Pressing On


A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: truth

Buyers vs Sellers

The concept of buying and selling is inescapable in our culture.  There are shops set up everywhere we look, trying to entice us with items we may (or may not) need.  Radio, TV, and internet commercials are strategically placed to get a product in front of those most likely to be persuaded to buy them.  Even if you can’t afford to pay for something at the moment, there are traps…I mean, offers…to help you instantly increase your purchase ability.

But when you get right down to it, everything has an associated cost.  Even if we’re not talking about money, we view our time and effort in terms of being “spent” or “sold”.  We judge ourselves based upon how well we believe we have “spent” our time.  That’s also the concept behind getting paid for doing work.  I agree to “sell” you my time and efforts in exchange for $10/hour, $20/hour, or $100/hour…all depending upon the value you and I agree to for my labors.

The exchange of money or time or effort for something else comes down to a question of value.  And what we, as individuals, place value on will vary greatly.  How we perceive the value of an item or an experience is inherently subjective…and then throw in the clamoring of the marketplace, the influence of social media, on top of our own inner monologues…it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all of our choices and options.

As always, God has stepped in to give us direction.  Toward the end of the book of Proverbs, we find this statement:

Proverbs 23:23
Buy – and do not sell – truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

The proverb has a genuine wisdom-feel to it, does it not?  Whether you read it or hear someone say it, it’s one of those statements where we can all solemnly nod in agreement…and then move on with our lives…

But how do we actually apply this concept of buy and selling when it comes to these elements? 

The easier of the two is the idea of buying.  So much so that you can probably answer right away.  The first way we can buy truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding is with our time.  Do we spend our time securing the truth, seeking wisdom and instruction, or prioritizing understanding?  Another piece of purchase power we have is our finances.  Would our spending habits reflect the pursuit of these things?

The idea of selling can be a bit of a head-scratcher until we remember that the act of selling is just like buying – it is an exchange of something we have in order to obtain something else.  Looking at our actions, do we find times where we’ve decided that life would be a little more convenient if we glossed over the truth?  Have we ignored wisdom because we really want the shiny object in front of us?  Have we replaced instruction and understanding with so-called “blissful” ignorance?

Additionally, whatever we would exchange truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding for would not be worth as much as those elements.  Could money or fame or more shiny stuff really make you better off if they were purchased at the cost of our truthfulness or good judgment?  In the long run, I think not…

The worst Biblical example of selling something valuable comes in Paul’s letter to the believers in Rome.  Paul is stating that those who reject God and His truth are living under His wrath now, in this present life.  In the midst of his discussion of those who make self-centered, unchecked-passion-driven choices, Paul gives this selling analogy:

Romans 1:25
They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served what has been created instead of the Creator…

What we prioritize and how we spend our time, talent, and treasure matters greatly.  Solomon wants us to recognize it and make choices accordingly:

Proverbs 23:23
Buy – and do not sell – truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

Keep Pressing,

Bedrock truth

It’s amazing to me that it’s the simple ideas that keep us going. 

I love playing in the sandbox of theology, looking over the constructs of other people’s best understanding of God.  Some ridiculously smart people have thought through God’s Word and arrived at some intricate, mind-blowing conclusions.  The mental gymnastics it takes to keep up while comparing their thoughts to Scripture is both exhausting and exciting to me.

But not when detours happen.

When I’m already mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted…I’m not looking for deep-thought theology.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want “mamby-pamby feelly-good” sentiments either.  When life takes a detour, I need simple, straight-forward, bedrock truth.

David understood this need.  He felt it, too. 

This week, I’ve been dwelling on Psalm 16.  It wasn’t until the second day, when I had already read through the psalm several times, that I noticed a four-word sentence at the end of verse five.  But as soon as I saw it, those four simple words became my anchor.

Psalm 16:5
You hold my future.

David needed to say these words to God, to remind himself of what was true.  Despite whatever he saw coming his way, how he felt, or who was causing him trouble…David’s future was in God’s hands. 

Since noticing that verse, I have kept my Bible open next to me as I work on our next step.  Whenever the tension would rise and the stress would start to build and my mind would start to cloud up with doubt…I would look over and read those words out loud.

You. Hold. My. Future.

That’s all it took to calm me back down so I would be able to go forward again.  Just that small dose of truth.  Remembering that Someone who is more powerful, who understands more, who sees more, and – most importantly – who loves me…that Someone is the One who holds my future.

When life takes a detour, what we really need is to be reminded of the simple, powerful, foundational truths.

I am not alone.  Neither are you.
I am not abandoned.  Neither are you.
I can go forward.  So can you.
He holds my future.  He holds yours, too.

Keep Pressing,

Remembering in order to persevere

We all have special moments of truth in life.  These drive-a-stake-in-the-ground moments happen when we discover or decide something to be true, and we choose to change the direction of our lives because of them.  These moments include times like taking vows when getting married, signing to purchase a home or vehicle, and when we accept Christ as our Savior. 

Based upon these declarations, we confirm to ourselves and others that, going forward, we will take action that is dependent upon this truth.  In our three examples above, we are confessing that we choose this person as our spouse above all others, that we’re going to pay off the loan, and that we’re trusting Christ for eternal life.

When times get tough – marital problems, financial issues, spiritual doubts – we can look back to those special moments of truth, remember what we said we would do, and then draw the strength from our initial resolve.

Timothy had moments like that, too.  Given the struggles he was going to face as he dealt with the melting pot culture of Ephesus and the abundance of false teachings, he would need some encouragement.  Paul instructed him to find encouragement in what he already knew to be true.

1 Timothy 6:12
Fight the good fight for the faith;
take hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
and have made a good confession
before many witnesses.

However, this is more than a “you said you would” moment…Paul didn’t want Timothy to think he was the only one.  So, he also gives Timothy an example to remember and lean upon:

1 Timothy 6:13-15
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.

Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, point blank, if He was the King of the Jews (John 18:33).  And when asked, Jesus didn’t shy away from stating his mission.  Earlier, when He was struggling with the impending pain and suffering and death, Jesus’ high priestly prayer was about relying on God the Father.  When He would struggle later as He hung on the cross, Jesus quoted scripture to help Him stay on mission.

Paul’s point is that Timothy, too, can stay on mission…he can keep the commandment to fight the good fight and take hold of eternal life in the here and now.  No matter what life throws at him, and no matter the opposition this young leader would face in Ephesus, Timothy can look back to his own good confession of who Christ is in his life…and find the strength to complete his own mission and calling.  Just like Jesus did.

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The one thing God wants us to know

If you were to boil everything in life down to one idea, what would it be?  What is the one thing that God wants us to know?

1 Timothy 2:1-4
First of all, then, I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 

This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

So what is the truth the God wants everyone to know and accept?

1 Timothy 2:5-7
For there is one God and mediator between God and man,
a man, Christ Jesus,
who gave Himself – a ransom for all, a testimony at the proper time.

For this I was appointed a herald, an apostle (I am telling the truth; I am not lying), and a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

A mediator is responsible for brokering the conditions of a settlement between two opposing parties.  This person is not involved in the conflict and does not take sides, but their job is to use their persuasiveness to convince both parties to compromise a little bit of what each one wants so that reconciliation can occur.  The difficulty with the problem between God and man was that God is incapable of compromising His holiness and mankind is unable to offer an acceptable sacrifice as atonement for our sin of rebellion against God.

Given this stalemate, Christ Jesus did what only a desperate mediator would do – He entered into the negotiations Himself.  Because Jesus is fully God and fully man – not a partial, not half/half, not a created being – His abilities and attributes are unmatched by anyone or anything else.  As such, Jesus has the greatest value in all creation…which is why giving Himself has the ability to be a ransom for all.

As Paul had previously told the believers in Ephesus:

Ephesians 1:20-21
[God the Father] demonstrated this power in the Messiah by raising Him from the dead and seating Him at His right hand in the heavens – far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion, and every title given, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

God thinks so highly of Christ Jesus’ sacrifice that He is willing to accept everyone who will come to the knowledge of the truth and believe in Jesus for eternal life.  The value of Christ’s sacrifice is so great that ANY and EVERY sin is covered.  In a practical sense, this means that a mass-murderer and your average, nice-guy neighbor both have the same opportunity for a relationship with God.

The flip side is that because God thinks so highly of Jesus’ sacrifice, He will not accept anyone who rejects Jesus’ offer as their ransom.  As such, they will have to stand on their own record…and when left to that scenario, none of us make the cut.

This is gospel in a nutshell.  The focus is on how great a sacrifice Jesus made, not on how badly we’ve sinned in comparison to other sinners.  That is the one message God wants us to know – that a direct relationship with Him is now available because of what Jesus has done.  The mediator has stepped in to do what we could not, in order that we could be reconciled to God the Father.

Keep Pressing,

Generational mentoring

A proverb is a saying that is usually rather short and easy to remember, but contains a profound nugget of truth.  This type of memory device is not unique to any particular culture.  In fact, we use plenty of them today. 

For example, we say things like “A stitch in time saves nine.”  This little phrase reminds us that taking care of an issue early will prevent us from having to do additional work in the future.

There are many proverbs in the Scriptures, in addition to an entire book of Bible being a collection of them.  Most Christians know that the majority of the wisdom sayings in the book of Proverbs were written by King Solomon.  However, do you know why Solomon brought together the collection of proverbs?

Solomon’s proverb collection doesn’t actually begin until Chapter 10, so Chapters 1 through 9 form an introduction to the proverbs.  It’s in this introduction that Solomon repeatedly states why he considers wisdom to be so important.  However, it’s equally clear that he had a specific audience in mind.

Nineteen times in Chapters 1 through 9 Solomon addresses either “my son” or “my sons”.  Take a look at a small sampling:

2:1  My son, if you accept my words…
3:1  My son, don’t forget my teaching…
4:20 My son, pay attention to my words…
5:7  So now, my sons, listen to me…

We can definitely see that Solomon’s heart is to mentor and develop his sons.  However, in one portion of the introduction, Solomon reveals how he learned about the importance of wisdom:

Proverbs 4:1-9
Listen, my sons, to a father’s discipline,
and pay attention so that you may gain understanding,
for I am giving you good instruction.
Don’t abandon my teaching.

When I was a son with my father, tender and precious to my mother,
he taught me and said:

“Your heart must hold on to my words.
Keep my commands and live.  Get wisdom, get understanding;
don’t forget or turn away from the words of my mouth.
Don’t abandon wisdom, and she will watch over you;
love her, and she will guard you. 

Wisdom is supreme – so get wisdom.
And whatever else you get, get understanding.
Cherish her, and she will exalt you;
if you embrace her, she will honor you.
She will place a garland of grace on your head;
she will give you a crown of beauty.”

Solomon knew the importance of wisdom because that is what he was taught.  King David instilled the lessons he learned into Solomon, who in turn passed these lessons down to his sons.  How each generation handled wisdom certainly varied, but they all knew of wisdom’s importance because its value was taught to them.

We don’t have to have the full wisdom of Solomon to be a mentor, either.  We just have to be willing to pass on what we have been taught.

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Jesus is "all that"

Sometimes we accept large concepts as being true, but we don’t necessarily recognize “how true” the concept is until we break it down into smaller chunks and realize the parts of life it applies to.

We know that Jesus said the most important commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.  The second is just like it – to love your neighbor as yourself.

Easy to say.  Easy to understand.  But when we start looking at all the specific ways that truth applies in our lives and in the grand scheme of humanity…our eyes open wider, we breathe in a little slower, and we mentally wrestle with how far-reaching Jesus’ words really are.

Similarly, when we read about Jesus as the “King of Kings” or “ruling over all the nations”, we usually acknowledge those statements as true and then move on.  We believe them; we’re not doubting those facts…we simply don’t take the time to think through those statements all the way to their natural conclusions. 

As Paul writes to the believers in Colossae, he wants them to have a complete picture of Jesus.  The rest of the letter will continue with the theme of Christ’s supremacy over all things and people.  It is here in the introduction that Paul begins with how much greater Jesus is, how comprehensive His authority is, and how far His governing reaches.

Paul makes this point by repeating one small Greek word over and over and over.  In these 5 verses, Paul says the word esti a total of eight times.  To help us English-speakers understand, the word esti is translated into two different words.  However, both English words convey the totality and completeness that Paul intended.  As you read this passage, look for anytime Paul uses the words all and everything.  What does Jesus have “all” of?  How far does “everything” go?

Colossians 1:15-20
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation;
because by Him everything was created, in heaven and on earth,
the visible and the invisible,
whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities –
all things have been created through Him and for Him.
He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together.

He is also the head of the body, the church;
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
so that He might come to have first place in everything.

For God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Him,
and through Him to reconcile everything to Himself
by making peace through the blood of His cross –
whether things on earth or things in heaven.

From the descriptions in these verses, we see that Jesus’ authority is both supreme and total.  He rightfully rules over all creation since He is the Creator.  Since Jesus created it all, that means He is also before all things, which boggles our minds to think that Jesus existed…before our timeline began.  Also, Jesus doesn’t lose track of any part of what He created – He holds all things together.  Which means He has intimate knowledge of every part of everything, at every second of every day.

Are we starting to see the immensity of who Jesus is?
Are we beginning to recognize His authority over everything?

Because Jesus is fully God – not a partial, not half/half, not a created being – His abilities and attributes are unmatched by anyone or anything else.  As such, Jesus has the greatest value in all creation…which is why the blood of His cross has the ability to reconcile everything.

This is our Savior.  This is our King.
This is the man who loves you enough to die in your place.

He truly deserves to have first place in everything.

Keep Pressing,

Saved from what?

As modern-day believers, we have a habit of over-spiritualizing everything we read in the Bible.  We tend to read our understanding of words and phrases from one section of the Bible into all other sections.  Instead, we need to remember that the meaning of a word or phrase is always understood based upon the context that word is used in. 

Take, for example, the word run:
I run for public office.
I run marathons.
Allergies make my nose run.

Same word – three totally different meanings.  However, what I am communicating to you in each sentence is clear, based upon the context of the surrounding words.

When we read the Bible, what is the word that we most typically ignore the context of and mis-read the author’s meaning?

It’s the word salvation or save.

In both the Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, the word for save simply means to be rescued or delivered.  What we typically assume is the New Testament concept of Jesus rescuing us from the consequences of our sin and giving eternal life to those who believe in Him for it.  And that is a proper use of the word save – as long as that idea is the author’s topic.  Other things that Biblical authors need saved from include: enemies, danger, circumstances, physical death, illness, captivity, and several others. 

So whenever we come across the word salvation or save, we need to stop and ask the question “Saved from what?”.

When David writes Psalm 57, he’s not asking God to rescue him for eternal life…even though it would be tempting for us to read that into the text:

Psalm 57:1-3
Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me,
for I take refuge in You.
I will seek refuge in the shadow of Your wings
until danger passes.

I call to God Most High,
to God who fulfills His purpose for me.
He reaches down from heaven and saves me,
challenging the one who tramples me.

God sends His faithful love and truth.

So how do we know that David isn’t talking about (or even alluding to) eternal salvation when he says that God reaches down from heaven and saves me, challenging the one who tramples me?

By looking at the context.

While the numbering system used for the Psalms isn’t original to the text, there are sometimes instructions or notes about the psalm left by the author.  The instructions can vary from what kind of instrument or tune is needed for the psalm, who wrote the psalm, or even give detail as to when the psalm was written.

In the case of Psalm 57, the notes tell us the circumstances which influenced David to write. 

For the choir director: “Do Not Destroy.”  A Davidic Miktam.  When he fled before Saul into the cave.

David was hunted by Saul for four years.  Saul resented that God had chosen David to succeed him as king, and Saul rationalized that if he killed David, then he could continue being King of Israel.  There were many tense occasions during those four years, several times where it looked like Saul had David trapped. 

Psalm 57 was born out of one of those times.  David was in trouble.  Like the text says, Saul was trampling David.  The grace, refuge, and salvation that David was petitioning God for was his physical rescue from Saul.  Based upon the Biblical account of those years, and that David did eventually become King of Israel…we know God’s answer to David’s prayer in Psalm 57.

We don’t have to find inspiration by reading eternal salvation from sins into the text…because a plain reading of what the text is actually talking about is plenty encouraging – from David’s example, we see how God cares enough about our current physical situations to protect us and to fulfill His purpose for us.

God keeps His promises.  He’s willing and able to protect us in this life, even in the times we feel completely trapped.  That great truth is there for us to see, as long as we read the text for what it says and resist the urge to read something else into it.

Keep Pressing,

Seeking and expressing

I’ve always liked stories and analogies.  You can speak a sentence of truth to me, and I’ll hear you.  Relate that same truth in a word picture or in a story, and I will understand you.

I think that characteristic is what draws me to the psalms, especially ones that David wrote.  While he wasn’t afraid to express his raw emotions, he was also rather creative in communicating how his circumstances were affecting him.

Read the psalm carefully, looking for David’s word pictures:

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.

Since his heart is without strength, David is figuratively looking for a refuge, a safe place for shelter.  In just a few lines, David describes his heart’s refuge in three distinct images.

Lead me to a rock that is high above me.  In any military campaign, the high ground has strategic advantage over any enemy.  The attacker has to contend with lousy sight-lines and little cover; whereas the one who controls the high ground is safe from many attacks and can readily defend against most others.

A strong tower in the face of the enemy.  A tower was the best defended position in the city.  Not only was it elevated, but it would also house supplies and weapons to keep it defended.  The most important people took shelter in the tower when an enemy launched a full-frontal attack.

I will…take refuge under the shelter of Your wings.  Clearly, this is a metaphor – David isn’t advocating that God has feathers.  However, the image that comes to mind here is quite powerful.  Under the protection of a parent’s wings, the young birds are protected from all sorts of outside influences.  They are kept safe and have a special nearness with the one who is providing the protection.

David uses all three descriptions to explain the kind of refuge for his weary heart to find in God.  Each of these images can grab our attention in ways that a normal, straight-forward statement cannot.  By using these very descriptive words, David is able to express exactly what he needs and clearly relay that to us. 

What metaphor would you use to describe your relationship with God when your heart is without strength?  How could you communicate your desire to know Him when times are difficult? 

Evaluating our relationship with God in these picture-driven words can help us express our feelings to God, and potentially draw in others.  I encourage you to give it a try.

Keep Pressing,

Set apart by truth

As Jesus continued to petition the Father during His ‘High Priestly Prayer’, the disciples discovered a central truth of how they were going to maintain their oneness with the Father.

John 17:16-19 They are not of the world, as I am not of the world.
Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.
As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.
I sanctify Myself for them, so they also may be sanctified by the truth.

Because they believed in Jesus for eternal life, the disciples were no longer of the world, meaning that they no longer represented the world’s values and the world’s values no longer represented them.  They were, in fact, separated out from the world.  From this, Jesus requests that the Father would sanctify them.  To be sanctified means to be set apart for a Holy purpose.  Jesus will be sending His disciples into the world, into a realm that no longer represents them.  In this way, their mission will be just like Jesus’ mission – enter into hostile territory in order to proclaim the good news of salvation and Christ’s offer of eternal life for all who believe.

However, the part that blows me away is verse 17 – Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.

Jesus asks the Father to set apart the disciples for a Holy purpose, and He requests that the Father accomplishes the sanctification by the truth…which sounds all well and good, and would be a wonderful request if Jesus had stopped His sentence right there.  But He didn’t stop…instead, in His request to the Father, Jesus revealed one of the most rock-bottom, foundational, and practical realities for anyone who follows Jesus:

Your word is truth.

It is only in the Father’s statements that the truth of life is found.  The Father proclaims truth, and it is by that truth the disciples will be set apart.  As the Father’s truth enters their lives and they become more like Jesus, they will be made ready to participate in God’s Holy purposes – both in this life and in eternity.

And it gets better as Jesus continues…

John 20-21 I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message.
May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You.
May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.

Jesus prayed SPECIFICALLY for us.  We are the ones who have believed in Jesus through the disciples’ message.  Jesus asked the Father that we would also experience the same intimately connected “oneness” with the Father that Jesus was praying for His disciples.

At the end of verse 21, Jesus revels our purpose in being so intimately connected with each other and with God: so the world may believe You sent Me.  Just like the disciples, we too are set apart, for God’s Holy purpose of showing the world that the Father sent Jesus to be our Savior and that eternal life is available for those who trust in Him for it.

Our “oneness” with the Father is what spreads this message.  Being one with the Father, as Jesus was, will sanctify us…and our relationship with the Father is maintained by focusing on the truth of God’s word. 

God has spoken His word to humanity in two distinct ways – through the Bible (which we commonly refer to as ‘God’s Word’) and through His son Jesus (who is referred to as ‘the Word’). 

If we are going to participate in God’s Holy purpose and share the good news in the world, then our next step is both straightforward and practical – we must spend time in God’s Word and with Jesus, the Word.

Keep Pressing,

Excellent and profitable

Titus 3:8 This is a trustworthy saying.  And I want you to stress these things,

The New Testament church was living during the time when the New Testament was being written.  While that seems like an obvious statement, we need to remember that when Paul wrote this letter to Titus, the amount of Scripture available to believers was significantly less that what is available to us. 

If an actual parchment copy was available, then the Cretan believers would have had the Old Testament, and perhaps a few of Paul’s early letters.  That’s it.  So the first century church developed Creeds, or statements that could be memorized, which explained their faith in Jesus and encouraged the believers to live out their faith before others.  These Creeds needed to be dependable and worthy of confidence, short enough to memorize, and pity enough to communicate truth.  The section we have been looking at contains one of those statements.

Titus 3:3-7 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

While it might seem impossible to memorize this much of Scripture all at once…when we’re honest with ourselves, we know many songs longer than these verses, and we know the songs word-for-word as soon as we hear the first three chords. 

Memorizing these five verses helped the first century believers stay on track with their relationships with God and with those around them.  If we take the time and put in a little effort, they can be the same life-giving reminder to us as well.

But you don’t have to take my word for it, take a look at what Paul told Titus about this Creed:

Titus 3:8 And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.  These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Strive to have everything we do be something both excellent and profitable.  Committing God’s truth to memory will definitely do that.  You’ll be surprised at how easy it really is to memorize Scripture, and you’ll be even more amazed at the impact it will have on your life.

Keep Pressing,