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: work

Adam wasn't from Eden

When I was studying for last week’s post, I found something in the text that I hadn’t noticed before.  I have read or heard the Creation account numerous times, but I had missed a certain detail about Adam’s beginnings:

Genesis 2:7-9, 15
Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.

The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He placed the man He had formed.  The Lord God caused to grow out of the ground every tree pleasing in appearance and good for food, including the tree of life in the middle of the garden, as well as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil…The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.

So looking at these verses – we find that Adam was created out of the dust from the ground in one place and then was taken east to where God had planted the beginnings of what would become the famous “Garden of Eden”.  Adam’s creation location also comes up after Adam and Eve disobey God and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  After God kicked them out of the garden, look for where Adam and Eve went:

Genesis 3:22-24
The Lord God said, “Since the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.  He drove the man out…

When I finally noticed these references to Adam’s land of origin, I began thinking about the God’s theme, throughout the Bible, of choosing individuals and people groups for specific service – and that their origins do not negatively impact the kind of work God has for them.

To be clear – I’m not talking about “salvation” here.  God didn’t “save” Adam when He took [him] and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.  (Nor was Adam “unsaved” when he was kicked out)  God was calling Adam to a specific type of work and service, and this call-to-work theme repeats itself countless times in Scripture.

Look at what God told Abram when He called him:

Genesis 12:1-3
The Lord said to Abram:
Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

God had a mission for Abram – start a new nation in a new land.  And from one of Abram’s descendants, a nation would be chosen to serve.  God corporately called them to work:

Exodus 19:5-6
Now if you will carefully listen to Me and keep My covenant, you will be My own possession out of all the peoples, although the whole earth is mine, and you will be my kingdom of priests and my holy nation.

Paul also mentioned Israel’s purpose in the beginning of his letter to the believers in Rome:

Romans 2:19-20
and if you are convinced that you [being a Jew] are a guide for the blind, a light to those in darkness, an instructor of the ignorant, a teacher of the immature, having the embodiment of knowledge and truth in the law…

There are numerous examples of God calling on individuals (Noah, David, Jeremiah, Paul) and corporate groups (Aaron’s priestly family, David’s kingly descendants, Jesus’ 12 disciples) to do specific work.

While I do not know what specific work you may be called to, or even if you’re not sure if God has personally given you a “specific mission”…know that we, corporately as believers, have been chosen by God:

2 Corinthians 5:19-20
That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us.  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making His appeal through us.  We plead on Christ’s behalf: “Be reconciled to God.”

I’m certain that your backstory doesn’t begin in Eden.  But it doesn’t matter how your origin story began – we have a job to do.  God has called us to work, so let’s get to it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Work and a hobo’s paradise

The Big Rock Candy Mountain was a song made famous by Harry McClintock in 1928.  Every few years, it finds its way back into pop culture; with some versions a little more cleaned up than others.  The gist of the song is a hobo singing about his version of paradise – a land of ease, described in fanciful terms.  There are cigarette trees, lemonade springs, and hens that lay soft-boiled eggs.  The cops have wooden legs and bulldogs have rubber teeth, and if you happen to get caught doing something you shouldn’t, then don’t worry about it – because the jails are made of tin and you can leave just as soon as you get there.  I think my favorite line is hobo’s boast that in the Big Rock Candy Mountains “there’s a lake of stew and of whiskey too, you can paddle all around it in a big canoe.

While it is a cute little song, no one would take it seriously when considering their eternal destiny.  However, there is one line in the song that stuck out to me when I first heard it.  Out of all the cartoonish imagery, there was one sentiment that made me think: “Wow.  That’s kinda funny and would be nice.”  Here’s the line:

I'm goin' to stay, where you sleep all day, where they hung the jerk, that invented work, in the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Because work is…well, “work”…right?  It’s often a pain.  We view it as some “necessary evil” that we must endure because we like to eat food and have working light switches.  Given the choice between going to work and not going to work – I’m pretty sure that 99% of us would not go.  Throw in the idea that someone, somewhere may have invented the concept of work?  Yeah…nobody would care much for that guy.

But is work really our problem?  And who invented it, anyway?

I think most Christians and Jews would place the blame solely on Adam.  After he and Eve blew it, here’s what God had to say about Adam’s curse:

Genesis 3:17-19
And He said to the man, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’:

The ground is cursed because of you.  You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. 
It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it.  For you are dust, and you will return to dust.

Adam and Eve sinned by eating – from here on, they would suffer in order to eat.  Notice that God didn’t hand out working assignments.  He didn’t have to explain what “work” was; instead, God said that work would now become painful labor.  While his efforts would be able to feed his family, Adam would have to contend with thorns and thistles.

We have to go a little further back in Adam and Eve’s story to find the origin of work:

Genesis 1:27-29, 2:15
So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He create them male and female

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.  Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”  God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree who fruit contains seed.  This will be food for you…

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.

To fulfill these directions from God, Adam and Eve would have to do some work!  But since this was before sin corrupted everything – including the ground – what do you think their work was like?  What would you do if all creatures and plants cooperated with you and your efforts? 

Don’t think of the garden of Eden as being a little vegetable plot.  This “garden” was more like an arboretum.  So in addition to their responsibility to rule over the world, Adam was also God’s official landscaper…and there wasn’t a weed, thistle, or thorn to be found.  Imagine what a master gardener could do if they didn’t have to fight off the weeds!

This was how paradise started – not with lakes of stew and all-day sleep-fests, but with Adam and Eve partnering with God.  They worked and managed creation.  They walked and talked with God.  The land readily produced food for them.

I look forward to the day when Paradise Lost becomes Paradise Restored.  In Eternity Future, we’ll be able to live and work without sin and selfishness thwarting our efforts.  Just like we were created to do.

Keep Pressing
Ken

Settling accounts (part 2)

We were created to work.  God gave Adam and Eve jobs to do, long before Satan ever tempted them.  Even after sin entered the picture and our work became hard, we still retained the internal drive to explore, design, create, and produce.  However, our sin and selfishness will often cloud our reason and motivation to fulfill our innate urge to work.

Being a Christ follower has an advantage when we deal with the inevitable thistles and thorns of modern-day work.  We have perspective.  We understand where the work ultimately comes from and Who enables us to accomplish the goal of our labor.  However, we might too quickly assume that our efforts are only focused on taking care of our family’s immediate needs.  Those responsibilities are important, but have you considered that our work could have even larger implications?

As Jesus’ time on earth was coming to a conclusion, He took His disciples aside and strongly encouraged them to be prepared for His eventual return.  As He often did, Jesus stressed this point through a series of parables.  In this parable, two slaves did well as they prepared for their master’s return and one slave did not.  Let’s take a look at how the two were successful in the eyes of their master:

Matthew 25:14-17, 19
For it is just like a man going on a journey.  He called his own slaves and turned over his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; and to another, one – to each according to his own ability.  Then he went on a journey.  Immediately, the man who had received five talents went, put them to work, and earned five more.  In the same way the man with two earned two more.  After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.

These weren’t small amounts of money, either.  If we were handed modern-day lump sums, it would look like this: five talents = $3.6 million, two talents = $1.44 million, one talent = $720,000. 

Jesus didn’t say exactly how these two were able to double their master’s investment, but we do know that they worked within their ability and they did so immediately.  They weren’t messing around when it came time to work. 

However, their results didn’t happen overnight.  They didn’t work a get-rich-quick scheme.  How do we know this?  Because Jesus tells us they settled accounts with their master after a long time had passed.  So, what was the master’s reaction?

Matthew 25:20-23
The man who had received five talents approached, presented five more talents, and said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents.  Look, I’ve earned five more talents.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave!  You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Share your master’s joy!”

Then the man with two talents also approached.  He said, ‘Master, you gave me two talents.  Look, I’ve earned two more talents.’

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave!’  You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.  Share your master’s joy!’

Did you notice?  Both good servants received the same praise and type of reward.  The one with 10 was not praised above the one with 4.  The one with 4 was not compared against the one who had 10.  The master was overjoyed with their results because each one had worked to their full ability

So don’t worry that someone else appears to have received more (or even less) talents than you, we are responsible to handle what God has given us.  We get tripped up when we start looking around and comparing ourselves against the others around us…and we only see the outer portion of their efforts and struggles. 

When we look at someone who we think God gave more talents to, we have a tendency get jealous.  However, if we look at someone who appears to have received less talents than we did, it’s easy to look down on them…or wish that we had it “so much easier”.

These two successful servants remind us to keep our focus on the talents God has given to us, and to make sure that we’re investing them properly and for the long haul.  It would have seemed like the master was gone for a long time while they were putting in the work, but when the master arrived to settle accounts, every drop of effort was rewarded.

Can you imagine?  The Creator of this vast, incredible world – where we still have not exhausted everything to explore, learn, and create – will reward those of us who have been faithful with a few things.  Out of His joy, He will reward us with responsibilities, according to our ability, in eternity future.

What will those responsibilities be?  I don’t know.  But as good as this world is, when God gives out of his joy, you can trust it will be incredible.

So, let’s get to work with the talents we have.  Immediately.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

A double warning for those who work

We see the same stereotypes in most of our TV shows.  Take a group of five adults in a workplace setting, and you’ll almost always have an overbearing boss, the perky one, someone who can’t keep their personal life together, the nerd, and the old guy/gal.  We’ve seen them so much that we tend to anticipate that people in life will act out these roles.  In a real sense, our entertainment has become our expectation.  And while TV shows are society’s current choice of distraction and amusement, the need to be mindful of a stereotype’s influence is actually an old issue.

There was a running gag in ancient comedies of the arrogant, back-talking slave who mocked the master behind his back and sassed his master to his face.  Either of which would lead to the slave taking a beating for comedic effect.  This motif was regularly present in Greek and Latin plays.  These shows also type-casted the role of the slave to be wicked and selfish.

When Paul wrote to Timothy, as much as one-third of the Roman world was made up of slaves.  Roman slavery was not like what we think of in terms of slavery – it wasn’t race-based (there were slaves of all races) and while some did the harsh, menial work other slaves had significant skills and responsibilities (such as medical work, teaching, and business).  The average age of a slave was 17, and most could reasonably expect to be freed by the time they reached 30 (with typical life expectancy of 36 for women and 43 for men). 

So if 1/3 of society was slave population, you can imagine that there would be a fair number of slaves in the church.  And if the general expectation of “slave behavior” was rudeness, disrespect, and conduct that deserved an occasional beating – would God expect something different because of their society status?

1 Timothy 6:1-2
All who are under the yoke as slaves must regard their own masters to be worthy of all respect, so that God’s name and His teaching will not be blasphemed. 

And those who have believing masters should not be disrespectful to them because they are brothers, but should serve them better, since those who benefit from their service are believers and dearly loved.

Whatever circumstance a slave found themselves in, they were to demonstrate their relationship with Jesus in the way they treated their master.  Paul doesn’t say that the master must deserve respect or should earn respect…instead, the slave must [choose to] regard their own masters to be worthy of all respect.  They were to ignore the low-bar expectations of society and realize that their actions mattered to God’s reputation.  A slave that acted counter-culturally would stand out as a positive witness for God.

Paul is such a realist.  He recognizes peoples’ general, selfish tendency to use a situation to their own benefit – and warns slaves not to take advantage of their believing masters.  Choosing to act like society’s stereo-typical slave because you assume that grace and mercy will be available is not only hypocritical, but shows a lack of understanding of the love Christ showed all of us.

Paul’s directions are applicable for us, even though we don’t live in an indentured-servant society.  We come across all sorts of stereotyped behaviors in our own jobs, and we need to make the choice to live out of our relationship with Jesus, rather than meet society’s low-bar expectations.

Every time we go to work, God’s reputation is on the line.  Others will definitely notice how you go about your business – even if the boss is an overbearing jerk.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hard questions about church leadership

Good leaders are hard to find these days.  Whenever we are under a person who is in a leadership position, but he or she isn’t leading – the results are often disastrous.  Without guidance from those who should be responsible, the people in the workforce are directionless and unproductive.  Left unchecked long enough, non-leading “leadership” makes the workplace chaotic.  

However, don’t think that leadership problems are only business and career problems.  Even in a charity setting, leadership matters.  Without an engaged leader, the volunteer work being donated to the cause ends up being ineffective.  And as hard as it is to admit…the same thing can happen in the church.

But rather than focus on the damage that a poor leader can cause, we have a more difficult question to answer…

What do we do for the good leaders?

I think we, as a church, tend to take advantage of good, Godly leadership.  Oh, we say nice things to them, like “I really enjoyed your talk”.  Then we move on with life.  But the moment we need guidance, answers, or support, we expect them to be available.  Especially on the weekends and holidays…because that’s when we have church services, right?

Our church leaders need more than a “thank you”.  Paul thought so as well:

1 Timothy 5:17-18
The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says:

You must not muzzle an ox that is threshing grain, and
The laborer is worthy of his wages.

The metaphor is an obvious one - as big and strong as the ox is, it still gets tired and needs to eat, even during the work.

This isn’t the first-time Paul has referred to the oxen direction in the Old Testament law.  He also pointed it out to the believers in Corinth.  Timothy was heavily involved with the Corinthian church, and he would have been aware of Paul’s previous directions based upon the Old Testament oxen scripture.  As such, Paul doesn’t need to reiterate his full teaching in Timothy’s letter – a reminder reference is sufficient to get his point across.

However, for our benefit and understanding, let’s take a look at what Paul said to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 9:9-11, 12-14
For it is written in the law of Moses,

Do not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.

Is God really concerned with oxen?  Or isn’t He really saying it for us?  Yes, this is written for us, because he who plows ought to plow in hope, and he who threshes should do so in hope of sharing the crop.  If we have sown spiritual things for you is it too much if we reap material things from you?

…Do you not know that those who perform the temple services eat the food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the offerings of the altar?  In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should earn their living by the gospel.

How many people attend your church?  If you were responsible for supporting that many people at your job, what kind of salary would you expect?  Is that somewhere in the neighborhood of how much your pastor is being paid?

I know, I know.  Those are hard questions.  Our society struggles with the idea of non-profit and church workers making “too much”.  We think it “looks bad” or “detracts from the cause”.  We tell ourselves that our church leaders are “storing treasure in Heaven” (which they are) and shouldn’t have “too much” down here.  But whose measurement of “too much” should we trust…ours or God’s?

Do some preachers give in to greed and abuse their position?  Absolutely, it happens.  A few verses downstream from these, Paul will address those kinds of issues in leadership.  But that shouldn’t stop us from allowing the good leaders to be appropriately compensated for their hard work now.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Providing oversight

Even though Paul writes Timothy a letter chock-full of advice and direction, there are three specific truth-sayings Paul wants his young protégé to remember.  We’ve now come to the second of the three trustworthy statements Paul highlights to Timothy.

1 Timothy 3:1
This saying is trustworthy:

“If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.”

Knowing what an overseer does will help us understand the qualifications God has for the office and why Paul refers to the position as a noble work.

The Greek word for overseer carries the connotation both of inspecting and guarding, along with the general shepherding of the church’s activities.  Additionally, it’s important to note that Paul says being an overseer is, in fact, work.  A noble work, for sure; however, there is an expectation that the person in this office will be putting in effort.  Becoming an overseer isn’t a pinnacle one climbs to and then expects others to serve him; instead, when he achieves the title of overseer, he needs to understand that it’s time to roll up his sleeves and do the noble work.

As such, it is of the utmost importance that the right person be selected for the job.  We see it all time in the businesses world – someone gets promoted to a level of responsibility they were not prepared for, and their lack of leadership skills then wreaks havoc on the company.  The wrong person in leadership, even for a short time, can inflict significant, lasting damage to an organization.  To guard against a leadership disaster in the Ephesian church, Paul provides Timothy with a first-level checklist in order to considered someone for the overseer job:

1 Timothy 3:2-5
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher…

It’s easy to gloss over a list like this, thinking “Yeah, we should only have good Christians fill this role” and then move along to other parts of Paul’s letter.  However, I don’t believe Paul haphazardly listed these qualities.  A simple description of each characteristic helps us understand why we need to see these qualities in our church leaders:

above reproach – Could he be accused of wrong doing or misconduct against others?
husband of one wife – Paul had previously explained to the Ephesians that the marriage relationship is the highest earthly example of the relationship between Christ and the church.  As such, an overseer must not be polygamous, and if he has been widowed or divorced, those circumstances must be considered.
self-controlled – Is he sober-minded and temperate in his action?
sensible – Does he have a safe/sound mind, can he balance the range of emotions and passions?
respectable – When dealing with himself or others, is he well arranged, orderly, modest?
hospitable – Is he generous and welcoming toward guests?
able teacher – Does he understand God well enough that he can skillfully instruct others, through both verbal teaching and his own personal example?

A deficit in any one of these areas will hinder the overseer’s ability to approach people from God’s perspective.  As such, selecting the right individual is of paramount importance.  God doesn’t take this position lightly, and neither should we.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Fulfilling His plans for us

Ever wish that God would just tell you what He has specifically planned for your life?  Maybe not all the details, but at least how He desires for us to partner with Him?  Very rarely was God that clear and specific with anyone in Scripture; however, God did foretell some details to one of Paul’s young protégés.

At some point while he was growing up, Timothy was told by God that he would do great things in ministry.  Paul knew of these prophecies; however, he also knew that Timothy still had work to do in order to fulfill what had been foretold about him.

1 Timothy 1:18-19
Timothy, my child, I am giving you this instruction in keeping with the prophecies previously made about you, so that by them you may strongly engage in battle, having faith and a good conscience.

Paul gave Timothy pointed instruction – both previously and in his current letter – for a specific reason: Paul wanted to encourage his child so that he could fulfill what God had designed him to do. 

Paul wasn’t trying to build Timothy up just so he felt good about himself, either.  Paul was looking forward to the time when Timothy was able to strongly engage in battle.  This phrase was spoken of a commander who would lead soldiers to war.  Timothy was to take Paul’s instructions, combine them with the special knowledge God had revealed to him, and then choose to apply them as he led an entire congregation of believers.

Timothy’s fulfillment of the prophecies previously made about him were conditional on his choices and actions.  Notice the Paul used the word may.  He had every confidence that Timothy could courageously lead the church in Ephesus, otherwise Paul would not have left him there and in charge.  But Timothy was still responsible to make use of the instruction and spiritual gifts that had been given to him.

Now I’ve never been given a prophecy about how I would serve God and point others to Him.  I suspect you haven’t, either.  Yet we do have special knowledge from God that even Timothy didn’t have – we have the entire Bible.  We can hold in our hands the complete revelation from God which details His plans both for and with humanity.

Our ability to achieve what God has planned for us to do is also contingent, just like Timothy.  If we are willing to take the instructions of our mentors, combine them with God’s revelation, and then choose to apply them…God’s design for us will be fulfilled.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Pleasing others, for their good

Think of a major accomplishment in your life.  To get there, you had to work hard.  Perhaps you worked for a long time, even years.  Significant progress was made, and you know – more than anyone else – how much effort and time and worry and late nights went into finally “arriving.”

Maybe your mountain is a promotion or tenure.  Maybe it’s a high school or college degree.  Maybe it’s the applause of your peers, the community, or even your family.  We strive and work toward many noble goals in this life – financial freedom, career advancement, raising a family, business success, doing adult-things and doing them well.

Whenever we get to the point where we feel like “we’ve arrived”, there’s a seemingly innocent urge that sneaks into our minds.  While we relish the moment and reflect on the work that got us there, there is also a subtle tug to coast (just a little) and take it easy.

Now, don’t misunderstand me…rest is good.  Rest is Biblical.  God rested after six days of creation.  However, when rest is complete, we will have to make a choice – will we allow our rest to become self-indulgent, or will we face the difficult question of what to do next?

As Paul was finishing up his letter to the believers in Rome, he touched on several practical issues.  He approached these issues from two sides –  from those believers who had already arrived at maturity and those who had not yet matured.  We find that kind of mixed company in the church today also.  Here, Paul talks about the responsibility of those who have developed a strong relationship with God:

Romans 15:1-2
Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.  Each one of us must please his neighbor for his good, in order to build him up.  For even the Messiah did not please Himself.

When we have a mature, developed relationship with God, it is not time to be self-centered.  God doesn’t want us to sit around being full of ourselves.  Rather, He wants us to leverage our development in a way that pleases our neighbor

And this kind of pleasing isn’t about just making them feel happy, either.  We are to purposely act for their good, encouraging them and building them up so they can experience and live out the same kind of relationship we have with the Father.

Honestly, even for someone who has walked with God for a long time – developing others is hard.  Building up a fellow believer can be really messy sometimes, it’s not a give-advice-once-and-be-done kind of thing.  In case we have any question as to what that looks like, Paul says that the model for the mature believer to follow is Christ’s example.  Jesus found motivation to continue on, complete His mission, and please His Father by looking ahead to the mission’s end result.

A few verses later, Paul points his audience toward the end result of building up their fellow believers:

Romans 15:5-6
Now may the God of endurance and encouragement grant you agreement with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with a unified mind and voice.

That’s the goal here, humanity’s created purpose – to glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and for us to do so with a unified mind and voice.  We who are strong and mature are to bear with those who haven’t made it yet.  Not just to tolerate them, either.  After we build them up to maturity, together we can all give God the glory He deserves.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The best defense against legalism

Sometimes, events really stick in your memory.  This next scene must have left a big impression on the disciples, since three of the four gospel authors wrote about it.

Matthew 12:1-2
At that time Jesus passed through the grainfields on the Sabbath.  His disciples were hungry and began to pick and eat some heads of grain.  But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”

The Pharisees weren’t knocking the disciples for “stealing” grain, as picking grain heads was expressly allowed in the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 23:25).  The Pharisees’ problem was with the disciples’ timing, as the Mosaic Law stated that the Sabbath was to be a day of rest.  The Pharisees had identified 39 actions that constituted “work” and were therefore forbidden on the Sabbath – the disciples had plucked the heads of grain (harvested), rubbed them in their hands (threshing), blew away the chaff (winnowing), and ate the kernels (preparing a meal).  So, in the minds of the Pharisees, not only were the disciples in violation of the Mosaic Law four times, but they had done so with Jesus’ permission.

This is no small, nit-picky charge, either.  Violating the Sabbath was punishable by death, and the disciples’ guilt would show everyone that Jesus was an illegitimate teacher.   Jesus came to the aid of his charges and gave three convincing arguments against the Pharisees’ accusations:

Matthew 12:3-8
He said to them, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and those who were with him were hungry – how he entered the house of God, and they ate the sacred bread, which is not lawful for him or for those with him to eat, but only for the priests?

Or haven’t you read in the Law that on Sabbath days the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent?  But I tell you that something greater than the temple is here!

If you had known what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the innocent.  For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Jesus both protected his disciples and refuted the over-zealous self-interpretation of the Sabbath by the Pharisees by taking them back to the Scriptures. 

Jesus pointed out that an exception in the ritual law was made because David and his men were hungry – a legitimate need had to be met. 

From there, Jesus remind the Pharisees that the priests serve and work in the temple without being guilty of breaking the Sabbath – and if temple work can excuse a person from Sabbath, how much more “excused” is someone who serves the Lord of the Sabbath

Thirdly, Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 to point out how the Pharisees have missed God’s desire to extend mercy toward those in great need, and how that desire takes precedence over a sacrifice if the two are in conflict.

Through a proper view of the Scriptures, Jesus demonstrated that His disciples had not violated the Fourth Commandment.  In fact, the only thing that had been violated was the traditional Pharisee interpretation of how a Sabbath day was to be observed.

Looking at this scene from a mentor’s perspective, our application is rather obvious…we need to know God’s Word.  We are to teach it to our protégés, but we must also be ready to defend them against unfounded attacks.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Doing too much?

Ever have that overwhelming feeling that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew?  If yes, you can relate to this story.

After the Israelites left Egypt, but before they received the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro met with them.  The night he arrived was filled with celebration for everything God had done to rescue the Israelites from the Egyptians.  However, the next day Jethro noticed a problem – and took the opportunity to advise and mentor Moses:

Exodus 18:13-16
The next day Moses sat down to judge the people, and they stood around Moses from morning until evening.  When Moses’ father-in-law saw everything he was doing for them he asked, “What is this thing you’re doing for the people?  Why are you alone sitting as judge, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?”

Moses replied to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God.  Whenever they have a dispute, it comes to me, and I make a decision between one man and another.  I teach them God’s statutes and laws.”

Moses mistakenly believed that since God spoke to him and he was the one who knew God’s law the best, then he had to be the one to settle all the disputes among the people.  From the outside looking in, doesn’t it seem a little absurd that an 80-year-old Moses would try to justify being the only judge/advisor/teacher for 2 million people?

However, it probably started out small – with a few people bringing their issues to Moses.  He’s the God-appointed leader, so it would make sense to get his opinion and his decision.  However, by the time Jethro came to visit, the situation was well out of hand.  What’s important to note is that Moses’ mentor didn’t just point out what was wrong with the situation, but Jethro also offered a good solution:

Exodus 18:17-23
“What you’re doing is not good,” Moses’ father-in-law said to him.  “You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people who are with you, because the task is too heavy for you.  You can’t do it alone. 

Now listen to me; I will give you some advice, and God be with you.  You be the one to represent the people before God and bring their cases to Him.  Instruct them about the statutes and laws, and teach them the way to live and what they must do.

But you should select from all the people able men, God-fearing, trustworthy, and hating bribes.  Place them over the people as officials of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens.  They should judge the people at all time.  Then they can bring you every important case but judge every minor case themselves. 

In this way you will lighten your load, and they will bear it with you.  If you do this, and God so directs you, you will be able to endure, and also all these people will be able to go home satisfied.”

After spending just one day observing Moses’ work schedule, it was quite apparent to Jethro that how Moses managed his responsibilities was not sustainable – Moses was getting worn out and it was impossible to decide on every person’s case every single day.

Isn’t that what happens to us?  How many times have we justified our unwillingness to delegate by saying:

If you want it done right, you gotta do it yourself

When we insist on lifting more weight than we can physically carry, we pull a muscle and have to be side-lined until the injury heals.  When we take on more responsibility than we are capable of handling, we will quickly become burnt-out, which also leads to being side-lined.  Jethro saw that Moses was heading straight for a burn out, and if that happened, Moses would no longer be an effective leader for the nation of Israel, nor would he be able to represent the nation to God.

As a mentor, Jethro stepped in at the right moment with the right advice.  Also notice that Jethro still left it up to Moses to decide how to handle the situation – he could continue on as he had, or he could humbly accept his mentor’s advice.

Afterward, Moses did exactly what Jethro suggested, and everyone benefited.  Moses’ example proves that we’re never “too old”, “too accomplished”, or even “too spiritual” to need wise counsel from a mentor.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Practical application: work (part 2)

I’ve often wondered why work is just so difficult some times.  Despite the best intentions and efforts of the people around me, the work to be done always takes more effort than it should, is never produced as quickly as it could be, and the full potential of a given project never seems to be fully realized.  When I take a moment to consider these short-comings, it leaves me rather frustrated with thoughts of what could have been if certain issues had not gotten in the way.

The truth of the matter is that these constant issues in our work are part of the consequences for Adam’s sin against God:

Genesis 3:17-18
The ground is cursed because of you.  You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you

The biggest thorns and thistles we deal with at work typically fall into these categories: motivation, appropriate pay, politics, or management issues.  Any one of these thorns can cause major problems, but our daily experience usually combines several of them together. 

While Paul was instructing slaves on how they were to view and conduct their daily responsibilities, his directions are something that we can also apply as we deal with our own responsibilities:

Colossians 3:23-4:1
Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord – you serve the Lord Christ.  For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism.

Masters, supply your slaves with what is right and fair, since you know that you too have a Master in heaven.

Did you notice how Paul addressed each one of our major thorn categories?

Issues with our own motivation really comes down to who we believe we’re responsible to.  Are we working for our boss, our co-workers, or just trying to make some money to support our families?  If that’s the case, remember that at some point, our boss, co-workers, or family will let us down.  When that happens, our work will suffer because we’ll begin to believe that our efforts aren’t worthy of the person we’re working for.  Instead, we need to remember that our daily work is something done for the Lord and not for men.  We honor God and His reputation when we enthusiastically give our best in the task at hand.

Whether our earthly boss is fair or not, do we trust God to give good rewards?  If anyone is going to be cutting checks, wouldn’t you want God to do it?  Not only is he able to evaluate the finished product, but He knows all the details of how the project work was done…all the way down to the moment-by-moment motivation of the workers.  Even if we don’t receive an immediate payoff for our efforts, we must keep in mind that we will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord and the quality of this reward is based upon what we accomplish and how we accomplished it.

One of our major thorns has to do with injustice and favoritism in the workplace.  However, do we believe that the person who wrongs us will be held accountable by God?  Our desire for fairness is real and justified.  However, when office politics and favoritism muddies up a situation…do we trust God when He says He’ll take care of it?  Even if we have to wait for Him to do so?

Lastly, we have all experienced the pains of ineffective, or even incompetent, management.  Paul’s point here is that if we find ourselves in a position overseeing the work of others, it is imperative that we remain humble and do what is right by the people who work for us.  After all, isn’t that how our Master in heaven treats us?

Thorns and thistles and painful labor will continue to be part of our daily lives until Jesus returns.  Until then, whenever the issues are dragging us down, we just need to remember Who it is we’re truly working for.

Colossians 3:23-4:1
Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Practical application: work (part 1)

After giving specific examples of how to live out a Jesus-focused life among our immediate families, Paul turned his readers’ attention to the next most common area of their lives – where they do their daily work.

Paul specifically addresses these next directions to slaves; however, the Greek word he used could also be translated as servant, attendant, or bondsman.  Roman slavery had many more similarities to an indentured servant system than to the version of slavery in America’s past or in other parts of the world.

Regardless of his readers’ circumstances, Paul’s application of God’s truth for their lives is clear.  Additionally, his reasoning is something that we can also apply in any area we are working:

Colossians 3:22
Slaves, obey your human masters in everything: don’t work only while being watched, in order to please men, but work wholeheartedly, fearing the Lord. 

The first observation here is that Paul’s direction is proof that laziness at work isn’t a new concept.  It wasn’t introduced into our economic system by Gen-X, Gen-Y, or everyone’s current favorite target, the Millennials.  Working only when being watched is an expression of selfishness and self-centeredness…conditions that have plagued all of humanity since The Fall.

Looking back at the creation account, we find that God gave Adam work to do – long before sin entered the world.  He and Eve were to partner together with God and work in the Garden of Eden.  Paul wants his readers to see their daily work as Adam and Eve saw their work, as an occupation entrusted to them by God and they were to work for Him. 

Colossians 3:23-24
Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord – you serve the Lord Christ. 

Remember, Paul is writing to believers here…so the reward of an inheritance isn’t eternal salvation from the penalty of sin, because that is a free gift.  Based on the context, the reward in these verses is something that can be earned through working wholeheartedly and enthusiastically.

Given these observations, several application questions come to mind:

How do we approach the workday? 
When do we work hard? 
If our attitudes are the measuring stick, whom are we working for? 
Paul says there is a reward for good work, so what is it?

When we view our work properly – as someone who working for God – our perspective immediately changes.  We see the successes, failures, and difficulties in completely different light and are able to trust God in all areas of our work.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Called, by God's will

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

Paul is an apostle…by God’s will.  He didn’t choose this for himself.  God appointed him to specific service.  An apostle is a delegate or messenger.  Someone who is an apostle has a specific function – that person is chosen by Christ to be His ambassador. 

Notice also that Paul doesn’t identify himself as a believer by God’s will.  Trusting Christ for eternal life is something that Paul chose to do; however, the work we do in God’s family is something that God chooses for us.

There are many examples of God choosing both groups of people and individuals for specific service to Him.  Moses told the Israelites:

Deuteronomy 7:6
For you are a holy people belonging to the Lord your God.  The Lord you God has chosen you to be His own possession out of all the peoples on the face of the earth.

Even then, from among the Israelites, God chose the Levites to serve as His priests.  God also chose individuals who would be the leaders, judges, prophets, and kings for the nation.  Some served faithfully (Joshua, David) but others struggled in their appointed positions (Samson, Jonah).  Even though none of them were perfect, each person God chose had a specific responsibility toward the people.  They were to aid the people in fulfilling God’s desired purpose for the nation of Israel:

Exodus 19:5-6
Now if you will listen to Me and carefully keep My covenant, you will be My own possession out of all the peoples, although all the earth is Mine, and you will be My kingdom of priests and My holy nation.

When the nation of Israel was in right relationship with God, they became a shining example to the rest of the world.  The groups and individuals which God chose for specific service were to help guide the nation toward this end.

Paul sees his apostleship in the same light.  He also sees that Jesus calls others in the church family to specific kinds of service:

Ephesians 4:11-12
And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son

We all have our roles, and Paul is doing his part.  As an apostle, he has specific insight from God to share with those in Colossae – which we can also benefit from as we read his letter.

Whether you find your calling in the list above, or you are one of the saints being trained in the work of ministry, God has work for us to do.  By God’s will, some of us work to build up the body and some of us work to minister to those outside of the body.  Either way, we have the opportunity to partner with the Creator of Everything in His most important mission.

Do you know what service you are called to?  If not, ask God to show you.  His answer might surprise you…but you can trust that He knows where you belong.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Completing the Father's work

During His ‘High Priestly Prayer’, Jesus said to the Father:

John 17:4 I have glorified You on the earth by completing the work You gave Me to do.

A few verses later, specifically states what part of that work entailed:

John 17:6-8 I have revealed Your name to the men You gave Me from the world.
They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.
Now they know that all things You have given to Me are from You,
Because the words that You gave Me, I have given them.
They have received them and have known for certain that I came from You.
They have believed that You sent Me.

Part of His mission was to purposely develop disciples to carry on the Father’s work after Jesus’ departure.  He didn’t just pick a few of His favorites from those who were following Him around.  They weren’t just hang-out buddies or there to be “Yes-Men” while Jesus conducted His ministry.

The Father specifically chose the disciples out of all the Israelites who were looking forward to the coming Messiah.  The Father gave these men to Jesus, for Him to invest in and develop.

Over the course of three years, Jesus revealed the truths of God to the disciples.  He taught them truths and He lived out those truths.  And now it was time for them to live out the truths they believed.

John 17:9-10 I pray for them.
I am not praying for the world but for those You have given Me,
because they are Yours.

All My things are Yours, and Yours are Mine,
and I have been glorified in them.

Just as the Father was glorified by Jesus as He completed the work the Father sent Him to do…Jesus will be glorified by the disciples as they complete the work that Jesus is sending them out to do.

Two main applications come from our observations here:

·        Are we glorifying Jesus by completing the work He has given us to do?
·        Are we purposely developing others to carry on God’s work after our own departure?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Healthy teachings for slaves

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

Paul has one last group within the Cretan believers to address.  Slavery was quite common within ancient Rome; so much so that historians believe that the slave population would vary between 30% to over 50% of a given city.  While some slaves toiled under harsh conditions, others appeared to be normal businessmen; however, the function and authority of both were under the supervision of their individual masters.  Invariably, with such a sizeable population, there were slaves who became Christians.  So they also would wonder “What’s next?” after choosing to trust Christ for their salvation from the penalty of their sins.

Titus 2:9-10 Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.

One source I found made this point: “Paul’s instructions on the respectful attitude of slaves toward their masters comes against the backdrop of a standard theme in ancient comedies: the arrogant, back-talking slave.  Over and over the Greek and Latin comic playwrights present slaves as mocking their masters behind their backs, talking back to them with barely disguised contempt when they could (often getting a cuffing for comic effect), and generally being villainous characters.  Admittedly a large measure of this picture was simply the comedic portrait, but it no doubt contains an element of truth…”

What’s helpful here is that Paul gives instructions for “What’s next”, but he also provides the why for doing these things.  Did you see it at the end of verse 10? 

so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive

Paul wanted the Cretan slaves to recognize that their work for their earthly master was their way to demonstrate who God is and what God has done in their lives.  Against the cultural joke backdrop of the back-talking slave, a servant who is trustworthy in front of his master as well as when his master is not around would stand out. 

The slaves were to recognize the authority of those above them, work to please them, be respectful, and not to misappropriate the resources they were in charge of or came in contact with.  Their trustworthiness would gain them an audience with their master and those around them…their audience would find their motivations to be attractive.  Titus was to make sure that the slaves knew that their everyday choices would build the platform from which they could share the good news of gospel.  Every slave, from the one with huge responsibilities to the one who did the most menial of tasks, could make the gospel attractive by how they worked.

Although we do not find ourselves in the same employment situation as the Cretan slaves, there are some clear parallels and applications for all of us.  In a culture that seems to take work less and less serious…how a Christian works is important, no matter what job we have in front of us.  We represent our Savior in the everyday choices we make in our work.

Keep Pressing,
Ken