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's consequence

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 - Where is the hope?

I am not immune to irony.  My current line-of-thinking/focus-of-study is on the importance of being prepared for Christ's return.  However, I was not prepared for being sick the last couple of days, which means the next post isn't ready.  As such, I am reposting something that I learned two years ago...something that may be even more relevant now than it was then.

Where is the Hope?
originally posted on July 8, 2015

There is a lot going on in the world today, and much of it isn’t good.  Although humans were created in the image of God, the “news broadcasts" continue to report society’s deterioration as we run further and further from God and the purposes He created us for. 

Oftentimes, the sin-caused crumbling is beneath the surface, stewing at the individual level – things like dads not being fathers, pornography replacing love, or self-centered pursuits of money and power.  Other times, this deterioration appears in massive public displays – things like wars and terrorism, the abandonment of God’s definition of marriage, and government progressively taking on the role of final authority in peoples’ lives.

I have to admit to feeling overwhelmed from some of the sin-affected problems I’ve dealt with lately, both in my own individual life and as a part of our larger American society.  The Bible tells us that the world will worsen before Christ returns, but it is certainly difficult to watch unfold.  Sometimes, it feels like we have front row seats to a car accident that no one else can see coming.

But we have to ask the question: “What are we hoping in?  Where does our hope come from?”

Are we hoping that the lawyers gets it right and all the laws make society behave as it should? 
Are we hoping that the government makes the best decisions and keeps life at a comfortable level?

When individuals, society, or the government runs contrary to God’s design…and we lose hope…it forces us to assess just where our motivation and trust are anchored.

While imprisoned for preaching the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul wrote a letter to a church he had never met.  He knew of them through an associate named Epaphras; however, what he wrote indicates that they had a well-known, Godly reputation.  They had both strong faith and strong love, but to know why they were so good at pointing others toward God, read the verses below and see what their faith and love were rooted in:

Colossians 1:3-6
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.  You have already heard about this hope in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you.

Their anchor wasn’t in the culture around them.  In fact, their anchor wasn’t even in the hope that God would work through their government.  The Colossian believers had faith and love, and had them abundantly, because they were focused on the hope reserved for you in heaven.  Their hope was in Jesus’ promise of eternal life.  Their hope was found within the good news of the message of truth.

So where is our hope?  Are we trusting our culture, our circumstances, our government, or our job security to be the foundation of truth in our lives?  As society crumbles, will our hope and strength go with it?

Although he said it a number of years ago, Chuck Colson’s words still ring true:

“Where is the hope?  I meet millions who tell me that they feel demoralized by the decay around us.  Where is the hope?  The hope that each of us have is not in who governs us, or what laws are passed, or what great things that we do as a nation.  Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, and that’s where our hope is in this country; that is where our hope is in life.”

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

 

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

Solomon's biggest warning

After telling his son that the most important thing for him to do is to guard his heart, Solomon gives his son the longest warning on any one topic in the book of Proverbs.  For almost three entire chapters, Solomon warns his son about the dangers of breaking the seventh commandment God gave to Moses.

Proverbs 5:1-8
My son, pay attention to my wisdom; listen closely to my understanding
so that you may maintain discretion and your lips safeguard knowledge.

Though the lips of the forbidden woman drip honey and her words are smoother than oil,
in the end she’s as bitter as wormwood and as sharp as a double-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death; her steps head straight for Sheol.
She doesn’t consider the path of life; she doesn’t know that her ways are unstable.

So now, my sons, listen to me, and don’t turn away from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her.  Don’t go near the door of her house.

The words from the lips of the forbidden woman are seductively enticing – and deadly dangerous.  The young man has a choice – whose words will he listen to?  The smooth words of forbidden woman or the wisdom of Solomon?

Solomon gives the best defense against the siren’s song – don’t go near the door of her house.

If she is purposely avoided, then her smooth words cannot ensnare him.  However, if he foolishly gives in to this temptation, Solomon warns that it will cost him severely:

Proverbs 5:9-14
Otherwise, you will give up your vitality to others and your years to someone cruel;
strangers will drain your resources, and your earnings will end up in a foreigner’s house.
At the end of your life, you will lament when your physical body has been consumed,
and you will say,

“How I hated discipline, and how my heart despised correction.
I didn’t obey my teachers or listen closely to my mentors.
I was on the verge of complete ruin before he entire community.”

If he gives in to her temptations, the young man will not be able to undo the path his life will go down.  Any profit will go to another, and he will only be left with regret.  The destruction to himself, his family, and his community cannot be undone.

We see this play out today as well.  Sexual sin is one of the greatest destructive forces in today’s society.  “Sex sells” is what we’re told, and the numbers don’t lie – advertisers prey upon our inability to control our sexual appetite.  The world’s system is set up to ensnare both men and women.

If we consider its ultimate cost, what that moment of pleasure will take from us in this life and in the next, we can see why Solomon spends the next two chapters continuing his warning.

Proverbs 5:20-23
Why, my son, would you be infatuated with a forbidden woman
or embrace the breast of a stranger?
For a man’s ways are before the Lord’s eyes,
and He considers all his paths.

A wicked man’s iniquities entrap him;
he is entangled in the ropes of his own sin.
He will die because there is no instruction,
and be lost because of his great stupidity.

Sexual sin is a great stupidity.  It cannot be simply managed or contained.  The only safe way to deal with it is to take Solomon’s advice and don’t go near the temptation.  Avoid it, because you don’t want to pay everything it will ultimately cost you.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Less than perfect

Many of us could be mentors, but we choose not to be.  Oftentimes, it’s because we convince ourselves that our personal history or poor choices would prevent us from “doing anybody any good.”

In our minds we don’t expect mentors to be completely perfect, just mostly so.  We think that only Christians who have their lives in order and are living “comfortably blessed” are in a position to really help others.  However, when we look throughout the Bible, we find the opposite to be true.  God has, in fact, used some seriously flawed individuals – even some who had significant problems due to self-inflicted wounds – to mentor and guide others.

For about 300 years after Joshua led God’s people into the Promised Land, the nation of Israel was governed by various judges.  This period was marked by political, moral, and spiritual anarchy and deterioration.  Although some God-focused revivals occurred, the nation was in a continual downward spiral.  The last verse of the book of Judges best described the culture at that time:

Judges 21:25
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did whatever he wanted.

By the end of this period, the corruption had also infested God’s appointed representatives – the priests.  A man named Eli was the High Priest at that time, with his two sons serving as priests under his supervision. 

1 Samuel 2:12-13, 17
Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the Lord or for the priests’ share of the sacrifices from the people…they treated the Lord’s offering with contempt [because they took for themselves portions the Law had reserved as an offering to God].

1 Samuel 2:22-29
Now Eli was very old.  He heard about everything his sons were doing to all Israel and how they were sleeping with the women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting.  He said to them, “Why are you doing these things?  I have heard about your evil actions from all these people.  No, my sons, the report I hear from the Lord’s people is not good.  If a man sins against another man, God can intercede for him, but if a man sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?”

But they would not listen to their father, since the Lord intended to kill them.  By contrast, the boy Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men.

A man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Didn’t I reveal Myself to your ancestral house when it was in Egypt and belonged to Pharaoh’s palace?  I selected your house from the tribes of Israel to be priests, to offer sacrifices on My alter, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in My presence.  I also gave your house all the Israelite fire offerings.  Why, then, do all of you despise My sacrifices and offerings that I require at the place of worship?  You have honored your sons more than Me, by making yourselves fat with the best part of all the offerings of My people of Israel.’

The problem is that Eli and his sons are supposed to represent the people to God and represent God to the people.  Eli had more than a passing knowledge of his sons’ long-running misdeeds and the disgrace they brought to God’s reputation.  God had given Moses direction on how to handle those in the community who blatantly disregard God’s laws:

Numbers 15:30-31
But the person who acts defiantly, whether native or foreign resident, blasphemes the Lord.  That person is to be cut off from his people.  He will certainly be cut off, because he has despised the Lord’s word and broken His command; his guilt remains on him.

These consequences were for the community at large, and Eli’s family held a much higher status.  Since he did not follow through with God’s prescribed consequence, Eli was showing preferential treatment of his own sons over God.  Because of this, God brings the prescribed punishment down on Eli, his sons, and the rest of their lineage:

1 Samuel 2:30-34
“Therefore, the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘Although I said your family and your ancestral house would walk before Me forever, the Lord now says, “No longer!”  I will honor those who honor Me, but those who despise Me will be disgraced.

“ ‘Look, the days are coming when I will cut off your strength and the strength of your ancestral family, so that none in your family will reach old age.  You will see distress in the place of worship, in spite of all that is good in Israel, and no one in your family will ever again reach old age.  Any man from your family I do not cut off from My altar will bring grief and sadness to you.  All your descendants will die violently.  This will be the sign that will come to you concerning your two sons Hophni and Phinehas: both of them will die on the same day.’ ”

If God directly rebuked us like this, we would probably assume that we’re disqualified from any type of useful service toward God.  The consequences of self-inflicted wounds can become roadblocks to the ways we’ve previously served God, but that doesn’t mean we are completely useless to God the rest of our lives.

The punishments God told Eli eventually came true.  However, in the years between the sentencing and justice being served, Eli mentored another young man.  Samuel grew up to be one of the greatest prophets of Israel, and he shepherded the nation through some turbulent times.

Just because you’re down – it doesn’t mean you’re out.
Just because you have a “past”, or a “record”, or a “history” – it doesn’t mean you’re useless.
Just because God legitimately punishes us – it doesn’t mean we’re disqualified from mentoring others.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Wanting to know "Why?"

We like to ask the question “Why?” a lot.

Throughout our youth, that one-word question typically came from a desire to learn or understand.  Our fastest rate of learning is when we were less than five years old…simply because we asked “Why?” to everything around us. 

However, at some point during our formative years, “Why?” transitions into questions regarding authority.  And as we experience more of this sinful world, our “Why?” becomes a question that desperately looks for meaning and purpose among the tragedies and difficulties.

The truth is we may never know, on this side of Heaven, why God allows tragedy and evil and tough situations to occur.  When we experience these, we may feel like God doesn’t care.  Even when we trust God through difficult times, we can still feel saddened by the situation.

While we cannot see what the future holds, the apostle Paul gave us an example of how we can handle the “Why?” of difficult times as he makes an appeal for reconciliation between two people he cared about:

Philemon 9-14
I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, whom I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me.  I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will.

Here is where Paul applies the benefit of hindsight to view the heartbreak and anger of the broken relationship between Philemon and Onesimus through a different lens.

Philemon 15-16
For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother.  This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

Whatever happened between the two men, it was significant.  It was difficult.  It was an issue that created problems that wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

In the aftermath of their separation, each man would have been tempted to believe that all was lost and what was wrong could never again be put right.  Maybe they did believe it.  Philemon could have asked out of frustration “Why did this happen?”, “Why are we the ones to deal with this?”, or “Why didn’t God stop this from happening?”.

In his letter, Paul shows Philemon that God used his hardship to bring Onesimus to the place where he would accept the gospel.  Philemon likely wouldn’t have thought it could happen when he was in the difficult moment, but God is willing to take both time and tragedy to reach out to people with the gospel.

Maybe, at some date in the future, we’ll get to see how God used our personal struggles, problems, and tragedies for our good and the benefit of others.  Maybe we won’t be able to see the “Why?” until we’re on the other side of eternity.

The good news is that God not only knows the “Why?”, but also the “Who?”, the “What?”, the “Where?”, the “When?”, and the “How?”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Practical application: work (part 2)

I’ve often wondered why work is just so difficult some times.  Despite the best intentions and efforts of the people around me, the work to be done always takes more effort than it should, is never produced as quickly as it could be, and the full potential of a given project never seems to be fully realized.  When I take a moment to consider these short-comings, it leaves me rather frustrated with thoughts of what could have been if certain issues had not gotten in the way.

The truth of the matter is that these constant issues in our work are part of the consequences for Adam’s sin against God:

Genesis 3:17-18
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

The biggest thorns and thistles we deal with at work typically fall into these categories: motivation, appropriate pay, politics, or management issues.  Any one of these thorns can cause major problems, but our daily experience usually combines several of them together. 

While Paul was instructing slaves on how they were to view and conduct their daily responsibilities, his directions are something that we can also apply as we deal with our own responsibilities:

Colossians 3:23-4:1
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.  For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism.

Masters, supply your slaves with what is right and fair, since you know that you too have a Master in heaven.

Did you notice how Paul addressed each one of our major thorn categories?

Issues with our own motivation really comes down to who we believe we’re responsible to.  Are we working for our boss, our co-workers, or just trying to make some money to support our families?  If that’s the case, remember that at some point, our boss, co-workers, or family will let us down.  When that happens, our work will suffer because we’ll begin to believe that our efforts aren’t worthy of the person we’re working for.  Instead, we need to remember that our daily work is something done for the Lord and not for men.  We honor God and His reputation when we enthusiastically give our best in the task at hand.

Whether our earthly boss is fair or not, do we trust God to give good rewards?  If anyone is going to be cutting checks, wouldn’t you want God to do it?  Not only is he able to evaluate the finished product, but He knows all the details of how the project work was done…all the way down to the moment-by-moment motivation of the workers.  Even if we don’t receive an immediate payoff for our efforts, we must keep in mind that we will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord and the quality of this reward is based upon what we accomplish and how we accomplished it.

One of our major thorns has to do with injustice and favoritism in the workplace.  However, do we believe that the person who wrongs us will be held accountable by God?  Our desire for fairness is real and justified.  However, when office politics and favoritism muddies up a situation…do we trust God when He says He’ll take care of it?  Even if we have to wait for Him to do so?

Lastly, we have all experienced the pains of ineffective, or even incompetent, management.  Paul’s point here is that if we find ourselves in a position overseeing the work of others, it is imperative that we remain humble and do what is right by the people who work for us.  After all, isn’t that how our Master in heaven treats us?

Thorns and thistles and painful labor will continue to be part of our daily lives until Jesus returns.  Until then, whenever the issues are dragging us down, we just need to remember Who it is we’re truly working for.

Colossians 3:23-4:1
Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Where is the hope?

There is a lot going on in the world today, and much of it isn’t good.  Although humans were created in the image of God, the “news broadcasts" continue to report society’s deterioration as we run further and further from God and the purposes He created us for. 

Oftentimes, the sin-caused crumbling is beneath the surface, stewing at the individual level – things like dads not being fathers, pornography replacing love, or self-centered pursuits of money and power.  Other times, this deterioration appears in massive public displays – things like wars and terrorism, the abandonment of God’s definition of marriage, and government progressively taking on the role of final authority in peoples’ lives.

I have to admit to feeling overwhelmed from some of the sin-affected problems I’ve dealt with lately, both in my own individual life and as a part of our larger American society.  The Bible tells us that the world will worsen before Christ returns, but it is certainly difficult to watch unfold.  Sometimes, it feels like we have front row seats to a car accident that no one else can see coming.

But we have to ask the question: “What are we hoping in?  Where does our hope come from?”

Are we hoping that the lawyers gets it right and all the laws make society behave as it should? 
Are we hoping that the government makes the best decisions and keeps life at a comfortable level?

When individuals, society, or the government runs contrary to God’s design…and we lose hope…it forces us to assess just where our motivation and trust are anchored.

While imprisoned for preaching the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection, Paul wrote a letter to a church he had never met.  He knew of them through an associate named Epaphras; however, what he wrote indicates that they had a well-known, Godly reputation.  They had both strong faith and strong love, but to know why they were so good at pointing others toward God, read the verses below and see what their faith and love were rooted in:

Colossians 1:3-6
We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven.  You have already heard about this hope in the message of truth, the gospel that has come to you.

Their anchor wasn’t in the culture around them.  In fact, their anchor wasn’t even in the hope that God would work through their government.  The Colossian believers had faith and love, and had them abundantly, because they were focused on the hope reserved for you in heaven.  Their hope was in Jesus’ promise of eternal life.  Their hope was found within the good news of the message of truth.

So where is our hope?  Are we trusting our culture, our circumstances, our government, or our job security to be the foundation of truth in our lives?  As society crumbles, will our hope and strength go with it?

Although he said it a number of years ago, Chuck Colson’s words still ring true:

“Where is the hope?  I meet millions who tell me that they feel demoralized by the decay around us.  Where is the hope?  The hope that each of us have is not in who governs us, or what laws are passed, or what great things that we do as a nation.  Our hope is in the power of God working through the hearts of people, and that’s where our hope is in this country; that where our hope is in life.”

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

The aftermath of affliction

Time has a funny way of changing our perspective on things, doesn’t it?

The most important topics to us in our teens are no big deal in our thirties – and just a flash of a memory in our fifties.  We also see how time changes our perspective in raising our children, while we’re doing our daily parenting, it seems to go on forever…but then when they become adults, the entire process seems to have happened just in a blink of an eye.

Time also changes our perspective when it comes to learning life lessons.  Sometimes we learn from others’ words or example, other times we must learn the hard way, on our own.  It’s typically later on, when we have the benefit of hindsight that we are able to see clearly what we did wrong, why we had the trouble we caused, and what God was doing for us during that time in our lives.

In this section of Psalm 119, the author speaks from a perspective with the benefit of hindsight.  What has he learned from his past afflictions?

Psalm 119:65-72
Lord, You have treated Your servant well, just as You promised.
Teach me good judgment and discernment, for I rely on Your commands.
Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.
You are good, and You do what is good; teach me Your statutes.
The arrogant have smeared me with lies, but I obey Your precepts with all my heart.
Their hearts are hard and insensitive, but I delight in Your instruction.
It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statutes.
Instruction from Your lips is better for me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

It was good for me to be afflicted” isn’t something we typically say when we’re in the middle of a mess.  The author also takes responsibility for the trouble when he says, “before I was afflicted I went astray”.  The rest of the text suggests that if he hadn’t strayed from God’s commands and statutes, then he wouldn’t have dealt with the affliction.

The Hebrew word for afflicted means to be humbled, humiliated, or oppressed.  When left to our own devices, we stubbornly take paths contrary to the one God lays out in His Scriptures.  We create situations that eventually come back to bite us, and that is when affliction comes.  Sometimes the consequence of our humbling and humiliation is temporary…sometimes, though, the consequences echo throughout the rest of our lives.

But why would God allow for us to experience such hard, painful, life-altering consequences?  We often charge God with not really loving us because we see ourselves (or others) dealing with very difficult afflictions.  However, it is the benefit of hindsight that gives us a glimpse of our lives from God’s perspective.  Look again at what the author said about being afflicted:

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I could learn Your statues.
Instruction from Your lips is better for me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.

If the lesson learned as a result of his affliction is better than large amounts of riches, then the lesson learned would also trump any lasting consequences from dealing with his self-inflicted troubles.  What was his lesson learned?

The superior value of God’s instruction in his life.

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