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Friday, January 16, 2015

Get on and keep on!

"Keep on" - two words with much meaning.  To "keep on" one must have begun the journey. There must have been a clear starting point - a launching pad of sorts from which one begins to take the steps in some particular venture.  For believers, this is the moment they say "yes" to Jesus.  For non-believers, this might be the moment they begin to feel the "niggling" of need in their life which causes they to be curious to find what is missing in their lives.  Either way, there is this starting point.  To "keep on" also implies there is a tendency in us to be slowed down, or even stopped completely along this journey.  The words are instruction, but they are also encouragement.  There are times when "keep on" will take on the meaning of a prod to get us into movement again, while at others they are simply words to encourage us to not give up.  As we consider this instruction today, let us not forget the tendency we have to become discouraged or distracted - either of these traits can keep us from "keeping on" in our pursuit of all that is God's best for our lives.

Keep on being faithful to what you were taught and to what you believed. After all, you know who taught you these things. Since childhood, you have known the Holy Scriptures that are able to make you wise enough to have faith in Christ Jesus and be saved. Everything in the Scriptures is God’s Word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live. The Scriptures train God’s servants to do all kinds of good deeds. (2 Timothy 3:14-17 CEV)

Our instruction this morning begins with both words of encouragement and instruction: "Keep on being faithful to what you were taught and to what you believed".  I think Paul might have given Timothy a little insight here into the hearts of many of us - for we all have moments when God's teaching - those things we have learned already - becomes a little too "familiar" to us.  Any teaching we view as "familiar" can actually become something we "gloss over" and don't pay as close attention to.  For example, if we know the speed limit is 55 mph on a certain strip of highway, but we have allowed the car's speed to edge upwards to 65 mph and we haven't been caught and fined for the infraction, we will likely learn to think of the speed limit signs as just a suggestion or "nice concept".  If we do this with the teachings of God in our lives, we run into some dangerous areas of compromise which will open us up to even greater areas of compromise.  This is why we are encouraged to "keep on" with attentive consideration to the teachings we have already received (and maybe mastered) in our lives.  We cannot let them slip away or edge toward compromise just because we aren't attentive to them.

The scriptures are our source of so much instruction, but as we all realize, instruction is nothing without some form of "practice".  It becomes "instrumental" in our lives only when we put it into practice. That which is practiced does eventually become habit, but remember this - habit can become simply habit (repetitive action without any real challenge).  A perfect example of this is when a believer blindly just gets up in the morning, grabs his Bible, then turns to the next page in his reading plan, and reads for the sake of checking off the daily reading.  One might think he is doing a good job because  he has "taken in" scripture that day, but trust me on this one, if all we do is read to check the box, we don't get what we were supposed to from it - the habit has become a habit.  Instruction has to be coupled with practice - we have to ask God where that truth needs to be applied today - who needs our forgiveness; what words are we speaking that don't bring God glory; where should we spend our time so it has the greatest impact today?  When we begin to actually approach our time in the Word with an open and teachable heart, it is different than just pursuing a reading plan.

So many of us have a tendency to renew our commitment to read through the Bible at the beginning of the year.  We make plans to undertake this cycle of reading, following some preset plan or devotional.  This is all good, but remember this - no "cycle" actually produces good results unless that "cycle" is one which requires us to "exercise"!  As Paul points out, the scriptures are useful for teaching.  This means when we need information on decisions we are trying to make - we go there to learn what to do.  There are times when scripture just doesn't lay it all out for us, though.  There weren't retirement plans and stock investments in biblical times, but there were farmers and ranchers who took on the task of laying up stores in the storehouse, so we can see the principles of wise stewardship of what God has given us. When we begin to seek the wisdom of scriptures in helping us to direct our use of finances, we find many examples.  We are using the scriptures to guide our actions.  This is good! 

We also see where scripture does the most painful work of correcting behaviors or attitudes which are just plainly not right.  When we approach scripture with the desire to come away different than we were when we first explored it, we find we get a little nudge to correct some things in our lives which just don't line up the way they should.  This is also good!  We need correction - it keeps us honest and it also keeps us humble!  Both are things we need to embrace - an honest estimate of our actions and the humility to admit when they aren't "right on".  If we are to "keep on", we certainly want to be "right on" in those actions!  So, when we approach the scriptures open to the possibilities of what we might learn from them, we start the journey - when we actually use them to help us get or remain "right on" in our actions, we are using them to "keep on".  Someone once told me the journey wouldn't be all I expected - since most of the time we think this Christian experience is going to be a bed of rose petals.  I have learned there are a whole lot of "stickers" on those roses!  Some of them will actually "prick" a little as I enjoy the roses God sets out for me.  Just sayin!