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: trusting God

My daddy said "STOP!"

When our boys were small, there were only two ways to get spanked in our house.  First, was for lying.  Didn’t matter what you lied about, that violation of trust received a spanking…and then we would deal separately with whatever had been lied about.  Second, a spanking would occur for blatant, deliberate disobedience. 

Our boys were typical little boys, and they thoroughly tested both of these rules.  After each time, I would pull them into my lap and let them cry into my chest until they had calmed down.  It was in this teachable moment that we talked about what had brought them to this point and how to avoid it in the future.  I would also repeat one of two phrases that I borrowed from Jesus:  “If you love me, follow my directions.” or “Hear my voice and follow my directions.”  The first comes from John 14:15 and the second from John 10:27:

John 14:15
If you love me, you will keep my commands.

John 10:27
My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.

You always hope your children get the lessons you try to teach them, but these verses ended up being applied in an unexpected way:

For our second Halloween in West Virginia, we walked around the neighboring side-street houses with other families that lived near us.  Our younger son was too little to walk the entire distance, so we pulled him in a wagon.  Our older son was Kindergarten-age, and he walked about a block ahead of us with some of the neighbor’s kids and friends who were in upper elementary school.  The kids were told to stay within eye-sight of the parents.  The weather was pleasant and it was a fun, relaxing stroll around the area.

At the very end of the designated Trick-or-Treat time, we started to head back home.  Our group of kids was about two blocks ahead of us, but we could still see each other.  At an empty side-road intersection, the group of kids went left, toward home…except for one, who looked left and then right and then left again.  Even from our vantage point, you could see our son’s mind spinning the options.  To the left, was home and the end of the night…but to the right were more houses with their porch lights on and other kids still getting candy.  So after weighing his options, he booked it to the right.

I didn’t mind his choice.  He was still within eye-sight, but I could see something that he couldn’t, because of the rolling hill the street was on.  There was a car, moving carefully up the road, but heading toward my son.  He was safely off the side of the road, running on the grass, but he was solely focused on getting more candy.  Depending on which house he targeted first, I was afraid he would dart out into the street.

I took a deep breath, barked out his name and gave him a loud, one-word direction: “STOP”.  He immediately stopped in his tracks.  I gave the wagon handle to my wife and ran to our son.  I got there just as the car slowly rolled by him.  He was crying because he didn’t understand why I yelled and likely thought he was in trouble.  The house he had targeted was on his side of the street and turned out to be the home of one of my co-workers.  She told me that she had heard him crying and was worried that he thought they were out of candy.  She called to him, saying, “It’s ok little boy, we still have candy.  You can come get some.”  Through his choked back tears, he gave this response: “No.  My daddy said stop.”

It didn’t hit me until the next day that although I could see him – he couldn’t see me.  While he was focused on something good, something he could have, as soon as he heard my voice…he knew he had to trust me and do what I said.  Even if it didn’t make sense to him in the moment.  Even if it meant missing out on something he wanted.

How well do we know our Savior’s voice?
Enough to recognize it above all the noise of life?
Do we trust Him enough to do what He says?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite: Tired hearts

Tired hearts
originally posted on April 10, 2015

As Jesus was dying on the cross, His final cries to the Father found their root in psalms that David had written.  A psalm has the distinction of being both poetry and a song.  When David wrote a psalm, he was not afraid to bear his raw feelings, thoughts, and fears to God.  David’s topics ranged from great celebration of what God accomplished all the way down to personal, deep feelings of despair. 

It’s during one of those low times that David wrote the following psalm.  Although his circumstances were dragging him down and he felt like his own heart was without strength, David clearly believed that God was able to handle his difficult situation.

Psalm 61:1-4

God, hear my cry; pay attention to my prayer.
I call to You from the ends of the earth
when my heart is without strength.

Lead me to a rock that is high above me,
for You have been a refuge for me, 
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.

I will live in Your tent forever
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

David’s request is as simple as it is profound – Lead me.  David sought God’s guidance and direction to see him through the trial in front of him.  When we find ourselves in trouble, our first inclination usually isn’t a desire to be told what to do next.  We want to find our own way out, and if we can’t find a path…then we figure it’s time to blaze one.  So how is it that David is able to muster the response of actually wanting God to lead him? 

The answer is found in the verses immediately following his request.

David can confidently ask God to lead him through his present problems because he remembers how God has provided for him in the past:

for You have been a refuge for me,
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.

David recalls the previous times when God was both his rescuer and his strength.  Essentially, he’s telling God “When I relied on you in the past, you came through; so I trust you to lead me now.” 

What’s also interesting is that as he remembers his past experience with God, David’s trust isn’t limited to his immediate problems.  He’s already committing his future to being under God’s protection.

I will live in Your tent forever,
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.

Based upon God’s history, David trusts Him with the present issues as well as any future ones that he can’t see yet.  This is an excellent example for us.  When we struggle with letting God lead us through today’s trial, all we have to do is remember the times when God has previously protected and defended us.  Keeping that in mind makes sure that we aren’t overwhelmed when the low times come and our hearts are without strength.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Aftermath of a miracle: the ultimate setup

Nothing in human history “just happens”.  There’s always a backstory, a winding of paths that leads up to the moment when the whole world is captivated by an event.  Think about the recent history of the USA, and how everything seemed to stop for events of both greatness and tragedy: a man lands on the moon or an underdog hockey team wins gold at the Olympics and we’re in awe of what’s possible; yet when a terrorist attack is committed or a space shuttle explodes due to an unexpected malfunction, we stand in stunned silence.

There are always dots to connect, paths to retrace, and decisions to evaluate…all leading up to “that moment when…”.  However, as we live through the days leading up to the event, we are often unaware of how connected everything truly is.

The events of the Scriptures are of the same nature – nothing just spontaneously happened.  But to the people living their lives throughout the times of the Bible, going about their daily business, they didn’t know what was coming next.  They couldn’t predict what God was doing in their time.

One event in Jesus’ life has always seemed to me, well, a little weird.  I know, I know…Jesus’ life was full of unique experiences and happenings – He is the Son of God, after all.  All four gospel accounts recorded it, and we celebrate this particular event every year, like clockwork.  Our calendars have this day marked out for us, just like it has Christmas and Easter.  It was a huge event in the life of Christ, but up until this recent study, I just couldn’t wrap my head around why it happened.

I’m talking about the Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, celebrated in churches each year as Palm Sunday. 

The Passover was the biggest event on the Jewish calendar.  It was the annual remembrance of when God used Moses to rescue His people from their cruel Egyptian masters, and sent the children Israel on the path to having their own land.  Due to the Roman occupation in Jesus’ day, the Israelites would have held this ceremony especially close, since God had promised that He would send someone like Moses – the Messiah – to come and rescue them again…and the Messiah would be the one to set up the Jewish kingdom to rule, forever.  Of course, there were rumors that Jesus was God’s Messiah…but people weren’t quite sure…

John 11:55-57
The Jewish Passover was near, and many went up to Jerusalem from the country to purify themselves before the Passover.  They were looking for Jesus and asking one another as they stood in the temple: “What do you think?  He won’t come to the festival, will He?”  The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was, he should report it so that they could arrest Him.

Jesus did come.  But first, He went to visit His friends – Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  His visit happened not long after He had raised Lazarus from the dead.  Of course they were excited to see Jesus, and they threw a big dinner party for Him to say THANK YOU.

John 12:1-3, 9-11
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead.  So they gave a dinner for Him there; Martha was serving them, and Lazarus was one of those reclining at the table with Him.  Then Mary took a pound of perfume, pure and expensive nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped His feet with her hair.  So the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume…Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there.  They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one He had raised from the dead.  But the chief priests had decided to kill Lazarus also, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus.

Can you feel the tension?  The Jews has been oppressed by Rome for nearly 100 years at this point.  The Passover was coming.  The religious leaders feared the nation was on the verge of revolt, with Jesus (and Lazarus) being the tipping point.  And then…this happened:

John 12:12-14, 17-19
The next day when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him. They kept shouting:

“Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord – the King of Israel!”

Meanwhile, the crowd which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify.  This is also why the crowd met Him, because they heard He had done this sign.  Then the Pharisees said to one another, “You see?  You’ve accomplished nothing.  Look, the world has gone after Him!”

No Facebook event page, no mass text, no TV commercial, no news broadcast coverage…and somehow, a parade breaks out?  While the people’s shouts may have contributed to the crowd swell, did you notice who John said was spreading the news of Jesus’ arrival?  The crowd which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify.

Lazarus’ pain, suffering, and death was what connected others to witnessing him being brought back to life.  These eye-witnesses were the ones who connected to an entire city, testifying that the one the Jews had heard about was, in fact, the Messiah the Jews had been waiting for.  Jesus’ Triumphal Entry didn’t just happen.  God had been coordinating events that were seemingly unconnected, all in the background, until His Plan was brought to light. 

His plan was that the world would stop and see Jesus for who He is – our Messiah, our Savior, our King.

But in order for the Triumphal Entry to happen and for Jesus to be revealed to an entire city…it cost Lazarus his life.  Christians often point to God’s willingness to send Jesus to the cross as proof that God will go to any length for us.  And that is absolutely true, God loves us that much…but the flip-side scares me, and no one ever talks about the flip-side: If God is willing to have Jesus die on a cross, then nothing in my life is untouchable or off-limits. 

Am I more valuable than Jesus?  Absolutely not.  If that’s the case, do I trust God when life hurts?  Do I believe He knows what He’s doing…even as my body fails me?  Am I willing to let God tell His story, even if He expects me to make a Lazarus-level sacrifice?

Am I willing to let my suffering set up Jesus’ Triumphal Return?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Struggling with not knowing God's purpose

Last time, we saw how Jesus’ disciples struggled to trust His plan, even after He explicitly told them what He was planning.  Now we’re going to look at the other side of the equation, the one we’re much more familiar with – struggling to cope when we do not know how God’s plan is going to unfold.

But first, a quick recap of the situation:

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are siblings who live outside of Jerusalem in a town called Bethany.  They also are very close to Jesus.  The Scriptures say repeatedly that Jesus loved them.  One day, Lazarus becomes so sick that the sisters send someone to make the several-days long hike to find Jesus and bring Him back so He can heal Lazarus.  As soon as He gets the news, Jesus says “Lazarus’ sickness will not end in death, but is for the glory of God” (John 11:4).  So that means He immediately gets up and leaves for Bethany, right?  Nope.  Instead, He waits.

John 11:6-7
So when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Then after that, He said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.  They didn’t get to hear Jesus’ response.  They just knew someone had gone to get Jesus.  Surely, He would come to Bethany as quickly as He could.  Probably only stopping to sleep, definitely moving as quick as possible during the daylight.  I can easily imagine the sisters trying to encourage their brother:

“Just hang on, Lazarus.  Jesus is coming.  When He gets here, he’ll make you better.  Just hold on.”

But what’s going through Lazarus’ mind?  He can feel his body giving out.  He’s likely in pain and suffering.  He wants to hold on, so Jesus can fix him…but he’s not sure how much longer he can keep on holding.  Does he worry about dying?  Does he worry about what happens to his sisters if Jesus doesn’t arrive in time?

And then…Jesus doesn’t arrive in time to perform a healing.  Lazarus dies.  His family and friends go through the Jewish burial ceremonies, prepare the body to be buried, and then put him in a cave of a tomb – sealing the entry with a large rock.

Their emotions had to have been all over the place.  They watched, helplessly, as their brother died.  Did the messenger not reach Jesus in time?  Was He delayed?  Why did this happen?  Why were their prayers unanswered?  They grieved and processed these questions for several days…and then Jesus shows up.

As if their world wasn’t topsy-turvy already, now a new round of emotions flooded over them.  Frustrated, surprised, angry, bewildered…how would you have felt?  While the sisters separately approached Jesus, they both had the same mindset:

John 11:20-21, 32
As soon as Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him, but Mary remained seated in the house.  Then Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”…As soon as Mary came to where Jesus was and saw Him, she fell at His feet and told Him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

I believe they were 100% right.  Based upon other comments Jesus makes in this chapter, I am certain that had He been there, Jesus would have healed Lazarus.  Even though it wasn’t what Mary and Martha wanted…He waited, and it wasn’t because He didn’t care:

John 11:33-35
When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, He was deeply moved in His spirit and troubled.

“Where have you put him?” He asked.
“Lord,” they told Him, “come and see.”

Jesus wept.

This moment answers the questions we often struggle with: “Where is God when bad things happen?  Where is Jesus when everything is wrong?  Where is God when it hurts?”

His timing may not be what we would choose, but we’re not abandoned.  He’s not cold and distant.  Jesus is deeply moved and troubled as He sees us struggle.  Jesus weeps right along side of us. 

Jesus cares deeply about what we’re going through.  Jesus weeps at how we are affected by the consequences of sin.  He knows that without Him, both physical and spiritual death is inevitable for all of us.

And although we struggle to see it, He knows exactly what He’s doing.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Struggling with knowing God’s purpose

We often want to know EXACTLY what God is up to.  We look around at the state of the world, or even at a struggle in our own lives and think, “Man, if only God would tell me WHY this is happening, I think I could deal with it all.

The truth is, we may be giving ourselves too much credit.  I’m not so sure that we could ‘handle it’ even if God was blunt and spoke plainly to us.  After all, take a look at the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ revealed plan for Lazarus:

John 11:5-10
Now Jesus loved Martha, her sister, and Lazarus.  So when He heard that [Lazarus] was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was.  Then after that, He said to the disciples, “Let’s go to Judea again.”

“Rabbi,” the disciples told Him, “just now the Jews tried to stone you, and you’re going there again?”

“Aren’t there twelve hours in a day?” Jesus answered.  “If anyone walks during the day, he doesn’t stumble, because he sees the light of this world.  But if anyone walks during the night, he does stumble, because the light is not in him.”


The disciples are trying to get Jesus to make a “business decision”.

If you haven’t heard the term before, it’s a straight-forward concept.  A “business decision” usually comes when people want to ensure their own safety, even if it means they end up taking a short-term loss, or even potentially end up neglecting others.  One modern-day example is sometimes seen in college football: a sure-fire top-10 draft pick decides to sit out of his team’s bowl game, because a good performance won’t help his stock any, so playing one last game isn’t worth the risk of injury to his future career.  Similarly, a few years back in the Super Bowl, a team’s starting Quarterback opted to not reach out for the football that was fumbled near him.  Why?  Because there were six 300 lb men also nearby, and they were all diving for the ball at the same time.  He didn’t want to risk injury, even if it meant the other team would recover the ball.  In that split-second, the QB made a “business decision”.

With the disciples, we really can’t blame them for bringing up what happened the last time they were in Jerusalem – the Jewish leaders did try to kill Jesus.  And if they’re ready to kill Him, then they would have no issues killing a disciple, either.  So, I understand their “business decision” argument.  Their line of thinking could have easily gone like this:  Jesus said that Lazarus would get better, and we’ve seen Him heal from a distance before, so why risk death when we don’t have to?  Instead, Jesus rebuffs their argument, reminding them that they will be fine as long as they are walking with Him.  Then Jesus tries to gently break the news to them about Lazarus…but they don’t quite understand:

 John 11:11-16
He said this, and then He told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on my way to wake him up.”

Then the disciples said to Him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will get well.”

Jesus, however, was speaking about his death, but they thought he was speaking about natural sleep.  So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus has died.  I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe.  But let’s go to him.”

Then Thomas (called “Twin”) said to his fellow disciples, “Let’s go too so that we may die with Him.”

Even after explicitly telling the disciples:
where He was going,
why He was going,
and what He was going to do when He got there…

Some of the disciples were still convinced Jesus’ actions were not going to end well.  Just like most of us probably would, Thomas uses sarcasm to cope with and even cover for his fear: “Well, since Jesus is on a death mission, we might as well march along with Him.  What else are we going to do?”

So here we have God telling them EXACTLY what He was up to…and they tried to talk Him out of it.  The important thing to note, however, was that after Jesus confirmed to them that this indeed was the direction He was going – the disciples still went with Him, even though they had reservations, because they trusted Him.  And because they followed, they witnessed the biggest miracle they had ever seen.

That’s our take home message here: Even when God’s chosen path doesn’t make sense, and we would have opted to take another route, we still follow Him because we trust Him. 

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
 

Delayed due to illness

I was unexpectedly sick today and, as such, unable to complete this week's post.

In the meantime, I intend to continue practicing the first step in the Christian life - drawing near to God - as detailed in last week's post:

Hebrews 10:22
let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water

It can feel frustrating to "repeat" lessons in life; we often want to learn quickly and then move on to the next lesson.  However...baby steps, in the right direction, are still good steps.

We'll take a look at part 2 next week.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Afraid of the bait-and-switch

I hate the bait-and-switch.

Whether it’s due to someone’s greed, circumstances beyond our control, or our own misunderstanding, we can end up getting less than what we expect.  As a result, we’re constantly on guard against situations that appear too good to be true.  We always have this lingering fear that we won’t fully get what has been advertised…and it makes us suspicious of good things that happen in our lives.

We carry this suspicion into our relationships, even with God.  Life’s changing circumstances and people letting us down can leave us wondering about the basic truths that we hold dear:  Does God really forgive me?  Can I sin “too much”?  Is there a line that I could cross and then God will reject me?  Is believing Jesus enough to have eternal life? 

Questions like these show that we’re nervous about our relationship foundation with God.  Is ok to ask questions, but also know that we can find answers.  We don’t have to sit in the dark wondering if God is going to change the rules or change His mind.

Progressing through his letter to the Hebrew believers, we find that as the author resumes his discussion of Christ’s superiority as our high priest, he shows us an important, bedrock truth:

Hebrews 7:20-25
[The Levites] became priests without an oath, but [Jesus] became a priest with an oath made by the One who said to Him:

              The Lord has sworn
               and will not change His mind,
               “You are a priest forever.”
(Psalm 110:4)

Because of this oath, Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.  Now many have become Levitical priests, since they are prevented by death from remaining in office.  But because He remains forever, He holds His priesthood permanently.

Therefore, He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them.

There is no concern of Jesus being a temporary representative for us before the Father; instead, Jesus is our permanent guarantee of access to God.  Besides, if Jesus did not live forever…how could I trust His claim that He can keep me alive forever?

Hebrews 7:26-28
For this is the kind of high priest we need: holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.  He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day, as high priests do – first for their own sins, then for those of the people.  He did this once for all time when He offered himself.

For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak, but the promise of the oath, which came after the law, appoints a Son, who has been perfected forever.

Jesus, the perfectly-suited high priest, gave the ultimately perfect sacrifice – and because the sacrifice was so great, it fulfilled our sin-debt in one fell swoop.  The Greater Messenger has done something that no one else has ever accomplished.

Hebrews 8:1-2
Now the main point of what is being said is this: We have this kind of high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary and the true tabernacle that was set up by the Lord and not man.

Since Jesus does not need to offer any further sacrifices, His ministry can develop beyond what the Israelites would have witnessed in their high priests’ ministry.  Jesus is therefore worthy of greater honor and is able to go on to greater things.

Oh, and He’s our brother in the Holy family.  And He’s offered to help us with our struggles, if we would only ask.

The most superior person in the universe desires this kind of relationship with us.  No bait-and-switch.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - Not Knowing

While I take time away, I decided to not leave you entirely.  I've decided to repost something I've learned, written about, and keep coming back to.  A Flashback Favorite, if you will.  This is one of the lessons that have stuck with me.

Not Knowing
originally posted on May 1, 2015

David is in trouble.

King Saul is hunting David, and Saul fully intends to kill him when he is found.

The game of cat and mouse between the two of them lasted four grueling years.  On several occasions, the King was very close to capturing David and his men.  We’ve been going through a psalm that David wrote in response to one of those times.

Up to this point in the psalm, David has cried out to God for grace and refuge.  But this time, Saul was pressing in close.  David could even recognize that there were various traps laid out for him:

Psalm 57:6
They prepared a net for my steps;
I was downcast.
They dug a pit ahead of me…

When David says I was downcast, the literal translation is my life bends low.  We’re not told at what point during the four years of running that this psalm was written…but you can almost hear the weariness in David’s voice.  He didn’t know that it would end after four years, so I’m certain that after two, or three, or more years of being on the run…David would have had times when he was feeling very low to ground.

It’s the not knowing that makes the trials so hard.

If David knew that he had to just survive for four years, then he could find a way to rely on himself to make it.  Given his military expertise, David certainly could have drawn up a four year plan to keep himself alive. 

But that’s the problem – knowing how long we need to survive a tough situation puts the focus directly on ourselves. 

God doesn’t tell us the future, or even let us in on how long our current trial will last, because He wants us to trust Him with the future.  Jesus said something similar to His disciples:

John 16:33
I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace.  You will have suffering in this world.  Be courageous!  I have conquered the world.

Jesus didn’t give His disciples a timeline for how long they would experience suffering.  Instead, He gave them Himself.

When we feel our lives bending low to the ground, don’t ask how much longer – just ask Jesus to come in closer.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Responding to injustice

There’s a lot of anger floating around these days.  Seems like everyone is upset about something, whether it is a personal situation or a national event.  Typically, our anger originates from a sense of injustice – we have something wrong happen to us, or we witness a wrong committed against others – and we want the injustice to be corrected. 

We were created in the image of God, which means we reflect some of His attributes.  Our desire for justice is one of them.  Our problem comes in that because we are sinful and fallen, our desire for justice is polluted.  When our selfishness and incomplete perspective is mixed with our hunger for seeing a wrong made right, the outcome is anything but clean.  The root of our motivation may be pure, but the execution of the “fix” often misses the mark.

Ideally, our anger at the situation and our inability to right the wrong would drive us toward God.  Since He is uncorrupted by sin and He has full understanding of all perspectives, He knows exactly how justice should be served.  However, we are all too ready to take God’s place in matters like these.  We much prefer the swift correction we feel our anger favors.  All too often, we allow ourselves to rage against injustice because we want it corrected NOW.

As we study Scripture, we are constantly reminded that what we go through and how we feel are not “new” things to humanity.  The ancient ones wrestled with the same issues that we do.  After observing the effects of those who actively chose to do evil towards others, David gave this instruction:

Psalm 37:8-9
Refrain from anger and give up your rage;
do not be agitated – it can only bring harm.
For evildoers will be destroyed,
but those who put their hope in the Lord will inherit the land.

David recognized that an immediate reaction to the anger he felt would not bring about the true justice he desired.  The temptation was to trust himself to rectify the wrong and punish the evildoer.  The rest of the psalm fleshes out the idea that it is God’s responsibility to ensure that wickedness is dealt with.

David was likely thinking of what God told Israel would happen to those who trusted in other gods:

Deuteronomy 32:35-36
“Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay.
In time their foot will slip,
for their day of disaster is near,
and their doom is coming quickly.”

The Lord will indeed vindicate His people
and have compassion on His servants

We shouldn’t ignore injustice; we shouldn’t choose to be inactive.  Instead, our responsibility is to continue to serve the Lord where we are, putting our hope and trust in Him to correct the wrongs in the world around us.  In His timing, not ours.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Will evildoers get away with it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interestingly, verse 3 could also be translated like this:

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Coming out of the detour

Seven months ago, life took a serious detour…a detour that would change the course of my family’s history from that point forward.

My company offered voluntary severance packages.  At least this time, anyway.  The previous two layoffs were not voluntary, and we all had the feeling that any future ones wouldn’t be voluntary, either.  The company’s offer this time was quite generous, but the catch (for our family, at least) was that for my line of work, we’d have to move…out of state…to find the next job.  We had built a good life in West Virginia for the last 13 years, fully expecting to raise our family in one town, one church, one house, and with the same group of friends all the way through high school. 

God had blessed us tremendously in West Virginia, but the more we talked about it, prayed about it, and mulled it over…we knew it was time to go.  So, I raised my hand and volunteered.

The hunt for the next job started immediately, even though I would stay on at work through the end of February.  At first, friends and family were happy for us and wished us well.  But as the months drug on, and the few leads I had didn’t pan out…the well-wishes turned to raised eyebrows and mumbled “hang in theres”.  No one deserted us, but their growing concern was thinly-veiled. 

We felt like we were constantly saying goodbye, but never leaving.  It became increasingly more difficult for all of us to tell people, “No news yet.  Don’t know where God will take us.”  It was wearing on me to stay vigilant over the budget and try to get the house ready to sell, while counting down the number of remaining severance checks.  I actually turned down a job offer from a good friend, because we knew it wasn’t where God wanted us next.  A few week later, the day after my next best lead went up in smoke, it happened – we got an offer on the house.

We had a solid offer on our current home and no home to go to.  Zero job prospects at that moment, and we had 10 weeks to get out of the house.  I panicked.  I didn’t sleep that night.  There was a lightning storm raging outside, but it wouldn’t have mattered…the storm inside was twice as intense. 

I don’t specifically remember accusing God of abandoning me, but that’s how I felt.  After hours of pouring my heart out to God…finally emptied out…I gave up, and gave in…

“Whatever job you want, Lord.  Whatever place you want, just show me where.  I don’t care what it is, I just need to know where to take my family next.”

I’m not kidding when I say that I woke up the next morning and found that the exact job I had been looking for…freshly posted and in the state we were most interested in – North Carolina.  I didn’t know anyone at that company.  I had no contacts or strings to pull.  Just a blind internet-submitted application and resume.  They called me three days later, and, within two weeks, I had accepted their generous offer.

To call this a coincidence would be naïve.  This whole detour journey has been a God-thing.  There’s no other way to describe it.  Even my non-Christian friends marvel at how well “everything just lined up so perfectly”.  Not that there weren’t frustrations and difficulties along the way, but this isn’t a normal, natural story.  It’s SUPERnatural, without a doubt.

We’ve closed on our house in West Virginia, and by the time this is posted, we’ll have closed on our new home in North Carolina.  We’ve come out of the unexpected detour for the better in a lot of ways…but best of all, we’ve had our faith grow and mature in ways that will echo through the future of our family.  The next chapter is just beginning…and I can’t wait to see what God wants to write.

As for this blog, I intend to continue with the once-a-week schedule until the dust settles here a little.  I’d love to get back to the twice-a-week format, but we’ll see how God leads.

For right now, though, the back end of Psalm 31 describes just how ridiculously blessed we are.  I get a little choked up each time I read it.

Psalm 31:19-24
How great is Your goodness
that You have stored up for those who fear You,
and accomplished in the sight of everyone
for those who take refuge in You.

You hide them in the protection of Your presence;
You conceal them in a shelter
from the schemes of men,
from quarrelsome tongues.

May the Lord be praised,
for He has wonderfully shown His faithful love to me
in a city under siege.
In my alarm I had said,
“I am cut off from Your sight.”
But You heard the sound of my pleading
when I cried to You for help.

Love the Lord, all His faithful ones.
The Lord protects the loyal,
but fully repays the arrogant.
Be strong and courageous,
all you who put your hope in the Lord.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Does the past predict the future?

Past performance is not indicative of future results. 

We see that phrase all over the place, especially when investing money is involved.  It’s the author’s attempt at a legal disclaimer: “Don’t blame me if you lose all your money by trusting this investment I’m recommending.”  And yet, more often than not, the author is basing his or her assessment of “investment worthiness” on the stock’s historical performance.  Strange contradiction, right?

Isn’t that how we treat God sometimes?  We look back at everything He’s done for us, all the times He’s rescued us…and while we confidently say the right things “I trust God with my future.”, we end up worrying about how events will unfold.  Like the unsteady investor, we’re contradicting ourselves as we attempt to point others toward Jesus.

David begins Psalm 27 with his current outlook, looks back at his past, then extrapolates these out to his future.  Do you find any unsteadiness?

Psalm 27:1-3
The Lord is my light and my salvation –
whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life –
of whom should I be afraid?
When evildoers came against me to devour my flesh,
my foes and my enemies stumbled and fell.
Though an army deploy against me,
my heart is not afraid;
though war break out against me,
still I am confident.


David could look back and see that when someone was gunning for his life, God stepped in and took care of it.  We shouldn’t blow this off with the thought of “well, no one’s trying to kill me, so I can’t relate”.  There are many, many ways others will try to take a pound of flesh from us.  Ruined reputations, finances, careers, marriages, community involvement, even volunteer positions could all be targets of those who want to take us down.

Notice, too, that David doesn’t say God prevented all hardship; rather, with the benefit of hindsight, David could see how his foes and enemies stumbled and fell.  Best of all, David recognized that God was the one who handled his foes.  Instead of proclaiming that he survived the ordeal, David gives God the proper credit for his protection.

David’s current confidence and faith in God was rooted in God’s previous workings in David’s life.  So much so that David says he will still trust God even if the future trials are significantly worse.  Previously, individual evildoers threatened him.  Now, David says that even if multitudes come against him – armies or full-scale war – he will remain confident in God’s ability to handle the future.

David is not worried about the future.  He knows that he can find light and rescue and strength in the Lord.  He’s not adding any disclaimers or hedging his bets anywhere else.  Given everything God has done for us in the past, we should also be giving Him our full trust with our futures.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Show me the way

Other than physical healing, the most common prayer request we bring before God is a request for guidance.  We ask God to “reveal His path” or “guide our steps” or “show us how to handle a person/situation”.  And rightfully so – God knows everything better than we do, so He’s the best one to give advice and direction whenever we get stuck.

But has it ever crossed your mind that sometimes God chooses to not answer our requests for guidance?

David had plenty of instances in his life where he needed God’s guidance.  From the shepherding of his youth, to evading Saul’s desire to kill him, to leading Israel as King…David constantly relied on God to get him through it all.

Fortunately for us, David wrote down many of his conversations with God in prayerful songs.  Throughout the psalms he wrote, David returns to the idea that he needs the Lord’s guidance.  However, David’s request also recognizes our two-way relationship with God.  So, we need to watch for David’s part in the relationship as we read:

Psalm 25:4-5, 8-10, 12-14
Make Your ways known to me, Lord; teach me Your paths.
Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation;
I wait for You all day long.

The Lord is good and upright; therefore He shows sinners the way.
He leads the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.
All the Lord’s ways show faithful love and truth
to those who keep His covenant and decrees. 

Who is the person who fears the Lord?
He will show him the way he should choose.
He will live a good life, and his descendants will inherit the land.
The secret counsel of the Lord is for those who fear Him,
and He reveals His covenant to them.

David can’t flippantly live life and then expect that God will be his magic 8-ball or cosmic vending machine whenever he gets stuck.  If David trusts God enough to ask about the unknown, then David should at least be following the known instructions God has already given him.

David notes four responsibilities we have before we can ask God to show us His way:

patiently wait
be humble
keep His covenant and decrees
respectfully fear the Lord

Asking God for guidance means that we recognize His superior understanding of life; therefore, we should first regard what God has already revealed before we ask Him about things or situations that He hasn’t yet revealed.

Notice too, that David doesn’t say we have to be sinlessly perfect, either.  God is willing to show sinners the way, provided we humbly understand Whom it is we’re asking for guidance.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Trusting enough

Turn on a news broadcast or read through the headlines on any webpage, and it’s easy to get discouraged about the direction the world is heading in.  Despite humanity’s best efforts and good intentions, we continue to slide down the slope toward self-destruction. 

I am reminded of Jesus’ last words in the Bible, where He says

Revelation 22:20
“Yes, I am coming quickly.”

And I think how quickly is quickly?  How bad does it have to get?  How many more atrocities will God allow us to inflict on one another before He steps in and says “ENOUGH”?  How much more opposition will we have to deal with until God finally rescues us?

Despite warning Timothy about the difficulties, and instructing him on how to deal with them, Paul didn’t want Timothy to totally focus on how hard his task was or how long it would last.

1 Timothy 6:13-14
In the presence of God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good confession before Pontius Pilate, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in His own time. 

Timothy’s “mission completed” point isn’t when he thinks Christ should be coming back, instead it is when God the Father decides…which [He] will bring about in His own time

And why could Timothy trust God’s timing?  Ephesus wasn’t an easy place, it was a melting pot of sinful cultures.  There were popular views about God that were completely false.  There were people in charge that didn’t even acknowledge God.  And there was plenty of opposition to Timothy defending the true gospel message.  I’m sure there were times when he would have thought “Ok, God…You can send Jesus back anytime time now…”

In the next sentence, Paul reminds Timothy of who God is.  Do you think this resume supports God sending Jesus back in His own time?

1 Timothy 6:15-16
He is
the blessed and only Sovereign,
the King of kings,
and the Lord of lords,
the only One who has immortality,
dwelling in unapproachable light,
whom none of mankind has seen or can see,
to whom be honor and eternal might.
Amen.

In addition to remembering our good confession, the way Timothy would keep going with his mission was to remember who gave him his marching orders. 

Since God gives life to all, do I trust Him with what He says I should do with my life?  When I read through the God’s resume in verses 15-16, do those attributes convince me that God also knows what He’s doing when it comes to the timing of Christ’s return?

Instead of wondering “How much longer?”, our question should be “How can I trust Him today?”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Finding guidance

When I was a child, my mother tasked me with memorizing what is likely the most famous sentence in the book of Proverbs.  From the New International Version Bible translation, I learned

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight.

I have always taken these verses to mean that I should (obviously) trust God’s direction more than my own desires.  I also assumed that the second half of the sentence meant something like

When I talk about what’s happened in my past, if I give God “the glory” or the credit for whatever good has happened to me, then He’ll make my life go easier.

However, my assumed meaning was not correct.

The Hebrew word for acknowledge is much deeper than a mere ‘hat tip’ in God’s direction.  The word means to know well, and the context of its usage can indicate a deep, intimate level of knowing.  Perhaps a better rendering of Solomon’s advice to his son is found in the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation:

Proverbs 3:5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own understanding;
think about Him in all your ways,
and He will guide you on the right paths.

Notice now how the directions that Solomon is giving his son are all in the present tense?  Trust…do not rely…think about…with God’s portion being future: He will guide.  So the main point of Solomon’s fatherly advice is clear – we are to include God in all areas of our day-to-day lives.  By thinking about Him in all our ways, we naturally bring Him in on what we are thinking, feeling, and doing.  By considering Him and trusting Him, we will surely have guidance for us to find the right paths.

One other observation to consider – in all your ways really does mean in ALL your ways.

Not just on the days when the sun is shining.
Not just the times when life is steady and good.
Not only when our relationships are ok.

I don’t think it was an accident that a few lines later, as he was fleshing out what he said in verses 5 and 6, that Solomon talked about how his son should react to punishment:

Proverbs 3:11-12
Do not despise the Lord’s instruction, my son,
and do not loathe His discipline;
for the Lord disciplines the one He loves,
just as a father, the son he delights in.

God disciplines out of love, the same as our parents did for us.  If they didn’t care at all, we would not have been reprimanded, corrected, or punished.  Even when we’re being disciplined or punished by God – and there are times we need it – the promise of verses 5 and 6 still hold true.

[If we] Trust in the Lord with all our heart,
and do not rely on our own understanding;

[If we] think about Him in ALL our ways,
[then] He will guide us on the right paths.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

Wanting to know "Why?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

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

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

False "spiritual" paths

The path to maturity is riddled with detours.  Since our lives don’t travel a perfectly straight course, the detours sometimes look like the correct path.  Paul encouraged the Colossian believers to rely on Christ for both their salvation and 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.

After showing them the path to maturity, Paul gives the Colossians a specific warning about the kinds of ideas that will try to sway them away from the truth.  These ideas, and their sources, need to be carefully considered.

Colossians 2:8
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.

Philosophy is a love of wisdom.  Notice that Paul isn’t saying that all philosophy is bad.  Instead, he is warning the Colossians that they need to be fully aware of a philosophy’s foundation.  If the wisdom we love is not based upon Christ, then we are loving an empty idol. 

However, this false-philosophy idol isn’t necessarily powerless.  In fact, Paul says that those whose teachings are not based on Christ will try to take you captive.  The Greek word for captive is a strong term that means to carry away, just like thief steals loot.  The thief takes what is valuable away from its proper place and carries it off to where it doesn’t belong.  Similarly, a philosophy based on human tradition will also do to us…it will carry us off to beliefs that are not Christ-like.

There are many false teachings around today that claim to show us how to become more “spiritual”; however, the best remedy has always been to rely on God’s Word alone to know what is pleasing to God.  Throughout the pages of Scripture, God has revealed that a “spiritual” person is someone who is like Christ.  Do we trust God enough to let Him make us Christ-like?  Or do we feel like we need to add other influences?

When we feel the need to add other influences besides God, what we’re really saying comes down to one of three options:

We think God might miss something that will make us into the person we were made to be. 
We believe that some other philosophy will be an acceptable short-cut to where God would eventually take us.
We just really like this other idea, and we’ll convince ourselves that God agrees with it.

As we navigate the path we’re on, we need to be certain that our philosophy, traditions, and driving forces in our lives are based on Christ.  To have any other foundation shows that either we’re not carefully considering the path we’re on, or that we’d don’t fully trust God with our lives in the here and now.

Keep Pressing,
Ken