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 Category: Genesis

Work and a hobo’s paradise

The Big Rock Candy Mountain was a song made famous by Harry McClintock in 1928.  Every few years, it finds its way back into pop culture; with some versions a little more cleaned up than others.  The gist of the song is a hobo singing about his version of paradise – a land of ease, described in fanciful terms.  There are cigarette trees, lemonade springs, and hens that lay soft-boiled eggs.  The cops have wooden legs and bulldogs have rubber teeth, and if you happen to get caught doing something you shouldn’t, then don’t worry about it – because the jails are made of tin and you can leave just as soon as you get there.  I think my favorite line is hobo’s boast that in the Big Rock Candy Mountains “there’s a lake of stew and of whiskey too, you can paddle all around it in a big canoe.

While it is a cute little song, no one would take it seriously when considering their eternal destiny.  However, there is one line in the song that stuck out to me when I first heard it.  Out of all the cartoonish imagery, there was one sentiment that made me think: “Wow.  That’s kinda funny and would be nice.”  Here’s the line:

I'm goin' to stay, where you sleep all day, where they hung the jerk, that invented work, in the Big Rock Candy Mountains.

Because work is…well, “work”…right?  It’s often a pain.  We view it as some “necessary evil” that we must endure because we like to eat food and have working light switches.  Given the choice between going to work and not going to work – I’m pretty sure that 99% of us would not go.  Throw in the idea that someone, somewhere may have invented the concept of work?  Yeah…nobody would care much for that guy.

But is work really our problem?  And who invented it, anyway?

I think most Christians and Jews would place the blame solely on Adam.  After he and Eve blew it, here’s what God had to say about Adam’s curse:

Genesis 3:17-19
And He said to the man, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘Do not eat from it’:

The ground is cursed because of you.  You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. 
It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field.
You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground, since you were taken from it.  For you are dust, and you will return to dust.

Adam and Eve sinned by eating – from here on, they would suffer in order to eat.  Notice that God didn’t hand out working assignments.  He didn’t have to explain what “work” was; instead, God said that work would now become painful labor.  While his efforts would be able to feed his family, Adam would have to contend with thorns and thistles.

We have to go a little further back in Adam and Eve’s story to find the origin of work:

Genesis 1:27-29, 2:15
So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He create them male and female

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it.  Rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and every creature that crawls on the earth.”  God also said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the surface of the entire earth and every tree who fruit contains seed.  This will be food for you…

The Lord God took the man and placed him in the garden of Eden to work it and watch over it.

To fulfill these directions from God, Adam and Eve would have to do some work!  But since this was before sin corrupted everything – including the ground – what do you think their work was like?  What would you do if all creatures and plants cooperated with you and your efforts? 

Don’t think of the garden of Eden as being a little vegetable plot.  This “garden” was more like an arboretum.  So in addition to their responsibility to rule over the world, Adam was also God’s official landscaper…and there wasn’t a weed, thistle, or thorn to be found.  Imagine what a master gardener could do if they didn’t have to fight off the weeds!

This was how paradise started – not with lakes of stew and all-day sleep-fests, but with Adam and Eve partnering with God.  They worked and managed creation.  They walked and talked with God.  The land readily produced food for them.

I look forward to the day when Paradise Lost becomes Paradise Restored.  In Eternity Future, we’ll be able to live and work without sin and selfishness thwarting our efforts.  Just like we were created to do.

Keep Pressing
Ken

It's all good

It’s all good!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So we should ask ourselves:

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

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

It’s all good.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Practical application: work (part 2)

I’ve often wondered why work is just so difficult some times.  Despite the best intentions and efforts of the people around me, the work to be done always takes more effort than it should, is never produced as quickly as it could be, and the full potential of a given project never seems to be fully realized.  When I take a moment to consider these short-comings, it leaves me rather frustrated with thoughts of what could have been if certain issues had not gotten in the way.

The truth of the matter is that these constant issues in our work are part of the consequences for Adam’s sin against God:

Genesis 3:17-18
The ground is cursed because of you.  You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you

The biggest thorns and thistles we deal with at work typically fall into these categories: motivation, appropriate pay, politics, or management issues.  Any one of these thorns can cause major problems, but our daily experience usually combines several of them together. 

While Paul was instructing slaves on how they were to view and conduct their daily responsibilities, his directions are something that we can also apply as we deal with our own responsibilities:

Colossians 3:23-4:1
Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men, knowing that you will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord – you serve the Lord Christ.  For the wrongdoer will be paid back for whatever wrong he has done, and there is no favoritism.

Masters, supply your slaves with what is right and fair, since you know that you too have a Master in heaven.

Did you notice how Paul addressed each one of our major thorn categories?

Issues with our own motivation really comes down to who we believe we’re responsible to.  Are we working for our boss, our co-workers, or just trying to make some money to support our families?  If that’s the case, remember that at some point, our boss, co-workers, or family will let us down.  When that happens, our work will suffer because we’ll begin to believe that our efforts aren’t worthy of the person we’re working for.  Instead, we need to remember that our daily work is something done for the Lord and not for men.  We honor God and His reputation when we enthusiastically give our best in the task at hand.

Whether our earthly boss is fair or not, do we trust God to give good rewards?  If anyone is going to be cutting checks, wouldn’t you want God to do it?  Not only is he able to evaluate the finished product, but He knows all the details of how the project work was done…all the way down to the moment-by-moment motivation of the workers.  Even if we don’t receive an immediate payoff for our efforts, we must keep in mind that we will receive the reward of an inheritance from the Lord and the quality of this reward is based upon what we accomplish and how we accomplished it.

One of our major thorns has to do with injustice and favoritism in the workplace.  However, do we believe that the person who wrongs us will be held accountable by God?  Our desire for fairness is real and justified.  However, when office politics and favoritism muddies up a situation…do we trust God when He says He’ll take care of it?  Even if we have to wait for Him to do so?

Lastly, we have all experienced the pains of ineffective, or even incompetent, management.  Paul’s point here is that if we find ourselves in a position overseeing the work of others, it is imperative that we remain humble and do what is right by the people who work for us.  After all, isn’t that how our Master in heaven treats us?

Thorns and thistles and painful labor will continue to be part of our daily lives until Jesus returns.  Until then, whenever the issues are dragging us down, we just need to remember Who it is we’re truly working for.

Colossians 3:23-4:1
Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men

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

Reflections

Reflections.  Imitations. 

We’re all echoes of what has been modeled for us, either good or bad.  Growing up we watch our parents, our friends, politicians, sports stars, celebrities – and then decide for ourselves what values and behaviors are worth emulating, and which ones are not.  Nowadays, we “follow” certain people or groups in social media.  When we need help or advice, we seek out people who have succeeded in business, parenting, finances, or leadership…and then put their recommendations into practice.  We’re imitators, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  In fact, we were built that way:

Genesis 1:26-27 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, overall the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

We are reflections of our Creator.  We are made in his image.  From these verses in Genesis, we find that we represent some of God’s attributes and mimic some of his authority over the rest of creation.

When we find directions in the rest of Scripture to do some things and avoid other activities, they aren’t just rules where God is “bossing us around”.  The guidelines that God spells out in the Bible are there to show us how to best reflect the characteristics of God that he has instilled in us.

Paul wanted Titus to remind the Cretan believers of how the choices they made and the character of their lives would represent God to the morally bankrupt culture which surrounded them.

Titus 3:1-2 Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

As always, Jesus is our perfect example of how to reflect God to the culture around us.  Looking at his life, we find that Jesus was

subject to rulers and authorities – even the corrupt ones
obedient – he followed through with God the Father’s plan of Salvation, even though it meant his death
ready to do good – he always acted in the best interest of everyone he encountered
slandering no one – he never spoke deceitfully
peaceable and considerate – he always engaged people in the moment, where they were at
true humility toward all men – the King of kings purposely chose to be the servant of all

When we follow Christ’s example, we fulfill our purpose and become what we were created to be.    

Which of these six traits will you reflect today?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Healthy teachings for the younger women

Titus 2:1 You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine.

Although it is Titus’ responsibility to teach the Cretan believers how to do life in light of Christ rescuing us from the penalty of our sins, Paul specifically states that

Titus 2:4 [the older women] can train the younger women…

It is within this relationship framework that younger women can learn to handle life’s challenges.  Paul identifies several lessons that the young women of Crete will need help in both understanding and applying…and Paul recognizes that they will need the guidance of an older woman to get there.

Titus 2:4-5 Then [the older women] can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

An easy, knee-jerk response would be to start picking off individual items from the list and turning them into arguments.  However, before we do that, it would be wise to consider why Paul is listing these specific topics for the Cretan women to learn and apply.  Paul gives his reasoning at the end of the verse five:

Titus 2:5 …so that no one will malign the word of God.

Other translations render the phrasing as so that God’s message will not be slandered or discredited or dishonored.  Paul is indicating that if the Cretan young women were to choose against the listed character traits, then there is the possibility that God’s message would be poorly represented or the reputation of the gospel could be damaged…even to the point that outsiders might ignore the good news of the gospel.

The heart of what Paul is getting at is this: that a young woman’s walk needs to match her talk.   Her life should mirror the good news of Christ’s salvation, and to live otherwise would discredit God’s life-changing message.  Remember that the Cretan reputation and accepted daily culture was to be always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.  Living in accordance with the healthy teaching of the gospel would be clearly counter-cultural.  A quick look at the opposites helps demonstrate this point:

What does a young woman communicate about the gospel
if instead of aiming to love [her] husband and children, she lives selfishly?
if instead of aiming to be self-controlled and pure, she lives reckless and immoral?
if instead of aiming to be busy at home, she is consumed by exterior passions?
if instead of aiming to be kind, she chooses to be cruel?
if instead of aiming to be subject to [her] husband, she undercuts her husband’s role and authority within the family unit?

All these lessons derive from one point of contention – a woman’s relationships, especially those within her own family.  These difficulties find their root all the way back to Eve’s part of the curse.  Adam and Eve’s sin introduced different, specific consequences into the world.  One of the consequences that God told to Eve was that:

Genesis 3:16 Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.

Sin broke the natural order of what God had created all life to function under.  Part of the curse clearly damaged a woman’s relationship with her husband – that from then on, he will rule over you.  The effects of this curse (and Adam’s) have echoed throughout human history ever since.  For the Cretan women to decide live in such a way that mirrors Christ’s love and Christ’s life would be absolutely counter-cultural.  Her choice to love her family in this sacrificial, dynamic way would produce a life that would force those around her to recognize that the gospel she believes in is both revolutionary and life-changing.

Paul never says this list is easy.  He never indicates that a young woman will get it right on the first try.  But these choices are so important that Paul specifically states that the young women will need to be taught and mentored by an older woman in order to live them out.  The young women aren’t supposed to “just figure it out” all on their own.

If you fit the category of a younger woman, ask God for an older woman to come along side and mentor you.  You have a tough job, but you don’t have to do it alone.

If you don’t fit the category of a younger woman, think of those you know.  Ask God to give them the desire to ensure that their walk reflects God’s impact on their lives.

Keep Pressing,
Ken