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: choosing our focus

Flashback Favorite - How to avoid the sin cycle

I’m reposting this one based upon a conversation I had recently. Even though our family no longer lives in West Virginia, there’s still a lot of truth to be found in this observation.

How to avoid the sin cycle
originally posted on November 3, 2016

Do you know which plant grows best in West Virginia?

Weeds.  The weeds grow best in West Virginia.

We get a lot of snow and rain here, and the ground is rather fertile.  However, if a piece of land is cleared, the grass and flowers in the area do not take it over.  The weeds do, and quickly.

There’s a spiritual lesson in there, if we’re open to seeing it.  It’s not enough for Christians to just clear out the “bad” portions of our lives.  Clearing out sinful actions, bad habits, and distractions does take monumental effort.  Taking steps to avoid going back to those old ways will be a significant challenge.  But if we forget to take the next step, we’ll wear ourselves out, only to be caught in a sick cycle of clearing out the weeds and then letting them creep back in and take over…only to have to clear out the weeds (again) to then let them creep back in (again) and take over (again)…and again…and again…

Paul knew this, too.  He wanted Timothy to instruct the believers in Ephesus on how to avoid being stuck in this perpetual cycle.  Take a look at what “next step” Paul says they should take after avoiding the things that will distract us from God and His purpose:

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

When we clear out the ungodly distractions in our lives, we MUST refill the time and use the effort we would previously spend on those distractions.  If we want grass and flowers to grow in our cleared-out land, then we must plant them immediately after doing the work of clearing out the garbage weeds.  It is at that moment that the ground (and our lives) are most willing to accept the change in direction.  If we wait to fill the void – the world will gladly fill it for us…

Paul knows it’s not enough to just avoid the irreverent and silly myths out there.  So, he tells Timothy to replace any time previously spent on those things with a specific plan that has a Godly focus.  His focus is to be on the things that have a “God-like-ness”, the things that point himself and others toward the God of the Universe.

Paul’s use of the phrase train yourself is no accident, either.  The Greek phrase means to exercise vigorously.  Given the city’s prominence in Greek culture, this is clearly a reference to the effort and dedication a Greek athlete would put toward his training to compete in the Ancient Olympic Games. 

Lastly, notice how Timothy had to choose to do the training.  No one else could do the work for him.  No one else is going to develop his relationship with God.  No one else can focus Timothy’s thoughts on God’s words and direction for his life.  As he chooses to plant the seeds of godliness, the growth that comes will fill up the area that was previously overrun with any irreverent and silly ideas.  Timothy’s training will become the long term investment that will keep him out of the sin cycle.

There’s a life lesson in there, if we are open to seeing it.

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

How to clear the path

“But what does God want me to DO?”

Ever ask that question?  Yeah, me too.

We are now at the start of Hebrews 12.  From here to the end of the book, the author gives specific details about the doing of a Christian’s life.  And we’re prepared to fully understand what he recommends…because we have traveled with the author as he directed the orchestra of examples, warnings, and encouragement around the one central theme – the importance of our life choices now and how they affect our participation with Christ in the future.

We are ready to ask, “So what does this type of life look life?  What are we supposed to DO?”  Now that we have the context, the WHY behind the author’s direction to DO will make more sense than if we just plopped the Bible open to Hebrews 12 and began to read.  Even better, knowing the context always makes the text easier to apply.  So, let’s take a look:

Hebrews 11:39-12:1
All these [Old Testament heroes] were approved through their faith, but they did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, so that they would not be made perfect without us.

Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us.  Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us


The ancient heroes of the faith act as courtroom witnesses who testify that living for God now is worth the sacrifice.  We can, by our actions now, participate in the fulfillment of what the ancients longer for.  It is almost as if the author is asking:

If God sticks to His promises, why wouldn’t we want to avoid sin altogether…but also avoid anything that may hinder us in our pursuit of the life Jesus has laid out for us?

But that’s just hard, isn’t it?

Not only do we have to contend daily with the nagging desire to sin…there are a lot of things that clamor for our time, many ‘good’ things that can take up a lot of our day.

Social media, hobbies, app games on our phones, sports, TV shows, and movies can quickly take up our free time.  Let’s be honest – we watch a ton of TV, and if we’re not watching TV then we’re probably on our phones.  (Or maybe we’re doing both at the same time?  Yep, I'm guilty of this, too.)

We start ‘relaxing’ and oh-so-easily slide into indulgence.  Is it time to set a timer on our TV?  Is it time to delete that app? (You know the one.) How can we use our hobbies to invest in others and contribute to God’s purposes, not just our own?

It’s a mental shift.  It’s a purposeful decision.  It is a constant, day-by-day choice, which is why the author says to do it, we must run with enduranceEndurance is only needed for hard things, but he says that it is worth it in the end.  Even if I have to give up a ‘good’ thing now, in order to do the ‘best’ thing for eternity future.

But we’re not left hanging with a simplistic ‘you should do this’ statement, either.  Not only does the author give us that WHAT to do, but the HOW to accomplish this lifestyle:

Hebrews 12:1-2
Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith.  For the joy that lay before Him, He endured the cross, despising the shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

We end up where we look.  Our focus determines our direction.  We aren’t the first one to walk this path.  With Jesus as our example to imitate, we know what success looks like.  As we focus on Him – there is nothing that can deter us from our task, no earthly hindrance that will keep us from completing our race.

And as we are among those who complete this race, we will also participate with God when He fulfills the trust of the Old Testament heroes.

What an opportunity!

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

How to avoid the sin cycle

Do you know which plant grows best in West Virginia?

Weeds.  The weeds grow best in West Virginia.

We get a lot of snow and rain here, and the ground is rather fertile.  However, if a piece of land is cleared, the grass and flowers in the area do not take it over.  The weeds do, and quickly.

There’s a spiritual lesson in there, if we’re open to seeing it.  It’s not enough for Christians to just clear out the “bad” portions of our lives.  Clearing out sinful actions, bad habits, and distractions does take monumental effort.  Taking steps to avoid going back to those old ways will be a significant challenge.  But if we forget to take the next step, we’ll wear ourselves out, only to be caught in a sick cycle of clearing out the weeds and then letting them creep back in and take over…only to have to clear out the weeds (again) to then let them creep back in (again) and take over (again)…and again…and again…

Paul knew this, too.  He wanted Timothy to instruct the believers in Ephesus on how to avoid being stuck in this perpetual cycle.  Take a look at what “next step” Paul says they should take after avoiding the things that will distract us from God and His purpose:

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

When we clear out the ungodly distractions in our lives, we MUST refill the time and use the effort we would previously spend on those distractions.  If we want grass and flowers to grow in our cleared-out land, then we must plant them immediately after doing the work of clearing out the garbage weeds.  It is at that moment that the ground (and our lives) are most willing to accept the change in direction.  If we wait to fill the void – the world will gladly fill it for us…

Paul knows it’s not enough to just avoid the irreverent and silly myths out there.  So, he tells Timothy to replace any time previously spent on those things with a specific plan that has a Godly focus.  His focus is to be on the things that have a “God-like-ness”, the things that point himself and others toward the God of the Universe.

Paul’s use of the phrase train yourself is no accident, either.  The Greek phrase means to exercise vigorously.  Given the city’s prominence in Greek culture, this is clearly a reference to the effort and dedication a Greek athlete would put toward his training to compete in the Ancient Olympic Games. 

Lastly, notice how Timothy had to choose to do the training.  No one else could do the work for him.  No one else is going to develop his relationship with God.  No one else can focus Timothy’s thoughts on God’s words and direction for his life.  As he chooses to plant the seeds of godliness, the growth that comes will fill up the area that was previously overrun with any irreverent and silly ideas.  Timothy’s training will become the long term investment that will keep him out of the sin cycle.

There’s a life lesson in there, if we are open to seeing it.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Avoiding spiritual distractions

We are spiritual beings.  That’s how God made us.  So naturally, we gravitate toward the spiritual aspect of life.  We look at design in nature and recognize that there must be a designer.  We observe the happenings around us and acknowledge that there is more going on than only what we can see with our eyes.  We read history from God’s perspective and marvel at His-story.

However, since we are also fallen and sinful, our understanding of spiritual topics is easily knocked off course. 

Human history is littered with wrong ideas about God, what He is like, and how we can know Him.  Before we came to know Jesus, our internal desire for “spiritual things” led us down all sorts of paths.  The difficulty, then, becomes what we will do with our old understandings in light of our relationship with Jesus?

The believers in Paul’s day had the same issues.  Ephesus was a magnificent, melting-pot metropolis.  In that town there were numerous Greek gods and goddesses – the people not only worshiped them, but also told stories, explained their history, and held festivals in their honor.  The Jewish community had many fantasy stories of angels and how to manipulate them, as well as various speculative “biographies” of Biblical characters.

These are the kinds of topics Paul wants Timothy to tackle head-on.

1 Timothy 1:3-4
As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach other doctrine or to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies. 

These promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan, which operates by faith.

The Greek word for pay attention was used to convey the word picture of bringing a ship to land.  It was also used to describe how a person is attached to someone or something, with a level of devotion or even addiction.

One of Timothy’s goals was to weed out these false ideas about God and correct the people’s fascination with myths and endless genealogies.  It wouldn’t be easy.  Some of these myths were quite popular in the culture.  Some Jews would trace their tribal heritage as proof of personal importance or value to God.

However, Paul nails down the problem with focusing on these things – they promote empty speculations rather than God’s plan.  Paul knew they couldn’t walk with God while deceiving themselves with feel-good stories or puffing themselves up with information about their lineage.  The mythical stories detracted or even contradicted God’s story.  The genealogies put the focus on them, rather than on God.  Instead, the Ephesian believers were in danger of missing the point – our relationship with God and our ability to live rightly before Him only comes through a faith that is focused on God.

However, on rare occasion, Paul would reference that a philosopher correctly identified a spiritual truth (Acts 17:28), yet this acknowledgment was stepping stone to point others toward Jesus.  He didn’t dwell there.  To continue the word picture – Paul didn’t dock his ship on the philosopher’s point.  Instead, as he continued on in his message, Paul then dropped anchor on the truth of the resurrection (Acts 17:31).

We see this same tendency toward distraction in the modern church as well.  There’s a fascination with stories of people who have gone to Heaven and come back.  There’s wide-spread speculation about angels and an abundance of feel-good stories.  We look for “Bible codes” and try to match up prophecy with the newspaper.

Whenever the next “big thing” comes through Christian-living literature, we must ask ourselves: Does the author promote empty speculations or God’s plan?  Where will we choose to drop our anchor?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Dangerous rules

We like rules.  We like them a lot.  Rules seem to make things easier, right?  Everything boils down to either black or white.  “Do this.  Don’t do that.”  No in between, no grey, no guesswork, and no mess. 

While there are clear-cut areas in life, the unfortunate truth is that most of our lives aren’t lived in black and white – not only are there grey areas, but life comes at us in a full spectrum of colors.  How do we deal with such a variety of circumstances and people?  How would God want us to deal with them?  When faced with difficult questions and situations in our relationship with God and with others, we often start looking for rules to clarify our course of action.

The believers in Colossae were dealing with a “new” teaching that was likely taught as a guideline for interacting with God and others, but it seems that the teachers were also insisting on rules to prove one’s spirituality.  From Paul’s letter we see that the rogue teachers were advocating rules for food, drink, festivals, sabbath days, worship of angels, and visions.  Paul took issue with these performance-based, surface-level-focused teachings primarily because they took the believer’s focus off of Jesus and put the attention on themselves. Paul summed it up this way:

Colossians 2:20-23
If you died with Christ to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?  Why do you submit to regulations: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”?

All these regulations refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines.  Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.

In the centuries since Paul wrote these words, the church has struggled with human commands and doctrines.  Attempting to earn God’s love, people have given in to legalistic, rules-focused teachings.  Teachings such as earning one’s salvation by doing enough good works, or maintaining one’s salvation by doing enough good works, or trying to live under the Mosaic Law are all examples of false teachings based on human ideas and desires.

Others have tried fasting with the intention to force God to decide in their favor.  Some have lived in isolation with the intention to avoid the temptations that could arise when around other people.  People have even gone as far as self-mutilation to try to keep their sinful urges in check.

On the surface, these ideas seem to have merit…but the truth is they’ve all failed to do what God desires to do in our lives.  God desires to make us Christ-like.  Paul was right when he said that the man-made rules have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, [but] they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.

These practices don’t get to the heart of the problem – because our ultimate problem isn’t our behavior, it’s our sinful nature.  These practices distract us from the real solution.  So we have to be just as careful as Paul wanted the Colossians to be – watching out for false teachings and ascetic practices.

Warren Wiersbe accurately described the dangers that modern believers must be wary of:

“When we make Jesus Christ and the Christian revelation only part of a total religious system or philosophy, we cease to give Him the preeminence.  When we strive for ‘spiritual perfection’ or ‘spiritual fullness’ by means of formulas, disciplines, or rituals, we go backward instead of forward.  Christian believers must beware of mixing their Christian faith with such alluring things as yoga, transcendental meditation, Oriental mysticism, and the like.  We must also beware of ‘deeper life’ teachers who offer a system for victory and fullness that bypasses devotion to Jesus Christ.  In all things, He must have preeminence!”

If the purpose of the rules, principles, or guidelines we follow are doing anything other than pointing us toward Christ or making us more Christ-like…then they are a waste of time and they will eventually lead us astray.  Our first clue that a particular practice is potentially dangerous is to ask the question “Where is the focus placed, on Jesus or on me?

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Shadow vs Substance

There have been many ways that man has tried to relate to God throughout the centuries.  Even though the Jewish people were given God’s law, over time they added layers of additional rules to “help” their people know exactly how to (and how not to) interact with God.

However, these “helps” did not rescue the people from their sins.  They could not rescue themselves.  They needed a Savior.  Talking about Jesus, Paul told the believers in Colossae:

Colossians 2:13-15
And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses.  He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.

Now that Jesus has made you alive, how should we worship God? 

The trouble with all these additional, specific rules was that they had become the measuring stick of how “godly” a person was.  The Israelites compared themselves with each other and judged one another’s “spirituality” by how well the 600+ rules were maintained. 

They were getting hung up on the ritual – the action that was supposed to help them look forward to the Messiah – rather than using the ritual to help them recognize the Messiah when He arrived.  Ritual observance and proficiency had become their focus.  It had been that way in Jewish communities for hundreds of years before Jesus came.

However, now that the Colossians believed on Jesus for eternal life, they needed to know that their previous ritual activities no longer held the same level of importance.

Colossians 2:16-17
Therefore don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a sabbath day.  These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah.

A shadow can give us an idea of what an object is like, by revealing the outline of the object.  However, a shadow can never tell us the true value of an object.  A ball made of styrofoam and a ball made of gold will cast the same shadow.  Therefore, a shadow is ultimately just a representation of the object, and the only value a shadow has is in how well it represents the substance.  Even then, the true value is found in the object itself.

All the historical rules about food and drink, the yearly festivals and feasts, and special days had come to a close.  Their purpose was fulfilled in Christ’s work on the cross.  It was time for the people to stop staring at the shadow because the substance responsible for the shadow had come into view. 

Going forward, everything they would do to worship God would be Jesus-focused, not activity focused.  They needed to look to the person, not the ritual.

Rituals can be helpful, but only as long as they point us toward Jesus.  We would be wise to do an inventory of our lives and worship service preferences to make sure that we’re keeping our focus on the substance of the Messiah and not getting hung up in the shadows.

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 

The good old days

The “good old days”. 

They always sound rather ideal, don’t they?  Or at the very least, better than now?

Times were simpler.  People were better.  Life was easier.  And we didn’t know how good we had it.

At least, that’s how our over-romanticized memories go.

A small scratch on the surface of any “golden age” reveals that the gold coloring is merely an overlay.  What lies underneath looks all too familiar.  In any time period, we find greed and lust, selfishness and hoarding, exploitation and lying, jealousy and promiscuity.  The human condition has not changed - we have the same struggles as our relatives did thousands of years ago.  The only difference is that now we have more technology…which we use to hide, or in some cases magnify, our sinfulness.

Read through this section of Psalm 119.  There are particular pitfalls that the author wants to avoid.  Find them, and see if they resonate with you also.

Psalm 119:33-40
Teach me, Lord, the meaning of Your statutes, and I will always keep them.
Help me understand Your instruction, and I will obey it and follow it with all my heart.
Help me stay on the path of Your commands, for I take pleasure in it.
Turn my heart to Your decrees and not to material gain.
Turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless; give me life in Your ways.
Confirm what You said to Your servant, for it produces reverence for You.
Turn away the disgrace I dread; indeed, Your judgments are good.
How I long for Your precepts!  Give me life through Your righteousness.

The dangers which the psalmist wanted to avoid are found in the center of this section.  He asked God to Turn my heart to Your decrees and not to material gain and Turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless.  The psalmist didn’t think material gain and worthless sights were just minor distractions, either.  He viewed them as being complete opposites of both the vision and goal that the Lord had for his life.

Even 1000 years later, Jesus said to those who would listen:

Matthew 6:24
No one can be a slave of two masters, since either he will hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot be slaves of God and of money.

Luke 12:15
He then told them, “Watch out and be on guard against all greed because one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions.”

When we see these same sin struggles in the world around us, it does us no good to lament about how previous times were better.  We’re simply fooling ourselves if we think down that path.  A thousand years for before Jesus came, the psalmist had the best response – asking God to turn my heart to Your decrees and turn my eyes from looking at what is worthless.

That can be our prayer, too.  Focusing on God’s ways, as He has revealed them in the Scriptures, will bring about the quality and depth of life we desire…which is much better than trying to console ourselves with over-romanticized memories of years past.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Choosing our focus

There are many things to be afraid of in this life.

Every day, the morning newspaper is full of stories about dangerous situations, unsafe people, riots, and natural disasters.  Stories about people from all walks of life with hidden agendas, corruption, and greed shaping the decisions they make.  Some days, it just feels like the whole world is closing in with evil people and bad situations. 

By his choice of words, we can see that David felt that way often…especially when he was on the run from King Saul.  Saul wanted David dead, so that he could continue being king.  Since David’s advisory was the most powerful man in the country, it seemed that everywhere David turned, he was in danger.

Here’s how David describes his situation:

Psalm 57:4
I am in the midst of lions;
I lie down with those who devour me.
Their teeth are spears and arrows;
their tongues are sharp swords.

Don’t just glaze over this description.  Let’s try and picture what David’s describing here.

You’re out in the open.  Not just in proximity to wild animals, rather there are lions who freely roam around the area where you’re standing.  You look for shelter, for cover…anything that will help you avoid an attack.  Even where you sleep at night is not entirely safe.  And you don’t have to guess as to how the lions will treat you if they find you.  There will be blood, and certainly no mercy.

How do you feel?  Where’s your focus?

In moments like these, our real priorities come into a much sharper focus.  We clearly recognize what’s important and what is not.  Survival normally becomes the driving influence in all our decisions.  We may even select a few people we trust, and then we would make our next move. 

However, David’s next move is to look up

Psalm 57:5
God, be exalted above the heavens;
let Your glory be above the whole earth.

Previously in this psalm, David has approached God for refuge and protection.  However, when the danger arrives…when Saul comes close to where David is hiding…David’s request turns away from himself and focuses solely on God’s reputation.

That is the true challenge for us.  When we find ourselves in the crucible of life, when the corruption of the world is pressing in…are we looking to merely survive the evil around us, or are we looking to advance God’s reputation in this world?  Which do we desire more? 

If we choose the focus that David did, then the scary things in life won’t be so overwhelming. 

Keep Pressing,
Ken