Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: Scripture

Still searching for comfort

Last week I wrote about finding comfort in God.  It sounds “spiritual”.  It sounds “Christian-y”.  But is it possible?  In this up-side-down, hyper-political, messed up world we live in – life can feel overwhelming, even too big for God to step in and fix.  Every day, we get more than our fill of discouraging news from around the world.

It’s not only us modern-day believers who look at the state of the world and struggle with God’s apparent…(dare we say it out loud?) ...absence?  …lack of involvement?  …delay of justice?

We saw last week that Paul counseled the Corinthian believers regarding God’s involvement in their afflictions.  But we can go further back and still see similar questions being asked of God.  When the psalmist who wrote Psalm 94 looked around at the state of the world and how his fellow Israelites were treated, he had this to say:

Psalm 94:3-7
Lord, how long will the wicked – how long will the wicked celebrate?
They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.
Lord, they crush your people; they oppress your heritage.
They kill the widow and the resident alien and murder the fatherless.
They say, “The Lord doesn’t see it.  The God of Jacob doesn’t pay attention.”

What he sees seems a lot like what we see – wickedness and arrogance ruled the day.  People selfishly acting as if God doesn’t notice or doesn’t exist.  Although he doesn’t see an immediate end to the state of affairs, the psalmist knows where to find some measure of relief…and he still believes, that at some future point, God will come through for Israel:

Psalm 94:12-15
Lord, how happy is anyone you discipline and teach from your law
to give him relief from troubled times until a pit is dug for the wicked.
The Lord will not leave his people or abandon his heritage,
for the administration of justice will again be righteous,
and all the upright in heart will follow it.

And while looking forward to a God-fixed future can provide some measure of hope, he didn’t end the psalm there.  The next part of the psalm is what caught my attention:

Psalm 94:16
Who stands up for me against the wicked?
Who takes a stand for me against evildoers?

The emphasis is personal now – Who stands up for me…Who takes a stand for me?  The psalmist knows that rescue and justice and right-ness are all coming at some point, but what about me: right-here, right-now, in all the mess I’m living with?

He continues:

Psalm 94:17-19
If the Lord had not been my helper, I would soon rest in the silence of death.
If I say, “My foot is slipping,” your faithful love will support me, Lord.
When I am filled with cares, your comfort brings me joy.

Earlier, the psalmist acknowledged that God’s discipline and teaching from the law gave him relief from troubled times.  Now, the psalmist affirms that if not for the Lord’s help, he would be overcome by the wicked and evil present around him.

Lastly, we can all identify with the feeling of being filled with cares.  We even have phrases to describe this – When it rains, it pours | Bad things come in threes | That was the straw the broke the camel’s back.  But the psalmist has shown us that it is the culmination of God’s discipline, teaching from the Scripture, and trustworthy help that brings us supernatural comfort and joy.

God will fix it all in the future, but He hasn’t abandoned us.  He hasn’t left us to go at it on our own until the time He finally brings justice to the world.  His comfort is here for us now.

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 Teacher Test

Lots of people claim to teach and preach for God.  But how do you know if what they’re saying is actually from God?

One test could be to measure how much Scripture is quoted during a sermon.  The more the better, right?  That would make it easy…if they only quote one verse, we should be suspicious…but if they quote many verses, then their teaching must be “good”.  But that doesn’t seem quite right, does it?

Another test could be to gauge how we feel after listening to a sermon.  We know that the Word of God should inspire us, right?  So, if we leave feeling inspired and motivated, then the message and the messenger must be “good”.  But then doesn’t seem quite right, either.

When he wrote to encourage and direct Timothy in his mission to the Ephesian church, Paul repeatedly addressed the topic of false teachers.  Closing off the previous section’s teaching on the church’s support for widows, honoring elders, disciplining elders, and the slave-master relationship, Paul says:

1 Timothy 6:2-3
Teach and encourage these things.  If anyone teaches other doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited, understanding nothing, but having a sick interest in disputes and arguments over words.

Did you catch Paul’s “Teacher Test”? 

If what that person teaches does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching the promotes godliness, then we should not be listening to them.  We need to keep this in mind:

Since the aim of a Christian’s life is to be like Christ, any teaching that doesn’t match up with what Jesus taught will not make us more like Him. 

That statement is so simple, we don’t even bother to think in those terms.  However, when we forget why we need a constant relationship with Jesus, we tend to let the Christian life make us comfortable.  God richly blesses us in many ways, but our selfishness still drifts us toward a life of ease. 

There are many consequences to focusing on getting to the “good life” instead of aiming for the “Christ-like life”.  Paul will deal with several of them as he closes out his letter.  The one he points out here is that false teachers will come sounding “good”, but they will end up pulling us away from our aim of being like Jesus.

Our Teacher Test isn’t to count the number of verses or rely on our constantly changing feelings.  Taking what is taught and comparing it to sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ will show us if our teacher is pointing us in the right direction.  Every time we’re presented with a new Bible teaching, we need to be asking “Does this teaching promote god-like-ness?”.

We must be alert in this.  Don’t go on auto-pilot just because someone claims to have a message from God.  Our relationship with Jesus depends on it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Practicing to be like Jesus

“When am I ever going to use this stuff?”

That phrase is the rally cry of every student who has had their fill of theory and talk.  I wondered it when I was a kid, and now my kids have asked it of me.

Earlier in his letter to Timothy, we observed that Paul made the connection between godliness and being like Jesus.  There were three Jesus-like-ness observations we noted:

·        Jesus knew the Scriptures – He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 Man must not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Often during His teaching, Jesus would reference the Scriptures by saying “It is written” or asking the question “Have you not read?
·        Jesus was totally focused on His part in God’s plan and kingdom – He was on mission and would not be deterred.  In John 6:38, He said “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
·        Jesus knew both the Scriptures and His mission well enough that He could impact the lives of others – He cared for others, met them where they were, and pointed them toward God the Father.

Just a handful of verses after Paul made the connection between godliness and being like Jesus, he encouraged Timothy with these words:

1 Timothy 4:12-16
No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Paul’s instructions for Timothy match the three attributes of Jesus-like-ness we noted earlier.  First, Paul told Timothy to know the Scriptures. Through his devotion to public reading, exhortation, and teaching, Timothy would be immersing himself in God’s Word. 

Next, Paul urged Timothy to focus on his part in God’s plan and kingdom.  While he was a unique combination of skills and experience, when you add in the gift given to him by God, Timothy was especially prepared for this work in Ephesus. 

Lastly, Paul encouraged Timothy to practice these things; be committed to them…persevere in these things and his end result would be like Jesus’ – Timothy would know both the Scriptures and his mission well enough to impact the lives of others, or, as Paul put it, Timothy would save both himself and his hearers.  Now Timothy could not add to Jesus’ finished work on the cross, so we know that Paul isn’t referring to an eternal salvation here.  But then what would Timothy be saving them all from?

A few verses back, right after equating godliness with being like Jesus, Paul warned:

1 Timothy 4:1
Now the Spirit explicitly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons

As Timothy applies what he’s learned from Paul, as he endeavors to be like Jesus – then he, too, will have the opportunity to save both himself and his hearers from the pitfalls of false teachings.  What a great rescue mission!

What could we do if we also imitate Jesus by knowing the Scriptures and using our God-given gifts?  What kind of rescuing could we do?  Will we trust God and find out?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The Bible: Reading vs. Experiencing

Sometimes, we forget.

We forget that the Bible wasn’t just written, it was lived.
We forget that the person we’re reading about didn’t know the next verse.
We forget the person had feelings/thoughts/worries/doubts in each moment.

The pages of Scripture describe the actions, thoughts, and desires of the individuals and groups who have uniquely interacted with our Creator, in order to demonstrate His love for us. 

But sometimes…we forget…and we just read on through the section, chapter, or book.

For example, we can open our Bibles and find:

1 Timothy 4:12-16
No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

These are the words of an old man encouraging his protégé.  We have front row seats to a watershed moment in young Timothy’s life.  He has been raised and trained for this moment of service in God’s kingdom – and Paul wants Timothy to know the importance of the next steps he takes, ones without Paul’s direct supervision.  But it’s difficult to recognize the weight of Paul’s words, and their impact on Timothy, when we just read through a chapter.

However, when we are on the receiving end of a leader’s call to rise up, something deep inside resonates.  It could be a coach’s halftime speech, a father calling out to his son, or a leader inspiring a nation.  Those moments stir passions in us – even when we witness them in other’s lives, or in a movie.

So, I’m going to ask you to try a little exercise.  Follow the link below to a clip from the movie Miracle, and then read Paul’s words to Timothy again.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwpTj_Z9v-c

1 Timothy 4:12-16
No one should despise your youth; instead, you should be an example to the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, give your attention to public reading, exhortation, and teaching.  Do not neglect the gift that is in you; it was given to you through prophecy, with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.

Practice these things; be committed to them, so that your progress may be evident to all.  Be conscientious about yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and your hearers.

Think about Timothy, before and after receiving Paul’s letter.

Why would Paul’s words resonate with Timothy?
Which words stand out?  Why?
How will these words impact Timothy’s motivation and focus?


If Paul said these words to you, how would they impact your motivation and focus?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

The best defense against legalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Receiving personal instruction

In one of my year-long college courses, I was fortunate enough that the professor who taught the class had also written the text book.  This might not seem like a big deal from the outside looking in, but it made a huge difference in how we learned from him.  We knew that what he taught us in the morning was going to be reiterated in the same style and with the same emphasis as we read the text in the evening. 

Prof could easily explain how the different sections fit together and even cross-referenced chapters as we were being taught.  He knew the exact layout and intention of each part of the text because he was the one who had put it all together.  There was never any conflict between the teaching and the text – they were from the same man.  Not only was the text well-written for the subject matter, but the class became almost like a personal tutoring session with the author.

We get the same dynamic as we go through the Scriptures.  Although it took hundreds of years and many different authors to complete the text, God superintended the process such that it all hangs together as one, and communicates truth directly from the Creator of Everything to each of us individually.

The author of Psalm 119 did more than just acknowledged this reality of Scripture – he enjoyed it thoroughly.  Take a look through this section and note the role God’s Word plays in the author’s relationship with God.

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.

The psalmist doesn’t distinguish between communicating with God and reading the Scriptures, they are interactions with the same person.  The psalmist gives the reason why he follows what God has taught him when he says for You Yourself have instructed me.  He trusted God’s teaching because it was coming from God Himself.  Nothing was second-hand, there was no need for an interpreter or any guess-work.

And just look at the results of this personal instruction from the Lord – success over enemies, gaining insight and wisdom, the ability to avoid every evil path, gaining understanding, and he can also recognize every false way.  The psalmist has become fully mature because his instruction has been taken directly from the Lord.

The Lord will mature and develop us as well.  He’s ready to give each of us personal, one-on-one instruction.  The teacher and the text are from the same person.  As much as the teaching or writing of others can sometimes help, there is nothing like direct communication and instruction from the Author of Life.  He knows how it all works and why it all works.  

We have an open invitation to be instructed by God Himself.  Will you accept the invitation and meet Him in the Scriptures?

Keep Pressing,
Ken