Articles

Christian Education Devotionals (94)

These devotionals were originally written by Hope PR Christian School (Walker, MI) teacher Brian D. Dykstra for his fellow teachers. They are posted here for their broader significance and for broader use by Christian parents and other Christian school teachers.

House Curses or Blessings? (2)

House Cursings or Blessings? (2)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker, MI

“The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just” (Prov. 3:33).

Now let us look at some examples in Scripture. How does this apply to the people in II Kings 9:30-37 and I Kings 17.

Think of Jezebel and Elijah during the days of dreadful famine in Israel. We all know Jezebel. Jezebel does not strike us a one who would say, “The dear common people of my nation are suffering and sliding into poverty. Many of them are even having a hard time finding enough to eat. I should give up some of my luxuries to show my willingness to take up my part of this burden.” Jezebel is not that kind of person. She would maintain her wealth and luxury.

Jezebel was born a princess and is now a queen and would live her life as such. She lived in wealth and had everything she could hope to have. She was rich. She was royalty. There is no way for us to know this from the Bible’s description of her but tradition has it that she was beautiful too. She had what so many people of the world would love to have. Despite all of these earthly things, which might make many jealous of her, her household, no matter how fine or beautiful, was cursed by God through and through. As a princess and a queen she had lived in a palace all of her life, right up until she was thrown from the window. We know that at her death she went to a place which was not so nice. God’s curse is in the house of the wicked.

Now let us look at an example of the just. How was Elijah doing at this same time? For a time he lived by the brook Cherith. I don’t suppose he had what we would normally call a house. He certainly wasn’t living in luxury. Yet God blessed him for obediently doing His will and gave him his daily bread.

Then Elijah went to the widow of Zaraphath. There was no fine living here either. Widows often were not rich. When Elijah met her, she was down to her last handful of meal and a bit of oil, and had a couple of sticks to prepare her last meal. We would not volunteer to live with a widow woman who was this poor. From an earthly point of view, we would prefer to live in luxury with Jezebel.

The widow would prepare one final meal, and then she and her son would begin the slow process of starving to death. These were not bright days for her and her household. Because she was a widow, she does not have a husband who works hard every day to earn the money the family would need to buy their daily bread. She wouldn’t be able to earn much money to continue to purchase the food she needed.

Yet the widow’s household knew the blessing of God. The barrel of meal did not fail. This barrel was not always full being refilled to the brim each time the widow took out the needed meal. She emptied it only to find that, when it was time to eat again, there was just enough at the bottom of the barrel once more. The barrel was never full but every time she opened it to prepare the daily meal, God saw to it that there was just enough there for everybody in the house. The same was true for the oil.

Elijah and the widow’s house knew the blessing of God to be more than mere earthly meal and oil. Elijah did not spend his days during the famine quietly sitting under a shady tree waiting for the widow to bring his daily portion of food. He must have taught her about God and how He must be worshipped. When her son died, she asked, “What have I to do with thee, O thou man of God? Art thou come unto me to call my sin to remembrance, and to slay my son?” This means she had learned about sin and how sin offends God. She learned God is just and punishes sin. However, she had learned to put aside her old ways of sin. She says her sins were called to remembrance. These were not sins in which she continued to live. She also learned that what Elijah said was true when her son was brought back to life. God is able to call for life where once there was only death. The physical return to life of her son pictures the giving of spiritual life where once there was only death. The widow would not know this if all Elijah did was sit around the house and do nothing. He instructed the widow and she believed by faith. God’s blessed the house of the just. They shared the joy of knowing that some day God would send the Messiah to save His people from their sin.

There is no middle ground. There is a curse in the house of the wicked and God blesses the dwelling of the just. God does not curse the house of the wicked some of the time and bless them at other times. God does not bless the just, but then allow His curse to come on them now and then. It is always one or the other. God does not change either. Those who are under His curse shall always be under God’s curse. Those whom God has justified will always be blessed by Him. God will be faithful to us. God is good to the just, the just who have had their sins taken away by Christ. We, in gratitude for His blessings, must now live in thankful obedience to Him.

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House Curses or Blessings? (1)

House Cursings or Blessings? (1)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS in Walker, MI

“The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just” (Prov. 3:33).

Solomon teaches us a spiritual lesson in this proverb by having us look at the dwelling places of two men. One of the men is wicked and the other man is just.

Let’s think first about the man whom the Bible calls wicked. This wicked man is one who does wrong. He sins. Although this man is wicked, he is not what the world would call evil. We are Calvinists, so we would say this man is totally depraved. However, being totally depraved does not mean that we would find this man sneaking around the neighbourhood smashing windows or breaking in doors in order to steal. He does not prowl around the city with a gun or knife murdering people because he loves violence. The wrongs this wicked man commits do not result in his coming before a judge waiting for the judge to give him time in jail.

We believe the Bible’s teaching which says that man is totally depraved by nature. However, total depravity does not mean that the reprobate, the wicked, are always violent all of the time. They are not mean, rotten, and nasty all day every day. The reprobate even do things which appear very helpful, nice and kind. What makes everything they do sinful is that they do not do anything because they love God. They do not do anything from faith. No matter how “kind” an act may be, no matter how helpful the wicked might be in someone’s time of need, because they do not act out of love for God or out of faith, the wicked sin.

Now let us notice where the wicked live. Solomon notes that this wicked man lives in a house. He is not living in a tent or some temporary shelter made of tree branches and palm fronds. Perhaps this house is a bit nicer than average since he seems to know how to make a dollar go just a little farther for him than most other people do. Because of his little tricks in business deals, he has the extra money he needs to make his house just a little nicer than the other houses in his neighbourhood. He is doing well for himself and is comfortable. From an earthly point of view, he has no complaints.

Despite the way in which this wicked man lives, which might cause us to feel a touch of envy since he seems to be well-off, God’s curse is in his house. Solomon writes that God’s curse is not just on the house of the wicked, this curse is in the house of the wicked.

We need to take a careful look at the difference between “on” and “in.” It is an important difference. I will give you an illustration about the difference between ON and IN.

One reason why I do not like to work on cars is that my hands become covered with that film of dirty oil. Some of you might not enjoy eating certain foods because they make your hands a sticky mess. This curse from God is not as a layer of something nasty on your hands. When the filth is merely on your hands, one can wash it off and you are done with it. No, this curse is not just on this house, but God’s curse is in this house through and through. This is more like a poison which has worked its way into your body. No matter how clean you make the outside of your body by using plenty of soap, you can’t wash away the poison which is deep inside of you. In the house of the wicked, there is no little corner or closet where one could escape this curse. God’s curse fills every room there. God’s curse cannot be wiped away. This curse is just rottenness all the way through to every little space in the house.

Solomon contrasts this with the just man. This just man is not just because he has reached perfect obedience through a supreme effort of his own will. He would not be pointed out by others as a man who has never done any offence to another. You would not point out that man after church and say that he is one of the few people you know who never sins or does anything wrong. Although the Bible calls him just, he too has his sins. He does sin and he would admit his sins to you too. He is just in the eyes of God. God has cleansed him from his sin. The sins of which he is guilty have been taken away. Christ has paid for his sins. God sees him as though he has never committed any sin, because Christ has taken every sin away and Christ’s perfect obedience is placed on him.

This just man, however, has only a habitation, not a nice house. The Bible is speaking of a mere temporary shelter, more of what was called a sheep-cote than a permanent house. A sheep-cote was not built to last years and years. It was merely a carefully arranged pile of branches which would protect the sheep but it wasn’t anything like the cosy houses we live in. This just man isn’t rich. His dwelling is not the nicest place in the neighbourhood.

What he does have and experience, however, is very valuable. He wouldn’t sell it to you for any amount of money. He wouldn’t trade this possession for a palace because what he has is the blessing of his heavenly Father. He can live his life in spiritual joy, even when God brings him through times of hardship or sorrow. He knows the blessing of his Father is with him.

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The Wise Shall Inherit Glory (2)

The Wise Shall Inherit Glory (2)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School in Walker, MI

Proverbs 3:35: “The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.”

Now we will examine the fools. Fools will not have it so good. The fool says that there is no God. A fool lives life as though there is no sovereign Judge who knows all that the fool does and thinks. This denial of God is made despite the fact of the clear testimony of all of creation. Creation tells everybody that there is a God. Only fools refuse to hear what creation tells them.

The greatest height which can be attained by fools is shame. That is their promotion, the highest rank they can achieve, shame. A promotion is something a person has worked for long and hard. This is what they have earned, unlike an inheritance which is something that is given. Fools exerted themselves and made sacrifices to earn their promotion. In school, students are promoted, move higher, to the next grade when they have done their school work well enough. You did the work your teacher gave you. You did not have too many mistakes in the work you did. You did the work and were promoted to the next grade. You worked hard to earn the right to move up to a higher level.

However, these fools worked hard to achieve shame. Shame makes us want to hide our faces and not be seen by anyone again. You just want to creep away and disappear because now people have come to realize what you really are. There will be no more proud lifting up of the head because someone feels that they are so special and wonderful. Fools will know the shame pronounced upon them by God is the sad condition which they have so richly earned. It takes a fool to work so hard and long to reach the level of shame. Working that hard for shame just doesn’t make sense. It’s foolish.

The fool lives in a way which leads to the shame of hell and God’s anger always being upon someone. It’s the shame of rejecting God when you should have known better. It’s the shame of knowing that you didn’t think you needed Christ to save you from your sins. You foolishly either didn’t care about your sins or felt that you were a pretty good person and would be able to go to heaven anyway.

That is quite a contrast. The fool has earned his terrible destiny. The fools’ everlasting shame has been won through hard work. It takes much hard work to convince one’s self that there is no God. Many smart people have earned high-powered engineering degrees to design and build very expensive equipment to try to learn the basic principles of the universe, when all the while they deny the most fundamental truth of everything they can see, the fact that God made everything.

The fool earned the shame of God’s punishment. The truly wise, those who take God and His Word as truth, receive glory, a glory they inherited because of the hard, sacrificial work of their Saviour on the cross.

How foolish to think God would be satisfied with the fruit and vegetables Cain grew. There was no blood in Cain’s sacrifice. There had to be the blood of an animal as a picture of what Christ had to do on the cross to save His people from their sins. Cain was sinfully foolish.

Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God. Abel served God the way God said He wanted to be served, with the sacrifice of an animal and the shedding of blood. Abel would not rely on his own work to earn something from God. Abel was humble. Abel knew what God wanted and obediently did it. Rather than try to impress God with his own works, Abel would depend on the blood which would be shed for his sins. Abel was wise.

Cain now has the shame of being known as the first murderer. He has the shame of having this written about him in the Bible in I John 3:12: “Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother’s righteous.” Cain now must suffer the punishment of God’s everlasting anger against his sin.

Abel inherited glory. Abel is in heaven. Abel is mentioned in Hebrews 11 as a great example of faith. Abel was righteous. Hebrews 11:4 says that Abel “obtained witness that he was righteous.” Abel was just in doing what was right in God’s eyes. Abel was lowly. When he knew Cain was jealous of him and hated him, Abel did not sneak around and plan to kill Cain first. The meaning of Abel’s name is lowly, for his name means, “weakling.” Abel is not a name which would remind him to be proud of himself because he was so great.

Now we have the prayers of the Pharisee and the publican in the parable told by Christ in Luke 18. The people of Christ’s day looked up to the Pharisees because they were really good in the eyes of men. Not only did they keep God’s law, they even added their own laws to God’s and obeyed those laws too. It’s similar to doing extra credit work in school even if your teacher didn’t say that you could. If you were to ask a Pharisee to give you an example of a sin they had committed, they would have a hard time finding one because they were so good. Because they felt they were so good, if not perfect, they were very proud of themselves. In his prayer, the Pharisee mentions how bad other people are and lists his good works. They did not need Christ to save them from their sins because they did not have any sins they needed to have forgiven. They relied on themselves for salvation, not Christ and the cross. Pharisees were so foolish they did not even see how sinful they were. Christ says the Pharisee would be made abased, made low, shameful. The Pharisee was a fool and would rise no higher than shame.

The publicans of Christ’s day were hated. They were tax collectors. People do not like tax collectors. Publicans were often cheaters who looked for sneaky ways to take people’s money which they would keep for themselves so they could become rich. The publican in this parable is humble. He was wise and saw his sin. He was wise enough to know he could not save himself. He could be saved from sin only because God is merciful. Christ says the publican was justified. His sins were taken away. He would inherit glory.

Are we wise so we will inherit glory or are we fools, promoted to shame? God works in the hearts of His people to make them wise. We must be thankful for our inheritance.

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The Wise Shall Inherit Glory (1)

The Wise Shall Inherit Glory (1)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School in Walker, MI

Proverbs 3:35: “The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.”

First in this article, we will learn about the meaning of what Solomon wrote in Proverbs, “The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.” Then we will look at two examples which will show us the difference between what happens to the wise and what happens to fools. Our first example will be Cain and Abel, the well-known story from Genesis 4. The second example will be of the parable of the Pharisee and the publican which we read in Luke 18.

We start with what Solomon wrote, “The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.” In this verse, Solomon presents us with contrast, two things which are very different one from another. The contrast is great. In this verse, we do not face a wide range of possibilities. We face an either/or situation. There is one thing or there is the other. There cannot be anything else. Glory and shame are the only possibilities and there is no going from one to the other. The wise inherit glory. Fools ascend no higher than shame.

Who are the wise who will inherit glory? They are not the famous men and women in the world. Although God has given some of His people great talent and ability, and although some have even risen to positions of prominence and wealth, such is not the general condition of God’s people. Being wise has nothing to do with one’s standardized test scores, such as the Iowa Basic Tests, which we take every other year, or IQ. Wisdom is not the intellect so valued in the world of how to ascend to the higher rungs of the social ladder through the dedicated use of one’s wits and cunning. Wisdom is the fear of God which leads to faithful, diligent study of His Word which the wise recognize as the standard of all truth.

The glory that the wise inherit is not the kind of glory the world has in mind. It’s not the glory of a lifestyle where a person has a large beautiful house which only a few people could afford. It’s not the glory of driving the best and most expensive sports car or SUV. It’s not the glory of a lot of money, great looking, stylish clothes, and glittering diamond and gold jewellery.

The wise inherit glory. This glory is not a perishable good, something that wears out as you use it. This glory is not subject to the ravages of time. Moths cannot damage it and make it useless. Rust cannot take away its shine. This is the glory of being with God and experiencing His fellowship without the fear of it ever being lost again because of sin. This is the glory of being a living member of the church of Christ. This is the glory of being perfectly suited for the work which God will give to each of His redeemed children in His everlasting heavenly kingdom. It is the glory of knowing that we will see the beauty of God’s kingdom in heaven with all of His other people.

Now we need to take a closer look at who these wise people are. Solomon tells us about who these wise people are in the earlier verses in Proverbs 3, where he has given us instruction by means of other contrasts. The wise are the righteous. When God’s people confidently affirm their righteousness, there are spiritual confessions to make. Our righteousness is not ours. It’s Christ’s. Just as our sins have all been laid upon Him, His perfect obedience is laid upon us through faith. Because of Christ, we can stand before our heavenly Father as those who have kept His law perfectly. God does not see one sin in His people because Christ has taken away all of our sins from us, and our Lord now imputes to us the perfect obedience of Christ.

The wise are also just. Being just isn’t about being fair. Those who are just do what is right in God’s eyes. The just strive to deal with their neighbours as Christ instructs them. The just try to keep God’s law throughout all the interactions of their day to day personal relationships. They will not take advantage of people and figure that, as long as their behaviour is legal in the eyes of men, everything is fair game. The just live by the higher standard of God’s perfect law and work hard to treat people the way God tells us.

The wise are also lowly. People who are lowly know what they are of themselves. They cannot be proud of themselves when they examine their innermost hearts in the light of God’s perfect law. There is no boasting from those who know what it means to be the corrupt fruit of a fallen Adam. When we hear God’s law read to us each Sunday morning, we know that we are sinners. We are not good of ourselves. We are low.

The wise know to live according to the great reality which is denied, often very strongly, by the wicked. The great reality is that there is a God in heaven who is just and who will not be mocked. The wise know they cannot get away with sin. There is a God who, when He speaks of the consequences of sin, He means it. The wise also confess the reality about themselves, their need of a Saviour and their obligation to live thankfully before their merciful heavenly Father. That is wisdom.

Solomon tells us the wise inherit glory. When you inherit something, you are given it. Nobody inherits the fruit of their own labour. Someone else has done the work and, in their love for those dear to them, give others the benefits of what they have earned. That is true regarding the glory we inherit as the children of God. We do not earn glory. God gives glory to us as our inheritance because Christ died for us. ... to be continued

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Much Increase with the Ox (2)

Much Increase With the Ox (2)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School

Proverbs 14:4: “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.”

The farmer who was not willing to do the work required to keep oxen, a lazy farmer, would experience the poverty of small harvests. Oxen are strong and increase the size of the harvest, but having them requires work, a lot of work. Some of the work required in keeping oxen isn’t pleasant either. A wise farmer understands that the trouble of keeping oxen is amply rewarded by the increased harvest.

Solomon wrote about the increase provided by the strength of the ox. This increase was a bountiful harvest. In Scripture, a harvest is a spiritual picture of growth in God’s church. This growth can be in the number of church members, as God uses the call of the gospel to bring people into active membership in the body of Christ. This growth can also be the spiritual growth of individual church members, as they learn more about God by listening to the preaching of the gospel, learning their catechism and reading the Bible at home. Scripture uses harvests and fruit as pictures of His whole church and of the godly lives of individual believers.

In Matthew 9 and Luke 10, Christ speaks of a large harvest and tells us to pray that the Lord will provide labourers for this harvest. The harvest is large but the labourers are few. Christ was not speaking of grain or grapes. He was speaking of gathering His elect through preaching. In Matthew 3, Christ speaks of bringing forth fruits meet, or fitting, for repentance. In Matthew 7, part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses the example of good and evil trees, and their fruit to teach us that the godly will bring forth the fruit of good works. This fruit is a harvest, an increase.

In this verse from Proverbs, Solomon is not interested in merely giving advice to the Israelites about how to have farms which yield a large harvest. He does not want farmers to take his advice about using oxen so the nation can experience wealth, prosperity and happiness. Solomon saw a spiritual truth taught in the physical world.

This growth, this spiritual harvest, takes work. If we are lazy, there will be no spiritual growth. We must realize that in order to have the increased harvest, we must be willing to do the hard work of having a dirty crib, caring for oxen, as Solomon has taught us.

Read II Corinthians 11:18-33. The Apostle Paul knew God had His people in the nations around the Mediterranean Sea. Jehovah had His elect ready for harvest, and Paul was the labourer sent by God to gather that harvest. This was not easy work for Paul. Unbelieving Jews whipped him five times. Did Paul bear scars on his back from these whippings for the rest of his life? Paul was beaten with rods three times. Unbelievers stoned him. He suffered three shipwrecks. He led a dangerous life for the sake of bringing the gospel to God’s people. He faced many physical dangers.

Paul also speaks of the burden he experienced because of his care for the churches. Not everything was as it should have been in the early New Testament church. We can see this in the letters he wrote. Some church members had fallen into terrible sins. Paul had to write some harsh things to the churches to encourage godly living. Does Paul’s work sound easy to us? Does Paul sound lazy? If Paul were a farmer, would his crib be clean?

Some of your fathers are officebearers in the church. God takes care of His people through these ministers, elders and deacons. None of these office-bearers may be lazy. They must work hard. Ministers do not download their sermons from the internet. Sermons require hours of study and preparation. Elders must prepare for meetings. They have to study so they can lead family visitation. They must work diligently when a church member falls into sin. Deacons do not simply mail a check to a family who is struggling to pay the bills. They meet with needy families and bring the comfort of God’s Word.

You also have work to do as members of the church. Don’t think the work God has given you is unimportant because you are young. You have the work of loving God and your neighbour. Just how Christian our Christian school is depends in a greater way than you realize on how you treat each other. Is this a school where God is honoured? That will show in your kindness. Do we honour each other as brothers and sisters in Christ? Do we understand not only how much God loved us in sending His Son to die for our sins and do we also realize that God loved our classmates in the same way? Do we treat others in a way that shows we know that each of us has an important place in the church which nobody else could fill?

It is hard work to fight against sinful pride which causes us to think that we are better than others or that others are not worth treating with Christian respect. It is hard to watch our tongues so we do not speak harsh words to or about one another.

God promises a great increase for diligent labour. We will have a harvest of good works which honour Him and show our gratitude for the salvation He has graciously given us in Jesus Christ. We will have Christian friends whom we can trust. We can enjoy the company of our friends and fight temptation together.

It was hard work for the farmer to care for his oxen but their strength provided a great harvest. It is hard work for us to live a Christian life but we can bear fruit for the praise and honour of the Triune God.

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Much Increase With the Ox (1)

Much Increase With the Ox (1)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School

Proverbs 14:4: “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.”

Proverbs is a book of wisdom. God blessed the author of Proverbs, Solomon, with more wisdom than He had given to any other man. Proverbs is not a short book. The instruction Solomon gives us covers many topics. Where did Solomon get his many ideas for writing Proverbs? Of course, God inspired Solomon but that does not mean that Solomon wrote Proverbs as though he were unconscious or a robot. God uses means.

There are times while reading Proverbs when I think Solomon travelled through different parts of his kingdom, and observed the people and the land around him. Because God gave Solomon wisdom, Solomon was able to see things an ordinary person simply passed over. Many would see things but not understand them. Solomon could observe the world and the people around him and understand spiritual truth. This is an aspect of the creation around us. When we view creation with the eyes of faith, we can learn about God and His truth. Creation teaches us about its Creator.

Many Israelites in Solomon’s day were farmers. The king had the opportunity to see many farms during his life. Solomon could tell which farms were fruitful and well run, and which farms were not. We also can walk through our neighbourhoods and pick out the houses which are maintained better than others. Perhaps there are houses in your neighbourhood which have nobody living in them. After a while, you can tell that the house is vacant and nobody is there to take care of the property. The lawn doesn’t look nice. The plants in the landscaping look overgrown. The property would benefit from some cleaning, raking or painting. Solomon could notice the same things about farms. Solomon could notice which farms were more productive than others.

When Solomon tells us, “Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox,” he is using a visible fact to teach us a spiritual truth. Let’s notice some things about the farm Solomon observed.

Solomon saw a farm with a clean crib. Most of us are of Dutch heritage, so we can certainly appreciate something that is clean. A crib in a farmyard is not something a baby sleeps in. A crib is a container for the farm animals’ food. Cribs could come in different sizes depending on the number and size of the animals which needed to be fed. Most often the crib would be filled with straw or grain. When the farmer noticed that the crib was growing empty, he would fill it with more food for his animals.

A crib filled with animal feed could appear messy. It isn’t clean. There might be straw sticking out of it at some crazy angles. Little piles of loose grain would be littered around on the ground as the animals pulled at it with their mouths. Animals would visit the crib often. Animals that feed by grazing, such as oxen, spend much of their day eating. Farm animals are not neat and tidy. We would notice droppings in the area of the crib which would be somewhat unpleasant to the eye and even more unpleasant for the nose. A crib on a busy, fruitful farm would not be clean.

However, Solomon saw a crib which was clean. There wasn’t any feed in it. There weren’t stray clumps of straw littering the ground. The area around the crib was not messy looking or bad smelling. It was clean.

Solomon continued to observe this farm until he understood why the crib was clean. He realized this farm had no oxen on it. Oxen were very important for the farmers of biblical days. They used oxen for many of the same purposes today’s farmers use tractors. Just as it is difficult for us to imagine a modern farmer without a tractor, farmers of long ago had oxen. Farmers ploughed their fields using oxen as they prepared to sow their seed. Oxen pulled wagons or carried heavy things as the farmers cleaned and maintained their fields. When it was time for harvest, the oxen would tread the grain.

Solomon saw a farmer who believed his life would be easier without oxen. He wouldn’t have the hassle of constantly seeing to it that the crib had feed in it. Having no oxen meant so unpleasant smell insulted his nose. He wouldn’t have to devote a certain portion of his grain to feed oxen. Whatever grain he harvested could be used solely for himself and his family. This “ox-less” farmer would find his chores decreased and experience an easier life. This farmer did not have the burden of taking care of oxen.

At least that is what this farmer thought. Solomon, however, being blessed with wisdom, realized something else. A farmer with no oxen to tend might have an easier life but, as Solomon instructs us, “much increase is by the strength of the ox.” Having oxen increases the farmer’s work but the oxen pay him back with an increased harvest. An increased harvest meant more food on the family table or, if there were enough crops left over, extra cash brought in because of increased sales of the surplus. Yes, part of the harvest would have to go to feeding the oxen but the strength of the oxen provided a much larger harvest. Oxen were worth it.

Who can plough and use more land for raising crops, the farmer with a hoe in his hands or the farmer with a plough and a team of oxen? Who could clean up more rocks and other debris from the field, a farmer with his own two hands and a small basket or a farmer with oxen which could pull a large, loaded wagon? Who would have a larger harvest, the farmer who would have to roll the ears of grain in his own hands or the farmer who used oxen and a threshing floor? to be continued ...

 
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The Wise Reprover (2)

The Wise Reprover (2)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School

Proverbs 25:12: “As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.”

The reproof of Elihu in the book of Job turned out much better than that in Jeremiah 43:1-7. As you know, Job was a very wealthy man. However, he lost everything—everything!—in one day and soon he was afflicted with terribly painful sores. Job was miserable. He had three friends come to comfort him. These friends claim that all this evil came upon Job because he must have committed some awful sin for which God is justly punishing him. Job denies his friends’ charges. Job says that he is not a sinner. Well, he knows that he has sinned but he certainly is not guilty of the dreadful sins of which his friends are accusing him. He has not done anything, in his judgment, to bring God’s awful wrath upon him.

The conversation between Job and his three friends goes back and forth. Job cannot convince his friends that he is innocent and the friends cannot convince Job that he is guilty. Job even expresses the desire that God would appear before him in some way because he would like to have the opportunity to ask God some questions. Through all of this, Elihu sat silently listening to this conversation. He was the youngest man there and felt the older men should speak first.

The talk among the other four men was over. They had nothing more to say. Elihu could no longer keep silent. Elihu reproves Job because he justified himself rather than God. He then reproves Job’s friends because they continued to condemn Job without having any evidence that he had done the dreadful things of which they accused him.

Elihu’s words in Job 33:12-13 are really the answer to Job’s horrible afflictions and losses. Elihu points out two essential truths. First, God is greater than man. Secondly, God does not give account of any of His matters. This means God can do whatever He pleases because He is great. The Almighty is under no obligation to explain to us why He does what He does. It’s none of our business.

Job and his friends have no protest to make about what Elihu has said. They know Elihu is right. God then appears to Job and speaks to him. Jehovah points out He is almighty, wise and can do whatever He wishes. At the end of the book of Job, it is important to note that God tells Job to offer sacrifices for the sinful speech of his three friends but He requires no sacrifice for what Elihu had said. God must have approved of Elihu’s reproof.

What can we learn about what makes a good reprover from Jeremiah and Elihu? Neither of them were upset because the sin they witnessed was a personal insult to them. They did not give reproof to vent their own personal anger. They did not speak because they felt this would clear their good name or soothe their troubled conscience of the sins they had witnessed. These reprovers saw sin as an affront to God. They wanted these sins to be put away because sin prevents a right understanding of God and a proper walk with the Lord.

Proverbs tells us a reprover must be wise. Jeremiah knew the spiritual condition of the Jews with whom he was dealing. Elihu let the others speak first so he could properly understand the situation. For us, we need to know whom we reprove. Some reproof needs to be strong, while with other friends we can speak gently. We cannot be hasty in our judgment of others but must make sure we have a good understanding of the matter. We must also be wise to know the proper time to give reproof. Some reproof must be given immediately, while sometimes it is better to wait. For a reprover to be as valuable as gold, he must be wise.

God also tells us in this Proverb that the person being reproved must have an obedient ear. The Jews reproved by Jeremiah did not obey reproof. They disobeyed and went forward in their own stubborn, rebellious way to their own destruction. The ears of Job and his three friends were obedient to Elihu. They did not protest nor give an angry response. They responded with submissive silence. This led to sacrifices being offered and forgiveness being granted.

Receiving reproof properly is not what we do by nature. We take offense. Who are you to tell me what to do or tell me I am wrong! Our natural reaction is to become angry and defend ourselves. The old man of sin in each of us does not take it well when we are told we have sinned.

An obedient ear to reproof is hard to find. I am thankful as a teacher in a Christian school that when I have had to take a student aside and have a little talk, it usually goes well. Part of that could be the student’s recognition of authority. What I pray is that this is proof of the response to God’s Word by one who is redeemed by God. What we also need as a Christian community of believers is to react properly to reproof when the reprover is our equal or, harder yet, holds a position lower than our own.

The greatest and wisest reprover is our Lord Jesus Christ who died for our sins. When someone gives us reproof based on the Bible, they are really bringing the Word of Christ to us. We have to listen to the minister when he preaches because he brings and applies Christ’s Word to our lives and hearts. In catechism class, you are being taught Christ’s Word. The history of the Old and New Testaments give us instruction in a godly life. Disobedience brings the anger of God, while obedience results in covenant fellowship with Christ. Finally, Christ gives us reproof when we read the Bible, the Word of God. This is the instruction of Paul in II Timothy 3:16-17, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

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The Wise Reprover (1)

The Wise Reprover (1)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christia School in Walker, MI

Proverbs 25:12: “As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear.”

Solomon teaches us about a reprover. A reprover is someone who warns somebody else about sin. A reprover witnesses someone’s sin, is troubled by that sin because he understands what sin does to a person’s relationship with God, and then speaks to the sinner to encourage him to put away his sin and walk obediently in fellowship with the Lord. Solomon wants us to know how valuable a wise reprover is.

Solomon teaches us about reprovers by using something from every day life with which we are familiar: jewellery. Many people like jewellery. You can see it around school and these days more girls wear jewellery of some sort than those who do not. Solomon isn’t talking about the kind of jewellery we see here around school though. I doubt that the jewellery we see around here at school is really expensive. The jewellery might be special to its owner for one reason or another, but I doubt we could find examples of jewellery here which cost a few hundred dollars or more. Solomon is speaking of gold earrings and ornaments fashioned from fine gold. These items are expensive.

This jewellery has value because of what it is made. Solomon is speaking about gold jewellery. I checked the newspaper to find the price of an ounce of gold. It is not cheap. Last Friday, gold was selling for $1,127.40 an ounce. My weight in gold would be valued at $3,156,720. So, it is debatable whether or not I am worth my weight in gold. Now a goldsmith is going to take this gold, which is already costly, and spend some time using his skill and expertise to make a beautiful ornament out of that fine gold. The value of this piece of jewellery is now even greater.

Jewellery has many uses. We decorate ourselves with it. People give jewellery as a gift to those who are dear to them. Some people view gold as a good investment. In Bible times, gold and jewellery were good ways to preserve wealth. For example, there were times when enemies would attack. If the enemy won the battle, they would spoil, take away, all the valuable things they could find from the people they had just defeated. Some people’s wealth was in flocks and herds. It is a little hard to hide all these animals or escape from the enemy quickly when your wealth is in animals. However, if your wealth were in gold and jewellery, a great amount of value could be packed in a small space. The gold and jewels could be quickly gathered up, and you and your family could escape the enemy in a hurry. Once you had arrived at a safer place, the gold could be used to purchase what was needed. You would not have to start your life all over with nothing.

Solomon wants us to learn that people who warn us about sin are just as valuable as gold. Two passages from the Bible, Jeremiah 43:1-7 and Job 33:1-13, have examples of people who reproved others: Jeremiah and Elihu. One of the stories of reproof turned out poorly, and the other turned out well. We will start with the reproof which did not work out so well, Jeremiah and the Israelites of his day.

Judah had just been defeated, crushed actually, by Babylon in battle. The Babylonians took an Israelite, Gedaliah, and put him in charge of the few people left in Judah. Gedaliah told the Jews to go about their work, earn the money they needed to live and submit to the rule of the Babylonians. There was another Israelite who did not like that idea. His name was Ishmael, and he was of the royal seed. Ishmael rebelled against Gedaliah, and killed him and all the people who were with Gedaliah. Another man named Johanan heard about the evil which Ishmael had done, gathered an army, fought against Ishmael, killed many of Ishmael’s followers and forced Ishmael to flee.

The remaining Jews were now afraid of the Babylonians because the man Babylon had left in charge, Gedaliah, had been murdered. The Israelites did not know what to do. Should they stay in Judah and perhaps have an angry group of Babylonians come against them or should they flee into Egypt where they would be safe? The people went to Jeremiah to ask him to go to God to ask Him what they should do. The people said they would do whatever God told them to do.

Jeremiah went to God, and God told him what the Jews should do. They should stay in Judah. God said He would show mercy to them, build them up and plant them securely in the promised land. Do not go to Egypt, God told them. If you go to Egypt to run away from the sword of Babylon, the sword will catch up with you in Egypt anyway, and you will all die from the sword, famine and disease.

That brings us to Jeremiah 43:1-7. Johanan and the Jews accuse Jeremiah of speaking falsely. As it turns out, they had already made up their minds to go to Egypt no matter what God would tell them through Jeremiah. They would obey God, but only if He told them what they wanted to hear. Sure enough, the Jews pack up and go to Egypt. Jeremiah reproves them for their disobedience but again they do not listen. It comes as no surprise to us that God does as He says. The Israelites in Egypt are destroyed.

The golden and wise reproof of Jeremiah fell upon disobedient ears. The result was disaster.

... to be continued

 
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Venus and the Deceitfulness of Sin

Venus and the Deceitfulness of Sin

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School in Walker, MI

Genesis 3:6: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.”

The solar system includes the sun and the objects which orbit it. Among these objects are eight planets. There used to be nine planets but scientists have decided that Pluto no longer qualifies. The closest planet to the sun is Mercury. It can be seen with our eyes, but it takes some practice and can only be seen a certain times. The second planet, which we will be talking about more, is Venus. It is also known as the evening and morning star. The Earth is the third planet from the sun. I trust you are quite familiar with Earth. Next comes Mars. It is easily noticed by its red colour. Next is Jupiter, the largest planet. It is larger than all the other planets put together. It has a whitish colour but is not as bright as Venus. Saturn is the planet farthest from the sun which can be seen with just the human eye. It has a golden colour like the colour of ripe wheat which is why Saturn is known as the god of the harvest. Uranus and Neptune come last. They are both bluish and can only be seen with telescopes.

After the sun and moon, Venus is the brightest object in the sky. It dazzles the eye with its brilliant white light, whether it is visible in the morning or evening sky. Venus can be especially beautiful when it is near the moon. Venus’ size, nearly the same as Earth’s, and proximity, as the closest planet to Earth, puts it just at the cusp of the human eye’s ability to discern it not as a point of light but as having size. Those who have particularly acute vision have claimed to see the slowly changing phases of Venus. This optical challenge is part of the allure of observing Venus.

It is understandable how such a bright, beautiful, purely shining object would be named after the Roman goddess of beauty. The Greeks called this planet Aphrodite, also their goddess of love and beauty. I doubt this love is the “agape” love with which we are familiar from the New Testament but is likely an ignoble form of attraction with which the Greek culture was intimately familiar. Agape love is affection, good-will and a willingness to help when someone is in need. It is the love which Christians have for fellow Christians.

It is a rare astronomical event for Venus to pass between the Earth and the sun. Years ago these were very important events because by observing Venus pass in front of the sun, scientists could learn more about the path which Venus and the Earth take around the sun. In 1761, a Russian scientist used a telescope to observe Venus’ transit across the sun’s face. He wanted to measure Venus’ diameter. He experienced a little difficulty, however, when he noticed the edges of Venus’ disk were not sharp and crisp, but fuzzy. He quickly realized this meant Venus had an atmosphere!

About the same time, a noted French scientist developed an idea called the nebular hypothesis. He proposed that the planets formed out of rings of gas left over from the formation of the solar system. The rings furthest from the sun cooled first, with the inner planets forming later. The belief among astronomers was that Mars was a planet past its prime, Earth was in the prime of life and Venus is what Earth was like many aeons ago.

The late 1800s saw the rise of a scientific theory called “pluralism,” the belief in the existence of life on an infinite number of habitable planets throughout the universe. This coincided with the period when Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution caught the public’s interest. The conclusion of the scientific community was that, if organisms could develop and evolve on Earth, then why not on other planets? Venus, with its atmosphere (assumed to have oxygen) and nearness to the warmth of the sun, was thought a prime candidate for the development of life. Coupled with the idea of the nebular hypotheses, Venus was thought to be a swampy world, covered with dripping vegetation which flourished in a steamy climate in which some form of life was evolving. Venus was imagined to be a tropical paradise. A book I recently read about the planets, Lives of the Planets, titles the chapter from which this information was taken, “The Greenhouse in the Sky: Venus.”

The reality of this dazzlingly beautiful planet is in great contrast to what was once imagined. The first hint came in the 1920s when scientists began to study the light reflected by Venus to determine the chemicals its atmosphere contained. Scientists were surprised to find very little water vapour there (meaning Venus was not a swampy, prehistoric Earth) but they did find an abundance of carbon dioxide, a gas which would trap the heat of the nearby sun and could possibly make the planet very warm.

Then, in 1956, astronomers turned their radio telescopes toward Venus. They found that Venus was emitting great amounts of microwave radiation, a clue that the surface of Venus was very, very hot. In December of 1962, a space probe launched by the United States, Mariner 2, flew by Venus. Here is a summary of the probes findings: “In fact, the results showed that the surface of Venus is not just hot, it is as hot as the interior of a self-cleaning oven ... [There are] no global oceans, no swamps, no giant tree ferns, no enormous insects, and no amphibian-like creatures crawling their way toward sentience.”

Venus, despite its gorgeous appearance, is no Garden of Eden. The Soviet Union sent several probes to Venus’ surface in the 1960s and 1970s. These probes were built to withstand temperatures of 500° Celsius and atmospheric pressures equal to being 3,000 feet underwater. Soviet scientists were amazed their probes functioned for about an hour because they were designed to work for thirty minutes. Venus, once thought to be lush and verdant, was actually a caustic, extremely hot, pressure cooker. Looks can be deceiving.

Now we’ll go back to Genesis 3. Eve saw the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Its fruit was not foul smelling, nor was it corrupted with rot and worms. While holding it in her hand, the fruit did not ooze through her fingers in some sloppy, rotten mess. She saw fruit which had every appearance of being good. Her eyes were pleased with what she saw. To take and eat would make her wise. The fruit was alluring and desirable.

That is the story of sin. Satan presents the world of sin to us in ways which appeal to us. Satan also knows that different temptations will be alluring to different people. What is tempting to one might hold no appeal at all to another. Yet it is the same in essence. Sin looks good to our weak flesh. To enter into its pleasures would bring us happiness and joy. Satan would have us believe that.

These things can happen in our school. We are tempted to treat someone in a way which we know is unkind. We can think of things to say which we know would hurt the other person. However, by doing these things we feel we can make ourselves look better. We can show how bold we are. We can make others laugh at someone as we put them down.

However, what are the spiritual effects of sin? Adam and Eve learned only too well. The happiness promised by Satan never materialized. Instead, Adam and Eve now fled in shame from God’s face. They couldn’t enjoy His holy company as they previously had. They found they weren’t happy at all, and we must remember that, as yet, Adam and Eve had not learned that their Creator was the God of redemption. They were miserable as they wondered what God would do with them.

The next time we see Venus as the beautiful, glorious morning or evening star and are reminded of the goddess of love and beauty, keep in mind what lurks beneath her clouds. She is not what she appears to be. As we struggle daily with our sinful flesh, we must keep in mind the alluring nature of sin and temptation. What appears to be so inviting and pleasant, is actually very caustic for the soul. Give thanks to the God of our redemption in Jesus Christ who gives wisdom to His people to save them from the deceitfulness of sin.

 
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The Wandering Bird (2)

The Wandering Bird (2)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School in Walker, MI

Proverbs 27:8: “As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.”

What happens when we wander from our place? We could leave a place of spiritual safety for one of temptation. Temptation and sin are no less dangerous for us than predators are for birds. Leaving the place of godly instruction leaves us to be instructed by the world and its ideas about right and wrong.

A bird who wanders from her place is foolish. For the young to leave the safety of the nest is to expose herself to all kinds of dangers. For the adult to leave the nest also exposes her young to danger and starvation.

A man who wanders from his place is just as foolish. He is exposed to temptation. The effects upon the family are also great. Without a father and mother in their appointed places giving direction to their children, children wander into ways of sin because of a lack of spiritual direction and sound instruction. What is happening to the children of the world who are raised under the instruction of television? Are their hearts in good shape? Many men in the world are more interested in the good times the world has to offer than being in their places in their homes. Are American families in good shape?

David is an example of what happens when a man wanders from his place. He was the king of God’s people. It was his duty to lead the people in battle against their enemies. His place was also that of being an example of godly living because everyone knew of his attitude toward God.

Yet David wandered from his place. In II Samuel 11, he was a bad example as king. He left his place at the head of the army and stayed in Jerusalem for a time of pleasure and relaxation. He left himself open to temptation. He was also on the roof on his palace at a time when he should not have been. His weak flesh was led into terrible sin which had effects on David for the rest of his life.

David neglected his place as a child of God. A servant told David that Bathsheba was another man’s wife. His duty as a child of God was then to leave her alone. After falling into sin, his place was to confess his sin. He did not confess because he wanted to preserve his reputation in the eyes of the people. In order to preserve his social standing, he finally resorted to murder. His place as king was to protect his subjects, not make them victims of adultery and murder.

On the first day of school this year, I had the 5th graders do a quick writing assignment. I asked them to give me the name of an example of faith. Then they had to give me a few sentences about why this person is such a good example of faithful living.

Their answers gave me some interesting reading. First, it was good to see their knowledge of the Bible. We did not have to have a long discussion about what faithful living means. We did not have to think long and hard in a desperate search for some names we have heard in the Bible. The assignment was handled easily and well.

Some of the names given are very familiar to us. Some of the people mentioned were Moses, Elijah, Noah, parents and ministers.

Parents, this speaks well of your children. Their knowledge of the Bible demonstrates you have taken seriously the baptismal vow to see to it that your children are brought up with God’s Word as the most important part of their lives.

However, this list of examples of faithful living overlooks something very important. The people mentioned earlier did great things. They led God’s people for 40 years in the wilderness. They performed miracles and spoke boldly to ungodly kings and queens. They built an ark in the face of opposition of all the rest of the world. Why do we forget the examples of faith near us? Why weren’t more parents mentioned? Most of your fathers are at work now. Do they get up and go to work every morning because they love their jobs so much or do they go to work in faithful obedience to God’s decree that as heads of their families they are to be diligent and provide for the needs of their families? That is your father’s place.

Now, think about mom. It was not that long ago, even for the 9th graders, when all of you were small bundles of responsibility who could not do anything for yourselves. When mom was tired from a long day of work around the house, do you think she joyously leaped out of bed at four in the morning, for the fourteenth night in a row, to care for her squalling baby? Just for another example, think of all the meals she cooks. How often are her efforts appreciated? What keeps this woman going day after day? The pay? A chance for a promotion? Or is she dedicated to the raising of covenant children and putting her hope in the promises of God’s Word? That is your mother’s place.

What about the examples of faith found in godly friends? I mean, true godly friends, not the ones who encourage you to walk in the ways of the world but the ones who will not encourage you to commit sin, who will warn you about the dreadful effects of iniquity. How easy is it to stand for what is godly even in a Christian school? It takes faith to warn our friends about sin. Yet that is your place.

To live a life of faith, to serve God in your place, does not mean that you have to do something astoundingly great. The bird did not have to be the highest or fastest flier of its species to be in its place. It simply had to stay in the nest. You don’t have to spend a few hundred years building an ark to live in faith. You don’t have to kill a lion with your bare hands to show your faith! To stay in your place does not mean you have to be thrown into a fiery furnace, heal the sick, raise people from the dead, write a twenty-two volume Bible commentary or the twenty-first century version of Reformed Dogmatics. We do not have to do the spectacular in order to serve God faithfully in the place He has given us. We must perform our daily, simple Christian duties in whatever place God has given us.

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