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.

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Flashback Favorite - My first assignment

My first assignment
originally posted on April 20, 2016

Wait, I’m going to teach what?

That was my mental reaction to my first teaching assignment from my mentor, Joe.

Our mentor-protégé relationship began when he was teaching a Sunday School class and had asked if anyone was interested in team-teaching with him.  I was eager to teach, but I knew that I had to learn how to better handle the Scriptures if I was going to take on the responsibility of teaching God’s Word to others.  Joe pointed me toward Howard Hendricks’s Living by the Book and, with his guidance, I began to learn how to Observe, Interpret, and then Apply the Bible.

I figured that my first teaching lesson would cover one of the passages I had just learned from…instead, Joe said that my first teaching experience would come from teaching the class how to study the Bible, like I had just learned.  I was instantly nervous and gave Joe a weak “You sure about this?”.  But he assured me that this was the best topic for me to start with.

I profusely prayed over every lesson.  I did my best to communicate the three steps, as well as provide good examples and practice exercises – some lessons went well; others didn’t feel like they went anywhere.  To anyone who was in those first classes of mine, I say thank you for your patience!  That experience was a huge step for me and my growth – both in my relationship with God, as well as in learning how to organize and teach.  It certainly helped to have my mentor’s example, his directions, and his confidence in me.

Reading through the gospels, we find that Jesus did something similar with his protégés:

Matthew 9:35-10:1
Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.  When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.  The He said to His disciples,

“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Summoning His 12 disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness.

When Jesus told them to pray that the Father would send out workers to reach the people of Israel, I’m sure they agreed that would be a good thing to do…but then Jesus turns around and tells them that it is time for them to go out and participate in the harvest, by doing what they had only previously watched Jesus do!  Imagine everything that must have been going through their minds – anticipation, nervousness, excitement, tension?  Trust me, it was all those and then some.

Matthew 10:5-8
Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town.  Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  As you go announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons.  You have received free of charge; give free of charge.”

Notice how Jesus gave them parameters and direction for their first assignment.  They weren’t supposed to go outside of Israel.  They had a very specific message to proclaim.  They were also given authority to do what Jesus did – heal, raise the dead, cleanse, and drive out demons – and they were not to charge the people for these acts, just as Jesus hadn’t charged anyone.

The disciples would eventually be ready for the larger assignment of the Great Commission, where they were instructed to go make disciples of people from all nations.  They were not ready for that yet, though.  The disciples were still going to do what they had seen Jesus do, but their first assignment was on a much smaller scale.

As a mentor, we need to give our protégé assignments that will begin to stretch them now and incrementally prepare them for later.  On the flip side, when our mentor gives us an assignment that seems like a very large leap, we need to trust them. 

Looking back, it was that first assignment that propelled me closer to God and sharpened my teaching ability.  Joe was making sure that I was not going to be just another teacher who can only feed people The Word, but he wanted me to be able to show others how to feed themselves.  Following through on that first assignment, despite how rough it may have been on me and/or the class, has paid many dividends over the years since.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Follow the leader (part 1)

When the Scriptures give us a direction, it’s always best that we pay attention.  If we observe God talking about the same subject more than once…well…then He’s putting down some emphasis that we need to linger on.

Twice in his closing statements and encouragements, the author of Hebrews mentions how the church body should be acting toward our church leaders.  The first one reads as follows:

Hebrews 13:7
Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you.  As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith.

When looking for a mentor, role model, or Godly example, those who lead in the church should be at the top of our list.  However, the author does not give his approval to cast a wide net and grab ahold of any church member in any leadership position.  He says to focus on the ones who have spoken God’s word to you.  Does your preacher teach from the Bible, or does he only teach from pop-psychology to keep the audience engaged?  When you ask a question, does your teacher point you toward God’s perspective, or she rely on feel-good statements and stories?

The leaders who have spoken God’s word to you are the ones worthy of observation and imitation

Learning to be like Jesus is a lifelong journey.  We’re not going to figure out whose lives and faith are worth imitating by only checking them out at a surface level.  It will be impossible for us to evaluate the outcome of a leader’s relationship with God if our only interaction is by watching him online or reading her books.  This is why it is best to be involved with our local church.  Find a leader there who is worth partnering with and learning from.

Once you’ve found a good example, how should we follow them?  Notice the author says to imitate their faith.  Now, let’s be clear – he doesn’t tell his readers to act out their faith in the same way their leaders have done.  They don’t also have to be preachers, teachers, worship leaders…instead they should be trusting God as they use the gifts He has given them. 

They are to imitate the leader’s character and reliance on God – not to try and do the exact same skill in the exact same way their leader operates.  This is why the author says to carefully observe the outcome of their lives.  When we are able to watch closely, we can see the strength of their faith in God…which drives their ability to lead (instead of us guessing about their relationship from afar).  We must also keep in mind there are many ways to exercise our faith and demonstrate our reliance on Him.  God does not expect us to be carbon-copies of our pastor, teachers, and other leaders.

So, the first part of following church leadership looks like this:

·       Stay local
·       Find a leader who points you toward God’s Word and God’s perspective
·       Observe their lives
·       Imitate their faith in God as you act out your own

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

The Teacher Test

Lots of people claim to teach and preach for God.  But how do you know if what they’re saying is actually from God?

One test could be to measure how much Scripture is quoted during a sermon.  The more the better, right?  That would make it easy…if they only quote one verse, we should be suspicious…but if they quote many verses, then their teaching must be “good”.  But that doesn’t seem quite right, does it?

Another test could be to gauge how we feel after listening to a sermon.  We know that the Word of God should inspire us, right?  So, if we leave feeling inspired and motivated, then the message and the messenger must be “good”.  But then doesn’t seem quite right, either.

When he wrote to encourage and direct Timothy in his mission to the Ephesian church, Paul repeatedly addressed the topic of false teachers.  Closing off the previous section’s teaching on the church’s support for widows, honoring elders, disciplining elders, and the slave-master relationship, Paul says:

1 Timothy 6:2-3
Teach and encourage these things.  If anyone teaches other doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited, understanding nothing, but having a sick interest in disputes and arguments over words.

Did you catch Paul’s “Teacher Test”? 

If what that person teaches does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching the promotes godliness, then we should not be listening to them.  We need to keep this in mind:

Since the aim of a Christian’s life is to be like Christ, any teaching that doesn’t match up with what Jesus taught will not make us more like Him. 

That statement is so simple, we don’t even bother to think in those terms.  However, when we forget why we need a constant relationship with Jesus, we tend to let the Christian life make us comfortable.  God richly blesses us in many ways, but our selfishness still drifts us toward a life of ease. 

There are many consequences to focusing on getting to the “good life” instead of aiming for the “Christ-like life”.  Paul will deal with several of them as he closes out his letter.  The one he points out here is that false teachers will come sounding “good”, but they will end up pulling us away from our aim of being like Jesus.

Our Teacher Test isn’t to count the number of verses or rely on our constantly changing feelings.  Taking what is taught and comparing it to sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ will show us if our teacher is pointing us in the right direction.  Every time we’re presented with a new Bible teaching, we need to be asking “Does this teaching promote god-like-ness?”.

We must be alert in this.  Don’t go on auto-pilot just because someone claims to have a message from God.  Our relationship with Jesus depends on it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Women and church leadership (part 1)

When dealing with difficult passages, we need to remember three rules:
1.   Context is key.
2.   We interpret a passage we are unsure of in light of passages we are certain of.
3.   We let the author speak for himself

Much of Paul’s letter to Timothy talks about rebutting and correcting false teachers that were influencing the church in Ephesus.  He addresses topics and groups within the church that were being swayed by these teachers, including marriage, food, wealth, men, women, and church leadership.  In this next passage, Paul takes a moment to address the question of women in church leadership.

1 Timothy 2:9-12
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

A woman should learn in silence with full submission.  I do not allow a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; instead, she is to be silent.

It’s statements like these, especially when taken out of context, that cause a lot of strife within the modern church.  However, before we dismiss Paul’s instructions as being old-fashioned or oppressive, let’s consider some context.

Paul’s direction here is for women who affirm that they worship God, and as such, this passage falls under the theme of the previous context.  Paul began this section with instructions for all believers.  He stressed the importance of living a quiet and tranquil life, one displaying godliness and dignity in such a way that our lives become a “walking witness” for the God we have a direct relationship with. 

Paul moves from how women who worship God present themselves publicly and then immediately moves to how she can be learning.  That may seem like an unusual transition, given the culture of the time.  There were not a lot of education options for women in the ancient world, as all of the formal teachings and instructions went to men.  When he says that a woman should learn, we can observe that Paul is counter-culturally giving the women of the church an equal opportunity with the men of the church to be learners of God’s Word.

Now let’s look at the ‘how’ a woman should learn.  The Greek word for silence doesn’t mean “not talking”; instead, it refers to someone with a stable quietness who doesn’t meddle in the affairs of others or act in an unruly manner.  Additionally, the Greek word translated as submission means to “rank under”.  Just like in military settings, rank has to do with order and authority, not personal superiority or inferiority.  In fact, the teaching style of the day held an expectation that a pupil would do all their learning with both of these two characteristics – silence and submission.  As such, Paul isn’t suppressing women here – instead, he is holding them to the same expectations as the male learners.

Understanding Paul’s word choice also helps us interpret why he says I do not allow a woman to teach or have authority over a man.  The verbs teach and have authority are both in the present tense, which implies a continuing ministry rather than a single instance of ministry.  Additionally, the word for have authority over is unique in comparison to the typical Greek word chosen to describe someone in a higher ranking position.  Instead, Paul is describing a woman who acts without accountability, who domineers as an absolute master within the church family.  By recognizing that the context immediately after this passage gives specific qualifications for church overseers and deacons, we begin to see that Paul’s prohibition here specifically addresses only the official teaching and ruling ministry of the church.

While the current cultural and educational settings would have been familiar to the Ephesian church, Paul doesn’t appeal to those cultural norms to justify his instruction.  Instead, he looks back to God’s initial creation: 

1 Timothy 2:13
For Adam was created first, then Eve. 

We’ll get deeper into Paul’s reasoning for referencing back to God’s initial design for the family in the next post.  And in the text that follows, we’ll observe that Paul gives specific criteria for the men who want to be in the overseer or deacon roles.  We’ll see that God’s standard for those roles is quite lofty, and that they carry the risk of significant punishment for those who mishandle the position.

For now, though, because we took the time to examine the text, can see that Paul’s direction isn’t some off-the-cuff, all-women-are-slaves-to-all-men kind of idea.  Paul is addressing a specific leadership situation within the church family.  His directions are not a prohibition on women leading in business, government, or even other sub-groups within the church family. 

Instead, we’ve discovered how this passage fits into the theme of this section in Paul’s letter to Timothy.  Proper dress, a right attitude, and orderly church-family leadership are all ways that Paul directs women to flesh out their part of all believers’ responsibility to lead a tranquil and quiet life, with both godliness and dignity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The heart condition of our teachers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The invitation that launched a ministry

Let me introduce you to one of the great mentors in the Bible:

Acts 4:36-37
Joseph, a Levite and a Cypriot by birth, whom the apostles named Barnabas, which is translated ‘Son of Encouragement’, sold a field he owned, brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Barnabas shows up many times throughout the New Testament.  He was always well respected, and he lived up to his nickname by encouraging others.

After Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus, not everyone believed that he had really changed.  Imagine if the top leader of ISIS, who had personally killed or imprisoned your friends and family, suddenly declared that he was now a believer.  Wouldn’t you be nervous to have him over for dinner?

Acts 9:26-30
When [Saul] arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to associate with the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, since they did not believe he was a disciple.  Barnabas, however, took him and brought him to the apostles and explained to them how, on the road, Saul had seen the Lord, and that He had talked to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus.

Saul was coming and going with them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.  He conversed and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they attempted to kill him.  When the brothers found out, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

Saul was accepted by the disciples only after Barnabas vouched for him.  However, soon after, the one who had once hunted believers was now being hunted for being a believer.  They needed to get Saul to a safe place, so the disciples sent him far away to Tarsus, back to his hometown.

About a decade later, we find that the persecution of Christians which had begun under Saul was the driver for getting good news of salvation through Jesus to those outside of Jewish boarders.

Acts 11:19-24
Those who had been scattered as a result of the persecution that started because of Stephen made their way as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, speaking the message to no one except Jews.  But there were some of them, Cypriot and Cyrenian men, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Hellenists, proclaiming the good news about the Lord Jesus.  The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.

Then the report about them reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to travel as far as Antioch.  When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he encouraged all of them to remain true to the Lord with a firm resolve of the heart – for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith – and large numbers of people were added to the Lord.

It's what Barnabas does next that I find surprising: he leaves.  In the middle of a great spiritual awakening in an important ancient city, Barnabas leaves the many to go find one man – Saul. 

Acts 11:25-26
Then he went to Tarsus to search for Saul, and when he found him he brought him to Antioch.  For a whole year they met with the church and taught large numbers, and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Tarsus was further out from Jerusalem than Antioch.  Barnabas was willing to go out beyond his initial orders to find the man that he knew would be of great help to the newly formed church.  The church in Antioch would also be an opportunity for Saul to grow personally and for him to learn to lead both Jews and Gentiles in their new Christ-focused lives.

The work of Barnabas and Saul in Antioch would prepare them for future missionary journeys throughout the known world.  All because Barnabas invited Saul to participate.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A question of forgiveness

Ever wish that you just had someone to talk to?  You need advice, and you would love to run your ideas and concerns past another experienced, trustworthy person.  That’s exactly what a mentor is for, and we have a perfect example of this with Peter and Jesus.

The disciples had been arguing, yet again, about which one of them was going to be the greatest in Jesus’ coming kingdom.  They brought their argument to Jesus, who told them

Matthew 18:4-5
Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child – this one is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And who ever welcomes one child like this in My name welcomes Me.

Keep in mind that children were of little value in ancient society, so Jesus’ direction here would have been especially hard for 12 adults to accept.  However, Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He goes on to give them three more difficult lessons:

·        Drastic measures should be taken to avoid leading others into sin
·        A single, stray brother is worth searching out and there is great rejoicing when the one returns to the many
·        How to approach a brother who sins against you – first privately, then with a few others, and lastly, if necessary, involve church leadership

These lessons were counter-cultural for how the disciples had been raised and taught.  When giving their arguments about which one of them was going to have a bigger kingdom title, I doubt that these areas of their lives were part of their resume.

After hearing these teachings with the rest of the disciples, Peter had a question and wanted clarification.  He didn’t need to have any of the lessons repeated, instead Peter was wrestling with how to apply Jesus’ teaching when his brother repeatedly sins against him.

Matthew 18:21-22
Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how many times could my brother sin against me and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?”

“I tell you, not as many as seven,” Jesus said to him, “but 70 times seven.”

While the phrase seventy time seven may feel familiar to us, keep in mind that the conventional rabbi teaching of Peter’s day recommended to extend forgiveness only three times.  So Peter likely felt he was also being counter-cultural and generous by offering to forgive twice as many times, plus one extra.  However, Jesus pushed Peter even further and instructed him to give his brother significant, not limited, forgiveness.  Jesus then told Peter another parable to illustrate His point.

This is one of the times in life where having a mentor is beneficial.  Peter thought he had progressed sufficiently in his thinking, so he brought his new understanding to Jesus for verification.  Although Peter was growing in the correct direction, he was directed to go even further – to forgive generously, and be great in Jesus’ kingdom.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

My first assignment

Wait, I’m going to teach what?

That was my mental reaction to my first teaching assignment from my mentor, Joe.

Our mentor-protégé relationship began when he was teaching a Sunday School class and had asked if anyone was interested in team-teaching with him.  I was eager to teach, but I knew that I had to learn how to better handle the Scriptures if I was going to take on the responsibility of teaching God’s Word to others.  Joe pointed me toward Howard Hendricks’s Living by the Book and, with his guidance, I began to learn how to Observe, Interpret, and then Apply the Bible.

I figured that my first teaching lesson would cover one of the passages I had just learned from…instead, Joe said that my first teaching experience would come from teaching the class how to study the Bible, like I had just learned.  I was instantly nervous and gave Joe a weak “You sure about this?”.  But he assured me that this was the best topic for me to start with.

I profusely prayed over every lesson.  I did my best to communicate the three steps, as well as provide good examples and practice exercises – some lessons went well; others didn’t feel like they went anywhere.  To anyone who was in those first classes of mine, I say thank you for your patience!  That experience was a huge step for me and my growth – both in my relationship with God, as well as in learning how to organize and teach.  It certainly helped to have my mentor’s example, his directions, and his confidence in me.

Reading through the gospels, we find that Jesus did something similar with his protégés:

Matthew 9:35-10:1
Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.  When He saw the crowds, He felt compassion for them, because they were weary and worn out, like sheep without a shepherd.  The He said to His disciples,

“The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few.  Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Summoning His 12 disciples, He gave them authority over unclean spirits, to drive them out and to heal every disease and sickness.

When Jesus told them to pray that the Father would send out workers to reach the people of Israel, I’m sure they agreed that would be a good thing to do…but then Jesus turns around and tells them that it is time for them to go out and participate in the harvest, by doing what they had only previously watched Jesus do!  Imagine everything that must have been going through their minds – anticipation, nervousness, excitement, tension?  Trust me, it was all those and then some.

Matthew 10:5-8
Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions: “Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town.  Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  As you go announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons.  You have received free of charge; give free of charge.”

Notice how Jesus gave them parameters and direction for their first assignment.  They weren’t supposed to go outside of Israel.  They had a very specific message to proclaim.  They were also given authority to do what Jesus did – heal, raise the dead, cleanse, and drive out demons – and they were not to charge the people for these acts, just as Jesus hadn’t charged anyone.

The disciples would eventually be ready for the larger assignment of the Great Commission, where they were instructed to go make disciples of people from all nations.  They were not ready for that yet, though.  The disciples were still going to do what they had seen Jesus do, but their first assignment was on a much smaller scale.

As a mentor, we need to give our protégé assignments that will begin to stretch them now and incrementally prepare them for later.  On the flip side, when our mentor gives us an assignment that seems like a very large leap, we need to trust them. 

Looking back, it was that first assignment that propelled me closer to God and sharpened my teaching ability.  Joe was making sure that I was not going to be just another teacher who can only feed people The Word, but he wanted me to be able to show others how to feed themselves.  Following through on that first assignment, despite how rough it may have been on me and/or the class, has paid many dividends over the years since.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Above all else, do this

Throughout the introduction to his Proverbs, Solomon encourages his son to grab ahold of his teachings.  Take a look at some of the words he uses to drive home the importance of his message:

Proverbs 4:20-22
My son, pay attention to my words; listen closely to my sayings.
Don’t lose sight of them; keep them within your heart.
For they are life to those who find them, and health to one’s whole body.

We can plainly hear Solomon’s desire to impart what he has learned on to his son.  The phrases he uses communicate a strong urgency for his son to internalize his father’s wisdom:

Pay attention…listen closely…don’t lose sight…keep them within your heart

Solomon says phrases like these over and over, to drive home the importance of wisdom and its application.  However, with so many ways wisdom can be studied, considered, and applied…Solomon paused here a moment to tell his son what his number one priority should be.

Solomon uses a speaking technique that immediately draws a student’s focus in.  He stops the lesson long enough to state “If you forget to do everything else I say, do this:”.  Solomon flags this direction with the phrase above all else.  This is the only time in the book of Proverbs he says this phrase, so we know he means it above all else.

If you could only pass one idea about wisdom to a protégé, what would it be?

Would you tell him that wisdom will keep him safe from evil?
Would you tell her to avoid foolish people?
Would you say that wisdom must be pursued, that it doesn’t come easy?

Solomon says all these things, but that’s not what he says his son should consider above all else.  Solomon’s top wisdom priority is at a much deeper level.

Proverbs 4:23
Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.

The Israelites used the word for heart – leb – to refer to much more than just the organ beating inside your chest.  Similar to how we use heart in English, the Hebrew word referred to the inner self.  They considered the heart to be the seat of thought and emotion, including one’s conscience, courage, mind, and understanding.

This is the one thing that Solomon wants his son to protect and guard and keep safe…because if he loses his heart then he has ultimately lost himself.  If his son were negligent in protecting his heart or reckless with whom he allows to instruct his heart, then he would be easily corrupted.

A quick heart-check can go a long way, too.  Ask the person you are mentoring “How’s your heart?”  Then help them understand the importance of using God’s wisdom to guard their heart, to protect their identity and their source of life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Time to get personal

Although Paul wasn’t directly involved with Colossian church, several people he knew and cared about were.  Epaphrus, Archippus, Nympha, and Philemon all played various roles and had specific ministries to the believers in Colossae.  The rest of the congregation hadn’t met Paul.  So when he sent Tychicus with the letter to the Colossian church, Paul wrote from a position of a guest preacher who would teach them important truths and show them practical ways to live out their new life in Christ.

Notice how Paul identifies himself at the beginning of the letter:

Colossians 1:1-2
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother. 
To the saints and faithful brothers in Christ in Colossae. 
Grace and peace from God our Father.

From the get-go, Paul identifies himself as an apostle of Christ Jesus, which also provides the credibility for the things he wrote to them.  However, along with this letter, Paul had Tychicus deliver a second, more personal note.  The subject of this second letter was Tychicus’ traveling partner, Onesimus.  We were briefly introduced to him at the end of Colossians:

Colossians 4:7-9
Tychicus, a loved brother, a faithful servant, and a fellow slave in the Lord, will tell you all the news about me.  I have sent him to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are, and so that he may encourage your hearts.  He is with Onesimus, a faithful and loved brother, who is one of you.  They will tell you about everything here.

Onesimus needed to be reconciled with Philemon.  We’ll get into the details of what was broken in their relationship later, but it was serious enough that Paul chose to step into the fray with these two people he dearly loved.  For now, notice how Paul identifies himself at the beginning of his letter to Philemon:

Philemon 1-3
Paul, a prison of Christ Jesus, and Timothy, our brother:
To Philemon, our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church that meets in your house.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

A little later, Paul says

Philemon 8-9
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.

There is no appeal to his apostleship.  Paul doesn’t take a stance or tell Philemon what to do based upon his authority in the family of believers.  Instead, Paul appeals to his friend out of love.  This is where the rubber meets the road – where teaching meets real life.  Paul taught the Colossians about the importance of having Jesus as the focus of our lives and the difference made because of it…but Paul himself must also live it out. 

There are many relationship lessons we can glean from reading Paul’s personal letter to Philemon, but it will be of greater importance for us to take those observations and apply them to those around us.  After all, a Christ-focused life is not found in the teaching of the theoretical, but in the personal living of the practical.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Dangerous rules

We like rules.  We like them a lot.  Rules seem to make things easier, right?  Everything boils down to either black or white.  “Do this.  Don’t do that.”  No in between, no grey, no guesswork, and no mess. 

While there are clear-cut areas in life, the unfortunate truth is that most of our lives aren’t lived in black and white – not only are there grey areas, but life comes at us in a full spectrum of colors.  How do we deal with such a variety of circumstances and people?  How would God want us to deal with them?  When faced with difficult questions and situations in our relationship with God and with others, we often start looking for rules to clarify our course of action.

The believers in Colossae were dealing with a “new” teaching that was likely taught as a guideline for interacting with God and others, but it seems that the teachers were also insisting on rules to prove one’s spirituality.  From Paul’s letter we see that the rogue teachers were advocating rules for food, drink, festivals, sabbath days, worship of angels, and visions.  Paul took issue with these performance-based, surface-level-focused teachings primarily because they took the believer’s focus off of Jesus and put the attention on themselves. Paul summed it up this way:

Colossians 2:20-23
If you died with Christ to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?  Why do you submit to regulations: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”?

All these regulations refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines.  Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.

In the centuries since Paul wrote these words, the church has struggled with human commands and doctrines.  Attempting to earn God’s love, people have given in to legalistic, rules-focused teachings.  Teachings such as earning one’s salvation by doing enough good works, or maintaining one’s salvation by doing enough good works, or trying to live under the Mosaic Law are all examples of false teachings based on human ideas and desires.

Others have tried fasting with the intention to force God to decide in their favor.  Some have lived in isolation with the intention to avoid the temptations that could arise when around other people.  People have even gone as far as self-mutilation to try to keep their sinful urges in check.

On the surface, these ideas seem to have merit…but the truth is they’ve all failed to do what God desires to do in our lives.  God desires to make us Christ-like.  Paul was right when he said that the man-made rules have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, [but] they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.

These practices don’t get to the heart of the problem – because our ultimate problem isn’t our behavior, it’s our sinful nature.  These practices distract us from the real solution.  So we have to be just as careful as Paul wanted the Colossians to be – watching out for false teachings and ascetic practices.

Warren Wiersbe accurately described the dangers that modern believers must be wary of:

“When we make Jesus Christ and the Christian revelation only part of a total religious system or philosophy, we cease to give Him the preeminence.  When we strive for ‘spiritual perfection’ or ‘spiritual fullness’ by means of formulas, disciplines, or rituals, we go backward instead of forward.  Christian believers must beware of mixing their Christian faith with such alluring things as yoga, transcendental meditation, Oriental mysticism, and the like.  We must also beware of ‘deeper life’ teachers who offer a system for victory and fullness that bypasses devotion to Jesus Christ.  In all things, He must have preeminence!”

If the purpose of the rules, principles, or guidelines we follow are doing anything other than pointing us toward Christ or making us more Christ-like…then they are a waste of time and they will eventually lead us astray.  Our first clue that a particular practice is potentially dangerous is to ask the question “Where is the focus placed, on Jesus or on me?

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 

Receiving personal instruction

In one of my year-long college courses, I was fortunate enough that the professor who taught the class had also written the text book.  This might not seem like a big deal from the outside looking in, but it made a huge difference in how we learned from him.  We knew that what he taught us in the morning was going to be reiterated in the same style and with the same emphasis as we read the text in the evening. 

Prof could easily explain how the different sections fit together and even cross-referenced chapters as we were being taught.  He knew the exact layout and intention of each part of the text because he was the one who had put it all together.  There was never any conflict between the teaching and the text – they were from the same man.  Not only was the text well-written for the subject matter, but the class became almost like a personal tutoring session with the author.

We get the same dynamic as we go through the Scriptures.  Although it took hundreds of years and many different authors to complete the text, God superintended the process such that it all hangs together as one, and communicates truth directly from the Creator of Everything to each of us individually.

The author of Psalm 119 did more than just acknowledged this reality of Scripture – he enjoyed it thoroughly.  Take a look through this section and note the role God’s Word plays in the author’s relationship with God.

Psalm 119:97-104
How I love Your teaching!  It is my meditation all day long.
Your command makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me.
I have more insight than all my teachers because Your decrees are my meditation.
I understand more than the elders because I obey Your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path to follow Your word.
I have not turned from Your judgments, for You Yourself have instructed me.
How sweet Your word is to my taste – sweeter than honey to my mouth.
I gain understanding from Your precepts; therefore I hate every false way.

The psalmist doesn’t distinguish between communicating with God and reading the Scriptures, they are interactions with the same person.  The psalmist gives the reason why he follows what God has taught him when he says for You Yourself have instructed me.  He trusted God’s teaching because it was coming from God Himself.  Nothing was second-hand, there was no need for an interpreter or any guess-work.

And just look at the results of this personal instruction from the Lord – success over enemies, gaining insight and wisdom, the ability to avoid every evil path, gaining understanding, and he can also recognize every false way.  The psalmist has become fully mature because his instruction has been taken directly from the Lord.

The Lord will mature and develop us as well.  He’s ready to give each of us personal, one-on-one instruction.  The teacher and the text are from the same person.  As much as the teaching or writing of others can sometimes help, there is nothing like direct communication and instruction from the Author of Life.  He knows how it all works and why it all works.  

We have an open invitation to be instructed by God Himself.  Will you accept the invitation and meet Him in the Scriptures?

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

Healthy teachings for the older women

Titus 2:1 You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.

After giving Titus instructions for topics to teach the older men, Paul then turns to the topics for older women that are in accord with the healthy teaching of Christ’s work on the cross.

Titus 2:3 Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good

Just like the older men, the older women need to be taught into maturity.  Maturity doesn’t happen on its own or by default.  If we are going to imitate God and his love for us, then we must be instructed on how to get there.

Paul also lists two enemies of an older woman’s maturity – the temptation to gossip and the possibility of becoming addicted to, or enslaved by, wine.  When all the children have left the home, many older women go through an identity crisis.  So much of their lives have been (rightly) focused on preparing their contribution to the next generation.  When that season is over, the question “What’s next?” has many potential answers to choose from – and not all of them are good.

Slander or Gossip, as well as an addiction (either to wine or some other substance) are very self-centered choices.  The thinking behind both behaviors – “Hey, listen to the info I’ve found out” and whatever rationalizations we give ourselves for addictions – all have motives which are focused inward.  An inward focus undercuts the ability to mature and imitate God’s love to others.

Paul lists these two traps in contrast with what the older women should be focusing on – to teach what is good.  But whom shall the older women teach?  Paul gives the answer in the next verse:

Titus 2:4 Then they can train the younger women…

After they have finished preparing their own children, an older woman needs to shift her focus to preparing the next generation of Christian women.  Paul gives instructions for Titus to teach several different groups in the church – but he specifically calls on the older women to teach the younger women.  Paul does not give Titus the responsibility to teach the younger women.  I fully believe this was intentional, as the mentor-relationship bond formed between an older woman and a younger woman cannot be duplicated.

The younger women needed support, as evidenced by Paul’s first lesson that an older woman needs to teach:

Titus 2:4 Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children…

As one who has been a child and is now a husband…I fully admit that we’re not always easy to love.  I am thankful for the older women who have come along side of my wife to help her, to teach her, and to train her how to love like Christ.

If you fit the category of an older woman, ask God to point you to a younger woman for you to mentor.  She needs you more than she’ll likely let on. 

If you don’t fit the category, pray for the older women that you know.  Ask God to include them in preparing the next generation of Christian women.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Healthy teaching

Titus 1:9 [An overseer or elder] must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

The trustworthy message was that only Christ’s death on the cross could rescue us from the eternal penalty of our sins.  Paul refers to this as sound doctrine.  While the term “doctrine” might feel stuffy or foreign to us, a direct translation of the words would be healthy teaching.  If Titus chooses leaders with unhealthy teachings, the message would become muddied up with other ideas, philosophies, and sinful human influences.  When the message is muddied and is no longer sound, it is open to corruption.

Paul then explores the contrast between those who hold to sound doctrine and those who have muddied the gospel message:

Titus 1:15-16 To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure.  In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.  They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.  They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.

Although these other teachers claim authority and claim to represent God, their actions betray them:

How do they treat their family, conduct themselves, and interact with others?
Is their teaching healthy, do they speak of faith alone in Jesus…or do they add in other conditions?

Paul calls those that proclaim to be teachers but are actually corrupted and do not believe to be detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.  While those terms might seem harsh to us, it is their muddied message, the unhealthy teaching which does not rely on Christ that makes them this way.

If their teaching disqualifies them from doing anything good, obviously those that listen to them won’t fare any better.  Which is why Paul says to Titus in the next verse:

Titus 2:1 You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.

It matters who we listen to.  Don’t believe what they say, just because they claim to know God.  Check them out, make sure their teaching is sound and healthy.

Keep Pressing,
Ken