blame solely on Adam.  After he and Eve blew it, here’s what God had to say about Adam’s curse:

Genesis 3:17-19
And He said to the man, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’:

The ground is cursed because of you.  You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. 
It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it.  For you are dust, and you will return to dust.

Adam and Eve sinned by eating – from here on, they would suffer in order to eat.  Notice that God didn’t hand out working assignments.  He didn’t have to explain what “work” was; instead, God said that work would now become painful labor.  While his efforts would be able to feed his family, Adam would have to contend with thorns and thistles.

We have to go a little further back in Adam and Eve’s story to find the origin of work:

Genesis 1:27-29, 2:15
So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He create them male and female

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.  Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”  God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree who fruit contains seed.  This will be food for you…

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.

To fulfill these directions from God, Adam and Eve would have to do some work!  But since this was before sin corrupted everything – including the ground – what do you think their work was like?  What would you do if all creatures and plants cooperated with you and your efforts? 

Don’t think of the garden of Eden as being a little vegetable plot.  This “garden” was more like an arboretum.  So in addition to their responsibility to rule over the world, Adam was also God’s official landscaper…and there wasn’t a weed, thistle, or thorn to be found.  Imagine what a master gardener could do if they didn’t have to fight off the weeds!

This was how paradise started – not with lakes of stew and all-day sleep-fests, but with Adam and Eve partnering with God.  They worked and managed creation.  They walked and talked with God.  The land readily produced food for them.

I look forward to the day when Paradise Lost becomes Paradise Restored.  In Eternity Future, we’ll be able to live and work without sin and selfishness thwarting our efforts.  Just like we were created to do.

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

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
 

When we fall

In 2004, I moved my family to a new state, 1500 miles away from what we knew as home.  The job I was going to was one that I had done before, so I was completely confident that I could hit the ground running.  I was excited to use my skillset in a new environment and among new people.  Of course, before they turned me loose, I had a training program to complete.  What I thought was going to be no big deal ended up having a few bumps in the road.

Maybe it was the time off between jobs, maybe it was nervousness…but I found myself making little mistakes that either made it more difficult to complete the task at hand or it meant that the testing was invalid and had to be repeated.  Internally, I was getting really frustrated with myself.  Externally, I would make weak attempts at joking as I would blame the mistakes on me trying to “knock the rust off”.  But the mistakes kept happening at a pace that made me uncomfortable, and I knew people were watching.

I began to wonder if there was some “unofficial limit” as to how many mistakes I could make before they would just give up on me.  I was being brought in to not only perform testing and provide expertise, but I was also going to be leading my own team.  “How can a supposed leader make this many mistakes?” I worried.  We were new in town, without any family nearby.  What would happen to us if I continued to muck things up and my worst fear was realized?

After one particularly frustrating mistake, looked at my trainer and asked how many more of these was I allowed before they kicked me out.  She just laughed as she walked away and said, “Don’t worry, Ken.  We’re not going to throw you overboard.  We’ve invested too much money in you to do that.” 

Now to her, I’m sure it was just a minor comment.  Too me, it felt like the weight of the world had been lifted.  And then I realized…she was right.  This company had paid for our move and given us three months of short-term housing – they had invested a lot in me and expected to get a return.  They were willing to put up with a few do-overs, especially in training, as I learned the ropes and re-focused my skills.  Because of their patience, I was able to succeed in a variety of roles for the company, even ones that I couldn’t have foreseen at that initial time.

We have the same worries in our relationship with God, don’t we?  Even after we trust Jesus with our eternal destiny, we’re still going to struggle with sin.  That’s just part of life as a redeemed human being.  But we often wonder…What if I screw up too many times?  What if I really blow it in a big way, with one of those “big” sins?  Will God just toss me aside, because that’s what I would deserve.

I love that God is a realist.

We like to sugar-coat our flaws and exaggerate our strengths, but He sees us exactly as we are.  He’s not surprised when we sin.  He knows we’re not going to live out this new life with Him perfectly.  He loves us and trains us like a perfect parent – with patience, support, and guidance.

In the middle of Psalm 37, David recognizes this truth. 

Psalm 37:23-24
A man’s steps are established by the Lord,
and He takes pleasure in his way.
Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed,
because the Lord holds his hand.

An accurate translation of the third line could also read, When he falls, he will not be cast aside.  God knows the path He wants us to walk with Him.  He truly delights in making the journey with us.  And when we fall, He is there to catch us.

Truthfully, He’s invested too much in us to just walk away.  Jesus, the most valuable person in the universe, paid for us to move into God’s family.  The Lord is holding our hand as we walk through this life, learning the ropes and developing our skills.  We are being prepared for life in Eternity Future.  God’s not going to give up on us here.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Will evildoers get away with it?

Other people sure can drive me crazy sometimes.  I am usually able to forgive a one-off type of mistake, but, in all honesty, those who habitually and knowingly do what’s wrong really irritate me.  Why do I find their behavior so agitating?  Maybe it’s their blatant selfishness…maybe it’s their ‘luck’ at avoiding consequences for their actions…maybe it’s the harm their actions can cause to others…perhaps it’s all of those, or even something else.  The bottom line, though, is that I find their repetitive evil behavior both vexing and frustrating.

If you can identify with me, we can take some solace in that this is not a new issue.  No matter how many times the news blames the Millennials or the GenXers, the problem of evil people “getting away with it” has been a human condition for quite some time.

In fact, some 3,000 years ago David was dealing with the same issue.  However, instead of simply lamenting the problem, he had a fix for it.

Psalm 37:1-3
Do not be agitated by evildoers;
do not envy those who do wrong.
For they wither quickly like grass
and wilt like tender green plants.

Trust in the Lord and do what is good;
dwell in the land and live securely.

David’s answer is to look past the immediate problem with the evildoer.  Instead, he encourages taking the long-view.  The long-view is looking at life from God’s perspective.  Although someone’s selfish actions are bothersome now – and it looks like they’re getting away with it – in the grand scheme of things, their time is very brief.

They may look strong for the moment, but they will wither quickly…and wilt like weak plantlings.  David says that our focus shouldn’t be all wrapped up in what the wicked are doing; instead, we should be focused on what we are doing before the Lord.

Interestingly, verse 3 could also be translated like this:

Trust in the Lord and do what is good;
dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.

This play on words reinforces David’s long-view perspective.  He’s contrasting the short-term thinking of the evildoer with the long-term approach of those who look to the Lord

It takes time to cultivate something, but it especially takes time to develop faithfulness.  Remember too that at this time in Israel’s history, they were living in the land God had promised to Abraham’s descendants.  They were where God wanted them to be.  No matter what they saw or how they felt about what was going on around them, God knew exactly where they were.  They hadn’t been forgotten – even if other people were acting like God wasn’t paying attention to their actions.

So, whenever we find ourselves getting all twisted up over the state of world or the selfish choices other people make, we need to stop fussing and take the long-view.  Our responsibility isn’t to fix them.  Instead we are to trust in the Lord, do what is good, and live faithfully where God has us.

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

 

Is it wrong to be rich?

Over the last several years, we’ve heard a lot about “the greedy rich” and “the 1%ers” who have the biggest salaries and have seemingly “unfair” amounts of wealth.  These phrases are thrown around in the business world, in political speeches, and on news broadcasts…with the inference that it is wrong for someone to be at that income level.

In America, if you’re going to be part of the top 1% in annual salary, then you’d have to bring in over $434,000 every year.  To be in the top 10% of American wage earners, your salary would be over $133,000 every year.  Maybe you don’t fit into either category, and you don’t think of yourself as “rich”.  That’s for someone else, right?  Someone who can spend as much as they want whenever they want and not worry about it. 

But the issue we’re subconsciously wrestling with whenever a “1%er” statement comes up is…Is it ‘wrong’ to be rich? 

Ever wonder what God says about being rich?  Is it a sin to make a lot of money?  Is it sinful to have large amounts of money in the bank?  

Before we get to Paul’s instructions to Timothy about Christians who have a lot of wealth, we need to clear something up.  If we stop comparing our income to others in our town and instead look at the rest of the world, if we make more than $32,400 in a year (or $15.59/hour)…we’re in the top 1% globally.  Also, “rich” in the ancient world meant that you had a house to call your own and extra disposable income to spend on lavish, unnecessary fun items.  With our smart phones, cable TV, and cars, in addition to our air conditioning, clean water, and indoor plumbing…I think we do qualify as “rich”.

So, what does God think about us having so much? 

1 Timothy 6:17-19
Instruct those who are rich in the present age not to be arrogant or to set their hope on the uncertainty of wealth, but on God, who richly provides us with all things to enjoy.  Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the age to come, so that they may take hold of life that is real.

So, it’s not a sin to have money.  It’s not a sin to have things or take pleasure in them.  After all, God richly provides us with all things to enjoy.  So, we shouldn’t feel guilty about going to the movies, or having an iPhone, or being able to afford a vacation.  

From this text, we see that God’s more concerned with our attitude about our riches.  If our wealth was suddenly gone, would we still sing about how good God is?  If our future is uncertain, do we console ourselves with the amount in our bank account, or with the knowledge that God provided that money in our bank account to protect against emergencies?

Is our hope and security based on money or the One who gave us the money?  That can be easy for us rich 1%ers to forget.

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
 

Do we have to follow the Law?

Every so often, the modern church wrestles with problematic question of what to do with the Mosaic Law.  Do we still have to obey the 10 Commandments?  What about the other parts, that nobody does…like animal sacrifice, dietary restrictions, and ceremonial washings?

The early church dealt with the same questions, and some people were trying to add the law’s requirements in addition to following Christ.

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.

A little cultural context will help here.  If you were a Jewish teacher of the law, then you were at the pinnacle of the Jewish social, religious, and political society.  For those who became Christians and had come out of Jewish culture, their understanding of who the top people are was formed by looking at the lives of the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

Paul had to spell out the relationship of the law to the believer for the church in Galatia also:

Galatians 3:23-26
Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed.  The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith.  But since that faith has come, we are no long under a guardian, for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.

Since Jesus came to fulfill the law’s requirements for all of us, those who trust Jesus for eternal life have been declared righteous (i.e. – not guilty) and will not be judged by the law.  As such, the Mosaic Law no longer governs the life of a believer.  Apparently, these wannabe teachers Timothy was encountering in Ephesus were so blinded by status-seeking that they did not grasp this foundational truth…and so they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.

Does this mean that the Mosaic Law is useless and should be set aside entirely?  Paul doesn’t think so:

1 Timothy 1:8-11
Now we know that the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately.  We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but
for the lawless and rebellious,
for the ungodly and sinful,
for the unholy and irreverent,
for those who kill their fathers and mothers,
for murderers,
for the sexually immoral and homosexuals,
for kidnappers, liars, perjurers
and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching based on the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me.

The law still serves a legitimate purpose in this world – it continues to show sin for what it is.  The law clearly points out the ways in which humanity has driven a wedge between us and God.  The law points out that we can’t bridge that relationship canyon with our own efforts.

Given the multicultural mix that was the city of Ephesus, the law was certainly applicable to those outside the church…and so was the law’s penalty – eternal separation from God.

When used legitimately, the law is good because it reminds us how much we needed to be rescued, and how much those outside the family still need that rescue.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The good old days

The “good old days”. 

They always sound rather ideal, don’t they?  Or at the very least, better than now?

Times were simpler.  People were better.  Life was easier.  And we didn’t know how good we had it.

At least, that’s how our over-romanticized memories go.

A small scratch on the surface of any “golden age” reveals that the gold coloring is merely an overlay.  What lies underneath looks all too familiar.  In any time period, we find greed and lust, selfishness and hoarding, exploitation and lying, jealousy and promiscuity.  The human condition has not changed - we have the same struggles as our relatives did thousands of years ago.  The only difference is that now we have more technology…which we use to hide, or in some cases magnify, our sinfulness.

Read through this section of Psalm 119.  There are particular pitfalls that the author wants to avoid.  Find them, and see if they resonate with you also.

Psalm 119:33-40
Teach me, Lord, the meaning of Your statutes, and I will always keep them.
Help me understand Your instruction, and I will obey it and follow it with all my heart.
Help me stay on the path of Your commands, for I take pleasure in it.
Turn my heart to Your decrees and not to material gain.
Turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless; give me life in Your ways.
Confirm what You said to Your servant, for it produces reverence for You.
Turn away the disgrace I dread; indeed, Your judgments are good.
How I long for Your precepts!  Give me life through Your righteousness.

The dangers which the psalmist wanted to avoid are found in the center of this section.  He asked God to Turn my heart to Your decrees and not to material gain and Turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless.  The psalmist didn’t think material gain and worthless sights were just minor distractions, either.  He viewed them as being complete opposites of both the vision and goal that the Lord had for his life.

Even 1000 years later, Jesus said to those who would listen:

Matthew 6:24
No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot be slaves of God and of money.

Luke 12:15
He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”

When we see these same sin struggles in the world around us, it does us no good to lament about how previous times were better.  We’re simply fooling ourselves if we think down that path.  A thousand years for before Jesus came, the psalmist had the best response – asking God to turn my heart to Your decrees and turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless.

That can be our prayer, too.  Focusing on God’s ways, as He has revealed them in the Scriptures, will bring about the quality and depth of life we desire…which is much better than trying to console ourselves with over-romanticized memories of years past.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Staring death in the face

Recognizing that the time had come make the payment for humanity’s sins, Jesus said one last prayer to His Father.

Luke 23:44-46 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three, because the sun’s light failed.  The curtain of the sanctuary was split down the middle.  And Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit.”  Saying this, He breathed His last.

This is Jesus fully trusting the Father all the way to the end.  Staring death in the face, Jesus’ confidence in the Father’s provision and plan never wavered.  It wasn’t enough for Jesus to suffer through beatings.  It wasn’t enough that He was nailed to a cross and hung there for six hours.  As brutal as Christ’s suffering was, our sin-debt would not be paid unless His death occurred. 

But why must it be death?  Why couldn’t the Father accept some other form of payment?

We were made for relationship with God.  We were created such that God was both our purpose and our fuel.  However, our rebellion separated us from the source of life.  Justice would expect that for the choices a person makes, that person should experience the natural consequence of his or her actions.  Since we cut ourselves off from our one source of life in all the universe, the natural consequence for our rejecting our Creator…is death, a complete separation from God.

However, God chose to be merciful and delayed the natural consequences that we deserved.  Although our physical bodies were now corrupted and we would experience physical death, God allowed for a substitute to take our place so that a person’s spiritual death (eternal separation from God) would not occur.  Israel’s sacrificial system was a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice.

Jesus summed it up like this:

John 3:16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.

Jesus knew that His death was to be a substitute for ours.  His sacrifice took the natural consequences of what our sinful choices warranted.  But it had to be death…because that’s what we deserved. 

Earlier, Jesus quoted Psalm 22 as He dealt with the conflicting emotions of despair and hope.  Jesus’ last words, His last prayer – Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit – underscored His complete trust in the Father as He completed the sacrifice, and His words find their source in Psalm 31. 

Psalm 31:1-5 Lord, I seek refuge in You; let me never be disgraced.
Save me by Your righteousness.
Listen closely to me; rescue me quickly.
Be a rock of refuge for me, a mountain fortress to save me.
For You are my rock and my fortress; You lead and guide me because of Your name.
You will free me from the net that is secretly set for me, for You are my refuge.
Into Your hand I entrust my spirit; You redeem me, Lord, God of truth.

All the way to the end, Jesus was trusting the Father.  Because of His death, our opportunity for relationship with the Father has been restored.  Eternal life is available to anyone who believes in Him, which means that you understand who He is, why He died, and you trust Him when He said that He will give you eternal life.

That is why today is a Good Friday.

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