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: spiritual growth

Flashback Favorite - How to avoid the sin cycle

I’m reposting this one based upon a conversation I had recently. Even though our family no longer lives in West Virginia, there’s still a lot of truth to be found in this observation.

How to avoid the sin cycle
originally posted on November 3, 2016

Do you know which plant grows best in West Virginia?

Weeds.  The weeds grow best in West Virginia.

We get a lot of snow and rain here, and the ground is rather fertile.  However, if a piece of land is cleared, the grass and flowers in the area do not take it over.  The weeds do, and quickly.

There’s a spiritual lesson in there, if we’re open to seeing it.  It’s not enough for Christians to just clear out the “bad” portions of our lives.  Clearing out sinful actions, bad habits, and distractions does take monumental effort.  Taking steps to avoid going back to those old ways will be a significant challenge.  But if we forget to take the next step, we’ll wear ourselves out, only to be caught in a sick cycle of clearing out the weeds and then letting them creep back in and take over…only to have to clear out the weeds (again) to then let them creep back in (again) and take over (again)…and again…and again…

Paul knew this, too.  He wanted Timothy to instruct the believers in Ephesus on how to avoid being stuck in this perpetual cycle.  Take a look at what “next step” Paul says they should take after avoiding the things that will distract us from God and His purpose:

1 Timothy 4:7
But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness,

When we clear out the ungodly distractions in our lives, we MUST refill the time and use the effort we would previously spend on those distractions.  If we want grass and flowers to grow in our cleared-out land, then we must plant them immediately after doing the work of clearing out the garbage weeds.  It is at that moment that the ground (and our lives) are most willing to accept the change in direction.  If we wait to fill the void – the world will gladly fill it for us…

Paul knows it’s not enough to just avoid the irreverent and silly myths out there.  So, he tells Timothy to replace any time previously spent on those things with a specific plan that has a Godly focus.  His focus is to be on the things that have a “God-like-ness”, the things that point himself and others toward the God of the Universe.

Paul’s use of the phrase train yourself is no accident, either.  The Greek phrase means to exercise vigorously.  Given the city’s prominence in Greek culture, this is clearly a reference to the effort and dedication a Greek athlete would put toward his training to compete in the Ancient Olympic Games. 

Lastly, notice how Timothy had to choose to do the training.  No one else could do the work for him.  No one else is going to develop his relationship with God.  No one else can focus Timothy’s thoughts on God’s words and direction for his life.  As he chooses to plant the seeds of godliness, the growth that comes will fill up the area that was previously overrun with any irreverent and silly ideas.  Timothy’s training will become the long term investment that will keep him out of the sin cycle.

There’s a life lesson in there, if we are open to seeing it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The snooze button is a liar

A blaring alarm clock is not the thing you want to hear first thing in the morning.  The alarm tone is purposely loud and obnoxious so we are awakened from our slumber to start the day at the right time.  Even though we’re the ones who picked the time for the alarm, we still resent that the alarm is interrupting our sleep.

We’ve got a ton of things to do, and a schedule to keep if we want to do them well.  Yet, sitting deceptively close to the “Alarm Off” button is another button.  It is usually several times larger than the one to stop the alarm – the Snooze Button.

When the alarm is blaring, the main thing I care about is hitting the button to make it stop…but this other button makes an enticing offer: I could lay my groggy head back down on the pillow for an additional 9 minutes.  The Snooze Button invites me to give up “just a tiny fraction” of my morning so I can get that much more rest before starting my day.  I let it convince me that I will feel better and more active, if I could just get a few more minutes of sleep.

But let’s be honest: I rarely hit the Snooze Button only once.  And when I do eventually get up, the morning is super-rushed because I’m now pressed for time.  I barely have time to shower, dress, grab my work bag, and stuff some food in my face before running out the door, all of which could have been easily managed had I not pressed the Snooze Button.

But I’ve noticed two things – First, I am NOT more rested when I take the Snooze Button’s offer of additional sleep, broken up into 9 minute chunks.  If anything, I feel more tired and frazzled at the start of my day.  Secondly, whenever I “sleep in” the first item on my to-do list that gets dropped is my time reading God’s Word.

All throughout the Bible we see examples of God wanting to spend time with us, but what we also see is that God expects us to put in some effort and desire to be with Him.  Look at the three “IFs” Solomon gives his son, and what result will come if he actually follows through:

Proverbs 2:1-5
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you,
listening closely to wisdom and directing your heart to understanding;
furthermore, if you call out to insight and lift your voice to understanding,
if you seek it like silver and search for it like hidden treasure,

then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.

Why do we need to spend time in the Bible?  Paul reminded Timothy of the Scripture’s usefulness and effect on his life:

2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

One last example.  Peter is reminding his readers of their main source of food for spiritual growth:

1 Peter 2:2
Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow up into your salvation

There are numerous other references and examples I could give, but I think you get the point.  God wants to meet with us, but we need to intentionally set aside time to do so.  Perhaps you need to take the small step I need to take: stop hitting the Snooze Button.  That button lies to us – we don’t get what it promises.  We end up starting our day rushed and feeling bad, while missing out on something much, much better.

Are you skeptical that God couldn’t use 9 minutes with Him to make a difference in your life?  I dare you to try it this next week and find out.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

For my son - When it's time to let go

My oldest son has officially finished high school and is getting ready to embark on the next phase of his life.  As I am nostalgically thinking of that time in my own life, I am also thinking of the things God has taught me since then.

This is the third post in a three-part series where I am remembering lessons I have learned later in life that I would love for my son know now...

I chose this post because letting go is hard…for everyone involved.  I don’t know how to be the parent of an adult child.  I’ve never done it before; I’ve never had a relationship like this.  But then again, neither has he.  We both will have to learn to trust God in new ways, as faith can only grow like this when we let go.

When it’s time to let go
originally posted on February 3, 2016

Paul began his letter to Philemon by telling him how he’s being prayed for:

Philemon 4-5
I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

These aren’t just words of flattery.  Instead, they are Paul’s acknowledgment of Philemon’s maturity and his deserved reputation for his recognizable love and faith.  It is because of Philemon’s progress in becoming Christ-like that Paul can make a very personal request:

Philemon 8-11
For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal, instead, on the basis of love.  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.

We are now introduced to the subject of Paul’s letter.  Onesimus and Philemon had some sort of relationship problem…but at that time, Philemon was a Christian and Onesimus was not.  Since that time, Onesimus has met up with Paul, who then taught him about Jesus.  Under Paul’s guidance, Onesimus trusted Jesus for eternal life and became part of God’s family.

While Paul would often refer to the churches he planted as “his children,” there are only three people in the Scriptures that Paul directly refers to as “his child” – Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus.  Given Paul’s reference to being an elderly man, it’s probable that Onesimus was, like Timothy and Titus, at the other end of the age spectrum.  As the letter continues, it is clear how much Paul cares for Onesimus.

However, as a good father, Paul knows that the next step in Onesimus’ growth and development as a believer is to reconcile with Philemon. 

Philemon 12-14
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.

I’m certain that the tough part for Paul is that he will not be present to facilitate their meeting.  Paul won’t be there to make sure Philemon and Onesimus do this right.  He won’t be able to mediate their grievances.  There’s no guarantee they can successfully reconcile on their own, but there little Paul can do about that while he’s in prison.  So Paul does the best he can – he writes a personal letter to his dear friend on behalf of his son – and he sends Onesimus on his way.

He lets go.

Sometimes, as hard as that is…it’s for best.  No matter how great our parents were, we couldn’t have grown like we did unless we left the comforts of their home.  Mentors are beneficial for a season, and the best bosses can develop us for a time…but we grow the most when we have to trust God and apply the lessons we’ve learned.

Paul even admitted his struggle – I wanted to keep him with me.  But he knew that Onesimus and Philemon would benefit more from this opportunity to be Christ-like after previously hurting one another.  They couldn’t hold on to Paul’s hand and toddle around anymore; they needed to trust God and walk on their own.  Both Onesimus and Philemon needed to choose the right thing, not out of obligation, but of their own free will.

I’ve been on both sides before.  I’ve left my childhood home and the church I grew up in.  I’ve had my mentor leave.  I’ve also been the boss who left the team, knowing that my absence would be a catalyst for their growth.  And soon, I’ll be sending my sons out into the world.  Both sides are hard.

When those moments arrive, it’s best to trust God and let go.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Resolutions about maturity

It’s that time of year again…time to make resolutions to be better at something.  We know the big ones – get in shape, eat better, learn a new skill – and we know that we should do these things and they have lasting, positive benefits to our lives.  But why is it, that by sometime in February, we’ve given up on working towards them? 

When we’re honest – we recognize that we give up on these resolutions because we don’t value the end product highly enough.  We aren’t diligent in pursuing it, and we become lazy.  This doesn’t mean that we do not understand or fully trust the benefits of exercise, a good diet, or learning something new…it just shows that we value them less than other competing priorities in our lives.

Did you know that the same thing happens to us spiritually?  Other things crowd into our lives and we sometimes don’t value our growth as a Christ-follower or our relationship with God like we should.  We can become spiritually lazy.  It’s not a new problem for Christians, either.

After starting a discussion of Christ’s superiority as our high priest and reviewing some of the great benefits available to a believer who partners with Jesus, the author pauses to say:

Hebrews 5:11-14
We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become slow to understand.  For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of God’s revelation.  You need milk, not solid food.  Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature – for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.

Looking at this passage, it is clear that this letter was written to people who have already accepted Christ as the substitutionary payment for their sins.  The solid food is the teaching that deals with righteousness, or right-living, before God.  Because these “big babies” haven’t progressed to solid food, they cannot grasp the implications of the Greater Message of future partnership with the Greater Messenger.

Hebrews 6:1
Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity

If you could travel into a mother’s womb and speak with the prenatal child, I’m sure he would be very confused as to why he was growing arms and legs and a mouth.  He has no real, tangible need for them so long as he remains in the womb.  However, we would desperately explain that while he sees little use for them in his present stage in life, they will become vitally important for the way he interacts with the world of his next stage of life.

The entire New Testament, except for John’s Gospel, speaks to us like we are the child still in the womb.  The vast majority of the New Testament is written to believers and contains encouragement to put in the effort now to grow towards maturity…because the level of maturity we develop here and now will directly impact how we interact with the world of our next stage of life.

Hebrews 6:11-12
Now we want each of you to demonstrate the same diligence for the final realization of your hope, so that you won’t become lazy, but imitators of those who inherit the promises through faith and perseverance.

Keep at it.  Keep going towards maturity.  Not everyone does, but those who trust Jesus’ offer of partnership and patiently wait for it, they will obtain it.

That’s a resolution worth keeping, one with results that echo into eternity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to avoid the sin cycle

Do you know which plant grows best in West Virginia?

Weeds.  The weeds grow best in West Virginia.

We get a lot of snow and rain here, and the ground is rather fertile.  However, if a piece of land is cleared, the grass and flowers in the area do not take it over.  The weeds do, and quickly.

There’s a spiritual lesson in there, if we’re open to seeing it.  It’s not enough for Christians to just clear out the “bad” portions of our lives.  Clearing out sinful actions, bad habits, and distractions does take monumental effort.  Taking steps to avoid going back to those old ways will be a significant challenge.  But if we forget to take the next step, we’ll wear ourselves out, only to be caught in a sick cycle of clearing out the weeds and then letting them creep back in and take over…only to have to clear out the weeds (again) to then let them creep back in (again) and take over (again)…and again…and again…

Paul knew this, too.  He wanted Timothy to instruct the believers in Ephesus on how to avoid being stuck in this perpetual cycle.  Take a look at what “next step” Paul says they should take after avoiding the things that will distract us from God and His purpose:

1 Timothy 4:7
But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness,

When we clear out the ungodly distractions in our lives, we MUST refill the time and use the effort we would previously spend on those distractions.  If we want grass and flowers to grow in our cleared-out land, then we must plant them immediately after doing the work of clearing out the garbage weeds.  It is at that moment that the ground (and our lives) are most willing to accept the change in direction.  If we wait to fill the void – the world will gladly fill it for us…

Paul knows it’s not enough to just avoid the irreverent and silly myths out there.  So, he tells Timothy to replace any time previously spent on those things with a specific plan that has a Godly focus.  His focus is to be on the things that have a “God-like-ness”, the things that point himself and others toward the God of the Universe.

Paul’s use of the phrase train yourself is no accident, either.  The Greek phrase means to exercise vigorously.  Given the city’s prominence in Greek culture, this is clearly a reference to the effort and dedication a Greek athlete would put toward his training to compete in the Ancient Olympic Games. 

Lastly, notice how Timothy had to choose to do the training.  No one else could do the work for him.  No one else is going to develop his relationship with God.  No one else can focus Timothy’s thoughts on God’s words and direction for his life.  As he chooses to plant the seeds of godliness, the growth that comes will fill up the area that was previously overrun with any irreverent and silly ideas.  Timothy’s training will become the long term investment that will keep him out of the sin cycle.

There’s a life lesson in there, if we are open to seeing it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Be Prepared

Nearly everyone knows the Boy Scout motto of Be Prepared.

This motto is repeated to the young men over and over, encouraging them to think past their immediate circumstances.  This simple phrase shifts their gaze to what the future may bring and instructs them to consider what they may need to do now in order to be prepared for various scenarios.

Similarly, when Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy, he wrote to encourage his protégé to be prepared for all parts of his job as leader of the church in Ephesus.  We have observed Paul writing things like I urged you and I am giving you this instruction…so that by them you may strongly engage in battle.  Later we’ll see Paul write if you point out these things and be conscientious about yourself and your teaching

And in the middle of his letter, Paul gives his thesis – his entire purpose for writing:

1 Timothy 3:14-15
I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon.  But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to act in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

Notice that Paul admits to not knowing the future.  If anyone in Scripture was going to be clued-in by God as to what the future holds, Paul would be a good candidate.  But God didn’t tell him what personal, day-to-day events were coming next.  Peter wasn’t told those things, either.  Moses, David, Solomon…nope, nope, and nope.  While a vision or two was occasionally given by God to select individuals, those events happened only for very specific purposes.  Even when we consider the extensive Revelation given to the exiled Apostle John while he was on Patmos, future events were foretold; however, John was not informed if (or when) he would get to leave the island.

Paul has plans to work with Timothy again in Ephesus, but just in case something happens to change his plans, Paul wants Timothy to be prepared to continue his mission.

Timothy’s purpose was to take those who are saved – those who have trusted Jesus for eternal life – and help them answer the question: “Well, now what?”.  This is an incredibly important mission.  If Timothy were not there, then most folks would probably just go back to whatever sin-focused lifestyle they had before they encountered Christ…because that’s all they knew. 

They needed to build their new lives on the foundation of the truth.  Timothy was to show them how to cut the wood, hammer in the nails, and make their home with Jesus.  Paul wasn’t there to help them do that, and there was a chance that he could be delayed in doing this good work alongside Timothy.  So Paul did the next, best thing.  He still made an eternal contribution to the Ephesian believers (and us, too!) by writing Timothy a letter, making sure that Timothy was fully prepared to do the work God had called him to do.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Proud papa

How do you spell “love” to a child?

T-I-M-E

The same is true in mentoring.  Even a cursory look at the relationship between Paul and Timothy shows two things – that they spent a lot of time together, and Paul was proud of the man Timothy had grown into.

After leaving his family to join Paul and Silas, Timothy was present in many significant events in Paul’s missionary travels.  Timothy was at Philippi when the mob had Paul and Silas arrested.  Later an earthquake leveled the jail, which led to the jailer and his family to believe the gospel.  Timothy was also in Thessalonica when the riots started there, and he stayed with Silas in Berea when Paul was forced to travel ahead of them.

Timothy was also with Paul when he spent 18 months in Corinth, starting a church and ministering there.  Similarly, Timothy was with Paul during his two year stay in Ephesus.  Piecing together the timeline from other New Testament writings, we find that Paul would send Timothy out as his representative to encourage the churches they had previously established.

Timothy’s efforts mirrored his mentor’s so closely that Paul even referred to Timothy as “my co-worker” (Romans 16:21) and “our brother” (2 Corinthians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, Philemon 1).  Even more impressive is that Paul listed Timothy as a co-author in six of his letters – 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  None of Paul’s other ministering partners come anywhere close to that.

Over the years and years of working together, Paul also witnessed a lot of growth in Timothy.  Notice how Paul proudly recommends Timothy to the believers at the church they had established in Philippi:

Philippians 2:19-24
Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I also may be encouraged when I hear news about you.  For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father.  Therefore, I hope to send him as soon as I see how things go with me.

Their relationship is an excellent example of what a mentoring relationship should look like.  Timothy wouldn’t have developed without Paul’s guidance and the time Paul invested.  Timothy was able to learn from Paul; and not just to become a carbon-copy of his mentor, rather he would use Paul’s investment as the launching point of his own efforts to live out and spread the gospel.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

When it's time to let go

Paul began his letter to Philemon by telling him how he’s being prayed for:

Philemon 4-5
I always thank my God when I mention you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and faith toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints.

These aren’t just words of flattery.  Instead, they are Paul’s acknowledgment of Philemon’s maturity and his deserved reputation for his recognizable love and faith.  It is because of Philemon’s progress in becoming Christ-like that Paul can make a very personal request:

Philemon 8-11
For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal, instead, on the basis of love.  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.

We are now introduced to the subject of Paul’s letter.  Onesimus and Philemon had some sort of relationship problem…but at that time, Philemon was a Christian and Onesimus was not.  Since that time, Onesimus has met up with Paul, who then taught him about Jesus.  Under Paul’s guidance, Onesimus trusted Jesus for eternal life and became part of God’s family.

While Paul would often refer to the churches he planted as “his children,” there are only three people in the Scriptures that Paul directly refers to as “his child” – Timothy, Titus, and Onesimus.  Given Paul’s reference to being an elderly man, it’s probable that Onesimus was, like Timothy and Titus, at the other end of the age spectrum.  As the letter continues, it is clear how much Paul cares for Onesimus.

However, as a good father, Paul knows that the next step in Onesimus’ growth and development as a believer is to reconcile with Philemon. 

Philemon 12-14
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.

I’m certain that the tough part for Paul is that he will not be present to facilitate their meeting.  Paul won’t be there to make sure Philemon and Onesimus do this right.  He won’t be able to mediate their grievances.  There’s no guarantee they can successfully reconcile on their own, but there little Paul can do about that while he’s in prison.  So Paul does the best he can – he writes a personal letter to his dear friend on behalf of his son – and he sends Onesimus on his way.

He lets go.

Sometimes, as hard as that is…it’s for best.  No matter how great our parents were, we couldn’t have grown like we did unless we left the comforts of their home.  Mentors are beneficial for a season, and the best bosses can develop us for a time…but we grow the most when we have to trust God and apply the lessons we’ve learned.

Paul even admitted his struggle – I wanted to keep him with me.  But he knew that Onesimus and Philemon would benefit more from this opportunity to be Christ-like after previously hurting one another.  They couldn’t hold on to Paul’s hand and toddle around anymore; they needed to trust God and walk on their own.  Both Onesimus and Philemon needed to choose the right thing, not out of obligation, but of their own free will.

I’ve been on both sides before.  I’ve left my childhood home and the church I grew up in.  I’ve had my mentor leave.  I’ve also been the boss who left the team, knowing that my absence would be a catalyst for their growth.  And soon, I’ll be sending my sons out into the world.  Both sides are hard.

When those moments arrive, it’s best to trust God and let go.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The motivation for everything

This might be a strange thought, but not every Christian will live out a Christ-focused life in the same way.  Even if we recognize this truth, we often have specific expectations (typically patterned after our own journey) of what “mature Christian behavior” should look like.  The truth of the matter is that it would be rather shallow of us to expect everyone to be “as spiritual” or be “as holy” in the identical manner that God is currently leading us in.  Maybe someone is behind us in development.  Maybe, just maybe…someone else could be ahead of us.

Think about our own families – our parents poured themselves into us and our siblings.  However, due to our varying ages and on-going development, the same efforts of our parents ended up producing very different adult people.  The expectations of behavior placed on the oldest child were often not even subjects that were being taught to the younger children.  Rarely was the same life lesson taught in the same manner to each child.  The specifics of these life-living lessons were tailored to where the child was at the particular moment.

However, the principles of the family were the same among the children.  Many of the stories and traditions of the family were the same as previous generations – stories of love, and loyalty, and bravery and the events of previous years.  You could see the family traits in the people around you, but they all exhibited them in different ways.

The same holds true for the family of God.  There is a common tie that binds us together – the incredible story of God leaving the glory and perfection of Heaven to rescue us from our selfish, sin-soaked mess.  However, as His story becomes part of our story…His character is revealed through us in a variety of ways.

As Paul continues to explain to the Colossian believers how God’s family works together and encourages one another with the message about the Messiah, take note of the guiding principle for how that message is to affect their lives and maturity:

Colossians 3:16-17
Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.  And whatever you do in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Instead of laying out a 12 point plan for maturity, Paul wants the believers to recognize that everything is to be done in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Doing anything “in someone’s name” means that we are their representative or ambassador.  We know that our manners and conduct reflect back on Jesus, and we also know that we’ll eventually have to give an account for how well we represent Him.  Whatever you do in word or in deed – that phrase pretty much covers it all, doesn’t it?

Paul’s direction is broad enough that there’s no technicality for us to escape it.  The broad-ness also allows for a wide-variety of expressions.  Take, for example, that in these two verses Paul says we are to have gratitude and we are to give thanks.  While that is a specific direction, how exactly shall we give thanks?  We could give thanks through prayer, with tears, with spoken words, with silent reverence, with charitable actions, or many other ways. 

Too often we get hung up on measuring a Christian’s maturity by looking at the things he or she does.  However, God looks beyond those things and evaluates our maturity based upon our motivations.

Colossians 3:17
And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Thwarted maturity

There is one word that strikes fear into the heart of every athlete.  As soon as the referee says this word, all their work, effort, and productivity comes to a screeching halt.  Having this word applied to you feels like a death sentence, and the stigma attached to it – especially when others find out – is equally crushing.

The last thing any athlete wants to hear is that they have been disqualified.  You can critique their form, give them low marks for execution, or even penalize them for their errors; but when an athlete is DQ’d, the competition, for them, is over.  To be disqualified is to be declared ineligible for the prize.

Earlier, Paul explained to the believers in Colossae that Jesus intends to take them from salvation to full maturity.  Our salvation is certain because it depends on Jesus.  However, Paul said that reaching maturity had some limiting factors based upon our choices and actions; there were conditions involved. 

Colossians 1:21-23
And you were once alienated and hostile in mind because of your evil actions.  But now He has reconciled you by His physical body through His death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before Him – if indeed you remain grounded and steadfast in the faith, and are not shifted away from the hope of the gospel that you heard.

The word if shows that they can be disqualified from reaching full maturity.  A few paragraphs later, Paul explains how it can happen.

Colossians 2:18-19
Let no one disqualify you, insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.  He doesn’t hold on to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and tendons, develops with growth from God.

In Paul’s day, Jewish Occultism encouraged prayer to angels for protection, deliverance, or assistance.  They also believed that praying to the “right” angel was needed to thwart the advances of demons who were in charge of particular aliments of the body or problems in the home.  Additionally, the local Greek folk tradition placed significance on visionary experiences in connection with their spiritual practices.  Before we scoff at such primitive ideas, we need to remember that we come across similar teachings within Christianity when people are told to pray to their “guardian angel” or to a particular “saint” for protection.

Paul’s point is that these kinds of beliefs about angels and surface-level practices undermine Jesus’ authority in our lives.  Running to “angels” or “saints” or “visions” shows that we don’t think Jesus can handle what we’re dealing with at the moment.  How can we say that Jesus is the King of the Universe, but then look somewhere else for our well-being?

It’s these kinds of self-contradictions that shift us away from the full maturity Christ desires to develop in us.  We must remember it is not certain that, at the end of all things, we will be presented as holy, faultless, and blameless before Him.  If we are pronounced disqualified, then we are sure to miss out on some eternal rewards and opportunities to serve with Christ in eternity future.  

Unfortunately, it’s easy to get hung up on ascetic, good-looking practices that, in the end, pull us away from His plan for us.  However, we are not without help.  Jesus told His disciples to “Remain in Me” (John 15:4), not “remain in My angels” or “remain in visions”.  The One who was the start of our faith is the One who will mature it as well.  So let’s continue to trust Him and hold tight to Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Identity and fear

The believers in Colossae were dealing with a barrage of spiritual ideas and false teachings.  After giving them a general warning about these dangerous influences, Paul begins to discuss several of the false teachings directly.  From Paul’s comments in the following section, it seems as if the false teachers were “ok” with Jesus, but they also had their own additions or subtle changes about who Jesus was.

Colossians 2:8-10
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.  For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

The primary question each of us must answer is “Who is Jesus?”.  In comparison to all other religions and belief systems, Jesus uniquely claims to be both God and man. 

Throughout the centuries, however, people have tried in many different ways to diminish this characteristic of Jesus.  Some have taught that Jesus was just a spirit and only appeared to be human.  There have been claims that Jesus was a man who had some God-like ability.  Others have stated that he was only partially divine – similar to the Greek’s demi-god legends. 

Alternative theories about Jesus’ true nature are still around today.  We hear things like “Jesus was a great teacher” or “Jesus was a man who had God’s spirit on him for a short time, but it left him as he died on the cross”.   

However, Paul stresses to the Colossians that these other explanations about Jesus’ nature are completely inadequate.  Jesus was both fully God and fully man.  He wasn’t just a great human teacher.  He wasn’t just another human philosopher.  He wasn’t just a religious leader.  He wasn’t even partially God, or like a Greek demi-God…Jesus was the entire fullness of God’s nature in bodily form.

Understanding this concept – that Jesus is fully God and fully man – is critical as we understand our new identity within the family of God.  The fullness of our Creator, what makes Him who He is…that identity has been passed on to every believer. 

Stop and think about that…we are directly identified with the King of the Universe.

Since Jesus is fully God and fully man, He was the only one qualified to offer His life as a ransom for ours.  Because of His death and resurrection, He is head over every ruler and authority.

Since we are identified with the One in charge of everything, we do not need to fear any other ruler or authority.  What a freeing thought!

When we find that freedom and the strength that comes with it, no other philosophy or teaching will take us captive – because we know Jesus as He truly is.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Just as you were taught

Contrary to what advertisers want you to believe, “newer” does not automatically mean “better”.  This applies to many areas of our life, including our spiritual maturity.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems like the American church is always on the lookout for the Next Big Thing.  Every couple of years, we jump at a slick package of formula-prayers, diets, or new techniques which claim to develop spiritual maturity.  Unfortunately, it seems like most people’s idea of spiritual maturity is nothing more than being good at convincing God to give us whatever we want at the moment.

As we continue through Paul’s letter to the believers in Colossae, we find that they were also being presented with a barrage of “new” ideas and techniques that would supposedly make them spiritually mature.  We’ll take a close look at each one as we come to them in this letter, but before Paul specifically addresses these other teachings, he gives the Colossians a broad statement about the true path to spiritual maturity:

Colossians 2:6-7
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Notice how Paul lays out the path before the Colossian believers – they are to root themselves and build up themselves in Jesus – just as you were taught.  No new techniques, no additional rituals, no special sacrifice or vow.  They don’t need a “new way” because they’ve already been shown the way, and it was up to them to walk the path laid out before them.

Many years prior, God gave a similar warning to the nation of Israel:

Jeremiah 6:16
This is what the Lord says:
Stand by the roadways and look.  Ask about the ancient paths:
Which is the way to what is good?
Then take it and find rest for yourselves.

But they protested: We won’t!

The Israelites refused to listen to God’s timeless advice and directions for how they were to live as His people.  They still belonged to God, for they were God’s chosen people.  However, their refusal to acknowledge God’s rightful place as King made them rebellious children.  God had shown their forefathers the path for relationship with Him and for peace in the land, but instead

Jeremiah 6:19
…they have paid no attention to My word.  They have rejected My law.

The Israelites shunned God’s revelation and His previously revealed path.  For their choices, they were susceptible to attack, both spiritually and physically.  Keep in mind that this prophecy was given to the generation that was eventually led into captivity in Babylon.

Paul’s letter doesn’t give any direct evidence that the Colossians were rejecting God or a relationship with Him.  However, the temptation was certainly there as other philosophies and human traditions were pressing in to the Colossian church.  Paul gives these believers a good self-check reminder here – they need to actively consider the path they’re on.  Will their actions truly lead to spiritual maturity, or are they trying to manipulate God?  Are they walking in the paths just as you were taught, or are they trying something different just because it’s “new”?

Keep in mind that “new” doesn’t automatically mean wrong, either…but we must make sure it follows with what Paul said to the Colossians:

Colossians 2:6-7
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Rooted and growing

I love word pictures.

Similes and metaphors have the incredible ability to communicate broad concepts in simple images.  We come across one of the most famous Biblical examples when we read about the psalmist’s desire for God:

Psalm 42:1
As a deer longs for streams of water, so I long for You, God.

The imagery is so strong that I honestly think he could have stopped the psalm right there.  We clearly understand the level of desire he is trying to communicate.  Later on, the psalmist also uses a metaphor to demonstrate how much he relies on God:

Psalm 42:9
I will say to God, my rock…

This comparison grabs our attention as well.  By referring to God as “my rock”, all the associated ideas of strength, stability, and reliability are understood.

This is why we need to pay attention to any word pictures that we come across when reading Scripture.  When we pause to consider what the imagery represents, we will get a fuller understanding of what the author is trying to communicate – and better understanding always leads to better application.

As Paul was encouraging the believers in Colossae to develop and mature in their relationship with God, he used two powerful metaphors.  The first one equated our relationship with Jesus to our walk, which carries the idea of us traveling together with Christ.  Take a look at these verses and find the second word picture.  It gives us the characteristics of how our walk should go.

Colossians 2:6-7
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Just in case the Colossian believers were wondering what their walk in Him should look like, Paul jumps to an agricultural metaphor to explain.  Clear images come to mind when he says that the path of our lives should be rooted and built up in Him.  This word picture makes it easy for us to take the concept of a tree driving roots deep into the ground for both stability and nutrients and associate it with the need for us to drive our own spiritual roots deep into Christ.

From the moment life bursts forth from an acorn, we have an oak tree.  It is weak and susceptible to damage from a variety of sources – weather, disease, other creatures, etc.  Its only hope of protecting itself is to establish roots.  Strong roots make a strong tree.  Weak roots make a weak tree.  As the oak tree’s roots find good soil and water, the tree can be built up and develop.

This metaphor is easily applicable to our lives.  From the moment we receive Jesus, we are a Christian.  But we are also weak and susceptible to damage from a variety of sources – life’s circumstances, poor teachings, other people, etc.  Our only hope of protecting ourselves is to establish roots.  As we are rooted and built up in Him, we can grow, develop, and be established in what we believe.

Pausing to consider this metaphor also gives us a chance to ask the question:

Am I making sure I’m rooted in Jesus?  What steps am I actively taking so I can walk in Him, and walk with Him?

Think about this today.  This word picture, and its implications, are worth meditating over.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

What's next?

After we become convinced that Jesus is who He claims to be – the Son of God and God the Son…

After we believe Him when He claims that only He can give eternal life, and that He gives it to all who will receive it…

What’s next?
What do I do with this new life that Jesus has given me?

As we continue through the beginning of Paul’s letter to the believers in Colossae, we find that Paul is dealing directly with these questions.  Throughout the rest of the letter, he will continue to discuss the practical outflowing of our relationship with Jesus; however, Paul mentions some specific ideas early on that are worth taking a closer look into.

Read these verses and look for what Paul sees as our motivation for the way believers should approach their day-to-day lives:

Colossians 1:9-10
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.  We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.

While Paul does say he desires that the Colossians may walk worthy of the Lord, the believers’ aim in doing so is found in the next four words.  Once we are adopted into God’s family, our next step is to obtain Jesus’ approval.  Our aim is to be fully pleasing to Him.

If we balk at that idea, think back to your own childhood.  After becoming aware of our place in within our family, we begin to find ways to win the approval of our parents.  Not to keep our place in the family; no, that’s never in question.  Rather, we want to make them proud – by doing things like them, by doing things for them, or by doing things with them. 

It didn’t matter if we had good parents or bad parents – we still made every effort to “do good” in their eyes.  When we’re completely honest with ourselves, we are still driven by those same desires all the way through our adult lives.

Immediately after he states our aim as children of God – to be fully pleasing to Him – Paul also tells the Colossians how they are going to go about doing it.  The way we make Jesus proud of us, the way we get the “Good job!” from the King of Kings, is to be bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God.

Every good thing we do should bear fruit or provide evidence that we are believers in Jesus for eternal life; that we have become part of God’s family.  And just as a young child matures and learns more about his or her father, we also grow in the knowledge of God.  We learn who He is and what He is like, which then feeds back into how we represent Jesus in our daily actions.

And certainly, the Colossians would have noted that Paul had used the same phrases – bearing fruit and growing – just a few sentences earlier.  When Paul described how God’s good news, the gospel message about Jesus, was reaching the world, he said:

Colossians 1:6
It is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and recognized God’s grace in the truth.

So the Colossians (and us) have a practical example from our Father in heaven.  When we live out the gospel message, we bear fruit and show the world who Jesus is.  When we help spread the good news, we will also grow in the knowledge of God.  

Ultimately, we are imitating our Father in heaven by participating in spreading the good news of Jesus…we’re doing these things like Him, we’re doing these things for Him, and we’re doing these things with Him…which is fully pleasing to Him.

Live the gospel, and fully please our Savior and Lord.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

In Jesus' name (part 2)

After Jesus and the disciples finished the Last Supper, they walked from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane.  They would have passed by vineyards, along with the temple and its golden carving of a vine on it; either of which could have inspired Jesus’ next illustration:

John 15:1-2 I am the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper.  Every branch in Me that does not produce fruit He removes, and He prunes every branch that produces fruit so that it will produce more fruit.

Producing fruit is the Father’s goal as He interacts with a believer’s life.  Jesus went on to tell the disciples just how this fruit was going to grow:

John 15:4-5 Remain in Me, and I in you.  Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.

To remain means to “stay connected with” – other translations render the Greek word as abide.  The idea Jesus is trying to impress on the disciples is that the fruitfulness, the success of their future ministries, is dependent upon their individual connected-ness with Him.

Next, Jesus restates His great promise for their prayer requests. 

John 15:7-8 If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.  My Father is glorified by this: that you produce much fruit and prove to be My disciples.

Remaining connected to Jesus will shape how we see the world and the people in it.  As such, seeing the needs of those around us will reshape our prayer requests to the Father.  Jesus also mentions that our goal is to bring glory to the Father, which means we point ourselves and others toward Him with praise, by honoring Him, or by celebrating Him.  We see this in Jesus’ own actions, because He continually pointed to God in His rightful place in the Universe.

Truthfully, however, the term remaining in Jesus feels a little vague.  Personally, I need something a little more hands-on…so I wonder, exactly what does that look like?  How does remaining connected to Jesus lead to much fruit and demonstrate that we’re followers of Jesus?

As always, Jesus shows us the way:

John 15:12,16-17 This is My command: love one another as I have loved you…I appointed you that you should go out and produce fruit and that your fruit should remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in My name, He will give you.  This is what I command you: love one another.

We are right to make requests “in Jesus’ name” when we represent Him in the way He prescribed.  We represent Him best when we love one another as Jesus has loved us.  When we choose to do so, we remain in Christ, we produce fruit…which brings glory to the Father.  And the Father happily says yes to the requests of those who imitate His Son and His Son’s love for others.

So we see now that praying “in Jesus name” isn’t a special phrase that convinces the Father to grant our requests.  Instead, it is a reflection of our relationships:

With the Father – because we are claiming to represent Christ
With others – because we are to love them like Christ has loved us

There are several self-checks that come out of understanding what Jesus meant for us when we pray in His name.  But that is exactly what Jesus was trying to communicate to His disciples as they walked to the garden.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Playing favorites

Titus 3:13 Do everything you can to help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way and see that they have everything they need. 

Last time, we were introduced to Apollos and caught a glimpse of his impact on the churches in the known world.  However, there is another important lesson to learn with a continued look at his ministry.

Apollos later went to Corinth (Acts 19:1), where he again successfully ministered to the believers.  His teaching was so well respected, that the believers in Corinth actually placed Apollos at the same teaching level as Peter, Paul, and even Jesus.  The debate of which-teacher-to-follow became such a problem in the Corinthian church that a good portion of one letter Paul wrote was to correct them in how they should be viewing himself and Apollos.

1 Corinthians 1:11-13 My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.  What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas (Peter)”; still another, “I follow Christ”.  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized into the name of Paul?

Nowadays, if a situation like this arose and one of the popular teachers wrote a letter concerning how the congregation should view the other teachers, I would expect the letter to be very territorial.  Given today’s denominational climate in America, it’s easy to envision a letter being written that sounds theologically pretty, but the author’s core message is that the believers should listen to him only.  His arguments would sound something like – “I am best suited to help you develop your relationship with Christ”, or that “Since I ministered to you first, you should stick with me”, or he could suggest that the other preacher’s teaching style or approach to spreading the gospel was inadequate.  Unfortunately, concern for a congregation is also a potential mask for a preacher’s ego and pride.

However, Paul is not one to play these kinds of games.  Direct and to the point, Paul’s main concern was that the believers were properly focusing on Christ…and not on who the message of Christ was coming from or what teaching style the person used.

1 Corinthians 3:5-9 What, after all, is Apollos?  And what is Paul?  Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task.  I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.  So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.  The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.  For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

All teachers, preachers, and church leaders are susceptible to the trap of thinking that it is “my church, or “my” class, or “my” ministry.  The cure for this selfish pitfall is the same for the teacher as it is for those who follow the teacher…our focus must be on God, for he is the one who makes things grow

A congregation does not grow because the preacher is preaching and an individual does not grow because of the particular teacher they are listening to.  The work of preachers, teachers, and church leaders is to provide the best conditions for people to grow.  Ultimately, it was God that built us with the capacity for growth in relationship to him, and the responsibility for the development of that relationship is between the individual and God. 

1 Corinthians 3:21-23 So then, no more boasting about men!  All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

Our favorite teacher is simply a servant of the God we love.  Don’t look for them to make you grow.  Don’t put God’s responsibility on your teacher.

Since Paul was the one who started the church in Corinth, he could have been territorial about which teacher they should be follow; however, he chose not to be.  The debate about which teacher to follow was already dividing the congregation, and could have easily led to a church split.  Imagine the damage to the church’s reputation!  A division of ‘Paul vs. Apollos’ could have also spread to the young churches in other regions if Paul had either ignored or participated in their debate.

Instead, Paul kept his pride in check and didn’t fuel the fire of their arguments.  Instead, he promoted harmony within the church by turning their attention appropriately towards Christ.

Keep Pressing,
Ken