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

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 

Blindsided

Blindsided.
Knocked down.
Run over.
Left for dead.

Life does that sometimes.  Just completely out of the blue, you get that phone call.  A relative in good health suddenly dies.  A friend’s child is in an accident.  Layoffs.  Divorce.  Cancer.  Any number of things can take us out at the knees without any warning.

And we’re quickly reminded of how fragile and small we really are.

In Psalm 119:25-32, the author use two descriptive phrases to relate how he feels after life has knocked him down.  First he says, my life is down in the dust.  Other translations render his words as my soul clings to the dust or I collapse in the dirt.  He feels so low that he can only relate to the trampled dirt on the ground.  Secondly he says, I am weary from grief.  Other translations relay the author’s meaning by stating my soul melts from heaviness and my soul weeps because of grief.  We can relate to the psalmist because we’ve all had times when our hearts are so heavy that even our souls are shedding tears.

Our typical reactions to getting knocked down by life is to ask God “Why me?” or, if we’re feeling mature, we’ll ask “God, what are You trying to teach me in this?”  However, the psalmist has neither of those responses.

As you read this section of Psalm 119, look for where the psalmist turns to when life has brought him down low:

Psalm 119:25-32
My life is down in the dust; give me life through Your word.
I told You about my life, and You listened to me; teach me Your statutes.
Help me understand the meaning of Your precepts so that I can meditate on Your wonders.
I am weary from grief; strengthen me through Your word.
Keep me from the way of deceit, and graciously give me Your instruction.
I have chosen the way of truth; I have set Your ordinances before me.
I cling to Your decrees; Lord, do not put me to shame.
I pursue the way of Your commands, for You broaden my understanding.

When life has him down in the dust to the point where he is weary from grief, the psalmist looks for life and strength though Your word.  He’s not looking for an explanation or a life-lesson, rather he is looking for God himself, as revealed in Scripture.

It is noteworthy that when he asks God to help me understand, he’s not looking for the meaning of what knocked him down to the ground…instead he’s asking God to explain the meaning of Your precepts.  Again, he’s not focused on how he got there or why he got there…he’s focusing on meeting God in the midst of it all.

When life has knocked him down, the psalmist implicitly trusts God with all aspects of the situation.  And he seeks God through the Scriptures to reinforce his faith.

So should we.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Intentionally written, intentionally read

There are times in our lives when we recognize that we are lacking, that we need to remember certain information or develop a particular skill.  The wise response to this realization is the choice to grow, but it is also just the first step in the process.  The hard part is to actually put forth the effort and energy to make sure we retain the desired information or develop the required skill.

The author of Psalm 119 apparently felt this way also.  The psalm forms the longest chapter in the Bible, with 176 verses.  However, the structure of the psalm is just as striking as the subject matter.

The psalmist’s main topic is his relationship with God, through His revealed word.  The psalmist marvels at the depth and riches provided by the Scriptures as they point toward the ultimate relationship of our lives.  The author thought so highly of the topic, that not only did he discuss it for 176 verses, but he intentionally wrote the psalm in a format that would make it easy to memorize.

Psalm 119 is divided into 22 sections of 8 verses each.  Each section corresponds to one of the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  In fact, each of the 8 verses in every section begin with a word that starts with the same letter.  For example, the first word of the first 8 verses always begin with the letter Alef; the first word of the second 8 verses always begin with the letter Bet; and the pattern continues through all 22 Hebrew letters.

Why would the author go to this level of detail? 

The psalmist is providing the ABC’s of a relationship with God, in a format that would make it easy to memorize.  This level of intentionality shows how important the psalm’s topic is to the author.  Pick a letter, any letter – because having even one section, just 8 verses, committed to memory would form a bedrock reminder of how our relationship with God is founded upon our handling of God’s Scriptures.

We’re going to look though several sections of Psalm 119.  I would highly encourage you to read through all 22 sections…but not in one sitting.  This psalm isn’t a microwave meal, it is meant to be slow-cooked and allowed to simmer in our minds.  Since the author intentionally wrote it that way, let’s handle it that way also.

The first verse sets the tone for the entire psalm:

Psalm 119:1
How happy are those whose way is blameless, who live according to the law of the Lord!

Other translations render the first word of the “Alef” section as Joyful or Blessed…and this feeling, this state of mind, is a direct result of us living our lives according to the law of the Lord

Do we believe him?  Given the amount of effort the author has put forth for this psalm, let’s intentionally look at the Scriptures and find out.

Keep Pressing,
Ken 

Remembering God's words

Just before Jesus died on the cross, He directly quoted two different psalms.  With everything He had endured in the previous 24 hours, how was He able to keep His mind focused enough to recall something David had written 1000 years previously?

When we think about the various settings around Jesus during His week before the cross, it becomes obvious that He wasn’t spending His time skimming the scrolls or trying to cram in a phrase or two during the Last Supper.  For Jesus to clearly recall God’s Word on the cross, in the midst of such intense trial and pain, He must have spent time previously with the Scriptures available to Him…and not just a little time, either.  To have Scripture at the tip of His tongue, to be able to recall God’s exact words while the whole world is crashing down…would require both preparation and repetition. 

The Jewish education system at the time was founded upon the student’s ability to memorize large portions of the Old Testament, beginning with the first five books of our Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  If a student did well, he would move on to the prophets and wisdom literature. 

Certainly Jesus did well, not only memorizing Scripture but also understanding it.  This was evidenced when He was 12 and went to the temple:

Luke 2:46-47 After three days, they found Him in the temple complex sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all those who heard Him were astounded at His understanding and His answers.

His ability to converse with the teachers of the Law would have come from the amount of time spent in the Scriptures.  A fair assumption would be that a significant amount of time in the Old Testament Scriptures before His public ministry began at age 30.  Doing so helps explain why Jesus was ready and able to quote Scripture when being tempted by Satan…because as a youth, He spent His time preparing for the days ahead when He would need to recall God’s Word.

The same principle is available to us as well.  The more time we spend in God’s Word, the more ready we are when difficulties arise.  When a crisis hits, how comforting would it be to be able to remind ourselves of what God has previously said?  In fact, this coincides with one of Jesus’s last promises to His disciples:

John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit – the Father will send Him in My name – will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you.

However, it is more difficult for the Holy Spirit to remind us of what Jesus said, if we haven’t been looking in the first place…

Putting the same Scriptures in front of our eyes often and meditating on them helps commit them to memory.  So let’s do the same with the psalm we’ve been looking at.  Having the promises we’ve learned – that when our hearts are without strength, we can trust God to handle our current circumstances.  We can trust God with our present struggles, as well as our future issues, because we remember how God has protected and strengthened us during previous crises.

Let’s take Jesus at His word and follow His example.  Pay attention to these four verses this week.  Read them often, say them out loud.  Do your best to bury these words deep in your mind, so that when the time comes, the Holy Spirit will be able to bring them to the front of your mind and the tip of your tongue.

Psalm 61:1-4

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

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

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

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Excellent and profitable

Titus 3:8 This is a trustworthy saying.  And I want you to stress these things,

The New Testament church was living during the time when the New Testament was being written.  While that seems like an obvious statement, we need to remember that when Paul wrote this letter to Titus, the amount of Scripture available to believers was significantly less that what is available to us. 

If an actual parchment copy was available, then the Cretan believers would have had the Old Testament, and perhaps a few of Paul’s early letters.  That’s it.  So the first century church developed Creeds, or statements that could be memorized, which explained their faith in Jesus and encouraged the believers to live out their faith before others.  These Creeds needed to be dependable and worthy of confidence, short enough to memorize, and pity enough to communicate truth.  The section we have been looking at contains one of those statements.

Titus 3:3-7 At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures.  We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another.  But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.  He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

While it might seem impossible to memorize this much of Scripture all at once…when we’re honest with ourselves, we know many songs longer than these verses, and we know the songs word-for-word as soon as we hear the first three chords. 

Memorizing these five verses helped the first century believers stay on track with their relationships with God and with those around them.  If we take the time and put in a little effort, they can be the same life-giving reminder to us as well.

But you don’t have to take my word for it, take a look at what Paul told Titus about this Creed:

Titus 3:8 And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.  These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.

Strive to have everything we do be something both excellent and profitable.  Committing God’s truth to memory will definitely do that.  You’ll be surprised at how easy it really is to memorize Scripture, and you’ll be even more amazed at the impact it will have on your life.

Keep Pressing,
Ke