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: witnessing

An engagement ring, the Holy Spirit, and witnessing

It felt like any other workday as everyone came in, but before I could even start with the normal Monday morning pleasantries – How was your weekend?  What did you do? – a coworker actually jumped into my path and started waving her left hand in my face.  The diamond on her ring was close enough to poke me in the nose, and as I pulled back, I could see the large smile on her face.  She was practically giddy that the man she had spent so much time getting to know had asked her to marry him.  All day long, she bounced from person to person, telling anyone she knew about their relationship and future together.

My co-worker had gotten to know this man and was already in love with him.  Most people at work knew she was dating, but didn’t really know how serious they were or if they had any future plans together.  However, when the proposal moment came and he placed the ring on her finger, everything snapped into focus.  Because of the ring and her bubbly excitement, everyone at work soon found out that she had experienced a life-changing moment and that she was in a life-changing relationship.

The memory of that Monday has stuck with me for many years.  It was so easy for her to tell others about her relationship, how special it was for her, and how her talking about it felt like a celebration of their relationship.  I’ve often compared this to how most Christians share their faith with others, and obviously there are significant differences.  I think every Christian would love to have the confidence, boldness, and excitement that my coworker had, and we often scold ourselves for not having the courage to share.  So, what do we do?  Typically, we go one of two ways: either we grit our teeth and fumble around in the awkwardness of forcing “Jesus” into a conversation, or we resign ourselves to shame for being too scared to bring it up.

However, we’re not alone in this.  The Biblical parallel that comes to mind is what Jesus told His 11 disciples just before He ascended into heaven:

Acts 1:8
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you,
and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem,
in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the end of the earth.

When reading Scripture, one way to sharpen our Observation skills is to look for the particular order things are presented.  Us modern-day believers tend to key in on the phrase “you will be My witnesses…to the end of the earth”, and while that is where we are on this list, we need to be aware that Jesus said there was a part that comes before becoming His witnesses.

Jesus told His disciples that first the Holy Spirit has to come into their lives and that He would be the power for them to be His witnesses – and if you continue to read in Acts, you find out that is the case.  The disciples knew Jesus well because they had just spent the last 3 years with Him, watching everything He did and being personally taught by Him.  Yes, they did do some preaching and teaching under Jesus’ leadership, but that all stopped when Jesus was taken from them.  Scripture does not show them telling others about Jesus until after the Holy Spirit came.  The disciples had all the information and relationship basis to tell others, but they were lacking the boldness and power to talk about Him.  The arrival of the Holy Spirit in their lives gave them the confidence they needed to share what they already knew.

For us, we are given the Holy Spirit the moment we believe in Jesus for eternal life (Ephesians 1:13).  The point is the same, however.  The Holy Spirit is the one who enables us to witness…it’s not something that can be drummed up or done by our own strength.  And yet, we shame ourselves for not being able to do the Holy Spirit’s job!  The disciples could not effectively witness without Him, and neither can we.

Our efforts should not be in finding and perfecting a “witnessing moment” because that’s not our jurisdiction, not our focus.  Our witness is an outpouring of our relationship with Jesus.  We can only share what we know.  As such, our efforts are better used in purposely spending time with Jesus – getting to know Him by talking with Him in prayer and watching what He did in the Scriptures.  The Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Dance floors and lampstands

On a busy Monday afternoon, a second shift co-worker walked into the open office the four of us shared, looked right at me, and with an accusing tone she said, “I saw you.”

My confused look didn’t deter her.  She said it again, but this time with more emphasis: “I saw you!”  And then, it hit me.  I knew exactly what she was talking about. 

The previous Saturday evening had been the company’s annual Holiday party.  Most years, our family’s schedule had prevented my wife and I from going.  However, this year we had decided to get dressed up and attend.  This was no small event, either – there were fancy drinks, several buffets of rich foods, and lots of dancing.

I have to admit, I felt a pang of self-consciousness when we decided to hit the dance floor.  Not because I was afraid to dance with my wife – we always have a great time, and her dance moves make mine look good – but I was fully aware that almost none of my co-workers had ever seen me in this type of setting.  At work, I was the reliable answer-guy you brought your investigations to, a professional to help you figure out your industry-regulated best next step – not exactly the type of person you would expect to groove through the songs of the decades.  I wasn’t so much worried that they would think less of me, but I was certainly curious as to what their reaction would be.

As we made our way to the floor, I had an important realization.  Under no circumstances should I look around for people’s reactions.  As much as I was either self-conscious or curious, focusing on anyone else while dancing with my wife would give the complete wrong impression.  So as we started to move with the music, my attention was focused solely on enjoying the moment with my bride.  We danced the night away, had a blast, and I completely forgot my curiosity surrounding my co-workers’ potential reactions.

Apparently, we were noticed.  And talked about.  Even to the point where a co-worker was excited to point out, two days later, that she had been a witness to the event.  But what, exactly, did they see?  They saw a couple totally focused on each other and enjoying the moment at hand.  It stood out from what they expected.  Watching it unfold was attractive.  Seeing it first-hand was something they thought about, and even talked about days later.

But I think there’s an even bigger lesson here, one that pertains to how we, as Christians, actually show others that we are Christ-followers.  It seems that every ten years or so, there’s a new witnessing technique or life-story-sharing strategy that comes out.  But “witnessing” is much simpler than we make it out to be, because we tend to forget what Jesus said near the beginning of His ‘Sermon on the Mount’, when He looked at disciples and said:

Matthew 5:14-16
You are the light of the world.  A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket, but rather on a lampstand, and it gives light for all who are in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

The disciples would best represent Christ – shine their light – through the lives they would lead and the choices they would make.  Jesus said that their good works would be what would stand out to and attract others to their Father in heaven.

It can be hard to wrap our heads around how doing good works makes that much of a “witnessing” impact; however, demonstrations of patience, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness are not things the world is used to seeing.  Imitating Jesus will cause others to take notice…but we cannot be concerned if anyone has noticed our light.  Instead, our focus should be solely on the fuel for our light – our relationship with Jesus.  As we spend time with Jesus through prayer and studying the Scripture, our good works will be naturally fueled so they shine brightly from the lampstand location we find ourselves in.

In order for Christians to tell others about Jesus, the world doesn’t need us to be schooled in the latest witnessing techniques or debate programs.  We don’t have to have all the answers to the tough theological questions people will ask.  But in order for others to come to the point where they give glory to your Father in heaven, they need to see us Christians doing good works from the platform of our day-to-day lives.

So make sure you spend time with Jesus so you can shine your light today.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - A progressive relationship

There are a lot of moving parts in my life at the moment. Sometimes, life moves at an easy pace. Sometimes, it feels like you’re at the bottom of the dogpile. When things feel more like the latter, I’ve found it’s best reconnect with God through through two things - going to the Psalms and grounding myself in truth God has already taught me.

With the parts of life I’m working through right now and as I’m sorting through the next post series, I need to go back to these truths I learned all the way back in 2015. I hope this reminder is as helpful to you as it is for me.

A progressive relationship
originally posted on May 20, 2015

The Creator of the Universe is a God who values order.  There was order and progression when creation took place – light first, then ground, next plants, followed by animals, and lastly humans.  We refer to the predictable steps of any process as its “lifecycle”.  We understand that every activity we encounter will have a beginning and then subsequent phases that are passed through, one after another.  Similarly, there is a natural progression in our relationship with God.

Read though this section of Psalm 119 and look for the active verbs used to describe how the psalmist interacts with God:

Psalm 119:9-16
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word.
I have sought You with all my heart; don’t let me wander from your commands.
I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You.
Lord, may You be praised; teach me Your statues.
With my lips I proclaim all the judgments from Your mouth.
I rejoice in the way revealed by Your decrees as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways.
I will delight in Your statues; I will not forget Your word.

I have sought…I have treasured…I proclaim…I rejoice…I will meditate…I will delight

When we look for it, the natural process of a relationship with God clearly stands out.  The verbs are flowing through past, present, and future steps as the author describes his interaction with God.

Where do you find yourself in this progression?

I have heard many well-intentioned speakers tell me that I need to be rejoicing in the Lord and that I should always delight in Him.  While I agree that those actions are great things to do and I would love to be able to whole-heartedly rejoice and delight in God always…the progression we see in the psalm reveals why I’ve likely struggled with doing them or felt guilty about not feeling completely genuine when I try to do them.

Before the psalmist rejoiced, or even got to delight, can you see where he started?  He sought God with all of his heart.  Next he purposely treasured God’s word in his heart, in order to avoid sin and the damage that sin would cause to the relationship.

It wasn’t until after he had pursued God and valued God that the psalmist was ready to proclaim all the judgments from God’s mouth.  He wasn’t able to communicate God’s decisions until after he knew God intimately.  Historically, the American church has pushed its people to make sure they are “spreading the gospel” and “sharing their story” instead, the church’s focus should have been making sure we’re actively seeking God and valuing His word.  Telling others about Jesus will be easy if we already have the relationship in place, but it’s nearly impossible to explain the decisions and motivations of a person you have no relationship with. 

From there the psalmist found joy in the way revealed by God’s decrees, even to the point that he now looks forward to meditating and thinking about God’s ways.  The delight that he takes from God’s word then isn’t something he’s drummed up from within himself, rather it is the culmination of a deep-seeded relationship with his Creator.

If you’re not where you’d like to be in this relationship timeline, take a step back and ensure you’re developing your intimacy with God by seeking Him and purposely treasuring His word.  The rest will naturally progress from that investment.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

For my son - Swim strokes and the effect of a quiet life

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 first 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 it reminds us that our biggest and best way of introducing others to Jesus will likely come from what we consider the normal, small portions of life.  The closer we walk with God, the more "His normal" becomes "our normal"...the more His life will stand out to others, even if we don't necessarily notice.

Swim strokes and the effect of a quiet life
originally posted on July 15, 2016

I’ve raced in a handful of triathlons.  No crazy, Ironman distances; but I have completed several of the short, “sprint” distances.  When I started, I figured that biking I can do, running I can do, but it was the first event that scared me the most – the swim.  I had taken swimming lessons as a kid, but as an unpracticed adult, my activity in the water fell more into the “not drowning” category rather than in the “swimming” category.

After a friend lent me a DVD on swimming for triathletes, I began practicing several times a week.  Sometime later, on one particular night, I was at a local gym and was using their lap pool.  A friend of mine was in the first lane, getting his laps in.  I was in the middle lane, just doing my thing.  Shortly after we started, an older lady started using the other outside lane for water aerobics and walking.

During one of my breaks, the lady turned to me and said, “I’ve just got to tell you.  You have a very quiet stroke.”  I chuckled a little bit, and then thanked her.  She had apparently been comparing my smooth stoke to the thrashing around my friend was doing in the next lane over.  My wife had previously told me that at races, my swim sticks out in comparison to the others; she says it looks like I’m moving with the water instead of fighting my way through it, like everyone else.

By the time the older lady gave me the compliment, I had practiced this style of swimming so much that it had become second nature.  I didn’t even notice I was doing it – to me, I was just swimming.  After thanking the lady for her compliment, I informed her that my swim stroke was something I had been taught, it didn’t come naturally.  I also told her that it was a skill that she could learn as well.  She immediately shook her head ‘no’ and said, “I really don’t think so.”

Similarly, Paul gave Timothy instructions for the church in Ephesus that if followed, would stand out to culture around them.

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.

How we live is an indicator of our relationship with God our Savior.  Paul tells Timothy that the best kind of life, one that shows we are walking close to God, is a tranquil and quiet life where our godliness and dignity are on full display.

When we focus on knowing God well and practice ways to imitate Him, our godliness will become second nature.  While our “God-like-ness” will feel normal to us, the tranquil and quiet life we lead will stand out to those around us.

God and His love for us is so big that He wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth – the amazing thing is that we are his main ambassadors for doing so.  Paul says we fulfill our role as God’s representative in two ways: through praying for our leaders and living a godly life.

These two things will give us the platform to reach out to everyone with the same love that has been extended to us.  Some will desire the life they see in us; others won’t believe that it’s possible.  As ambassadors, we’re just responsible to represent God.  It’s not up to us to convert anyone, that’s God’s arena.

We have to keep in mind that the gospel will be communicated through our lives before anyone will likely read the Bible on their own.  Honestly, the people in my life will read the ‘gospel of Ken’ long before they read the Gospel of John.  Living a tranquil and quiet life will not come naturally for us, either.  But with practice, we will begin to inherently reflect God and all His attractive qualities.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Introducing others to Jesus

Growing up, I remember being repeatedly told about the importance of “witnessing” to others.  Our church would sometimes go knocking on peoples’ doors to share the gospel, but for the most part, the congregation was encouraged to “share Jesus” with anyone and everyone we encountered during the week.

I always felt weird about doing it.  I couldn’t drum up the courage to randomly bring Jesus up in a conversation, and I was convinced that I would be super-awkward if I was able to actually say anything.  I also knew I didn’t have the all answers to the hard questions I would face.  So, for the most part, I didn’t say much.  People knew that my family went to church, but overall I resigned myself to being a “bad witness”, figuring that the pastor and any older, braver, and wiser Christians would have to make up for my inability to show anyone who Jesus is.

And now, reading through the Scriptures as an adult, I find out that that introducing others to Jesus is much simpler than memorizing all the good answers to every possible theological question.  Instead, our “witness” has a lot more to do with who we are than what we know.

The author of Hebrews gave his readers this direction regarding their “witness”:

Hebrews 12:14
Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness – without it no one will see the Lord.


Your life is the first gospel that most people will read.  What kind of story are you telling? 

If we want others to look at us and see the Lord, then we should be acting like the Lord acts.  And that kind of behavior doesn’t just happen on its own…which is why the author says these God-like traits must be pursued.

However, when traits are given in lists, it can be easy to gloss over the impact of each quality.  Breaking up the sentence can help with our understanding:

Pursue peace with everyone – without it no one will see the Lord.

We have been forgiven of so, so much.  God made peace with us, and we 100% did not deserve it.  In fact, He took the initiative, and He pursued us in order to make that peace.  But now that we’re in the family…if our actions don’t portray that same reconciliation attitude, then no one else will believe us when we say that God’s complete forgiveness is possible.

Pursue holiness – without it no one will see the Lord.

Living a life marked by holiness means that our actions are pure, free of stain.  However, staying pure doesn’t mean that we must withdraw from “those people” and all the “bad sinners” around us.  Instead, it means our aim is to live life the way we were created to – in relationship with God and without sin.

In order to show people who the Lord is, the author of Hebrews isn’t telling his readers to shout Bible verses from the street corners or to prepare for arguments with non-Christians in the community (or online).  He also doesn’t say to petition the government to pass laws that force people to live according to Scripture.

Instead, a life that “witnesses” about the Lord is actually a byproduct of our desire to be like Him.  We understand that when we think about how these two pursuits affect how others would view us.  Someone who actively seeks peace with others while still living a pure life?  That’s someone who stands out in this world.  That’s someone who will have the opportunity to help non-Christians see the Lord.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Getting specific

Sometimes when I am presented with an important teaching, I need a little help to flesh out exactly how this new concept applies to where I’m at.  As such, I love it when a speaker moves from the theoretical to the practical. 

Paul has just given Timothy instruction on the importance of the believers in Ephesus to lead a tranquil and quiet life, a life that is characterized by both godliness and dignity.  This kind of life will stand out to those outside God’s family and will serve a launching pad for telling others about Jesus.  (see 1 Timothy 2:1-7).

Thankfully, Paul moves quickly to give Timothy instruction for how the believers in Ephesus can display these characteristics.

1 Timothy 2:8
Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.

The first task for the men is to lead in prayer.  The importance of this task in each family and within God’s family cannot be understated.  Since the men are to act as the leader and High Priest for their family, as well as provide leadership within the church, their individual connection to God must be a top priority.

Paul’s practical instruction also comes with specifics about their posture and attitude in prayer – both of which reveal the focus of their heart toward God and others.  While lifting up…hands in prayer was a common “prayer position” in ancient days, it was more of a symbolic gesture meant to convey the person’s inner openness to God.  Throughout Scripture, a person’s hands are also symbolic of their activities, and Paul description of lifting up holy hands suggests that as the men pray, the offering of their daily actions are undefiled by sin and free from wickedness.

When a man focuses on devotion to prayer and godly conduct, and does them without anger or argument, the world will plainly see the difference God can make in a man’s life.

Paul also has specific instruction for the women in the Ephesian church so that they, too, know how to best represent God to the culture around them.

1 Timothy 2:9-10
Also, the women are to dress themselves in modest clothing, with decency and good sense; not with elaborate hairstyles, gold, pearls, or expensive apparel, but with good works, as is proper for women who affirm that they worship God.

Keep in mind that these instructions were written to believers.  These women, especially the wealthy ones, would set an example within the church family.  If an unbeliever comes in with little means, they could begin to wonder if you have to be rich in order to be saved.  Another potential issue could arise if another believer has little means, they could conclude that they aren’t favored by God because others have so much more to display.  Additionally, there is a risk of division among even the affluent believers.  The exorbitant displays of wealth among them will cause problems as egos rise as they try to outdo one another in dress, hairstyle, and jewelry.

Paul’s contrast here is really between works and wardrobe.  How is a woman displaying her understanding of value within God’s family?  The ancient upper class women would spend an excessive amount of time on their elaborate hairstyles and expensive apparel; these things would draw attention to themselves rather than to the God they claim to serve.  Paul says that a woman’s value isn’t in the perfection of her outward appearance, rather her beauty comes from her decency and good sense.  Both of these lead to a reputation of good works and point others toward God.

Paul’s directions to both groups cut against our natural, self-promoting tendencies…which is precisely why the world will notice the difference God makes in a person’s life.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Swim strokes and the effect of a quiet life

I’ve raced in a handful of triathlons.  No crazy, Ironman distances; but I have completed several of the short, “sprint” distances.  When I started, I figured that biking I can do, running I can do, but it was the first event that scared me the most – the swim.  I had taken swimming lessons as a kid, but as an unpracticed adult, my activity in the water fell more into the “not drowning” category rather than in the “swimming” category.

After a friend lent me a DVD on swimming for triathletes, I began practicing several times a week.  Sometime later, on one particular night, I was at a local gym and was using their lap pool.  A friend of mine was in the first lane, getting his laps in.  I was in the middle lane, just doing my thing.  Shortly after we started, an older lady started using the other outside lane for water aerobics and walking.

During one of my breaks, the lady turned to me and said, “I’ve just got to tell you.  You have a very quiet stroke.”  I chuckled a little bit, and then thanked her.  She had apparently been comparing my smooth stoke to the thrashing around my friend was doing in the next lane over.  My wife had previously told me that at races, my swim sticks out in comparison to the others; she says it looks like I’m moving with the water instead of fighting my way through it, like everyone else.

By the time the older lady gave me the compliment, I had practiced this style of swimming so much that it had become second nature.  I didn’t even notice I was doing it – to me, I was just swimming.  After thanking the lady for her compliment, I informed her that my swim stroke was something I had been taught, it didn’t come naturally.  I also told her that it was a skill that she could learn as well.  She immediately shook her head ‘no’ and said, “I really don’t think so.”

Similarly, Paul gave Timothy instructions for the church in Ephesus that if followed, would stand out to culture around them.

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.

How we live is an indicator of our relationship with God our Savior.  Paul tells Timothy that the best kind of life, one that shows we are walking close to God, is a tranquil and quiet life where our godliness and dignity is on full display.

When we focus on knowing God well and practice ways to imitate Him, our godliness will become second nature.  While our “God-like-ness” will feel normal to us, the tranquil and quiet life we lead will stand out to those around us.

God and His love for us is so big that He wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth – the amazing thing is that we are his main ambassadors for doing so.  Paul says we fulfill our role as God’s representative in two ways: through praying for our leaders and living a godly life. 

These two things will give us the platform to reach out to everyone with the same love that has been extended to us.  Some will desire the life they see in us; others won’t believe that it’s possible.  As ambassadors, we’re just responsible to represent God.  It’s not up to us to convert anyone, that’s God’s arena.

We have to keep in mind that the gospel will be communicated through our lives before anyone will likely read the Bible on their own.  Honestly, the people in my life will read the ‘gospel of Ken’ long before they read the Gospel of John.  Living a tranquil and quiet life will not come naturally for us, either.  But with practice, we will begin to inherently reflect God and all His attractive qualities.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hello, my name is Timothy

Given the numerous mentoring examples in the Bible, it’s easy to see that God values the mentor-protégé relationship.  It is a special bond at an intimate level between two people.  Most of the Biblical examples give us just a snapshot – a mentoring moment or lesson taught – and then we must look at what happened next to the mentor and the protégé to find out how well the lesson was applied.  However, there is one mentoring relationship in the Scriptures where we get to see much more than a glimpse.  Paul and Timothy spent many years together, and much of their efforts and relationship is on display throughout the New Testament.

But who was Timothy?  How did they meet?  Why did they pair up?

We are first introduced to Timothy at the start of Paul’s second missionary journey:

Acts 15:40-16:2
Then Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended to the grace of the Lord by the brothers he traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches. 

Then he went on to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek.  The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him.

Timothy was a young man stuck between two worlds.  He believed in Jesus as the Messiah who would come from the Jewish half of his parents, but Timothy was also half Greek and grew up in a Greek city, surrounded by Grecian culture.  Since no additional information is given about his father, we can’t be sure of how much influence that heritage had – but the fact that he had not been circumcised suggests that Timothy wasn’t raised in a strictly observant Jewish household.  However, both worlds were still a part of him and people were aware of his mixed-race background. 

Although such mixed marriages were illegal in Jewish law, rabbinic texts reckoned a person’s decent through the mother’s line; and as such, Timothy would have been considered to be a Jew by the Jewish community.

Acts 16:3-5
Paul wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek.  As they traveled through the towns, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem for them to observe.  So the churches were strengthened in the faith and were increased in number daily.

Was it necessary for Timothy’s salvation that he be circumcised? 

No, not at all.  Salvation from eternal separation away from God is only through believing (i.e. – trusting) Jesus for eternal life.

Then was Paul being inconsistent by circumcising Timothy?  Was this an example of Paul “giving in” to local peer pressure?

No, not at all.  Timothy was already a believer before he met Paul.  However, given Timothy’s well known heritage, for him to come with Paul and have access to be a missionary in Jewish synagogues, he would need to be circumcised.  Otherwise, the Jewish communities would consider Timothy an apostate, and they would not be willing to listen to what he had to say about Jesus.

Timothy was willing to endure significant physical pain in order to share the gospel message with those who would have looked down on him as a “half-breed”, the same way that Jews had historically looked down on Samaritans.  In fact, by agreeing to be circumcised, Timothy boldly demonstrated an evangelistic principle which Paul would later pass on to the believers in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 9:19-22
For although I am free from all people, I have made myself a slave to all, in order to win more people.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win Jews; to those under the law, like one under the law – though I myself am not under the law – to win those under the law.  To those who are outside the law, like one outside the law – not being outside God’s law, but under the law of Christ – to win those outside the law.  To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. 

I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some.

That is an incredible lesson for Timothy to grab a hold of so early in his mentoring relationship under Paul.  And it’s certainly not the last time Timothy is a reflection of his mentor.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Recognizing cultural trends

My younger son and I went to a movie recently.  While we sat there waiting for the show, we were inundated with what seemed like a never-ending barrage of previews.  Trailer after trailer did its best to convince us that their show was the next movie we should be anticipating.  I don’t remember how many previews we saw – I wouldn’t be surprised if we hit double-digits – but I noticed a common thread among almost all of them:

Nearly every movie preview was about a person finding out they were part of a larger, hidden story.  And this hidden story was something they had always suspected, but finding out it was real still turned their world upside-down.

Whether the plot line contained science-fiction, horror elements, super powers, magic, or whatever…it was all different wrapping for the same idea: There is something greater than you going on, and you have a vital part to play in it.  Movies and entertainment have long been a mirror of inner thoughts and desires, and this theme of a great, adventurous story is resonating with many people. 

Being aware of the culture tendencies around us can show us ways to reach others with the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.  Take a look at the cultural theme Paul noticed when he was Athens:

Acts 17:16-23
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, his spirit was troubled within him when he saw that the city was full of idols.  So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshipped God, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.  Then also, some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him.  Some said, “What is the pseudo-intellectual trying to say?”

Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities” – because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection

They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you’re speaking of? For what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these ideas mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.

Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens!  I see that you are extremely religious in every respect.  For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.  Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.”

From there, Paul went on to tell them about God’s plan for relationship with all of humanity.  During his speech he even quoted one of the Greek’s philosophers, saying that on at least one point, their philosophers got something right

Even though Paul was internally troubled by the idolatry in Athens, he didn’t blast them out of his frustration.  Instead, Paul met them where they were with the gospel and let them decide what to do with it.

Many years later, Paul wrote some instructions to the believers in Colossae:

Colossians 4:5-6
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the time.  Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.

The kind of wisdom Paul wants them to use is the same kind he did with the Athenians and that God does with us.  There were elements of truth in the culture around them, and the Colossian believers could use these touch-points to know how they should answer each person.

Our current culture is resonating with the idea that there is a larger story going on, and that they could have an important part in that story.  The thing is, they’re right.  They’re even more right than they know.  We just need to recognize these cultural trends and meet others where they are, with the good news of Jesus and the resurrection.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The mystery of the Messiah

When Paul wrote his letter to the believers in Colossae, he was in prison for preaching the gospel.  He wasn’t living the good life…at best, he was spending his days chained to a Roman guard.  Quite possibly, he was chained to a dungeon wall.  And at the end of his letter, Paul understandably asks for prayer.

If you were Paul, what would you ask them to pray? 

Honestly, if I were in that situation, I’d be asking for people to be praying that I’d get out of there.  By my reasoning, prison would be limiting to the ministry that God gave Paul on the road to Damascus so many years prior.  He could reach so many more people with the Good News of Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection if he were free to move about the world.  Instead, Paul’s on lockdown.  But Paul doesn’t ask for prayer about that.  Take a look at what he asks instead:

Colossians 4:3-4
At the same time, pray also for us that God may open a door to us for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah – for which I am in prison – so that I may reveal it as I am required to speak.

Paul’s focus isn’t on where he is at the moment.  His location isn’t his primary concern.  Instead, Paul is watching for God to provide opportunities for the message, to speak the mystery of the Messiah.

Jesus – the Messiah – coming to earth as humanity’s only option for rescue is a mystery to everyone outside of God’s family.  Why would the King of the Universe choose to be born a helpless baby, whose primary goal in life was to die for something that wasn’t His fault?  Why would someone so limitless choose to be so limited?

Those are legitimate questions, and there are many more that people will honestly ask about the mystery of the Messiah.  We need to be watching for opportunities to share the message that gives Eternal Life and hope for the here and now.  Paul knew that he had to lift his eyes above his circumstances…he didn’t need to focus on his current difficulties or limitations, instead he needed to watch for opportunities to reveal the Good News to others around him.

We Christians have a unique opportunity every year at this time to share the mystery of the Messiah.  For the weeks leading up to Christmas and for a short time after, everyone seems to be a little more open to thinking about spiritual questions and how God interacts with their lives.  I pray that you’ll be looking for these opportunities instead of looking at your current limitations.  Be ready and willing to share Jesus with those who so desperately need Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

A progressive relationship

The Creator of the Universe is a God who values order.  There was order and progression when creation took place – light first, then ground, next plants, followed by animals, and lastly humans.  We refer to the predictable steps of any process as its “lifecycle”.  We understand that every activity we encounter will have a beginning and then subsequent phases that are passed through, one after another.  Similarly, there is a natural progression in our relationship with God.

Read though this section of Psalm 119 and look for the active verbs used to describe how the psalmist interacts with God:

Psalm 119:9-16
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Your word.
I have sought You with all my heart; don’t let me wander from your commands.
I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You.
Lord, may You be praised; teach me Your statues.
With my lips I proclaim all the judgments from Your mouth.
I rejoice in the way revealed by Your decrees as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on Your precepts and think about Your ways.
I will delight in Your statues; I will not forget Your word.

I have sought…I have treasured…I proclaim…I rejoice…I will meditate…I will delight

When we look for it, the natural process of a relationship with God clearly stands out.  The verbs are flowing through past, present, and future steps as the author describes his interaction with God.

Where do you find yourself in this progression?

I have heard many well-intentioned speakers tell me that I need to be rejoicing in the Lord and that I should always delight in Him.  While I agree that those actions are great things to do and I would love to be able to whole-heartedly rejoice and delight in God always…the progression we see in the psalm reveals why I’ve likely struggled with doing them or felt guilty about not feeling completely genuine when I try to do them.

Before the psalmist rejoiced, or even got to delight, can you see where he started?  He sought God with all of his heart.  Next he purposely treasured God’s word in his heart, in order to avoid sin and the damage that sin would cause to the relationship.

It wasn’t until after he had pursued God and valued God that the psalmist was ready to proclaim all the judgments from God’s mouth.  He wasn’t able to communicate God’s decisions until after he knew God intimately.  Historically, the American church has pushed its people to make sure they are “spreading the gospel” and “sharing their story” instead, the church’s focus should have been making sure we’re actively seeking God and valuing His word.  Telling others about Jesus will be easy if we already have the relationship in place, but it’s nearly impossible to explain the decisions and motivations of a person you have no relationship with. 

From there the psalmist found joy in the way revealed by God’s decrees, even to the point that he now looks forward to meditating and thinking about God’s ways.  The delight that he takes from God’s word then isn’t something he’s drummed up from within himself, rather it is the culmination of a deep-seeded relationship with his Creator.

If you’re not where you’d like to be in this relationship timeline, take a step back and ensure you’re developing your intimacy with God by seeking Him and purposely treasuring His word.  The rest will naturally progress from that investment.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

For love and glory

As Jesus closes out His ‘High Priestly Prayer’, He describes our relationship with Him and our relationship with the Father, emphasizing two aspects – both love and glory.

John 17:22-23 I have given them the glory You have given Me.
May they be one as We are one.  I am in them and You are in Me.
May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me
and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Jesus has given the disciples the status and honor that the Father had given to Him, which is absolutely incredible when you think about it.  The renown and praise and honor that was bestowed upon Jesus…He then bestowed it upon those who have believed that He has come from the Father.  This is a gift unlike any other.  We have been taken from the mud and have been made to walk on marble, from the pit and into the palace.  Jesus has shared His prestige and status with those who believe in Him for eternal life.

Notice, however, that it is after Jesus had given them the Father’s glory that he then prayed for their future “oneness” with each other, with Him, and with the Father.  Jesus had previously given them their status – independent of the health of their relationship with the Father at that particular point in time. 

Jesus also reveals the purpose of their “oneness” in their day-to-day relationships – their connectedness with each other, with Jesus, and with the Father is not so they can “prove they are believers”, rather the purpose of their close relationship with the Father is so the world may know that the Father sent Jesus, and that the Father has loved the disciples as He has loved Jesus.

Finally, Jesus ends His prayer with a personal request.  Here Jesus directly asks the Father for something that He wants, something that He longs for:

John 17:24-26 Father, I desire those You have given Me to be with Me where I am.
Then they will see My glory, which You have given because You loved Me
before the world’s foundation.
Righteous Father!  The world has not known You.
However, I have known You, and these have known that You sent Me.
I made Your name known to them and will make it known,
so the love You have loved Me with may be in them and I may be in them.

Jesus’ desire, His longing, His motivation…was to share His glory and love with His disciples.  The disciples could not have earned the glory and love given to them, they could not obtain it…unless it was given to them.  It had to be shared with them, and Jesus desired to share the Father, the Father’s glory, and the Father’s love with them.

Jesus’ desire is still to share these things with us, and the more we are “one” with each other, with Jesus, and with the Father...the better we understand His love and glory. 

We live what we understand.  As our lives begin to reflect His love and glory, the world will know that He sent us and that Jesus is willing to love them as He has loved us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken