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.

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Flashback Favorite - It's all good

Work has been kicking my tail lately, so I need this reminder. Hopefully, it’s something useful for you as well.

It’s all good
originally posted on October 20, 2016

It’s all good!

I might be giving away my age here, but that phrase became pop culture slang in the middle of my teenage years.  Typically said with twang that made the “all” sound like “awl”, the person who used the phrase was telling everyone that they were not going let a situation bring them down or derail their direction in life – even if the circumstances or news was really bad.

As cool as we thought we were for saying it, we didn’t realize that the Apostle Paul said it almost 2000 years before we did.

While instructing Timothy on how he needs to lead the church in Ephesus, Paul informs him of the following:

1 Timothy 4:4-6
For everything created by God is good, and nothing should be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, since it is sanctified by the word of God and by prayer.  If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.

Did you catch that?  Everything God created is good.  Going back to original creation and the Garden of Eden, at the end each day, God looked at what He created and saw that it was good (See Genesis 1).  Despite the ways sin has corrupted the world, we can still approach everything through the lens of the word of God and by prayer When we use these two tools, we can see God’s original design and intent for our lives. 

Paul wants the believers in Ephesus to know this, but he also knows that they must be reminded of it.  Why does Paul tell Timothy to point these things out to the brothers?  Because he knows that the troubles of this sin-soaked world will skew our vision.  We must keep coming back to God’s word and prayer if we’re going see properly.

Can I be honest, though?  Sometimes I tire of hearing that message, even though I know it is right.  It happens to all of us.  Our sin-nature gets emboldened, and we resent the messenger who reminds us of our need for God’s word and prayer.  Being resented can be difficult for our church leaders, even though they are correctly doing the things God has asked them to do.  Paul knows this and encourages Timothy:

if you point out these things, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus

Paul uses the same word for good here that he did earlier.  So he’s essentially saying that as good as God made the initial creation and design, that’s how good of a servant Timothy will be when he carries out his mission and points the believers back to the importance of God’s word and prayer.

So we should ask ourselves:

Do I see today as something good?
Do I see my home, my family, my work, my food, and my responsibilities as something good?
Am I thankfully receiving everything from God, seeing it all through the lens of His word and prayer?
Am I resentful when someone reminds me that I need to see life through this lens?

Despite what sin-soaked mess comes our way, when we see this world from God’s vantage point, we can honestly say

It’s all good.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

How to handle counterfeit beliefs

Do you know how the best-trained money handlers are taught to identify counterfeits? 

Somewhat surprisingly, they do not spend time studying counterfeit money.  Mainly because there’s too many ways to make a fake.  With so many variations out there that are trying to pass off as the real thing, it would be impossible to keep up with all of them.

Instead, they are taught all the security features on real money.  They are quizzed about the features and practice handling the real thing.  The goal is to be so familiar with what is truly valuable that the fake will be easily seen for the worthless paper that it is.

Similarly, Paul wanted Timothy to have his training focused in the right place:

1 Timothy 4:6-8
If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed. 

But have nothing to do with irreverent and silly myths.  Rather train yourself in godliness

The word but always signals a contrast.  When studying God’s Word, if we come across it, then we need to stop and understand the difference being presented.  In our verses above, the word rather works in the same way.

When we step back and look at Paul’s structure here, we see he’s following a “concept-opposite-concept” pattern.  Paul is equating the words of the faith and good teaching Timothy is familiar with and training yourself in godliness.  Paul is also saying that in opposition to these things are irreverent and silly myths.

The myths around the first century church would have been fantasy stories passed off as special histories of Biblical characters.  The false teachers of Paul and Timothy’s day claimed that these stories led to deeper piety and special insights into the background of Bible characters.  But what, exactly, did Paul mean when he referred to them as irreverent and silly?

irreverent – combination of two Greek words that paint the picture of crossing a threshold and this term is repeatedly used in Paul’s letters to Timothy regarding people or subjects that are opposed to God.  Paul would say irreverent topics are those that “cross the line” and are rude or derogatory toward God and his people.

silly – Paul doesn’t mean “cute” silly here, instead he’s referring to what we would call an old wives’ tale – something that people generally believe because it’s comfortable or seems likely, but on closer inspection we find that it’s not really based on anything concrete.

So what are some modern-day irreverent and silly myths that can steal our focus away from the words of faith and good teaching?

Some people believe that dancing, in any form, is a sin.
There are those who say eating or drinking certain foods (like red meat or caffeinated drinks) is sinful.
Others teach that good health always means that God likes you and that you have “enough faith”.
A growing number of Christians prefer feel-good stories to what we find in the Bible.
Every few years, a new “gospel” is discovered and people chase after it, like “The gospel of Thomas” or “The gospel of Judas”
Many authors have taken Biblical names or settings and reinvented them into conspiracy stories or “modern myths”, like The Da Vinci Code or stories of Jesus as a young boy.
And there are many, many more…

How do we avoid being distracted by these irreverent and silly myths?  Paul says we should have nothing to do with them.  They can’t steal our focus if we’re not giving them attention.  Instead, we need to choose to train in godliness, and be nourished by the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

It's all good

It’s all good!

I might be giving away my age here, but that phrase became pop culture slang in the middle of my teenage years.  Typically said with twang that made the “all” sound like “awl”, the person who used the phrase was telling everyone that they were not going let a situation bring them down or derail their direction in life – even if the circumstances or news was really bad.

As cool as we thought we were for saying it, we didn’t realize that the Apostle Paul said it almost 2000 years before we did.

While instructing Timothy on how he needs to lead the church in Ephesus, Paul informs him of the following:

1 Timothy 4:4-6
For everything created by God is good, and nothing should be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, since it is sanctified by the word of God and by prayer.  If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.

Did you catch that?  Everything God created is good.  Going back to original creation and the Garden of Eden, at the end each day, God looked at what He created and saw that it was good (See Genesis 1).  Despite the ways sin has corrupted the world, we can still approach everything through the lens of the word of God and by prayer.  When we use these two tools, we can see God’s original design and intent for our lives. 

Paul wants the believers in Ephesus to know this, but he also knows that they must be reminded of it.  Why does Paul tell Timothy to point these things out to the brothers?  Because he knows that the troubles of this sin-soaked world will skew our vision.  We must keep coming back to God’s word and prayer if we’re going see properly.

Can I be honest, though?  Sometimes I tire of hearing that message, even though I know it is right.  It happens to all of us.  Our sin-nature gets emboldened, and we resent the messenger who reminds us of our need for God’s word and prayer.  Being resented can be difficult for our church leaders, even though they are correctly doing the things God has asked them to do.  Paul knows this and encourages Timothy:

if you point out these things, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus

Paul uses the same word for good here that he did earlier.  So he’s essentially saying that as good as God made the initial creation and design, that’s how good of a servant Timothy will be when he carries out his mission and points the believers back to the importance of God’s word and prayer.

So we should ask ourselves:

Do I see today as something good?
Do I see my home, my family, my work, my food, and my responsibilities as something good?
Am I thankfully receiving everything from God, seeing it all through the lens of His word and prayer?
Am I resentful when someone reminds me see life through this lens?

Despite what sin-soaked mess comes our way, when we see this world from God’s vantage point, we can honestly say

It’s all good.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Learning how to listen for God

Over the years I’ve encountered many Christians who want to “hear from the Lord.”  We desire God’s guidance for our lives, but we tend to be rather unfocused in how we go about finding it.  We know that listening for God’s guidance is something that we need to learn and practice, but what we fail to realize is that means we’re going to need someone to teach us how.

We see an example of this at the beginning of Samuel’s career as God’s prophet:

1 Samuel 3:1-11
The boy Samuel served the Lord in Eli’s presence.  In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.  One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room.  Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was located.

Then the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.”  He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call,” Eli replied.  “Go and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Once again the Lord called, “Samuel!”  Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call, my son,” he replied.  “Go and lie down.”

Now Samuel had not yet experienced the Lord, because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  Once again, for the third time, the Lord called Samuel.  He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the boy.  He told Samuel, “Go and lie down.  If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’ ”  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”  Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder…”

Then the Lord went on to give Samuel his first prophetic insight into God’s plans for the nation of Israel.

Notice how Samuel had to be taught how to respond to God’s voice.  Even though Samuel had been serving the Lord under Eli’s guidance, recognizing the word of the Lord wasn’t a skill Samuel just naturally had.  He had to be taught how to listen and how to respond to God’s call.

We’re like that, too.  We believe Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and we accept His offer of eternal life, so we’re in His family.  We may even be serving – and serving well – within our local church congregation.

But if God called out to us right now, would we know that it’s Him talking?

For our current stage of human history, God doesn’t talk through prophets like He did in Samuel’s time.  Instead, we have the recorded words of Jesus and those who interacted directly with Him.  Perhaps the same question needs to be put into our modern context:

Do we know the Bible well enough to recognize God’s voice and direction?

When Joe began to mentor me, the very first thing he taught me was how to read and understand Scripture.  Learning how to properly observe, interpret, and apply Scripture was the major catalyst for growth in my relationship with God.  As I studied the Bible, I learned to recognize how God works and what He expects from His children.  I began to know Him better as He revealed Himself to me through the pages of the Bible.

Interacting with God’s word isn’t a one-and-done type of thing, either.  We don’t learn to handle the Scriptures and then consider it checked off our list of “ways to grow”.  We need to continually go back to where God has revealed Himself to us, because that is where our relationship with Him is found. 

Samuel had the same kind of experience:

1 Samuel 3:19-21
Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let nothing he said prove false.  All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the Lord.  The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.

I love that last sentence, where God revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.  We have the same opportunity, to have God reveal Himself to us if we take the time to learn how to handle Scripture.

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

 

Biblical meditation

It seems that almost everyone has a plan for how you can “get ahead” in life.  Advertisements, commercials, books, blogs…every information vehicle we know of…has some message on how to improve your diet, your shape, your love life, your education, your career, and on and on and on.

Nearly every one of their “secrets to improvement” focuses in on something that we need to start (or stop) doing.  With enough changes to our behavior, they tell us, we can achieve whatever goal we set out to accomplish.  While behaviors do have to change if we desire a different outcome than where we are currently at, the change in behavior won’t occur unless something deeper changes first.

What we think about throughout the day will determine our actions throughout the day.  If I toy with lustful thoughts, then lustful actions will eventually follow.  If I’m focusing my spare moments on devising ways to enhance my skill set or mulling over new concepts to develop my education, then I will end up being more effective in those endeavors.  For better or worse, the things we think about will be what looms largest and develops the fastest in our lives.

This process is what the Bible refers to as our meditation.  Biblical meditation isn’t a bunch of mental gymnastics aimed at emptying our minds, rather it is the intentional consideration of truth found in the Scriptures.  The author of Psalm 119 recognized the importance of meditating on God’s Word.  Read through this section and identify what benefits he found:

Psalm 119:97-104
How I love Your teaching!  It is my meditation all day long.
Your command makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is always with me.
I have more insight than all my teachers because Your decrees are my meditation.
I understand more than the elders because I obey Your precepts.
I have kept my feet from every evil path to follow Your word.
I have not turned from Your judgments, for You Yourself have instructed me.
How sweet Your word is to my taste – sweeter than honey to my mouth.
I gain understanding from Your precepts; therefore I hate every false way.

Wiser than my enemies, more insight than all my teachers, understanding more than the elders…these impressive benefits are not boasts, rather they are factual statements.  The psalmist could identify the benefits he had received, but kept his ego in check as he recognized where those benefits had come from.  He surpassed those around him only because he was focusing his thoughts continually on God’s command, decrees, and precepts.  God’s revealed Word was the material that he was filling his mind with.

It’s also important to note how much time the author allowed God’s teaching to percolate in his mind before he reaped the benefits.  My favorite crockpot recipe takes 7 hours on a low heat setting before it is fully ready to meet my body’s need for fuel and my desire for good tasting food.  Cranking up the heat to try to speed up the cooking process doesn’t make for a good meal, either.  Similarly, we see that the psalmist allowed God’s word to be his meditation all day long, and likely for many days over, in order to reap the long-term benefits in his life.

So we have to ask ourselves, What’s simmering in the back of our minds?  When we have moments while we wait our turn at the doctor’s office, at a stoplight, or as we wait for others…what are we thinking about?  The default for most of us is to bury our face in our phones or just let our minds wander to whatever random subject crowds in.  If we would use those moments to keep our meditation going on God’s command, decrees, and precepts, then we’re sure to see the same benefits and improvements the author of Psalm 119 did.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Set apart by truth

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

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

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

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

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

Your word is truth.

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

And it gets better as Jesus continues…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken