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.

Meeting God in prayer

Luke 10:41-42
The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has made the right choice [to spend time with Jesus], and it will not be taken away from her.”

The right choice.  The better meal.  We’ve been looking at how Jesus’ response to Martha gives us direction on how we are encouraged and fueled to live out the life Jesus has given us.  Last time, we saw how God wants to meet us through our time in the Scriptures.  This time, we’re looking at the other way that God meets us – through prayer.

To pray for things we want – material items or particular circumstances – that comes rather easy.  We know all the things we want or wish for because we spend a lot of time thinking about them.

When James was writing to believers, he warns them about their “wants” and the motives behind them:

James 4:1-5
What is the source of wars and fights among you?  Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you?  You desire and do not have.  You murder and covet and cannot obtain.  You fight and wage war.  You do not have because you do not ask.  You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

You adulterous people!  Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?  So whoever wants to be the friend of the world becomes the enemy of God.  Or do you think it’s without reason that the Scripture says: The spirit He made to dwell in us envies intensely?

God is jealous for our attention.  Think about it: He has saved us from being eternally separated from Him and He gives us never-ending, eternal life…so of course He is offended when our main interaction with Him is treating Him like a cosmic vending machine so we can get stuff to impress others with how great we are.

Fortunately for his readers (and us), immediately after James gives that harsh, well-deserved rebuke, he then gives hope and a proverb to remedy their mindset:

James 4:6-7, 10
But He gives greater grace.  Therefore He says:

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Therefore, submit to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.

Not only does God have grace for us to receive forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but there is also grace for when we selfishly return to a sinful mindset!  We have access to this grace when we humble ourselves before the Lord.  And how do we do that?  Through prayer that is God-focused, not us-focused!

I’m sure your next question will be “How do I pray to God, about God?  Isn’t that a little weird?

What I can tell you is that God-focused prayers is exactly how Jesus spent His time with God the Father.  If we don’t feel like we know “how to” pray well enough, then I refer you to the blog series I wrote on learning how to pray as Jesus prayed.  Those posts started on November 5th, 2014 and ended on April 8th, 2015. 

But there is a simpler, more direct way to learn to pray like Jesus did.  All we need to do is ask, like one of the disciples did:

Luke 11:1
He was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray”

In the verses that follow, Jesus gave His disciples a pattern, an example of how He prayed to God the Father.  It’s worth our time to check it out and practice using that format in our prayers – all with aim of making the right choice and building our relationship with God.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The snooze button is a liar

A blaring alarm clock is not the thing you want to hear first thing in the morning.  The alarm tone is purposely loud and obnoxious so we are awakened from our slumber to start the day at the right time.  Even though we’re the ones who picked the time for the alarm, we still resent that the alarm is interrupting our sleep.

We’ve got a ton of things to do, and a schedule to keep if we want to do them well.  Yet, sitting deceptively close to the “Alarm Off” button is another button.  It is usually several times larger than the one to stop the alarm – the Snooze Button.

When the alarm is blaring, the main thing I care about is hitting the button to make it stop…but this other button makes an enticing offer: I could lay my groggy head back down on the pillow for an additional 9 minutes.  The Snooze Button invites me to give up “just a tiny fraction” of my morning so I can get that much more rest before starting my day.  I let it convince me that I will feel better and more active, if I could just get a few more minutes of sleep.

But let’s be honest: I rarely hit the Snooze Button only once.  And when I do eventually get up, the morning is super-rushed because I’m now pressed for time.  I barely have time to shower, dress, grab my work bag, and stuff some food in my face before running out the door, all of which could have been easily managed had I not pressed the Snooze Button.

But I’ve noticed two things – First, I am NOT more rested when I take the Snooze Button’s offer of additional sleep, broken up into 9 minute chunks.  If anything, I feel more tired and frazzled at the start of my day.  Secondly, whenever I “sleep in” the first item on my to-do list that gets dropped is my time reading God’s Word.

All throughout the Bible we see examples of God wanting to spend time with us, but what we also see is that God expects us to put in some effort and desire to be with Him.  Look at the three “IFs” Solomon gives his son, and what result will come if he actually follows through:

Proverbs 2:1-5
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you,
listening closely to wisdom and directing your heart to understanding;
furthermore, if you call out to insight and lift your voice to understanding,
if you seek it like silver and search for it like hidden treasure,

then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God.

Why do we need to spend time in the Bible?  Paul reminded Timothy of the Scripture’s usefulness and effect on his life:

2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

One last example.  Peter is reminding his readers of their main source of food for spiritual growth:

1 Peter 2:2
Like newborn infants, desire the pure milk of the word, so that you may grow up into your salvation

There are numerous other references and examples I could give, but I think you get the point.  God wants to meet with us, but we need to intentionally set aside time to do so.  Perhaps you need to take the small step I need to take: stop hitting the Snooze Button.  That button lies to us – we don’t get what it promises.  We end up starting our day rushed and feeling bad, while missing out on something much, much better.

Are you skeptical that God couldn’t use 9 minutes with Him to make a difference in your life?  I dare you to try it this next week and find out.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The best "Next Step"

Have you ever learned something – some perspective-changing information – and then have it stuck in your thinking?  It’s like the concept has taken up residence your brain, and the implications of your new understanding suddenly bleed over into other areas of your life?

Well, that’s been me recently…with this whole “better meal” concept that Jesus pointed out.  In the previous post, we looked at the dynamic between Martha and Mary, when Jesus arrived at their house for a visit.  Martha got busy serving, but Mary chose to spend her time receiving what she could from Jesus’ conversation and teaching.  Here’s how that day played out:

Luke 10:38-42
While they were traveling, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.  She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  So tell her to give me a hand.”

The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What has stuck in my mind is how Jesus acknowledged that Martha was worried about the meal preparations, but He gently told her that Mary had chosen the “better meal”. 

So…if spending time with Jesus is the best choice – the right choice – for us believers, then we need to ask ourselves: How am I doing with that?  When was the last time I sat and listened for what He has to say?

That’s a great place to start; however, my line of thinking didn’t stop with just me and my relationship with Jesus.  My mind then made the short leap to thinking about how well the entire body of Christ is partaking in the “better meal”.  And if we, as Christians, need help to understand what this “better meal” looks like in our lives – then what is the church doing to promote this?

Since we are all at different stages in our relationship with God, churches often talk about and encourage believers to take the right “Next Step” from wherever they are.  And rightfully, they should.  But what are the most common “Next Steps” made available?

After checking out a number of church’s websites, it really is a mixed bag in terms of what steps are presented (if any) as being part of a believer’s walk with Christ.  The most common suggestions are volunteering to serve within the church or plugging into a small group or community group.  The group activities typically range from social hangout events to community volunteer work, and people are generally encouraged to “do life together”. 

While these options do good, helpful actions…they generally fall under the ‘Martha’ category and not the ‘Mary’ category.  They aren’t what Jesus referred to as the “better meal”.  We can learn a lot, grow a lot, and do a lot of good with our actions…but eventually, we’ll grow weary and burn out, wondering if this “Christian-life thing” is really worth all the effort.

The truth of the matter is we can’t confidently do what Jesus wants us to do until we know what Jesus wants us to know.  We must make the same choice that Mary made – we must choose the better meal – to sit at the feet of the master and focus on Him.

During last weekend’s sermon, our lead pastor asked the question “Do you know why most people fall asleep in church? It’s not just the boring guys that stand up here.  It’s because this is the most still and quiet you sit for this period of time all week long.”

If we’re honest, we know that listening to someone else talk about Jesus for 30 minutes isn’t enough to maintain us, let alone for us to live fully alive.  We need better fuel than what comes second-hand and once-a-week.  We need to go directly to the source.  We need Jesus.

But in our crazy world how does that work?  How do we find time to sit at His feet?  Better yet, how do we sit at His feet, if we can’t see His feet?  The two best ways for us modern believers to sit at Jesus’ feet is to engage in prayer and look at Jesus’ life in the Bible. 

Maybe we avoid these things because we don’t believe we have the time.  If this is you, then I encourage you to ask God to show you were you can carve out 15 minutes of your day.  It’s a simple, straight-forward request, “God, I want to prioritize time with You, but I don’t know when I can.  You know my schedule, please show me a time to meet with You.”  Trust me, God will show you a time, and you’ll be amazed at what He can do in your life with just 15 minutes.

Maybe we avoid these things because we’re not confident in our ability to do them.  No one is expected to be a Prayer Warrior or a Bible Scholar the moment they believe.  We can take comfort in knowing there are many examples in the Bible of people asking to be taught how to pray or how to handle the Scriptures.  In my upcoming posts, we’ll look at a few of the examples.  The important thing right now is that we start – talk to God and read some of Luke or John.  Look at one story from Jesus’ life and see what you can learn about Him.  If you still feel like you need help, ask God to point out someone who can assist you.

Mary had to pass on some good things in order for her to do the best thing.  We may need to make some similar choices to fit the time into our daily schedule.  But remember…Jesus called spending time with Him “the right choice”.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Choosing the better meal

As a Christian, there is lots to do.  Many, many ways to serve God and love others.  The New Testament is full of encouragement for Christians to get off their duffs and get engaged – both with other believers and those outside of God’s family.

Let’s be honest.  Some of us are lazy.  There are those in the family that don’t value being an active participant in the family.  They’ll show up on Sunday and then go about their own business the rest of the week.  However, that pendulum can also swing hard in the other direction – some of us get involved in everything that’s happening.  There are so many needs, so many people that legitimately need a hand, and so much good that can be done…that some of us try to be everything to everyone.

There’s a constant tension between these two camps, and those on each side always seem to have their radar out in case one of others is encountered.  The lazy don’t want to be bothered with the buzzing of the super-busy Christian.  The over-extended believer resents that they are left to shoulder it all, while others loaf around.

This isn’t a new issue.  In fact, someone once brought this exact situation up to Jesus.  One believer publicly identified another believer as “lazy”, and asked Jesus to do something about it.

Luke 10:38-42
While they were traveling, He entered a village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home.  She had a sister named Mary, who also sat at the Lord’s feet and was listening to what He said.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks, and she came up and asked, “Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  So tell her to give me a hand.”

The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

You can imagine how this played out over the course of the day.  When everyone arrives, Martha greets Jesus and His disciples, then gets busy with her hosting duties.  She sees Mary sit down with Jesus and the other guests, “But that’s not a problem,” she thought, “Mary will get up to help soon.”  But then Mary doesn’t get up.  A little while later, Martha starts shooting sideways glances, trying to get her sister’s attention.  But Mary doesn’t move.  Martha continues with her work, preparing the meal, managing the flow of people, rearranging living space and furniture, answering questions, and doing all the other detail work that happens when a large group of people descend upon your house. 

At first, she only grumbles in her mind.  Then she begrudges Mary for slacking off because, after all, there is work to be done.  She starts muttering to herself, but not loud enough for the guests to hear.  Her agitation is becoming physically apparent, but hasn’t boiled over yet.  Eventually, though, Martha has had enough.  Jesus showed up hours ago, and Mary is still sitting at His feet.  She can’t stand it anymore, so, in a huff, Martha bursts into the room, interrupts what Jesus is saying, and blurts out her frustration:

Luke 10:40
“Lord, don’t You care that my sister has left me to serve alone?  So tell her to give me a hand.”

The air in the room is now thick with stunned silence.  Everyone’s eyes slowly shift toward Jesus, wondering how He is going to answer His frazzled host’s request for assistance and justice. 

Martha was measuring their love for Jesus based upon how much activity each one was doing.  Martha was on the move, Mary was stationary.  In fact, Mary wasn’t lifting a finger to help Martha.  Martha saw all these legitimate needs around her and couldn’t believe Mary was blind to them.  In Jewish society, a woman’s honor and reputation was based upon her ability to manage her household and serve her guests.  But Jesus didn’t see it that way:

Luke 10:41-42
The Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary.  Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her.”

You can almost hear the softness in Jesus’ answer.  He acknowledges that Martha is worried about the meal preparations, but tells her that Mary has chosen the better meal.  Mary isn’t one of the “lazy” ones; instead she is receiving an opportunity that was never given to Jewish women – to sit with the master Rabbi as He taught.  Mary was acting upon the same truth that Jesus quoted to Satan from Old Testament:

Deuteronomy 8:3
Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Jesus was not going to stop Mary from eating this meal, despite all the other human needs around her at the moment.  Let’s not be silly and think that we shouldn’t be concerned with meeting the needs of others – a brief glace at the life of Jesus shows us otherwise.  However, in this moment, Mary was doing the best thing she possibly could, even if Martha would have preferred she do something else.

Serving Jesus is important, but time with Jesus is more important.  Let’s not emphasize the first so much that we neglect that latter.  C. H. Spurgeon said it quite well:

“I may sometimes run with Martha to do what Christ needs of me, but I think I should more frequently sit with Mary to receive from Christ what I need from Him.”

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Misplaced thankfulness

Today is a day set aside for giving thanks.  It is a wonderful tradition we Americans have carried on for decades (even as Black Friday shopping deals encroach on the day).  Despite all the turmoil going on in the world, we have much to be thankful for.

But I feel the need to issue a warning:

The contents of our thankful sayings will reveal what we hold most dear.  More specifically, which person(s) we hold most dear.  So when grace is said before dinner tonight, or as everyone goes around the table to say what they’re thankful for…listen not just for their words, but listen for their heart.  Above all, we should listen to our own words and consider our motives.

The shift is subtle, but it is so easy for our prayers and thankfulness to become self-centered.  One of Jesus’ parables dealt directly with this:

Luke 18:9
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else:


Now before we ignore this parable because we think that we don’t fit Jesus’ target audience…let’s think back over our prayers for the last week.  Maybe you’ve prayed only once, or once a day, or even multiple times a day, but what has been the content of those prayers?

How do our prayers compare to these two individuals?

Luke 18:10-14
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself:

‘God, I thank you that I’m not like other people – greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying,

‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’

I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”


Can you hear the bragging tone of the self-centered Pharisee?  He’s so thankful that he doesn’t do the wrong things and that he always does all the right things.  Certainly, God should be impressed by his actions.  In the Pharisee’s mind, he has earned his place with God by doing everything better than everyone else.

The tax collector doesn’t bother to look at what he has or has not done.  Instead, his focus is entirely on God.  He recognized that God was the foundation of their relationship.  Without God’s participation and mercy, there was no chance for this tax collector – regardless of what good things he does or has.

So let’s avoid being thankful for “things” and “stuff” simply because “things” and “stuff” are enjoyable.  Let’s not be thankful in comparison to other’s situations and life choices.  It’s ok to enjoy blessings and good moments in life; however, the amount of blessings we have is not proof of how close we are with God.

But some evidence of our relationship with God will be heard in our prayers and words of thanks.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Perspective and a prayer request

Ever see a situation on the horizon, and you know, without a doubt, it’s something that you’re going to have to deal with?  You know you can’t avoid it.  It won’t be pleasant.  It’s probably not what you would have wanted.  But somehow, you just know – that the only way out is through.

Maybe you’ve been there with a relationship.  Maybe it was your friend, a boss, a competitor, or even a government office.  Right now, for me – it’s my health.  I greatly appreciate the emails of concern, consolation, and the offers to pray for me (and I really, really hope you follow up on that!).  I’m on the mend, but this is not the end of whatever is off-kilter in my systems.  There will be more tests to take at a later date, more mysteries to be unraveled.  But for now, I am to rest and recover, knowing full well that the only way out is through.

Just yesterday, God brought a passage to me that helps put it all in perspective.  Near the end of Paul’s recorded ministry, he is on his way to Jerusalem.  He knows what will happen if he goes back.  In fact, everyone knows what he will face.  The devout Jews would turn on this former rabbinical star in a heartbeat.  Paul would be arrested, beaten, and quite likely killed.  So, why go back?  I’ll let him answer that:

Acts 20:17-24
Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church.  When they came to him, he said to them:

“You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and during the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.  You know that I did not avoid proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching you publicly and from house to house.  I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.

And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, compelled by the Spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, except that in every town the Holy Spirit warns me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me.  But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.”


Oh wow, does that resonate!  But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose…that is a man who has clear eyes and proper perspective.  He sees the value of his life, not in his own comforts and desires, but in his purposeful pursuit of the work God has given him – to testify to [the good news] of God’s grace.

That’s the perspective we need in order to handle the difficulties we see on the horizon.  Stop looking at our immediate circumstances, get aligned with God, see from His vantage point, and then look back down on what we’re facing.  Difficulties can be managed when they have been placed in their proper context.  That doesn’t mean that the difficulties will be removed – Paul knew there were chains and afflictions waiting.  There’s no amount of perspective that makes them go away.  However, looking at life from God’s viewpoint gives us the strength to go through.

So if you choose to petition our Great God on my behalf, I would rather you not pray for healing.  If I fully recover, that’s great.  If I end up worse off, that’s fine.  If I now have a “new normal”, so be it.  Instead, I would ask that you pray I stay aligned with God, keep His perspective on everything, and do the work God has given me.  My prayer is that you also learn to live this way.

Acts 20:24
But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.


Keep Pressing,
Ken

Delayed due to illness

My apologies, I have not been well lately. This is also why most of October consisted of “Flashback Favorites”. I hope to get back on schedule soon, but the next post for my current study is not ready yet. So, instead of a Flashback Favorite, this time I will simply give you the passage I have been dwelling on while I am not feeling my best:

2 Corinthians 4:15-18
Indeed, everything is for your benefit so that, as grace extends through more and more people, it may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God. Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day.

For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.


A malfunctioning body can be difficult to deal with…and yet, Paul confidently states that God will use everything for [our] benefit.

How will we know when our unwanted difficulties are actually beneficial? When we see the glory of God. Then, together, we can give thanks for everything we’ve gone through.

Therefore we do not give up. Illness is temporary, and we’re to be focused on the eternal.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Love grows

We often say that our “love grows.” 

When we put these two words together, we generally mean that we want our feelings of affection increase or that we want the bond felt between us to become stronger.  We recognize that a loving relationship isn’t a static, one-and-done feeling, that it does develop…but I think we’re a little squishy when we try and describe exactly how this happens.

Sure, we’ll say that love grows in a variety of ways: over time, through shared experiences, and being together in the ups and downs of life.  If you talk to others about growing in love with their spouse, their closest friends, or with a group of people, what is usually identified as the main driver of growth seems to be surviving a long time without abandoning one another.

In his letters, Paul often told his readers that he was praying for them, but it wasn’t a generic “I’ll be praying for you” platitude.  He didn’t just ask God to “help” them with their “stuff”.  We’re going to take a close look at not only what Paul told the believers in Philippi that he was praying for them, but also the reasons Paul gave for making his specific prayer requests.

So for starters, let’s look at the beginning Paul’s prayer request:

Philippians 1:9
And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment


Immediately, we see that Paul wants their love to grow in two specific areas.  We’ll take a look at the outcome of this kind of growth in a later post.  First we need to understand what he means by knowledge and every kind of discernment.

The Greek word for knowledge refers to a full, intimate understanding of a subject.  Similarly, the Greek word Paul chose for discernment speaks to how we perceive something or someone.  The word refers to something deeper than just a sensory perception – sight, touch, smell – instead this discernment relies on the intellect.

Blind love or a love that is dependent upon our emotions is not ground for the growth of a relationship.  As our feelings ebb and flow, we can end up doing more harm then good.

True Christian love isn’t shallow or squishy.  It is grounded in an clear understanding and has an intelligent direction.  This shouldn’t surprise us, because, after all, that’s exactly how God loves us.

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 

Flashback Favorite - In need of peace

I’m still clinging to lessons already learned. New posts are coming, I promise. But given our current world-happenings, I think this post needs to be revisited.

In need of peace
originally posted on July 13, 2016

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of peace in the world right now.

So many problems that are not easily resolved, and the feelings heaped on top of the issues make them that much harder to sort out.  Hurt.  Injustice.  Anger.  Hatred.  Hopelessness.

There are also many competing ideas on how to solve these issues and the feelings attached to them.  We hear a steady stream of suggestions: some advocate that the government should pass additional laws, some want retribution and violence, some want more of God, others are calling for less of God, and others still are looking to smaller ‘gods’ to escape – like money, stuff, isolation, the appearance of safety, anything to find what we are all deep down really looking for:

Peace.

I hear people say we should ‘Pray for Peace’ and send our ‘thoughts and prayers’ to those who need it now.  I also hear those who complain that ‘thoughts and prayers’ haven’t fixed anything, given that the tragedies keep coming.

So how’s a Christian supposed to handle all of this?  Once again, Paul’s direction to Timothy for the believers in Ephesus is helpful.  Notice that Paul recognizes our desire for peace in this life, but also look for what he says accompanies it:

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

The goal of our prayers for all those who are in authority is so their leadership will follow God and His design for human government.  The end result of that kind of leadership will heavily influence our ability to lead a tranquil and quiet life.  However, while the Ephesian believers are to pray for these things, Paul also expects them to live life in godliness and dignity.

Godliness can best be thought of as “God-like-ness” where we mirror the characteristics of God that He has shown us.  Things like mercy, grace, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness – when we understand what those words mean and how God shows them to us, then we can mimic those traits in our own life.  Being godly is displaying God-like traits to those who are completely undeserving of that kind of treatment, just like God has done for us.

When we imitate God this way, it doesn’t guarantee that everything goes perfect for us – or that we should pretend that everything is going perfectly, either.  When life goes sideways (and it will), how well we are connected to God is on full display.  Being godly and acting with dignity is sure to stand out in the turmoil going on around us.  We need to actively pursue God-like-ness while we pray for those same characteristics to show up in our leaders.

So don’t give up.  Take Paul’s advice to Timothy and make petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings…for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority.  Not because the act of praying changes anything.  Do it because you know the power of the One you are praying to. 

And then let’s get out there and reenact the qualities that God has shown us – mercy, grace, love, sacrifice, and forgiveness – for people that don’t deserve it…because, like them, we didn’t deserve it, either.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Flashback Favorite - A progressive relationship

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

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

A progressive relationship
originally posted on May 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Where do you find yourself in this progression?

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - What's pursuing you?

What’s pursuing you?
originally posted on May 18, 2017

Ever feel as if something is chasing you?  We can have lingering thoughts, feelings, or memories that just won’t let go.  Their pursuit of us is constant, even though it can take different forms.  Sometimes, it’s over-bearing, always-present.  Other times, we’re able to shove it out of our minds, only to have it resurface again later (and usually when we’re drifting off to sleep, right?).

The pieces of our past can hound us in many ways.  Pain, shame, hate, anger, things we said, things we didn’t say…just to name a few.  Antagonistic people, or even those who are out-right enemies, can dominate our thinking and the thought of them can doggedly chase us down.

I’ve said many times that I love the real-ness we find in the book of Psalms.  The various psalmists explore all aspects of life, often laying out their extremely-raw emotions before God.  And we don’t see any lightning bolts striking down the psalmists for their words, either.  Instead, we find that their petitions, questions, and wrestling drive them toward God, not away. 

David is always a good example of one who openly talked with God, and in one of his psalms we find a mindset that can help us deal with the thoughts and people that pursue us.  Read Psalm 23, and pay close attention to the last stanza:

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters. 

He renews my life;
He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.
Even when I go through the darkest valley,
I fear no danger, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff – they comfort me. 

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.

David marvels at how God has no problem with settling down for food in the presence of [David’s] enemies.  To us, that’s not the time to sit down to a nice meal.  If enemies are present, then we would think it’s time to take cover or prepare for battle…but with God on his side, David knows he is safe to camp out where God has him.

But it’s one of the lines afterward that really opens my eyes.  Despite being in the presence of [his] enemies, David isn’t chased by them forever.  Because he is with God, David recognizes that only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life.

His enemies are around, there are and will be hard situations in life…but when David looks at the bigger picture, the one from God’s perspective, he finds that only God’s goodness and faithful love have been chasing after him.

That’s the key for us, too.  When our thoughts are being overtaken by memories of old sins or difficulties in the present, we need to look at life from God’s perspective.  From His vantage point, we’ll see clearly and be able to trust Him with our present and all the days of [our]life.

A few years back, a Christian band released a great orchestra-rock song about recognizing that our past doesn’t control us anymore, even when we feel pursued by memories and feelings.  The link below is to a video of the song’s lyrics.

Disciple – Dear X, You Don’t Own Me
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9yIZnypqBk

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The big serve

I recently watched a documentary about a Make-A-Wish event for a young cancer patient.  When he was 18 months old, he was diagnosed; however, his family waited to do the Make-A-Wish event until he was five, so it could be something more memorable and meaningful to him.

It started out as a simple plan to let him play the part of his favorite superhero for a day, but it quickly grew into a large-scale, city-wide event.  As word got around that a young cancer-survivor wanted to be Batman, people began offering their skills and connections to make the day as realistic as possible.

Here’s a rundown of just some of the people who got involved:
A boy donated his replica Batman costume and let the cancer survivor keep it afterwards.
One guy offered his black Lamborghini to be the Batmobile.
A local anchorwoman prerecorded the news broadcast that started the event.
The Chief of Police prerecorded messages to give out the day’s missions.
A social media company handled all publicity leading up to the day.
Actors played the roles of Batman, Penguin, and Riddler.
A local eatery provided their lunch.
During its busiest time of year, the opera house tailored all costumes.
A famous musician provided theme music.
A company overnighted a specialized computer chip to run the communication device.
A baseball team gave permission to use their mascot and stadium.
A social media expert provided official Twitter updates during the day’s events.
City Police, many of them on their day off, ensured the planned city route was unblocked and safe.
The mayor ended the day by presenting the key to the city.
A wealthy couple covered the city’s extra expenses for the day.
And many, many others donated their time and effort in both big and small ways…

On top of all this, roughly 14,000 people showed up to witness the events as Batman and Batkid went all across town to save the day.  While they brought supportive signs and cheered him on, the sheer volume of people presented a huge logistics problem – one the police are all too familiar with.  Safely managing a mass of humanity that large always presents a formidable challenge.  However, the officers found something different that day – whenever they would ask people to move back and give Batkid some space, people in the crowd would turn around at start helping them move the crowds back to make way.  No one grumbled, complained, or mouthed off at the officers.  Additionally, there was no complaint of crime or problems from within the crowds at each of the event’s locations.

While the day of the event was hugely successful (it was done on a Friday), those involved said there was a curious spillover to the event that lasted well into the next week.  In general, people were happier; people were friendlier.  It was described as an afterglow to the efforts to take care of this young cancer survivor.  No one expected it, but for a little while, the citizens gained something they didn’t have before.

But why did the crowds and city act this way?  Because they put the needs of the little boy ahead of their own.  Although this wasn’t a church-sponsored event, the participants provided a real-life example of what the Apostle Paul told the believers in Philippi:

Philippians 2:3-4
in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.  Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.


Whether they had donated a Lamborghini or held up a homemade sign of support, each person’s focus was helping this one child.  For a single day, they stopped their own agendas, let go of their personal worries, and they focused on someone else.  No one did anything they would consider extraordinary – they all stayed within their skills and abilities – but when they did it together, something big and beautiful happened.

Does your small group or members from your church get involved in your community?  Mine does, and I absolutely love it.  We don’t go out to protest or yell preachy things from the street corners.  Instead we follow this example:

Philippians 2:5, 7
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus, who…emptied Himself by assuming the form of a servant


When we empty ourselves of our pride, our agenda, our schedule and serve others with the skills and abilities God has given us – big and beautiful things can happen.  In humility consider others as more important than yourselves.  Get out among non-believers and serve – isn’t that what Jesus did?

However, the afterglow of our efforts will last longer than just a few days…instead, it will echo into eternity.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Clarity in a cloud

Ever feel like you just gotta get out of the house?  You have no idea where you will go or what you will do, but if you stay indoors much longer, you’re probably going to lose your mind…can you relate?

Well, that happened to me and the Mrs. on Monday evening this week.  We just needed o-u-t, OUT.

Not wanting to waste money or gas, we ended up at a park next to a reservoir, not too far from home.  She sat down in a pavilion to sketch, but I felt like strolling.  I wandered down to a large wooden platform at the water’s edge.  I found that I could sit on the platform and my dangling feet would hover just above the water.  The sun’s rays were warm, the slight breeze was cool, and sound of city traffic was barely above the level of a quiet hum.  That’s when I saw it.

Above the pavilion my wife was sitting under, I saw a large puffy cloud that loosely resembled a bowler hat.  While the breeze at my level was light, you could tell the air at the cloud’s level was moving quickly.  So I watched.

Admittedly, I do not give much thought to clouds – unless they’re going to drop some rain.  And if I happen to think about clouds, I tend to imagine them making their trek across our sky as an unchanging blob, just a fluffy block of moisture.

But as I sat and watched, that’s not what I saw.

What I saw was a mass that was constantly changing shape as it moved.  It wasn’t uniform.  It wasn’t symmetrical.  The cloud, as a whole, was moving in a direction, but it was vigorously forming and reforming as it proceeded across the sky.  In order to really see and understand how it shifted from one movement to the next, I had to focus on one small part of the cloud at a time.  When my eyes moved to a new section – I could only tell that it was different, but I had no understanding of how the cloud made its new edge.  All the while, my previous focus-point continued to roll into new areas of the atmosphere.

What really stood out was the cloud’s depth.  As the cloud would billow and expand, stretching and reshaping, it was obvious there was a lot going on beneath the cloud’s surface that I was not able to see, understand, or predict until the movement happened.

Then it dawned on me…creation was giving me a lesson about our Creator.

God is on the move.
We are privy to the overall direction where God is moving history.
While history is happening, God doesn’t move in ways we expect.
When I try to take in the grandeur of God, I cannot see the beauty in His intricate details.
When I focus on an intricate detail, I am blown away by what He reveals.
While I am focused in, God is still moving in other ways that are outside my vision.
I am unable to keep up with all of God’s details.
There is a depth to God that we are not privy to.
We cannot fully see, understand, or predict how and when God will move, proceed, or pull back.

While even the best of analogies will breakdown (for example – God moves as He pleases, not because He is forced to, like the wind and sun move the clouds), creation can tell us much about our Creator.  Both David and Paul wrote about this:

Psalm 19:1-2
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the expanse proclaims the work of His hands.
Day after day they pour out speech;
night after night they communicate knowledge.


Romans 1:20
For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.

In order to have this teachable moment with creation, I had to sit down, be still, and think. After all these realizations had flooded my mind, I was convinced that I had sat there too long and my wife was likely waiting on me to come find her. I looked at my phone to see how long I had been there:

Not even 15 minutes.

In less than 15 minutes of looking up at the sky, God used His creation to remind me of His greatness, His beauty, and His depth. Day after day and night after night, the lesson was there, ready for me to learn – but I wasn’t looking or listening. For certain, I am without excuse.

Will you take 15 minutes today to look at creation…and see His eternal power and divine nature?

The heavens declare the glory of God, so let’s take just a few moments…and look up.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Hurricane on the doorstep

Hurricane Florence is barreling its way toward the East Coast.  We’re in central North Carolina, so we’re inline for some weather.  No one really knows how bad it’s going to be or where the worst will end up happening, but we’ve been preparing all week as best as we can.

I’d like to share with you some of the things (among the many thoughts) I’ve been thinking these last few days:

·       On a daily basis, we are rather careless with our words, aren’t we?  This was the best dinner ever made.  That was the worst meeting in the history of meetings.  She’s clueless.  He’s stupid.  This Netflix show is the greatest thing ever invented.  However, for the aftermath of Hurricane Florence…the word “devastation” will not be an exaggeration.  That’s a tough word to say.  It’s tougher to witness.  It’s a word we’re afraid to live through.


·       For some people…eternity will begin this weekend.  No matter how many precautions we take, the unpredictableness and utter ferocity of the storm will certainly lead to people losing their earthly lives.  We’ve been preparing for this massive storm…seeking out information and supplies, and then making our best decision based upon what we’ve found.  But are we prepared for the most important event of our lives?  How have we responded to Jesus’ claims of being the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Me [John 14:6]?  Our acceptance or rejection of Jesus is the most important preparation decision we can make.

·       I keep coming back to the most famous line in Moses’ psalm:

Psalm 90:12
Teach us to number our days carefully
so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts.


·       We may lose possessions when, or even after, Hurricane Florence makes landfall.  However, everything we own is ultimately destined for a garage sale, the garbage dump, or the recycle bin.  Our things won’t last, hurricane or no hurricane.  Even if we lose everything we own…there is a higher, more impactful, purpose for this life.  Sometimes, it takes a tragedy for us to see from that vantage point.  I wish it didn’t.

If you are not in this storm’s path, please petition God on our behalf.  Pray that He will be seen in the way His children handle this event.

If you are in any way affected by this storm – be wise.  Paul wasn’t directly discussing natural disasters, but his direction still applies:

1 Corinthians 10:31, 33
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God…not seeking [your] own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved.


How can we ride out, survive, shine, and rebuild from Hurricane Florence for the glory of God?  After all…everything means everything…even the hard circumstances.  So be wise and number your days carefully.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite: Tired hearts

Tired hearts
originally posted on April 10, 2015

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

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

Psalm 61:1-4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Aftermath of a miracle: the ultimate setup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Aftermath of a miracle: the rejection

Once a person believes in Jesus for eternal life, one of their early struggles comes when they observe those in the world who flat-out reject a relationship with God.  The Christian’s thoughts often fall along these lines: Why don’t others believe in Jesus?  Why can’t they see that this is what we, as humans, were made for?  Why would someone reject a relationship with the One who knows us the best, and Who offers to make us eternally safe?  Why would anyone pass that up?

Most of the time, when we talk about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, we focus on the miracle. We have learned a lot by doing so.  But looking at what happened afterward can help us think through our current question.

The people who watched Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead had one of two different reactions:

John 11:45-47
Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him.  But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.  So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and were saying, “What are we going to do since this man is doing many signs?”

The religious leaders didn’t discount the signs and miracles.  Honestly, they couldn’t.  There was a crowd of eye-witnesses that saw a dead man walk out of a tomb.  If it were just one or two people, perhaps the Sanhedrin assembly could scare them into staying silent or even convince them that they had been mistaken in what they “thought” they saw.  But could they prevent a crowd from spreading the news of a resurrection?  Not a chance.

But let’s think about this…why try to stop Jesus?  If He truly is the Messiah that Israel has been waiting for…for thousands of years, generation after generation watching, waiting, praying for God’s deliverance; IF this “Jesus” is the promised Redeemer, then why are they rejecting Him?  Here’s what they said:

John 11:48
“If we let Him go on like this, everyone will believe in Him and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.”

They would have to give up control.  They were concerned they would lose their current position of influence and status.  They were comfortable in their arrangement with Rome.  Sure, they were not the top-dog-in-charge, but they had the ruling freedom to do – and get away with – most whatever they wanted.

Keep in mind that within the previous 200 years, others had come, claiming to be the Messiah.  And obviously, those claims had been wrong.  But Rome would not tolerate any form of authority outside of its own, so Caesar stood ready to crush any attempt at rebellion.

In the minds of the Pharisees, they had three options:

1.       If Jesus was not the Messiah: Rome would put their full force toward stopping Jesus’ movement.  And if the Jewish religious leaders had put their support behind Him, they would also be considered an enemy of the state.  If the Jewish religious leaders had not supported Him, Rome wouldn’t discriminate.  Rome would definitely come in and forcefully remove them from their position of leadership and their attempt to protect what was left of Israel.  And by “remove” it was likely be all of them being put to death.

2.       If Jesus was the Messiah: Rome would still put their full force toward stopping Jesus’ movement.  But even if Jesus was able to remove the Roman authority and governance and rescue Israel…the Pharisee leaders and entire Sanhedrin assembly would not be in power any longer.  How often had they opposed and tried to undermine Jesus?  Why would the Pharisees expect Jesus to keep them around?

3.       Find a way to get rid of Jesus.  This would maintain the status quo and their own control over the situation.

They chose #3.

John 11:53-54, 57
So from that day on they plotted to kill Him.  Jesus therefore no longer walked openly among the Jews but departed from there to the countryside near the wilderness, to a town called Ephraim, and He stayed there with the disciples…The chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that if anyone knew where He was he should report it so that they could arrest Him.

They chose to be comfortable in what they knew, instead of trusting Jesus with who He said He was.  For most of the Pharisees, they decided that the cost of believing in Jesus was too great.  They were willing to remain subservient to their cruel Roman occupiers in order to keep the status quo, rather than let Jesus rescue them.

When we get right down to it, we find a similar attitude in wealthy 1st world societies.  We look at our careers, our house, our cars, our hobbies, our toys…and…we’re comfortable.  We’re not the top-dog, but for the most part, we can do – and get away with – what we want to do.  People who measure life only by what’s in front of them will never risk losing the amount of control they currently enjoy.  They are hesitant to venture into a relationship with Jesus, because it requires putting their trust in someone other than themselves…and they don’t want to risk being wrong, because being wrong would cost them everything.

We can’t choose for them.  So what’s a Christian to do with those who reject or are even hostile toward God?

Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:43-45
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor” [Leviticus 19:18] and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Aftermath of a miracle: the response

“Seems like the only time we ever get together anymore is weddings and funerals.”

Sound familiar?  It’s certainly true of me and my extended family.  We’re not only scattered across the entire US, but there are a few of us who live in distant countries at the moment.  It takes a big event to get everyone to coordinate schedules and finances such that we can all be face-to-face for even a couple of days.  If someone has a serious illness or accident, we will call and text to check in on each other.  A few of us that are regionally close to each other might get together for Christmas or Thanksgiving, but for most holidays, birthdays, and graduations our communication is through technology and not in-person. 

But a wedding or funeral?  It would take a lot to keep us from showing up to one of these events.   And our drive to be there in-person isn’t just for our immediate family, but when our friends experience these milestones, as well.  While some might decry this as a negative result of modern society, I don’t think it is the case.  It takes a huge moment of celebration or tragedy to get everyone’s attention and bring people together.

And that is why Jesus allowed Lazarus to die.  Many friends and family showed up for his funeral in his hometown of Bethany

John 11:18-19
Bethany was near Jerusalem (less than two miles away).  Many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them about their brother.

Something tragic had to happen in order to bring everyone out of their normal-daily routine, to ensure they were aware – and present – for the revelation of God’s authority and power that was about to take place.

Jesus had a distinct purpose in the steps He took as Lazarus’ situation would unfold.  Throughout the account, John records several statements Jesus made about His motivation.  Look at what He says:

John 11:4
When Jesus heard [that Lazarus was sick], He said, “This sickness will not end in death but is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

John 11:14
So Jesus then told them plainly, “Lazarus had died.  I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe.”

John 11:40-43
Jesus said to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?”

So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father I thank You that You heard Me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this, He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”


Did you notice what Jesus included in His prayer?  Because of the crowd standing here.  Would the crowd have gathered if Jesus had arrived before Lazarus died, when was still sick?  Most definitely not.   A few may have shown up out of concern, but, realistically, Jesus would have performed a healing in front of the disciples, the sisters, and an on-looker or two.

Instead, Mary and Martha had to experience their worst nightmare – helplessly watching their brother waste away and die.  Even worse, Lazarus painfully experienced his body failing him…all the way through death.  By allowing these personal tragedies to run their course, a crowd of people became eye-witnesses to the greatest miracle up to that moment in human history.  At Jesus’ command, a man that they all knew was without-a-doubt 100% dead was suddenly restored and standing among them.  As eye-witnesses, how did they respond?

John 11:45
Therefore, many of the Jews who came to Mary and saw what He did believed in Him.

A short while later, Jesus returned to Bethany; and look at what happened:

John 12:9-10
Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there.  They came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, the one He had raised from the dead… he was the reason many of the Jews were…believing in Jesus.


The “Tragedy of Lazarus” had become the “Glory of God” that Jesus predicted…but Lazarus still had to suffer before getting there.  If Jesus can use a death to draw others to Him, I’m certain that any disease can also be used for God’s Glory.  This includes my younger brother’s Multiple Sclerosis, my debilitating migraines, your terrifying cancer, your uncontrollable anxiety, and any painful unexplainable failing of our bodies. 

I cannot promise that God will heal any of us.  It is certainly acceptable to ask: He may say yes; He may say no.  What is clear from Lazarus’ story is that Jesus places a higher priority on God’s Glory and drawing others to Him than we do on our current status.

But if we’re talking about changing the eternal destiny of those around us – ones who otherwise would not be eye-witnesses to God’s Glory and Power, if not for our personal tragedies – we can trust God with our sufferings, our illnesses, and our frail bodies.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

First day jitters and the start of a new life

Remember that first day at a new school?  Those feelings of being nervous, curious, not quite sure what was going to happen?  Or how about your first day in a new job?  Probably had flashbacks to being the new kid in school…

Being a rookie, at anything, is rough.  Everywhere you look, you see people who look like they’ve been successful for years.  You definitely don’t want to interrupt the way things seem to naturally flow, and you certainly don’t want to be in the way.  It’s easy to allow the doubt to creep in and cloud our thinking – Do I really belong?  Will they think I’m stupid or ignorant?  Will I mess this up?  Will I even know that I messed something up?  How many times can I mess up before they don’t want me around anymore?

Whenever we venture out into something new, no matter what it is, there’s always one thing we’re hoping for: someone kind enough to help us out and show us around.

We all have vivid memories of that first person to befriend us when we were feeling more lost than we cared to admit.  Their willingness to reach out to the newbie made it easier for us to find our place and figure out the rhythm to our new settings.

Honestly, the Christian life isn’t any different.  Being a newbie is a little scary.  We’re unsure of what to say or what to do next.  Everyone around looks like a spiritual veteran, like they’re a half-step away from perfection…and we’re just sitting here, surprised that God let someone like us into His family.

So, how is this supposed to work for a newbie Christian?  Since Jesus brought us into the family, why doesn’t He immediately take away all the junk and bad habits left over from our previous life?

Tucked away in John’s account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, there is a six word command where Jesus clues us in:

John 11:41-44
So they removed the stone.  Then Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You heard me.  I know that You always hear Me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe You sent Me.”

After He said this He shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth.  Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.”

Not to make too much out of a minor detail, but I find it interesting that Jesus didn’t unwrap Lazarus from his burial cloths.  Lazarus didn’t unwrap Lazarus.  Instead, Jesus instructed those closest to the resurrected man to “Unwrap him and let him go.”

Jesus had just brought a man back from the grave, but He gave others the responsibility of helping Lazarus remove the remnants of his old life.  This wasn’t going to be a task Lazarus could do on his own.  He needed someone who was willing to reach in close and help deal with the dirty death-rags left over from his previous life. 

Let’s be clear:
If you were a world-class jerk when you met Jesus and accepted His offer of eternal life, you’re still going to have a lot of jerk-ness that needs to be dealt with, even after being saved. 

Anyone who tells you that you should be immediately perfect after encountering Jesus hasn’t read their New Testament in a while.  Instead of placing perfection-level expectations on a brand-new Christian, us veterans need to be willing to get our hands dirty.  We need to show them around, help them see the rhythm and flow of living a Christ-centered life.

Also note that Jesus didn’t tell Lazarus to go ask someone to help him remove his burial cloths.  Us veterans shouldn’t wait for a newbie to come up and ask for assistance.  We approach them, help them, and then smile as we watch them go in their new, life-long adventure.

Keep Pressing,
Ken