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 - When we don't learn God's lessons

When we don’t learn God’s lessons
originally posted on May 24, 2018

Hard times are called that for a reason…they’re hard to deal with.  But the author of Hebrews gave his readers a better perspective on how to handle the difficult times in life:

Hebrews 12:7, 11
Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons.  For what son is there that a father does not discipline?...No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

And yet I wonder…What happens when we don’t embrace God’s discipline?  What happens when we refuse to learn the lessons God is trying to teach us?

When we look back in Scripture, we find this theme of God instructing His people repeatedly, over and over.  Below is just one example of what He said to the Israelites after they had spurned Him and His ways.  In Hebrews, the end result of God’s teaching is the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  Keep an eye out for that here:

Isaiah 48:17
This is what the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel says:

I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you for your benefit,
Who leads you in the way you should go.

If only you had paid attention to my commands.
Then your peace would have been like a river,
and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Your descendants would have been as countless as the sand,
and the offspring of your body like its grains;
their name would not be cut off or eliminated from my presence.


God says His teaching would have resulted in peace as steady and calm like a river, and righteousness that is as massive and powerful like the waves of the sea.  What a beautiful (almost paradoxical) comparison…imagine your life…where you handle any/all situations with calmness and peace, and your life’s actions are so undeniably in tune with God’s plan for living that you move with power as your righteousnesspositively affects the people around you.  A life like that would be a huge comfort to us personally and even more so to those around us.

But let’s be honest…we know that we cannot grow to that level on our own.  So God offers to intentionally teach the Israelites how to be this way – how to reflect Him to the world.  It’s the same offer in our Hebrews passage, where God is training us to produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Teaching, training, and developing His people was God’s intention for the Israelites – both individually and as a nation.  It’s also His intention for us – both individually and as the church. 

But, like the Israelites, we are
hard-headed
stubborn
selfish
slow to trust God
slow to learn
prone to really messing things up
afraid

The Israelites rebelled so many times and ran so far from God, that He allowed their nation to be overtaken and plundered by other nations.  By the time Isaiah came along, they certainly were not experiencing peace or righteousness themselves.  In addition, God says the course of the following generations was also affected – their families’ descendants and offspring were heavily impacted by the foreign invasion, to the point where family names and bloodlines were cut off or eliminated.

And when we look objectively back at the times we’ve stiff-armed God, trying to keep Him at arm’s length, we can still see some of the lasting effects in our lives and the lives of our family.  Perhaps we even say to ourselves like what was said about the Israelites: if only I had payed attention to God’s commands.  Regret and depression are heavy burdens…and we are unable to undo the past.  What do we do now?

Look back at the Isaiah passage.  Right at the top, how does God describe Himself?

Your Redeemer.

He is the one who buys back, delivers, and protects those who cannot do so for themselves.  The ones who have messed up beyond what they could ever fix or repay…they find rescue in Him. 

Yes, there were heavy consequences for how far the nation of Israel ran from God – but He did not abandon them.  Yes, God disciplines His church – but we’re still part of His family.  Our loving father is also our redeemer.  He loves us enough to show us how to live rightly, how to live well.

Even if we don’t get it right the first time.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

When we don't learn God's lessons

Hard times are called that for a reason…they’re hard to deal with.  But the author of Hebrews gave his readers a better perspective on how to handle the difficult times in life:

Hebrews 12:7, 11
Endure suffering as discipline: God is dealing with you as sons.  For what son is there that a father does not discipline?...No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful.  Later on, however, it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

And yet I wonder…What happens when we don’t embrace God’s discipline?  What happens when we refuse to learn the lessons God is trying to teach us?

When we look back in Scripture, we find this theme of God instructing His people repeated, over and over.  Below is just one example of what He said to the Israelites after they had spurned Him and His ways.  In Hebrews, the end result of God’s teaching is the peaceful fruit of righteousness.  Keep an eye out for that here:

Isaiah 48:17
This is what the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel says:

I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you for your benefit,
Who leads you in the way you should go.

If only you had paid attention to my commands.
Then your peace would have been like a river,
and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.

Your descendants would have been as countless as the sand,
and the offspring of your body like its grains;
their name would not be cut off or eliminated from my presence.


God says His teaching would have resulted in peace as steady and calm like a river, and righteousness that is as massive and powerful like the waves of the sea.  What a beautiful (almost paradoxical) comparison…imagine your life…where you handle any/all situations with calmness and peace, and your life’s actions are so undeniably in tune with God’s plan for living that you move with power as your righteousness positively affects the people around you.  A life like that would be a huge comfort to us personally and even more so to those around us.

But let’s be honest…we know that we cannot grow to that level on our own.  So God offers to intentionally teach the Israelites how to be this way – how to reflect Him to the world.  It’s the same offer in our Hebrews passage, where God is training us to produce the peaceful fruit of righteousness.

Teaching, training, and developing His people was God’s intention for the Israelites – both individually and as a nation.  It’s also His intention for us – both individually and as the church. 

But, like the Israelites, we are
hard-headed
stubborn
selfish
slow to trust God
slow to learn
prone to really messing things up
afraid

The Israelites rebelled so many times and ran so far from God, that He allowed their nation to be overtaken and plundered by other nations.  By the time they got to that point in their history, they certainly were not experiencing peace or righteousness themselves.  In addition, God says the course of the following generations was also affected – their families’ descendants and offspring were heavily impacted by the foreign invasion, to the point where family names and bloodlines were cut off or eliminated.

And when we look objectively back at the times we’ve stiff-armed God, trying to keep Him at arm’s length, we can still see some of the lasting effects in our lives and the lives of our family.  Perhaps we even say to ourselves like what was said about the Israelites: if only I had payed attention to God’s commands.  Regret and depression are heavy burdens…and we are unable to undo the past.  What do we do now?

Look back at the Isaiah passage.  Right at the top, how does God describe Himself?

Your Redeemer.

He is the one who buys back, delivers, and protects those who cannot do so for themselves.  The ones who have messed up beyond what they could ever fix or repay…they find rescue in Him. 

Yes, there were heavy consequences for how far the nation of Israel ran from God – but He did not abandon them.  Yes, God disciplines His church – but we’re still part of His family.  Our loving father is also our redeemer.  He loves us enough to show us how to live rightly, how to live well.

Even if we don’t get it right the first time.

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

How to live rightly, and the benefits from it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The instruction of his God is in his heart

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken
 

Worth reading and worth fighting for

Sometimes I have to stop and ask myself a rather embarrassing question:

When was the last time you actually read something?

It’s not that I don’t read at all.  Like most everyone, there are many things every day that I need to look at and read.  Work policies, news stories, sports articles, emails, text messages, magazines, internet searches…we read lots of stuff, right?  Well, sort of.

Truth be told, I don’t read much of what’s put in front of me.  I skim.  And not just a little…I skim everything

Whether it’s the lunch menu or an official document, my tendency is to scan for key words and trust my assessment based upon what I find.  With the amount of information we’re bombarded with on a daily basis, it feels like we’d never make it through a day if we stopped to really, truly read and understood everything.  I’ve managed along through life alright with this method…it only occasionally causes me issues…but I find this habit creeping into my time with God, as well.

When reading the Bible, it’s very easy to fall into the habit of skimming so we can just “get it done” and move on the next task for the day.  And while Jesus did promise that one of the Holy Spirit’s jobs is to remind us of everything He taught (John 15:4), it’s really tough to be reminded of something we skimmed and didn’t fully understand in the first place.

So, let’s slow down, for just a moment.  Let’s read the oh-so-easy-to-skim list of characteristics Paul told Timothy to pursue.  Paul said these things were worth fighting for.  We’ll make sure we understand them…and then we’ll make sure we know how to pursue them ourselves.  You with me?

1 Timothy 6:11-12
Now you, man of God run from these things,
but pursue righteousness, godliness, faith,
love, endurance and gentleness.

Fight the good fight for the faith;
take hold of eternal life,
to which you were called
and have made a good confession
before many witnesses.

Now, let’s look at what these terms mean.

righteousness – being in a right relationship with God; living a life according to God’s standards of integrity and purity, with correct thinking, feeling, and action

godliness – reverence and respect towards God, with the desire to imitate God’s qualities

faith – the belief that God is truthful and trustworthy

love – this is agape love, a love that is specific in affection, intention, and benevolence; it is given without condition or requirement of reciprocity

endurance – steadfastness, consistency, and patient continuance; the characteristic of a person who is not swerved from their deliberate purpose and their loyalty to God, by even the greatest trials and sufferings

gentleness – mildness, humility, meekness; strength under control when interacting with others

Now that we’ve read and understood Paul’s words, where do we go from here?  Paul said they’re worth fighting for, so how do we go about doing that?

For you, maybe one characteristic stood out from the rest.  Take the next week, and ask God each day to show you ways to pursue that specific trait in your life.

Alternatively, take one characteristic each day and focus in on that.  Today, tell God you want to increase your righteousness with Him.  Ask Him to point out the areas of your life that are rightly aligned with Him.  And then ask Him to show you what parts need to be cleaned up.  Tomorrow, purse godliness and pray specifically about a characteristic of His that you want to imitate – His kindness, His generosity, His strength.  The next day, talk to God about faith and increasing your trust in Him.  And so on, for each of the six characteristics.

Follow either plan…and in a week’s time, you’ll be amazed at what God has taught you.

Thanks for reading.  Now, take hold of eternal life, to which you were called.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Humble prayers

The contents of our prayers to God reveal a lot – especially about how we view ourselves in relation to God.

Luke 18:9-14 [Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else:

“Two men went up to the temple complex to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘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, turn Your wrath from 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.”

The prayers of both men revealed their basis for relationship with God.  Everything the Pharisee said was true – he wasn’t committing the sins that he saw others do, and he gave a fraction of his life and money to God.  However, he expected God to accept him based upon these “good” things, based upon his terms.

On the other hand, the tax collector’s prayer was simple and direct.  When he said God, turn Your wrath from me, the phrase could also be translated as God, be propitious.  The word propitious isn’t used much anymore, but in this context the tax collector is asking God: May Your wrath be appeased and turned aside by the sacrifice.  The tax collector was looking to God to determine if his relationship was acceptable.

These conflicting ideas for the basis of our relationship with God go back a long way…so far, in fact, that we find them in Cain and Abel. 

Genesis 4:3-7 In the course of time Cain presented some of the land’s produce as an offering to the Lord.  And Abel also presented an offering – some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions.  The Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but He did not have regard for Cain and his offering.  Cain was furious, and he was downcast.

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you furious?  And why are you downcast?  If you do right, won’t you be accepted?  But if you do not do right, sin is crouching at the door.  Its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

Cain knew how to “do right” and approach the Lord in manner He required – with a blood sacrifice, not with Cain’s best work.  However, Cain wanted to approach God on his own terms…and his offering was rejected.  Similarly, the Pharisee went home without being justified because he wanted God to accept him for the good deeds he had done, rather than asking God to accept a substitutionary sacrifice.

The hearts of the men in Jesus’ parable were revealed in what they prayed.  One was self-focused, the other was God-focused.  One exalted himself and would eventually be humbled, either by correction or rejection from God.  The other humbled himself and would eventually be exalted, because of his relationship with God.

Let us also, then, pray humble prayers…because we know that Jesus’ blood sacrifice on the cross is the basis of our relationship with God, not anything we have done or will do.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Priorities and prayer

If we were to list our priorities in life, we would likely say that we want to have our basic needs met, we want to have a little bit ‘extra’ in reserve, and then we think that we’re in a good place to find out what God would have in store for us.  However, Jesus desires for us to have our objectives in life properly organized.  What he says should have top priority usually isn’t first in line for us.

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, and clothing] will be provided for you.

Matthew 7:7-8 Keep asking, and it will be given to you.  Keep searching, and you will find.  Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

See how Jesus flips the order on us?  He actually claims that pursuing a life that lines up with God’s priorities is more important than our basic sustenance…so much so that he makes two promises – that our basic needs will be met AND that when we aim for God’s kingdom, we’ll obtain it.

In order to drive home the point that our heavenly Father will actually reveal his kingdom and his righteousness to us, Jesus uses a comparison that we’re all familiar with – a father providing for the needs of his son.

Matthew 7:9-10 What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?

We read this and immediately think ‘Of course the father wouldn’t fulfill a good request with something useless (a stone) or something dangerous (a snake)’.

Anticipating this reaction, Jesus gives a comparison to demonstrate his application point:

Matthew 7:11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

Whenever a speaker wants his audience to understand something, he will make sure to drive the point by repeating himself in several different forms.  So don’t miss out on what Jesus is saying in this passage. 

Our pursuit of living as part of God’s kingdom and purposes is the most important aim for us in this life.  It’s even more important that what we would consider to be the basic necessities – food, drink, and clothing.  Jesus promises that the Father will fulfill our pursuit of kingdom living, even claiming that the Father is better at granting this request than we are at taking care of those closest to us.

Now that I’m convinced of the priority of seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness, I just need to answer the question ‘how’.  How do we do this?  How is the kingdom possible to obtain?

Jesus said keep asking…keep searching…keep knocking…keep pursuing it by talking to God about it.  Ask God about his kingdom, search for ways to live rightly in God’s eyes, knock when we have questions about what to do next.  In a word, we need to

Pray.

Keep Pressing,
Ken