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 Category: Colossians

Flashback Favorite - Take this step to be like Jesus

I still do this. I’ve memorized, applied, and been able to share a lot of Scripture because this is something I practice.

I highly encourage you to do this, too.

Take this step to be like Jesus
originally posted on November 24, 2016

I’ve heard that a person’s character is defined by who they are when no one else is around.

I’m not 100% sure about that definition…instead, what we do with our time when no one else is around is how we develop our character.

When no one is looking, the choices we make will shape us.  Even the passive choice to “do nothing” has a sculpting effect.  Think of our time as spending cash.  How we spend it – either wasting or investing it – will shape who we are.

Paul knew this quite well, which is why he told Timothy:

1 Timothy 4:7-10
But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness, for,

the training of the body has a limited benefit,
but godliness is beneficial in every way,
since it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come.

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance.  In fact, we labor and strive for this, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe.

We understand that musicians practice for hours when no one is looking so when it comes time to perform, they do it perfectly.  We get it that basketball players shoot 100s of free throws a week so they’re ready when they’re fouled late in a game and have to step up to the line.

Training happens when no one is looking – it’s intentional work.  Now, earlier in his letter to Timothy, Paul equated godliness with being like Jesus.  But I think we Christians don’t see how important it is for us to labor and strive to be like Jesus.  So, let’s take an intentional step in that direction and see what God does with our time investment.

Jesus was intimately connected to the Scriptures.  On a regular basis, Jesus would quote or reference God’s Word.  Here’s just a couple of ideas to put some of God’s Word directly into your life:

·        Use a verse as a password – every time you log in to an account, say the verse.  “John3:16” or “Psalm100:1” fulfills most password requirements to have a capital letter, lower case letter, number, and special character.  Perhaps your password at work is a reminder of being faithful or diligent, like Colossians3:23 or Proverbs22:29.  Maybe the password for your online bank account is about being wise with money, like Proverbs21:17 or 2Corinthians9:6.
·        Have a verse for when you start your car, a “key” verse you need to know.  Proverbs3:5 and Ephesians2:8 would be good choices.
·        Have a verse to repeat whenever you wash your hands.  I learned 1 John 4:7-8 in a tune when I was a kid.  The tune is burned into my memory, so I can “sing” those verses at any time.  As often as I need to wash my hands, I’m reminding myself multiple times per day that loving others is important, and God is the one who loved us first.

It’s ok to pull out your phone to look up the verse so you say it correctly.  And…you don’t have to implement all of these suggestions.  The point is to find one thing in your day that you do repeatedly, and attach a verse to it.  Actively invest your time.  God guarantees that this kind of training will be beneficial both in the present life and also for the life to come.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - Sharing our prayers

One last Flashback Favorite before we jump into the next series. This earlier learning provides a great prequel to where we’ll be going.

Sharing our prayers
originally posted on July 15, 2015

People have said it to me more times than I can remember, but I’m unsure how many of them really followed through.  I’ve even promised to do it for someone else, and yet I failed to live up to my own words.

It’s just five words, and they are quite common to hear in Christian communities:

I’ll be praying for you.

I’m not sure that I can trust others who tell me that…but that’s probably because I don’t really trust myself when I say it.  IF it happens that I remember to do the praying I’ve promised to do, it’s usually a breath or two about God “helping” them with their “stuff”.  If I feel unsure how to pray for someone, then my lack of trust for other’s prayer-promises probably comes from not knowing what, specifically, they are praying to God about my life.

Fortunately for us, God doesn’t leave us to our own meandering minds.  God’s Word is full of prayer examples, especially in Paul’s letters.  At the beginning of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul gives us a great example:

Colossians 1:9-10
For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you.  We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord

The first thing that stands out is that Paul’s not spending time praying about their circumstances.  Instead, he’s talking to God about the Colossians’ relationship with God in the midst of their circumstances.  Paul doesn’t have to have intimate knowledge of their situation…rather his emphasis is that they would know God and His purposes. 

When we are walking closely with God, we are filled with the knowledge of His will and we more clearly see His desires and purposes.  We trust better.  We relax and watch for God.  We see life with a wisdom and spiritual understanding that is most definitely God-given.  These are the things Paul continually prayed for the believers in Colossae.  Not for “God’s help” in their lives, but that they would know Him and know Him well

The second thing that stands out is that Paul told them what he was praying for them.  How encouraging would it be for someone to tell you that they were praying these things for you?  To have a person specifically tell me that they were asking God that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will…that information would be perspective-changing.  It would lift my eyes away from my “stuff” and circumstances; instead I would begin to look to God for His wisdom and spiritual understanding.

This is how we support one another in prayer.  Let’s petition God about relationships, not circumstances.  But let’s also encourage one another by sharing with others what we’re praying on their behalf.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

How to live rightly, and the benefits from it

We’ve been taking a closer look at David’s instructive Psalm 37.  He spends most of the psalm pointing out that God will take care of the injustices and evil we find in this fallen world.  However, throughout the psalm, David is also constantly referencing the benefits of those who live rightly before God.

Here are a few examples of the many ways David describes the righteous:

But the humble will inherit the land and will enjoy abundant prosperity. (v 11)

The Lord watches over the blameless all their days,
and their inheritance will last forever.
They will not be disgraced in times of adversity;
they will be satisfied in days of hunger. (v 18-19)

I have not seen the righteous abandoned
or his children begging bread. (v 25)

For the Lord loves justice
and will not abandon His faithful ones.
They are kept safe forever,
but the children of the wicked will be destroyed. (v 28)

The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord,
their refuge in a time of distress.
The Lord helps and delivers them;
He will deliver them from the wicked and will save them
because they take refuge in Him. (v 39-40)

The distinctions between evildoers and the righteous are pretty clear in the psalm, as David contrasts how the wicked and the righteous live their day-to-day lives.  Evildoers will eventually face the Lord’s wrath and punishment; while the righteous have the Lord’s favor.  Although the benefits listed above are impressive (the other benefits listed in the rest of the psalm are also impressive), I find myself wondering exactly how the righteous know to live like they do.

Tucked away in the middle of the psalm, while David is extolling another great benefit of the righteous, we find this:

Psalm 37:30-31
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom;
his tongue speaks what is just.
The instruction of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not falter.

Do you see it?  It’s easy to miss when we want to have the awesome benefits of speaking wisdom and what is just.  I’m a big fan of having everything feel stable and steady, so I especially focus the reminder that the Lord won’t let the righteous’ steps falter.  But the key to all these benefits is found in the first part of verse 31:

The instruction of his God is in his heart

We can’t live the right way if we don’t know what the right way actually is.  When life comes at us fast, and detours happen, and we have people watching to see how we respond in the moment – we don’t have the time to stop everything and do an in-depth study of what God has said.  We need our right-living reactions to be as natural as our reflexes, to know them “by heart”.  The only way for God’s instruction about right-living to be in our hearts is for us to purposely and intentionally get them in there.  The benefits that David lists for the righteous are there because they live the way God designed us to live…and they know how to live that way because they have prepared themselves to do so.

What’s God will for our lives?  After we trust Christ as our savior (John 6:29, 11:25-26), God’s will for us is to live rightly – just like He created us to.  How do we know what “living-rightly” looks like?  We take God’s instructions – i.e. the Bible – and purposely put it in front of us, to the point we know it by heart.

So, where to start?  I suggest the book of John, to see how Christ really lived.  After that I would suggest either Philippians or Colossians – both are full of practical, easy-to-understand ways to live a righteous life before the Lord.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Take this step to be like Jesus

I’ve heard that a person’s character is defined by who they are when no one else is around.

I’m not 100% sure about that definition…instead, what we do with our time when no one else is around is how we develop our character.

When no one is looking, the choices we make will shape us.  Even the passive choice to “do nothing” has a sculpting effect.  Think of our time as spending cash.  How we spend it – either wasting or investing it – will shape who we are.

Paul knew this quite well, which is why he told Timothy:

1 Timothy 4:7-10
But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness, for,

the training of the body has a limited benefit,
but godliness is beneficial in every way,
since it holds promise for the present life
and also for the life to come.

This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance.  In fact, we labor and strive for this, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of everyone, especially of those who believe.

We understand that musicians practice for hours when no one is looking so when it comes time to perform, they do it perfectly.  We get it that basketball players shoot 100s of free throws a week so they’re ready when they’re fouled late in a game and have to step up to the line.

Training happens when no one is looking – it’s intentional work.  Now, earlier in his letter to Timothy, Paul equated godliness with being like Jesus.  But I think we Christians don’t see how important it is for us to labor and strive to be like Jesus.  So, let’s take an intentional step in that direction and see what God does with our time investment.

Jesus was intimately connected to the Scriptures.  On a regular basis, Jesus would quote or reference God’s Word.  Here’s just a couple of ideas to put some of God’s Word directly into your life:

·        Use a verse as a password – every time you log in to an account, say the verse.  “John3:16” or “Psalm100:1” fulfills most password requirements to have a capital letter, lower case letter, number, and special character.  Perhaps your password at work is a reminder of being faithful or diligent, like Colossians3:23 or Proverbs22:29.  Maybe the password for your online bank account is about being wise with money, like Proverbs21:17 or 2Corinthians9:6.
·        Have a verse for when you start your car, a “key” verse you need to know.  Proverbs3:5 and Ephesians2:8 would be good choices.
·        Have a verse to repeat whenever you wash your hands.  I learned 1 John 4:7-8 in a tune when I was a kid.  The tune is burned into my memory, so I can “sing” those verses at any time.  As often as I need to wash my hands, I’m reminding myself multiple times per day that loving others is important, and God is the one who loved us first.

It’s ok to pull out your phone to look up the verse so you say it correctly.  And…you don’t have to implement all of these suggestions.  The point is to find one thing in your day that you do repeatedly, and attach a verse to it.  Actively invest your time.  God guarantees that this kind of training will be beneficial both in the present life and also for the life to come.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Proud papa

How do you spell “love” to a child?

T-I-M-E

The same is true in mentoring.  Even a cursory look at the relationship between Paul and Timothy shows two things – that they spent a lot of time together, and Paul was proud of the man Timothy had grown into.

After leaving his family to join Paul and Silas, Timothy was present in many significant events in Paul’s missionary travels.  Timothy was at Philippi when the mob had Paul and Silas arrested.  Later an earthquake leveled the jail, which led to the jailer and his family to believe the gospel.  Timothy was also in Thessalonica when the riots started there, and he stayed with Silas in Berea when Paul was forced to travel ahead of them.

Timothy was also with Paul when he spent 18 months in Corinth, starting a church and ministering there.  Similarly, Timothy was with Paul during his two year stay in Ephesus.  Piecing together the timeline from other New Testament writings, we find that Paul would send Timothy out as his representative to encourage the churches they had previously established.

Timothy’s efforts mirrored his mentor’s so closely that Paul even referred to Timothy as “my co-worker” (Romans 16:21) and “our brother” (2 Corinthians 1:1, Colossians 1:1, Philemon 1).  Even more impressive is that Paul listed Timothy as a co-author in six of his letters – 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon.  None of Paul’s other ministering partners come anywhere close to that.

Over the years and years of working together, Paul also witnessed a lot of growth in Timothy.  Notice how Paul proudly recommends Timothy to the believers at the church they had established in Philippi:

Philippians 2:19-24
Now I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon so that I also may be encouraged when I hear news about you.  For I have no one else like-minded who will genuinely care about your interests; all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

But you know his proven character, because he has served with me in the gospel ministry like a son with a father.  Therefore, I hope to send him as soon as I see how things go with me.

Their relationship is an excellent example of what a mentoring relationship should look like.  Timothy wouldn’t have developed without Paul’s guidance and the time Paul invested.  Timothy was able to learn from Paul; and not just to become a carbon-copy of his mentor, rather he would use Paul’s investment as the launching point of his own efforts to live out and spread the gospel.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Reoccurring themes and second chances

As Paul wraps up his personal letter to Philemon, he also lists out final greetings from those who are ministering with him at the moment:

Philemon 23-25
Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers.  The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

In light of Paul’s plea for Philemon to reconcile with Onesimus – despite the wrongs Onesimus had committed – one name on Paul’s final greeting list stands out: Mark.

Paul’s letter to Philemon and his letter to the Colossian church were very likely to have been written and delivered at the same time.  In fact, one of the great evidences for this timeline is the near-identical final greeting list at the end of Colossians, where Paul says:

Colossians 4:10
Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him)

This is the same Mark who deserted Paul and Barnabas on a missionary trip approximately 20 years before Paul wrote his letter to Philemon.  Although the Scriptures do not record why Mark abandoned the team, we do know that his reasons caused significant problems later on:

Acts 15:36-41
After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord, and see how they’re doing.”  Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark.  But Paul did not think it appropriate to take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work.  There was such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus.  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.

At that time, it was Barnabas standing in the gap for John Mark and pleading for Paul to reconcile over the past wrongs that John Mark had caused.  However, Paul did not want to trust John Mark after his previous failure. 

The disagreement over John Mark’s usefulness was significant enough for Barnabas and Paul to part company.  They are never mentioned together again in the rest of the New Testament.

Now fast-forward 20 years.  John Mark, through Barnabas’ mentoring, has become useful to Paul as they work together spreading the gospel.  There is no doubt in my mind that Paul saw in Onesimus the same need for a second chance that John Mark had needed so many years prior.  While Paul could not go back to change his previous choices, he was presented with an opportunity to make the better choice this time.

You can almost hear the echo of Barnabas’ plea on behalf of John Mark when Paul writes about Onesimus:

Philemon 17-18
So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me.  And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 

Maybe we’ve messed up opportunities to reconcile relationships in the past.  We can’t go back and change those.  We have to trust that God will work in other people’s lives.  However, we will run into reoccurring themes the longer we walk with Christ.  There will be opportunities for us to make the right choice and help someone else.

Our great God is a God who gives second chances.  And He is patient enough to show us the reoccurring themes of life – even decades later – to give us another chance to act like Him toward another person.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The tension is real

I’m sure I’m not the only one, but there have been times that I have felt as if the message being delivered by the preacher to the congregation was aimed squarely at me.  It is as if God Himself has sat me down and said “Look, Ken this applies directly to you today – and you need to do it.

When Tychicus delivered the letter to the church in Colossae and Paul’s personal letter to Philemon, suddenly Philemon and Onesimus were having one of those rubber-meets-the-road moments.  Take a look at Paul’s specific request to Philemon:

Philemon 15-18
For perhaps this is why he was separated from you for a brief time, so that you might get him back permanently, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave – as a dearly loved brother.  This is especially so to me, but even more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me a partner, accept him as you would me.  And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.

This request put Philemon in a position where he would need to apply God’s direction on family matters that was just delivered to his local church:

Colossians 3:12-14
Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another.  Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so also you must forgive.  Above all, put on love – the perfect bond of unity.

For Philemon, the tension is real.  God’s Word is directly challenging him, and he has a choice to make with how he will respond to God’s directions.

However, a different section of Paul’s letter to the Colossian church would have been more applicable (and challenging) to Onesimus:

Colossians 3:22-24
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.  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 Onesimus, the tension is also real.  After everything he and Philemon had been through, would Onesimus humbly take his place and do his work enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord?

God’s Word is just as practical today as it was for Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus.  As we allow the Scriptures into our lives, we too will be challenged.  It will be as if God Himself has sat us down and said “Look, this applies directly to you today – and you need to do it.

The tension is real.  Will we trust God and respond accordingly?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

 

A level playing field

In the ancient world, you knew your place in society.  If you were born into the elite class, you associated with and married in the elite class.  If you were on the outside looking in, you knew that too.  You also knew that you would never be able to join the upper crust.

Slaves in the ancient world were considered property of their masters – either by temporary arrangement (like to pay back some debt) or as a permanent situation.  There were avenues in society for a slave to purchase their freedom or to be released by their masters, but those situations were the exception, not the norm.

The name “Onesimus” was a common slave name since it means “useful”, for that is what the master expected of his slaves – that they would make themselves useful to their owner and the family they served.  When Paul wrote on behalf of Onesimus, he used the slave’s name in a play on words in his petition to Philemon:

Philemon 9-11
I, Paul, as an elderly man and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus, appeal to you for my child, who I fathered while in chains – Onesimus.  Once he was useless to you, but now he is useful to both you and me. 

In his prior life, Onesimus was useless.  Whatever had happened between him and his master Philemon was substantial and, as we’ll read later, monetarily expensive.  The situation had to have been significant based upon Onesimus’ choice to leave – either as a runaway slave, or even if he sought Paul out to intercede with Philemon.  After causing significant damage to Philemon and then departing, Onesimus truly had no usefulness to Philemon.  However, after encountering Jesus and trusting Him for eternal life, Onesimus has become eternally useful – both to God and among the family of believers.

Philemon 12-16
I am sending him – a part of myself – back to you.  I wanted to keep him with me, so that in my imprisonment for the gospel he might serve me in your place.  But I didn’t want to do anything without your consent, so that your good deed might not be out of obligation, but of your own free will. 

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

Oh, the level playing field created by Jesus!

Take a moment to appreciate what took place when Onesimus joined God’s family.  Despite his background, past sins, or current social and economic circumstance, Onesimus is now on equal footing with Philemon AND Paul.

In Christ, the slave is on equal ground with the master and the apostle.  Since Jesus paid the price for all sins that means there is room at cross for everyone.  Paul even said as much in his letter to the church in Colossae:

Colossians 3:11
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.

None of the world’s barriers, distinctions, or divisions can prevent someone from joining God’s family.  There is not one of life’s circumstances that can prevent you from trusting Jesus for eternal life.  His offer is available to all.  We only need to trust Him.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Time to get personal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A little later, Paul says

Philemon 8-9
For this reason, although I have great boldness in Christ to command you to do what is right, I appeal, instead, on the basis of love.

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Final greetings and a warning

As Paul closes out his letter to the believers in Colossae, he has some specific instructions for the few people he knows in the area. 

Colossians 4:15-18
Give my greetings to the brothers in Laodicea, and to Nympha and the church in her house.  And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.  And tell Archippus, “Pay attention to the ministry you have received in the Lord, so that you can accomplish it.”  This greeting is in my own hand – Paul.  Remember my imprisonment.  Grace be with you.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be Archippus?

Paul essentially calls him out before the entire congregation…and to whomever would eventually read the Colossian letter.  The next time someone is introduced to Archippus, I could imagine the conversation going something like:

“Nice to meet you.  Oh, you’re Archippus?  Have you accomplished the ministry God gave you?”

I’m sure Archippus had some mixed emotions when he heard the letter read to the church – feeling some encouragement from Paul, but also feeling a little pressure, too.

However, that’s what good encouragers do.  The help us see the correct path, and then they give us a nudge in that direction.  But we have to be the ones to take the steps and do the ministry that God gives to each of us.

This blog doesn’t write itself.  In order to continue the ministry that Joe started years ago and later handed off to me, I have several things that I must pay attention to.  My own study of God’s Word, my work schedule, my family schedule, and all the other curve balls that life throws at us…all of them must be juggled intentionally in order for me to accomplish the task that God has given to me.

There are times when writing is more difficult than others.  There have been times where I’m writing blogs weeks ahead of when they are posted…but there have been many more times when I’m writing late into Tuesday or Thursday night for something that will post the next morning.  Sometimes the observations come easily, but other times I struggle to find the correct interpretation of a passage.  However, knowing that God is allowing me to partner with Him in this way is a great motivator.  The occasional note back from someone who can either relate to or apply what I write has also been encouraging.

Paul’s point is that we can’t accomplish the ministry God gives us unless we actively pay attention to it.  We cannot be lazy in our efforts and expect God to pick up our slack.  He paid the penalty for our sins because there was no alternative, no way for us to do it.  However, if God hands us a ministry, then He knows we can accomplish it…with the right amount of effort.

Looking back through Paul’s letter to the Colossians, his main focus was to encourage them on to maturity.  One of the best ways to demonstrate and develop our maturity as believers is to pay attention and take care of what God has given us to do.

What opportunities has God placed before you to minister to the people around you?  Don’t compare your ministry to other people’s.  Look at the lives around you, who can you reach?  Are you paying enough attention so you can do what He has given you to do?

In order to accomplish our given task, we have to make hard choices about how we spend our time.  We have all the time in the world to do whatever we think is most important.  How important is the ministry we have received from the Lord?  I encourage you to pay attention and go for it!

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The hard work of prayer

Paul would often tell the recipients of his letters the specific things he was praying for them.  In several instances, he would ask his readers to pray for him.  However, out of all his letters in the New Testament, only once did Paul commend someone for the way they prayed.

Colossians 4:12-13
Epaphras, who is one of you, a slave of Christ Jesus, greets you.  He is always contending for you in his prayers, so that you can stand mature and fully assured in everything God wills.  For I testify about him that he works hard for you, for those in Laodicea, and for those in Hierapolis.

When we think of doing hard work we immediately think of manual labor.  We associate the phrase hard work with physical activities, such as digging trenches, heavy lifting, and constructing structures.  Similarly, we identify a hard worker as a person with a “sun up to sun down” work ethic; someone who is relentlessly pursuing the completion of a project.

Interestingly enough, Paul says that Epaphras works hard in his prayers for those in and around the town he was from.  When Paul wrote the letter to the Colossian believers, Epaphras was working with Paul while he was imprisoned for preaching the gospel.  It’s possible that they were as far away as Rome.

And despite that distance, Epaphras believed there was some way for him to continue to help his home community.  So he prayed.  But Epaphras didn’t just ask God to keep them safe; he wasn’t offering up a quick “God please help them with their…stuff…they’re going through” prayer request.  Instead, Epaphras prayed, and prayed hard.

When describing the way Epaphras prayed, Paul said that “he is always contending for you in his prayers”.  The Greek word for contending is “agonizomai” from which you can see a relation to our English word “agonize”.  Agonizomai was an athletic competition term, and it was used when a person had an intense struggle or fight. 

This is how Epaphras would pray for his fellow believers.  He loved these people so much, that he was willing to regularly struggle and strive before God on their behalf.  The main focus of his prayers wasn’t asking for them to be comfortable or even healthy.  Instead, he aggressively petitioned God for their maturity and that they would be fully assured that their choices were lined up with God’s desires.

Epaphras is an incredible example for us.  Whom are we willing to do heavy lifting in prayer for?  Those in our immediate family are easy ones to start with.  However, even those we are not physically close to are worth praying over.  After all, the One we pray to is near to every believer.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Every name has a story

A right-hand man, a run-away slave, a prisoner, a deserter, a doctor, two unknowns, and a local man all join forces under the leadership of an ex-rabbi to complete the biggest mission ever undertaken on the planet.  Can they overcome their individual pasts, their previously held biases, and external advesaries to complete the mission?

It almost sounds like Hollywood’s next attempt at a summer blockbuster.  Throw a variety of characters together and then – with some clever plot twists and scripted lucky breaks – it all works out in the end.

However, the list above describes the cast of individuals working on the Apostle Paul’s team when he sent a letter to the believers in Colossae.  Oftentimes, we just skim over these “so and so send his greetings” sections, but let’s take a brief look at the assembled team:

Colossians 4:9-14
I have sent [Tychicus] to you for this very purpose, so that you may know how we are, and so that he may encourage your hearts.  He is with Onesimus, a faithful and loved brother, who is one of you.  They will tell you about everything here.

Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark, Barnabas’ cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), and so does Jesus who is called Justus.  These alone of the circumcision are my co-workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.

Epaphras, who is one of you, a slave of Christ Jesus, greets you…Luke the loved physician, and Demas greet you.

From other mentionings in the Bible, here’s what we know about these men:

Tychicus – One of Paul’s most trusted workers.  He delivered the letters to the churches in Ephesus and Colossae, and likely delievered the letter to Philemon.  He was both an encourager and a leader.

Onesimus – He was slave who ran away from his Christian master, Philemon.  At some point during his running, he met Paul and became a Christian.  After ministering with Paul for a while, Onesimus would return to Philemon in an attempt to reconcile.

Aristarchus – He was a Jewish Christian from Thessalonica.  A bold preacher of the gospel, he was a victim of a mob scence against Christianity.  At the time of the Colossian letter’s writing, Aristarchus was also in prison with Paul, presumably for the same reason – preaching the gospel.

Mark, Barnabas’ cousin – This is John Mark, who deserted Barnabas and Paul during their first missionary journey.  He was also the reason Paul and Barnabas did not take a second missionary journey together.  Years later, Mark and Paul have been reconciled and began working together again.  At some point even later, John Mark works with the Apostle Peter and writes the gospel of Mark.

Jesus, who is called Justus – This is his only mentioning in the Bible, so nothing further about him is known.

Epaphrus – He was responsible for bringing the gospel to the Colossians.  He has preached throughout his home region, including in Laodicea and Hierapolis (both about 15 miles from Colossae).  Paul calls him a faithful minister, and he references Epaphrus’ commitment to pray for his people’s maturity and development.

Luke – He was a doctor and an excellent historian.  He accompanied Paul on many journeys.  He also wrote the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts.

Demas – When the Colossian letter was written, he was ministering with Paul.  However, later on Paul says that Demas deserted him, because he “loved this present world”.  Nothing else is known about him.

That’s a crazy diverse group of people.  However, the longer we’re in God’s family…the more we realize that God must like crazy diverse, because that’s what we find.  People with backgrounds and skills sets you never would have placed together are suddenly living life for Jesus – together.  They minister together, and it’s incredible both watch and participate in.

So if Paul’s team had such an assorted background, then you won’t be disqualified by your past.  I’m certain that God can work with whatever you’ve been through. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken

For those not in the limelight

In 1937, the Academy Awards began giving out an award for “Best Supporting Actor” in movies.  This recognition was given in honor of an actor who had delivered an outstanding performance in a supporting role.  Having a supporting role meant that the actor wasn’t the main character of the story; however, he held an important role in the movement of the plot and/or the development of the lead character.

Paul certainly was the main character and lead preacher of the gospel in the first century.  He authored approximately half of the New Testament and was the focal character throughout most of the book of Acts.  However, Paul rarely traveled by himself.  Other believers traveled with him and on behalf of him to evanglize the known world.  Some people would help for a short time, others for longer periods.  Some, like Timothy and Titus, became his protégés…while others held varying roles within to the ministry.

Based on the number of times he’s mentioned and the type of work he’s given, Tychicus was one of Paul’s best supporting ministers.  Tychicus was Paul’s personal letter-bearer for the New Testament letters to the churches in Ephesus and Colossae.  Tychicus was also likely the one who delievered Paul’s letter to Philemon. 

However, Tychicus was more than just a mail carrier delievering letters.  Take a look at how Paul described him – and his role – to the believers in Colossae:

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

Paul’s words are very high praise.  From these verses, we see that Tychicus was both trusted and up to the task at hand.  In addition to delivering Paul’s messages, Tychicus was also ready to encourage their hearts.  He was ready to be a surrogate minister when Paul couldn’t be there because he was in prision for preaching about Jesus.

In one of his last letters, Paul tells Titus that he would send either Artemas or Tychicus to give Titus a break from his ministry overseeing all the churches on the island of Crete.  That would have been a significant task, one that Paul would not entrust to just anyone.

However, the Bible doesn’t record Tychicus’ encouraging words to the Colossian believers.  We don’t know if he went to Crete, or if Artemas went instead.  Tychicus’ job in Paul’s ministry wasn’t to do big enough things that he would be recognized in Scripture.  Instead, Tychicus found a purpose for his God-given talents while being the best supporting minister for the Apostle Paul.  From Paul’s words, we see that Tychicus did well in his role.

It helps us to have this kind of reminder – that we don’t have to be a main character in the Bible to have an impact for God in other peoples’ lives.  Although everyone that comes to your local church knows who the lead pastor is, or who the worship leader is…God knows where our talents are best suited and most profitable for the advancement of His kingdom.  It’s not just the “upfront” leaders that will be rewarded by God, either. God has promised a rich reward in Heaven for those who do well in supporting roles also.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Talking with outsiders

No one likes a “know-it-all”.  Generally speaking, people do not mind if someone else has more knowledge, but the way a person handles themselves in light of that additional knowledge can make or break relationships.  Whether it’s among strangers or siblings, classmates or co-workers, no one appreciates being talked down to.  The subject matter could be of small consequence or something really important, but how something is communicated is as important as what is being communicated.

For those of us that have been following Christ for a length of time, there is a tendency toward smugness that will cause problems.  When we get comfortable going through the motions of living the “Christian life” instead of focusing on our relationship with God, we grow stale.  Our mindset and interactions with others will twist until we end up presenting a conceited, self-righteous version of Christianity.

A telling symptom of this stale-ness is found in how we interact with those outside of our Christian family.  What is our general attitude toward non-Christians?  While we know that they need Jesus, do our actions and attitudes invite them toward Jesus or push them away?  Do we speak at them with a lot of Christian-ese?  Do we belittle them because of their sin?

After spending most of his letter describing the wondrous relationship we now have with God and praising the Colossian believers for their great love for everyone in God’s family, Paul took a moment to give them a warning:

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.

Those outside the faith need our wisdom and our gracious speech, not arrogant attitudes and put-down talk.  Being “better off” doesn’t make us “more important”.  In fact, many of the Bible’s authors gave warning against such self-righteous thinking.

Instead, gracious speech comes from a grateful mindset.  That’s why Paul has spent so much time writing about the greatness of Christ and the priority He should have in our lives.  When we have our relationship with God in its proper place, then our interactions with outsiders will begin to look and sound a lot like Jesus’ interactions with others.

Looking and sounding like Jesus will draw a lot of attention, people will take notice of the difference.  In order to be ready to answer each person, we should take the same attitude Daniel had when God told him the meaning of the king’s dream:

Daniel 2:30
As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have more wisdom than anyone living, but in order that the interpretation might be made known to the king, and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind.

Can you hear his humility?  Can you see how Daniel shifted the focus from himself and gave the credit to God?  When we have the opportunity to share the gospel with others, we should have the same attitude:

I’m not a Christian because I’m better than anyone else.  One day, someone told me that God loves me enough to die for my sins.  He loves you, too.  I’m just glad that I get to be the one to tell you about it.

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

How to stay focused while praying

About a year ago, I started a series exploring the way Jesus prayed.  My theory was that if God’s goal is to make me more Christ-like, then I should probably take a look at how, when, and where Jesus prayed.  Out of the numerous things I learned, two observations of Jesus’ prayer life stuck out:

First, that He frequently went off to quiet places to spend time with the Father in prayer.  Out of a variety of circumstances, Jesus was constantly devoting chunks of alone time to talking with His Father in Heaven.

Second, Jesus’ main concern in His prayers was the Father.  Jesus was primarily focused on the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory.  His aim was to increase the Father’s glory – which means to enhance the Father’s reputation and honor in the world, and this was primarily achieved as Jesus completed the mission that the Father gave Him to accomplish.

As rich as that study was, as I moved on to other parts of Scripture I didn’t always remember these main lessons.  Looking back, my prayer life has both ebbed and flowed…tossed about by circumstance and my mental state of the moment.  One particular item I’ve struggled with is staying focused while praying. 

When I pray, I’m usually sitting in a quiet room with my eyes closed to avoid visual distractions.  My conversation with the Father starts out alright, but about half way through the fourth sentence…my mind jumps to something that needs my attention later on in the day, or I remember what I had forgotten to buy at the store, or I start to process a relationship problem that needs addressed at work or with a friend or in my family. 

It never fails…my mind picks the worst possible moment to leave the deep waters of relationship with the Father, and I starting splashing around in shallow thoughts of the smaller parts of life.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve apologized to God for mentally abandoning our quiet time together.

I don’t think my struggle is all that unique, either.  In various forms, I’ve heard other Christians voice similar difficulties.  I suspect that ancient believers also dealt with this, because towards the end of his letter to the believers in Colossae, Paul wrote

Colossians 4:2-3
Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.

Since Jesus’ death and resurrection bridged the gap between us and God, we know that as a child of God, we can pray at any time to our Father.  However, I think we tend to take advantage of that freedom and we get comfortable with sporadic communication.  Paul’s instruction here is to make prayer a priority, something we are devoted to.  Just like Jesus purposely setting aside chunks of time, we should as well.  Early morning, late night, commuting to work, or wherever we can consistently get time for just us and the Father; we need to make the time and protect that time from other things that will try to distract us.

This is where I’m so grateful for the second half of Paul’s instruction – stay alert in it with thanksgiving.  When my mind drifts off, I can immediately refocus my attention by thanking God for something, anything.  Giving thanks takes the focus off of me and my agenda because it makes me look toward the person I’m saying “Thank you” to.

As I have been applying Paul’s instruction, I’m realizing how a lack of thanksgiving has kept me unfocused…and being unfocused has prevented me from growing deeper with the Father.  So I need to make sure I’m purposely scheduling chunks of time with the most important Person in my life, and also telling Him about all the parts of my life that I am thankful for.  I’m certain that as I do this, my concern for the Father’s plan and the Father’s glory will increase.  Then I will begin praying like Jesus did, because my relationship with the Father will be a lot like Jesus’ relationship with the Father.

Maturity, growth, and deep relationship will not happen if we give God some sporadic moments of talk during our week.  The richness of a relationship with our Creator will only happen as we devote time to Him.  Will you make that choice?  The first step is simply saying “Thank you”.

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

Practical application: parenting

In Colossians 3:18-19, Paul pointed out the oh-so-practical place to practice living like Christ – in our relationship with our spouse.  His next connection stays within the immediate family and is just as practical.

Colossians 3:20-21
Children obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing in the Lord.  Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so they won’t become discouraged.

As parents, we love this first sentence.  We secretly relish when the preacher or our kid’s group leader brings up teaching like this.  They need to hear this, we congratulate ourselves.  Maybe if they keep hearing from other adults, they’ll do it more at home.  Wouldn’t that be nice…

Paul gives the Colossian Christian children this command – obey your parents in everything – because it’s something they need to learn.  Let’s camp out on that thought for a moment…obedience is something that children need to learn.  They’re not going to get it right away.  Their entire focus is on their own needs, and not the needs of others.  Obedience is like any other skill we develop as we grow and mature…it’s going to take time, it’s going to take practice, and there are going to be failures along the way.

How we handle our children’s failures will heavily influence them…in their childhood for sure, but our actions will also echo throughout the rest of their lives.  We know this because we still feel the echoes from our own upbringing, but for some reason we tend to forget that reality the moment we’re dealing the shortcomings of our own kids.

More than any person in a child’s life, we fathers have the greatest influence in this area.  Apologies to all the moms out there, but we just do.  And the impact we fathers have on our child’s perspective is even greater than we realize.  Paul warns against discouraging our children, and the word he chose relates to feeling disheartened, dispirited, or broken in spirit.  A father’s reaction to his son or daughter’s failure is truly a make-or-break moment.

Paul says we push our children toward discouragement if we exasperate them.  When we push them to their whit’s end because of our insistence on “getting it right”, or when we bring them to angry tears just to make sure they understand and “get it” – whenever we take our authority too far, we run the risk of exasperating them. 

Unfortunately, I have been guilty of doing just that to my children many times over the years.  It typically happens when I’m rigidly demanding more than my son can give…and he cannot meet the standard I’ve set for him.  If my expectation was too high for his skill level, then he is doomed to failure even before he begun.  Instead of recognizing I set the bar to high, at times I’ve even doubled back and berated them for missing the mark.  I know when I’ve gone too far, too – I can see it in their eyes as they stare at the floor, their shoulders sink in despair, and their posture communicates that they’ve completely given up.

A child of any age can become exasperated and discouraged, but it is especially easy when they are young.  This doesn’t mean we don’t confront error or that we should only give easy challenges to our children; rather we need to actively match our expectations with our children’s abilities, and then be willing to be both gentle and firm as we lovingly deal with their failures.  Men, our ability to guard against this damaging practice is for us to apply the Christ-driven characteristics that Paul listed in the preceding context of 3:12-17

…put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…
…forgive one another…just as the Lord has forgiven you…
…above all, put on love…
…be thankful…
…let the message of the Messiah dwell richly among you…
…whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus…

Our children’s hearts and maturity depend on it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken