Articles

Christian Education Devotionals (77)

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.

The Growth of Sin (1)

The Growth of Sin (1)

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School

Hosea 8:7: “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind: it hath no stalk: the bud shall yield no meal: if so be it yield, the strangers shall swallow it up.”

I have something in my pocket. I found it in the woods. It was very easy to pick up. It doesn’t weigh much. Nobody had to teach me any special skill in order to pick up this item. It’s an acorn. Anyone could pick it up.

Now we have to use our imaginations a bit. Let’s imagine I kept the acorn in my pocket but it started to grow. What would happen after a while? Let’s not concentrate on how silly I would look to people while I walked around with an oak tree growing our of my pocket! For a while, I would still have no problem getting around. When the acorn first sprouts, the tree is not very big. For the first couple of years, the sapling would not be very heavy. I could get around. Let’s imagine, though, the great burden of an oak tree I would have to carry in 25 years! Oak trees can grow very large. I worked in some woods last summer. Many of the trees had been cut down, but the land owner had left the trunks lying on the ground. I did not even bother to try to pick up or move those tree trunks. I couldn’t do it. So, although I can easily carry this acorn today, if I were to plant this acorn in the ground and wait 25 years while the tree grew, the oak tree would be far too big for me to carry.

Sin is like the acorn. Because our first father, Adam, fell into sin, we are corrupt by nature. Just as I did not need any special training to pick up the acorn, we do not need anybody to teach us how to sin. It comes naturally. Our sins seem to start small, just as the sprouting oak tree is small. When we were really little, we were limited in the ways we could sin. Since we could not yet talk, we could not sin against our parents by talking back to them. Once we learned how to talk, we could sin against our parents with the words we spoke. Those of you who are the first born in your family, had no brothers or sisters against whom you could sin because they had not yet been born. Almost all of you now have brothers and sisters, and we do not always treat them in a godly way. We sin against them. As you grow older, the ways in which you can sin will grow too.

Sin grows, just as does the acorn. Because sin grows, we have to be very careful every day, by looking to the Triune God in faith and abiding in Jesus Christ our strength.

The history of Israel teaches us about the growth of sin. When the northern ten tribes first began, Jeroboam was their first king. He could not allow the people to return to Jerusalem where God was to be worshipped. He knew if the people went there, they would think again about leaving the worship of God in Jerusalem. The people might refuse to follow Jeroboam as their king and return to the house of David. Jeroboam would lose a very nice job which he wanted to keep very badly. He introduced the worship of the golden calves in Dan and Bethel and assured the people the golden calves were not idols. They were simply a more convenient way of serving God. His people would not have to travel all the way to Jerusalem for worship. They could serve god (with a small “g”) closer to home.

The years went by, and the people grew accustomed to the golden calves. We read about Ahab becoming king. His dreadful queen was Jezebel. The Bible tells us it “had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam.” Jeroboam had to explain to the people that serving the calves was not idol worship. The people had to have their consciences calmed before sinning against God in that way. However, sin was growing in Israel. The people were expressing their depravity in more ways. Ahab thinks the sins of the golden calves are easy. It is time for something more serious. He will not even bother to pretend to worship God in some new way. It is time for the open worship of idols. Baal is introduced to the people and there are many who eagerly serve him. Baal was an excuse to sin and satisfy the evil desires of the flesh. What the sinful people in Israel would not have dared to do a few years earlier, they are now doing. They are becoming more bold in their sin. Sin grew.

The result was that God sent the prophet Elijah to tell Israel of their sin. God would not look the other way as Israel grew in sin. He would send His judgment against them. There would be no rain. Remember, as a nation Israel needed the crops which the farmers grew in order to have the food they needed. The lack of rain would not just make the cost of food rise. The famine would make finding food impossible, first for the poor and then on up to the rich. The lack of rain was a severe punishment. Yet Israel did not turn from idol worship. It was too enjoyable. It gave them too much pleasure. They thought they could continue in sin and yet have God bless them because, after all, they were the children of Abraham. They were certain God would protect the children of Abraham no matter how they lived.

We know what finally happened to Israel because of sin. God removed them out of His sight by rooting them out of the promised land. Enemies came against Israel. Israel was destroyed on the battlefield, cities were burned, people were butchered in the streets, children taken from their families and prisoners were taken far away into captivity. God’s judgment was severe, but that is what it took for those who were truly His people to turn from their sinful way.

The acorn of sin had grown into a mighty oak. The time had come to cut the tree down and dig its roots out of the ground.

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Keeping Our Hearts (2)

Keeping Our Hearts (2)

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

Proverbs 4:23-27: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee. Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.”

I fear we sometimes fall into a trap. We know that the work of salvation from its beginning to its end is all God’s work. He does not need our help, cooperation or permission to deliver us from our sins. This does not mean, however, that there is absolutely nothing for us to do. Being saved from sin does not mean that we now sit back and put no effort into faithful, obedient living. As citizens of God’s city, we cannot say, “The protecting of this city is God’s work,” then just sit on an easy chair on the top of the wall and watch the enemy march up to the gates.

Philippians 2:13 says that it is God that works in us. Here is the end of verse 12, where we are told to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Salvation is a gift of God’s grace, yet we are told to work it out. Jude 24 comforts us that it is God who is able to keep us from falling. Still, in verse 21 we are told to “Keep yourselves in the love of God looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.” There is work which we must be busy doing, not in order to be saved, but because we are saved.

When we keep our hearts with all diligence, our godly living will be evident from our mouths, eyes and feet.

Proverbs 4:24 declares, “Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.” What is in our hearts becomes evident by what comes out of our mouths. We will not have a froward mouth. Froward is an old fashioned word that we don’t use any more. It means disobedient. A froward mouth will not submit to God’s law. Such a mouth shows no concern for the purity of God’s law. God will not tell us what to say.

That was Jeroboam. He knew where the people of Israel were supposed to go to worship God. In those days, there was no other place to worship God than in Jerusalem. Jeroboam knew what he was supposed to say to the people. Because of what was in his heart, he set up idols for the people to worship. He wanted to remain on the throne so he lied and said that the golden calves were the gods that had brought Israel out of the land of Egypt. Jeroboam disobeyed God and made Israel to disobey Him also.

Today, if evil speech gives me pleasure, that is what I will do. If I can think of some mean thing to say about someone, I will say it. If this mean thing makes others laugh at somebody else, so much the better. If I can show by the words I use that someone is not welcome because I am too cool for them, that’s what I will do.

In Proverbs 4:25 we are told, “Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.” Jesus tells us that the eyes are the light of the body. The things that we see can lead us into sin. Jeroboam saw the throne of Israel and that is what he wanted, even if he had to disobey God to have it.

Our eyes can tempt us too. We might be tempted to cheat on our work by “borrowing” some information from a neighbour’s paper. We might want to be seen by others as being special. It is not very often that we try to impress our friends by our godly living. Too often, even in a Christian school, the way to impress others is in the way of disobedience. Watch me! I am pretty bold! Let’s see if the teachers can make me obey! If they try, there are always things I can do and say when their backs are turned to show that whatever obedience I render, is only an external show. I will take my opportunities to show how brazen I can be.

Our eyes are to look ahead. In front of us is God’s law. To the sides of the path are temptations of every sort. Our eyes must be fixed on the one goal of walking the path which leads to heaven.

Finally, as far as our feet are concerned, we are told in Proverbs 4:26-27, “Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.”

We are told to think about the way we are living our lives. There are many snares and traps Satan sets for us. He seeks to trip us and make us fall into sin. Are our lives not quite what they should be? Are some sins beginning to become habits for us? Then we are beginning to turn off the path God has marked out for us by His perfect law. Our feet are beginning to walk in evil.

Jeroboam and Israel began to walk the path of idol worship. The longer they continued to stray, the farther from the right path they went. It became impossible for Israel to put away her idol worship. Their sins became worse. Not many years later, Israel would be ruled by Ahab and Jezebel, and we know what they were like. Finally, the only remedy for Israel was the terrible way of utter defeat and captivity.

We must pay attention to how we walk in life. Are we beginning to walk in sin? Then repent! Repent quickly by God’s grace!

Obey Solomon’s godly advice. “Keep they heart with all diligence.” God has already defeated the enemy for us through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. By His grace we can talk, look and walk as those who are thankful to be delivered from their sins.

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Keeping Our Hearts (1)

Keeping Our Hearts (1)

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

Proverbs 4:23-27: “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee. Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.”

The heart is one of the most important parts of the body. It pumps the blood which supplies the rest of our bodies with the oxygen we need to survive. When the heart stops beating, it does not take long for the rest of the body to begin to suffer terrible effects. Damage to the heart is often serious or fatal. Many doctors and hospitals study heart disease, and seek new treatments and medicines for the heart because of how many people would benefit. Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in our nation.

Because of its importance to our physical life, in the Bible the heart pictures what is most important to us. It contains the inner most reason for doing the things we do. What is important to us, what is in our hearts, will determine how we live.

The heart is the place of a spiritual battle. In Bible times, important cities were surrounded by walls. Along the walls there were special places where the walls were higher or thicker than the rest of the wall. These were places where the soldiers of the city would fight against an enemy who was trying to capture their city. Often, there was one very tall tower called a citadel. When it seemed the enemy was about to win the battle, the people of the city would flee to the citadel. It was the last place they could use to try to be safe from the enemy and try to fight. If the enemy captured the citadel, the battle was over. That is why some of the most desperate fighting took place at the citadel.

Satan would like to live in our hearts. If he can be in our hearts, we will live for him by living for our own pleasure. We will join the world in the sinful things the wicked do because it would be so fun. That is why Solomon tells us to keep our hearts. If our spiritual enemy can capture our hearts, there will not be any true life there.

We read about Jeroboam. Israel rebelled against the house of David. Ten of the tribes did not want Rehoboam to be their king. They wanted Jeroboam to be their leader. Being the king is a pretty nice job. A king can make a lot of money and get a lot of attention. It was a job that Jeroboam wanted to keep.

He had a problem though. The people were supposed to worship God at Jerusalem. Jeroboam know that when the people went there, they would realize that what they had done was wrong, remove Jeroboam from being king and return to Judah. Jeroboam showed what was in his heart. Israel should have repented for their rebellion. They should follow the sons of David as their kings and serve God in Jerusalem. However, Jeroboam loved the things of this world more than doing what was right in God’s eyes. He wanted to be king, no matter what. He had idols built so the people would not return to Jerusalem. From then on, he is known in the Bible as, “Jeroboam who made Israel to sin.” What was in his heart showed itself in how he lived his life.

Because of the importance of the heart, we are told to keep it with all diligence. To be diligent means that we do something all the time. There is not a time when we can take a vacation from the spiritual battle for our hearts. We cannot give our hearts over to the enemy for a time figuring that we can recapture it later.

During Bible times, cities always had watchmen on duty. These men would stand on the top of the city wall and watch, constantly for the enemy. If the enemy were spotted, they would blow on trumpets as an alarm for the people to prepare for battle. A watchman who slept on the job, did not recognize the enemy or did not sound the alarm on time would not be thought of very highly by his fellow citizens.

We must be diligent also. It does not matter where we are. It does not matter how old we are. We must always be on the lookout for the temptations of Satan. He will always be busy trying to move into our hearts. Satan knows how to fight, too. He can tell when we are growing weary of the battle. He will not then give us a break to keep the fight fair. He also knows what our weaknesses are.

Over my many years of teaching, I have witnessed some aggressive play on the playground. Usually, you students try to make your teams fair. It makes the competition more interesting and challenging. Ninth graders would not have much interest or find much challenge in taking on the kindergartners in football. Satan is not like that. He is not interested in fighting fair or enjoying a challenge. He just wants to win, at any cost. Especially if that cost is yours. He will attack you when you are tired. He will attack you at your weakest point. This is why we must keep our heart with ALL diligence.

We have been reminded of the importance of the heart. From it are the issues of life. Because it is so important, we are to keep it with all diligence. Now the question is, can we do this?

We must confess that we are not able to keep our hearts from being taken by our spiritual enemy. Keeping our hearts is God’s work. Philippians 2:13 tells us, “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Jude 24 says, “Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy ...” We are not able to keep Satan from our hearts by our own efforts.

to be continued ...

 
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The Nets of Temptation (2)

The Nets of Temptation (2)

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

I have taught at Hope School for many years, perhaps for more years than I would care to admit. I have seen a lot of things and learned many things over these years. One thing I have learned is that we are not always aware of how Satan fights. He does not fight fair. No, I do not mean that if we fight with Satan, he will bite, scratch, kick and attack you only when your back is turned. Sometimes we seem to have the idea that when Satan would come to tempt us, it would be something really big, maybe something we had never seen before. We could easily recognize this temptation and flee. No problem! Satan does not fight like that. Here are some ways I have never seen Satan tempt the students of Hope School.

Many people have come here over the years. Some are strangers who need directions because they are lost. Never have they driven up in a Lamborghini sports car, and left it running in front of school before a gathering of junior high boys to see if they would steal it. They know if they took that fancy sports car, that would be stealing.

In our country today, we know that Satan tempts many people with the sin of adultery. He does this quite often with what can be seen on television and in movies. Still, in all my years here, I have never seen some Hollywood actress traipsing down the hallway to see how many boys she could get to follow her. No handsome actor has walked our halls to sweep some girls off their feet with his charm. I thought about asking some of the older boys or girls for some names of some current Hollywood stars so I would seem to be up to date and current with the times, but I was afraid I would get a little more help than I needed because, perhaps, some of us know more about Hollywood than we really should.

No college or NBA coach has ever parked his limo by the basketball court to check out the talent, then offer a big time scholarship or mega bucks to one of our students to play for them. They would demand that we play on Sunday and we easily recognize that this is not the way to keep the Sabbath day holy.

Unfortunately, I have seen some fights on the playground but there have been only a handful. There have even been some punches thrown. Still, a student has never attempted to pound another into a bloody pulp. Nobody has tried to hurt someone, on purpose, with a violent swing of a bat or hockey stick. No fight has ever ended in a serious injury. Even though some students have become very angry, no fight has ever gone into the type of violence where police have to be called to make arrests.

Students do not always think that the treatment, assignment or punishment given them by their teachers is fair. That seems to come with the territory when one has a position of authority over children. Still, I have not witnessed a student giving a protest to a teacher in a way which was filled with disrespectful name calling and finger pointing.

No, Satan does not tempt us here in such ways. He is much sneakier than that. The nets he uses are not like the drift nets used by fisherman in the oceans. These drift nets can be many miles long. We can see them easily and avoid them. Satan uses very tiny nets to snare us. If he can get us tangled in enough tiny nets, we will no longer be living as the friends of God. Our school will then be Christian only in the name on the building. We will no longer know in our hearts that God is our covenant friend.

I mentioned before that no fancy sports cars have been left free for the stealing in front of school. The temptation to steal takes a different form here. Has a schoolmate ever misplaced something, a toy, school stuff or some treat from a lunch maybe, and then have you taken it to be your own? Have you ever taken something little, a pencil or a pen, then broken the point to get a laugh? That is stealing even if the item is not worth that much money.

Remember the actors and actresses of Hollywood who never strut down our hallways? Satan tempts us with adultery in different ways here. Do we use dirty words which have hints of adultery in them to show we can be cool? Do we talk about the filth of television programs we have seen? Many of the world’s programs entertain through the use of adultery. Impure thoughts are adultery.

We have not had any coaches or agents come here to ask for athletic services to be given on Sunday. Yet, each Monday morning there is a lot of talk about sports events which have taken place over the weekend. (By the way, the two sermons you heard on Sunday are rarely talked about.) I am sure that not all of these sports events have taken place on Friday and Saturday. Do we really keep the Sabbath Day when it seems we cannot wait for it to be finished so that we can find out how our favourite team did?

I mentioned that I have never seen a fight where a student has become so angry that he beats somebody to a bloody pulp. The sin of murder takes a different form. Do we yell angrily with a heart full of hate at someone when they do not play the game right or measure up to our standards? Do we give “dirty looks” to a student to let them know they are not welcome? Do we pick on and tease a classmate to make sure everyone knows that we are much better than this other schoolmate? Do we spread gossip and backbite or say mean things? All these are forms of murder.

I mentioned that I have never seen a student calling a teacher name right to his or her face. Yet, what happens when we are left with our friends and the teacher is too far away to hear what we say? Is respect still shown to the teacher, or do we want to impress our friends by making nasty comments or showing disrespect in some other ways? These are also ways to break the fifth commandment.

Satan is busy spreading his thousands of nets here every day. He is waiting for you just as a hunter waits for his prey. God through Solomon tells us to watch for the nets. Even though the nets are small, they mean big trouble for our souls. If we are not alert, Satan will snare us. We will be caught in sin. When we live in sin, we will not have peace with God in Jesus Christ.

When we pay attention, we will see the temptations around us and we can avoid the net. We will be free. Do not see how close you can get to danger and not be caught. Follow Joseph’s example. When you see temptation, flee from it. Pray for God’s Spirit to show you Satan’s nets. This is very simple advice. Many in the world mock it and say it will not work. Remember, it is God who is giving this advice in the Bible. So obey God’s commandments, always. Obeying God is true freedom. “Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird” (Prov. 1:17).

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The Nets of Temptation (1)

The Nets of Temptation (1)

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

Proverbs 1:17: “Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.”

As you know, the author of most of the book of Proverbs was Solomon. He was the son of David. God had blessed Solomon with wisdom. He was the wisest man the world has ever known. It is a blessing for us as Christians to have his instruction preserved for us in Proverbs because the instruction really comes from God in Jesus Christ.

The purpose of the Proverbs is to give us wisdom. Any of us can be a student of Solomon’s by reading the Bible. God warns us about the dangers of sin and encourages us with the blessings of obedience to His commandments. Today, children of the Protestant Reformed Churches learn about God and His Word in church, catechism and in school. In ancient Bible times, children were instructed by the use of Proverbs. They probably did not have time off during the summer either.

In the earlier verses of Proverbs 1, Solomon warned his son about what happens to those who keep the company of sinners. Such fellowship seems to start innocently enough but being with sinners will lead to the destruction of the son’s spiritual life.

To teach us about the dangers of sin, Solomon uses an example from nature. Solomon tells us about a bird.

The bird which Solomon is having us watch is being hunted. Back in Bible times, birds were not hunted with shotguns. Most of the time they were not even hunted with bows and arrows. Men used nets. The net would be stretched across an opening where birds were known to fly. Sometimes the hunter would hide a little way away from the net, wait for some birds to gather, then scare them so they would fly into the net. The birds would become tangled in the net, just as bugs become tangled in spider webs. The advantage to the hunter in using this net was that the bird was still alive and the hunter could do with him as he pleased. The bird could be used for food for the family or he could be sold to someone else.

Whether the bird was eaten or sold, it was trouble for the bird. His days of living free were over. He was now in the possession of the hunter. The hunter could do with him as he chose. It did not happen very often that the bird escaped to enjoy his freedom again.

Because people knew about how hunters used nets to catch birds and other animals, the net is often used in the Bible as a picture of temptation. Of course, the hunter is Satan. He is trying to catch us in the net of sin. If he can catch us so that he owns us, our freedom of living in friendship with God is over. Solomon wants us to be aware of the spiritual dangers around us. He wants us to recognize these nets of Satan so that we can avoid them and be safe.

There are many examples from the Bible of people who did not see the danger of Satan’s net of temptation. They fell into sin. The result of being caught in the net was disastrous.

Let’s use Eve as our first example. Eve saw no real danger in speaking with the serpent herself or listening to Satan, instead of directing the Devil to her husband who had been created as her head. She became trapped by Satan’s net and the fall of Adam into sin soon followed.

David also serves as an example of falling into the net in the story of David and Bathsheba. He saw a beautiful woman bathing. David did not flee from temptation as he should have. Instead, David thought that there would be no real harm in just inviting this lovely woman to his palace for dinner. David sought to find out how close he could come to the net and not be tangled in it. David fell into the sins of adultery and murder. He wound up paying the price for that evening of sin for the rest of his life.

Solomon tells us that when a net is spread while the birds are watching, you will not catch any birds because the birds know the net is there. They know the net is a serious threat to their safety, so they keep away.

This is not the way it is with us sinners. There are many times when we have seen Satan’s net of temptation but, instead of fleeing for our spiritual lives, we boldly step forward, right into the net. How foolish!

Joseph serves as a good example for us in Genesis 39. He was faced with a serious temptation. His master’s wife wanted to commit the sin of adultery with him. Apparently, Joseph was a young and attractive man. Perhaps he was still just a teenager. We do not know exactly.

What would stop him from “having a little fun” with this evil woman. Was Joseph’s father going to find out? No, Jacob was far away and thought his dear Joseph was dead. Was an elder or minister going to find out what Joseph did so he would be in big trouble with the church? No, Joseph lived in a wicked land where the people served their idols by committing adultery. Their idols were just excuses to sin. The religious leaders of Egypt probably would not care that much about it. Would Joseph’s older brothers find out about what he had done and reprove him for his sin? His brothers, too, were many miles away.

Joseph could take this sinful opportunity and, as long as the master of the house did not find out, he could get away with it. No, Joseph realized that God knows everything and to serve God faithfully as a Christian meant he had to avoid this sin.

Still, Potiphar’s wife tempted him day after day. This must have been hard for him. What did Joseph do? Genesis 39:10 tells us that not only did he refuse to go along with her sinful suggestions, he would not even allow himself to be alone with her in the house. He saw the net and fled. He knew what sin would do to his soul and his relationship with God.

We also must be spiritually alert so we can avoid Satan’s net. We have a nice Christian school here. As teachers we can work with fellow believers. Students have the opportunity to make many Christian friends here. Still, we have to be careful. There is a spiritual battle which takes place here every day. Each of us has the duty to see to it that this school is Christian in more than just name. We cannot put Christian on the building, and then live our lives as if Christ crucified and God’s commandments make no difference in how we behave ourselves. We say that we are Christians, so we had better behave ourselves that way. That means we had better be alert for the nets which Satan spreads for us here. ... to be continued

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An Ornament and a Crown

An Ornament and Crown

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

Proverbs 4:9: “She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee.”

So far in Proverbs 4, Solomon has addressed his listeners as children and referred to himself as their father. He wrote of the goodness of his doctrine and that his children are not to forsake his law. He reminded them that the instruction he is giving them is the same as that which he received when he was a child.

Solomon then spoke of wisdom and understanding. In an interesting shift, Solomon then began to speak of wisdom as a woman who is not to be forsaken because she is far too valuable. Those who exalt and embrace her, she will promote and honour.

In this verse, God gives us a promise. The King James uses the word “shall” two times in this verse. Years ago more people understood there was a difference in meaning between “will” and “shall.” “Will” was used to express something which you hoped. If you said you “will” do something, you admitted that, life being what it is, what you said you would do, you might not be able to do after all. “Shall” was used to express the coming of something certain. We will do this or that, but unforeseen circumstances could change that. However, the sun shall set in the west. We are certain that’s going to happen.

Wisdom has two things she shall give and deliver to us: an ornament of grace and a crown of glory. Ornaments and crowns are not numbered among the necessities of life. We’d be interested in the gold, perhaps. Maybe you’ve heard radio ads talking about how gold is a great investment and a way to protect yourself from some coming social or financial upheaval. Yet, when disasters strike, who is in great demand? The people with the gold? Is that where the long lines form? People have a great need for gold in emergencies? No, it’s the people who have generators, gasoline for the generators, water and storable food who are in demand.

The value of the ornament and the crown is in what they represent. What is this ornament for the head? Could it be a necklace, earrings or, which was part of the culture in those days, a nose ring? This ornament is a decoration but the word has a verb as its root. The verb refers to twisting or twining things together in order to make them one object. This suggests that this ornament is a wreath. People make wreaths by twisting plant material together.

Wreaths were the rewards of victory. Victors in athletic contests were given wreaths. Did the Jews in biblical times have the same use for wreaths? Athletes earn their victories through careful preparation and exercise. They work hard to earn the victories they achieve. Yes, sometimes victory comes by way of a break along the way but they were ready to take advantage of the break. The athlete had won the contest and could now display the symbol of his achievement.

Wisdom gives us this ornament of grace. It’s a wreath of victory but we had better not forget this is not an ornament of works. Wisdom does not reward us for our work. We have the victory but the victory is ours by grace alone. Wisdom gives us this ornament as a gift. We aren’t given this ornament because we have striven for it. It’s not ours because we have expressed more interest in it than have others. It is of grace alone.

Wisdom also delivers us a crown. Deliver often means to be snatched away from trouble. Here it means to hand something over safely. Someone had the task of bringing an item to someone else and he has done so. Again, we didn’t do any work for this crown. Wisdom delivers to us this crown as a gift of grace. We will not, as a popular hymn states, “Cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.” What! The last great step of salvation is something I do myself? I am just at the threshold of heaven and now there is something I must do? To obtain this crown of glory must I perform an act, an exchange? Salvation’s final step, obtaining the crown of glory, comes down to my work of making a change? No, wisdom safely and graciously delivers the crown of glory to us, God’s elect.

Kings and queens wear crowns. Royalty rule over earthly kingdoms, often in great, yet transient, splendour. However, we, the poor in spirit, shall rule! By wisdom, we do not have our hearts set on some earthly kingdom. We know how long this earth will last. All of this creation will pass away, perhaps soon. When the chess game is done, the exalted king and queen, and the lowly pawns are all returned to the same box together. What good is a crown in the grave? Possessing the true wisdom of God’s Word, we look forward to the kingship of all believers. All the elect will wear crowns of glory as we rule with Christ in His perfect, heavenly kingdom. This crown is not vain but has true, enduring value.

That is the wisdom we hope God uses our churches, homes and schools to give to our children.

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The Song of Captives

The Song of Captives

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

“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy” (Ps. 137:5-6).

The beginning of a school year is associated with happy faces. Students are happy to see their friends again. Some students found that even summer vacation can begin to drag, so learning and homework aren’t tedious chores yet, but can even be interesting. Parents are usually happy because now children won’t have so much time on their hands. This Psalm, however, is not a happy Psalm for it was written during the time of captivity in Babylon. Psalm 137, on which our first Song-of the-Week is based, is still appropriate for the beginning of the school year, but not, as some children might think, because they are returning to the captivity of the classroom. It contains valuable lessons which we do well to keep in mind.

The captives are remembering Zion, because remembering was all they could do. They were not going back to Zion from time to time for a family vacation or spiritual retreat. How many of them knew their return to Jerusalem would not be for seventy years? Jeremiah had told them how long their captivity would last but apparently its duration was not common knowledge. Daniel learned the length of the captivity because he read about it (Dan. 9:2). However, many of the Jews thought the period of captivity would be so short, it would not even be worth their time to plant gardens or arrange for their children to marry. A prophet had to tell them to plant gardens and give their children in marriage because this captivity would last a long time (Jer. 29:5-6).

This would be a spiritually dangerous time for the Jews. For God’s Old Testament people, He was worshipped in Jerusalem as in no other place. Now, however, they are scattered among the heathen among whom the glory of God’s name was not anywhere near important. We see this in the enemy’s request to have the Jews sing the songs of Zion. Perhaps they were interested in hearing whether or not these Jews were as good at performing music as they had heard. More likely, though, the enemy wanted to make the Jews feel even more miserable. The lyrics of their songs provided an occasion to mock the Jews about their God. If Jehovah is as powerful as these songs claimed, then what were they doing here in captivity?

This empire did not have as its goal the preservation of God’s truth or His proper worship. The goals were increasing wealth and the enjoyment of every pleasure which the world of that day had to offer. Would the Jews be able to hold on to their faith while mixed with the world in a place far from the temple? Would they grow despondent because it seemed impossible for God to keep His promises when they were so far away from the promised land? Would the Jews be tempted to forget about returning to their inheritance if they managed to improve their lives by having their work become materially profitable? Why go back to a land in ruins when their new situation was just beginning to become comfortable? How many of these dangers sound familiar to us?

To combat these dangers, the psalmist determines not to forget Jerusalem. He would rather lose the skills he had acquired than not remember the city where God had placed His name. These skills were the psalmist’s livelihood. With the cunning of his right hand, he played his harp. With his tongue, he sang the words of Jehovah’s songs. Could the psalmist have been one of the singers in the temple? If so, he was willing to give up everything he had for the sake of Jerusalem, God’s church.

One reason for having our schools is for our children to acquire the skills they will need in life. The kindergartners are learning the shapes of letters and their sounds to prepare them for reading. Junior High students are learning more advanced skills as they draw nearer to taking up their life’s work. The gaining of these skills comes at a considerable price. We must follow the psalmist’s example and value the well-being of Jerusalem above all the joys of life which our skills make possible for us.

Jerusalem was in sad shape. Much of what calls itself the church is also in sad shape today. The psalmist had personal trials which brought him sorrows and each of us also has burdens to bear. God did not remove only the carnal element from Jerusalem and Judah and send them to captivity. True Israelites also suffered the consequences for the sins of the nation. Yet the psalmist was more troubled by the ruin of the church than by what happened to him personally.

Remembering Zion and not forgetting Jerusalem were the only ways to make possible the future restoration of the church. If we do not know the ways of God, the doctrines of the true church and how to order our lives according to that truth, we are not immune to the sorrow the psalmist experienced in witnessing the ruin of God’s church. Our schools are one way God’s covenant children can learn of Him. May our covenant God be pleased to use our efforts to place a knowledge of Him in their hearts through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Is Cozbi in the House?

Is Cozbi in the House?

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

“And the name of the Midianitish woman that was slain was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur; he was head over a people, and of a chief house in Midian” (Num. 25:15).

The Israelites were camped just east of the Jordan River. The fulfilment of God’s promise to give Abraham’s children the Promised Land was near. The anticipation and excitement of the people were palpable. Israel defeated the Amorites, possessing their land and living in their cities. Better things were yet to come!

Israel was now in Shittim. Since the people did not complain about a lack of food or water, which they did not hesitate to do, we can assume Israel was supplied with both. As there was no struggle to obtain the basic necessities of life, perhaps there was some leisure time to explore the offerings of the world around them. Numbers 25:1 tells us, “the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.”

Israel was the peculiar treasure of God. From the descendants of Terah, Jehovah established His covenant with Abraham, not Lot and his son Moab. God then distinguished among the offspring of Abraham, decreeing that the covenant seed would be called in Sarah’s son Isaac, not Hagar’s son Ishmael or Keturah’s son Midian.

God gave Israel His commandments and the laws which governed His people’s social and religious life. God was not to be worshipped the same way the heathen worshipped their idols. The nations around Israel were supposed to be able to tell that God’s people were a separate and distinct nation.

Moab heard what God had done to Egypt. Moab knew of Israel’s recent destruction of the Amorites. Though the Israelites were the descendants of slaves and had spent nearly forty years as nomads in the wilderness, it was clear Israel was a serious threat. Moab had enmity for God’s covenant people. Moab, though witnessing the blessings of Jehovah resting upon Israel, did not repent, put away her idols and ask to participate in some way in Israel’s covenant life. Moab would repeatedly oppose Israel through the rest of her history.

The Midianites joined Moab in hostility against God’s people. The Midianites were also distant relatives of Israel. The Midianites were nomads, not having any fixed territory of their own. From time to time, they lived near Moab. Now these nations had a common interest in opposing Israel. Did Midian bear a grudge against Israel? Was the record of Genesis 25:5-6 told from father to son? “And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac. But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country.” Can you hear the Midianites complain, “What! You mean our forefather wasn’t even deemed worthy to be in the same area as Abraham’s precious Isaac but was sent away!”

Moab’s king, Balak, knew something must be done to stop Israel. Balak had enough sense not to fight Israel on the battlefield, so he sent for the prophet Balaam. What made Israel so fearsome was that Israel was blessed by Jehovah. All that needed to be done, therefore, was to have Jehovah’s curse placed upon Israel. Israel would then be no different from any other nation and Balak could take his chances against them in war. Balaam found he could not curse those whom God had blessed. Balaam pronounced God’s blessing upon Israel, spoke of Israel’s coming glory and the destruction of Israel’s enemies.

Balaam, however, was not finished yet. God’s church could not be destroyed by pronouncing God’s curse to be upon them but what could be done was to corrupt God’s church so that the church could no longer be distinguished from the world. The Israelites could be enticed into idolatry by encouraging relationships with Moab’s women. The women of Midian were willing to join in this effort. The Zondervan Bible Encyclopedia has this in its entry regarding Balaam, “His teaching involved the most contemptible action ever conceived in an unregenerate heart. Corrupt a people you cannot curse and God will have to chasten them. In short, this means to take a people under divine blessing and deliberately lead them into sin to strip them of the divine blessing.”

It worked. God punished Israel with a plague and twenty-four thousand people died. Those who feared God were weeping before the door of the tabernacle. Did they feel too corrupt to enter to bring their supplication to God? While these people wept, Zimri, a son of one the important families of Simeon, brazenly took a Midianite woman to his tent. No imagination was required to determine what Zimri had in mind.

The Midianite woman was Cozbi. She was not a daughter of some low-level goat herder. She was the daughter of a man who was the leader of an important house in Midian. She was a princess. In our day, Zimri, one of the elite in Simeon, and Princess Cozbi would be among the trend setters, those pursued by the paparazzi.

Phinehas the priest followed them into the privacy of Zimri’s tent and killed them both with a javelin. The plague was stayed and the Lord’s anger was turned. God rewarded Phinehas for being zealous and God told Moses to fight Midian so this could not happen again.

Satan continues his attempts to corrupt God’s people. It has worked before. Satan has had success in the areas of heresy, doctrinal indifference and false ecumenism. The boundary between what calls itself the church and the world is continually blurred.

Yet I am convinced an area in which Satan enjoys great success is in the various dramatic presentations of Hollywood. Satan would have us grow accustomed to the vilest of sins by having them presented so often that we hardly even notice. We know we are to be distinct as God’s people but being different from the world does not come easily to our nature. Hollywood is a great teacher when it comes to setting examples about how to act, talk, dress and what to value in life. Not watching the productions of Hollywood can make us appear to be as outdated as zipperless clothes and the Amish buggy, beard and wimple. Who wants to be as weird as that?

How much of Hollywood’s drama enters the privacy of our homes through television, cable services, videos and DVDs? Are these corruptions made pure by taking them into the privacy of covenant homes? Is it nobody else’s business? Is there no adverse effect on Christ’s people?

Zimri thought he could do as he pleased in the privacy of his tent. Nobody else should care. Zimri thought, “I will have my sinful pleasure in my tent, and the rest of you prudes can go right ahead and weep in front of the tabernacle as much as you please.” Phinehas thought differently. Zimri’s action did have an effect on the covenant community at large. Are we corrupting ourselves with worldly entertainment? The actresses of Hollywood are as so many Cozbis to instruct us and our children in the ways of the world. Is Cozbi in the house?

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The Voice of the Enemy (2)

The Voice of the Enemy (2)

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

“Forget not the voice of thine enemies: the tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth continually” (Psalm 74:23).

[In the previous article we looked at an article by Mr. Gregory Paul, which concluded that belief in God is bad. Society is better off when there are fewer people who believe in God.]

The paper then concludes with several pages of e-mails sent in by listeners.

Diamond Sutherland (USA): “I completely agree that we have the most dysfunctional society. Anyone who needs to believe there is something more than them [sic] has no control over their own lives. We should be beyond believing in Gods by now. Gods were created because the early humans had no control over what was going on around them. We have control. Yet for some reason the Christian right believes we do not. Someone please throw a science book at these people.”

Jan Velema (Canada): “The reason that religion, especially Christianity, is bad for society is because most Christians believe that people come back from the dead. This is absurd! The ancient Norse and Greeks believed their Gods were real as well. To continue to teach your children impossibilities displays a lack of intellect. There must be an admittance of these mistaken past teachings in order for Christianity to survive. If not, it will continue to die a slow, painful death.”

Cliff Prosser (USA): “ But religion isn’t the issue ... faith is the issue. The Bible itself is replete with examples of religiosity that has no real substance. For example, the Pharisees of old who held great religious stature but gained no favour with God because they were self absorbed, intellectual and arrogant. Religion is not the answer. A true, deep, abiding belief and faith in a sovereign God and the blood of the Perfect Sacrificial Lamb (Jesus Christ) that He provided is the answer.”

Neil (USA): “Fact: Here in America we eat more ice cream in July than any other month. Fact: Here in America there are more rapes committed in July than any other month. Conclusion: Eating ice cream causes rape. This is the kind of shoddy statistical analysis your report depends on.”

Thomas Anderson (Canada): “Religion is the world’s most deadly weapon of mass destruction.”

Gern Blansden (USA): “Yes, religion is bad for society. Faith in each other is not. But the way modern religious leaders have warped and skewed faith in each other to become a basis for persecution and discrimination has turned religion into more of a liability for society than an asset. There is nothing religion provides to society that cannot be achieved through faith in each other and an extension of one’s own benevolence to others. Throw away the guilt, rules and controls of religion and instill faith and hope in each other and you turn around the state of this world. Open your minds. This world, our society, is not a mythological entity.”

We can hear the voice of God’s enemies, the spirit of anti-Christ, in this discussion. Mr. Paul believes he has proven, scientifically, that God is more of a nuisance than a help. Society would benefit if there weren’t so many of His followers around. We can only expect such an attitude to increase and become more vocal. Despite society’s praise of open-mindedness and tolerance, for how long will society tolerate those who would truly worship God or be open-minded toward those who hold God’s Word as Truth?

There is the assertion that God was only needed to explain the origin of the universe. Man no longer needs the creative power of God. However, is there no need for God’s recreative power in redemption? It appears mankind sees no sin from which he needs to be delivered. The Russian author Dostoyevsky was correct, apparently, when we wrote, “If God does not exist, then everything is permissible.” It’s becoming evident that not only are all things permissible, but nothing is sin either. No wonder anti-Christ has no need, and little tolerance remaining, for God.

Are we concerned about the perilous days which lay ahead for us and our covenant children? What will the voices of the enemy be saying soon, and what tumults will be raised against God’s Anointed One? God will not forget the enemies’ voice but His is the stronger voice. By the clear, unmistakable voice of His Word, God will gather, defend and finally raise from the grave all those who look to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith.

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The Voice of the Enemy (1)

The Voice of the Enemy (1)

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

“Forget not the voice of thine enemies: the tumult of those that rise up against thee increaseth continually” (Psalm 74:23).

The wars, possibilities of future conflicts, hurricanes and earthquakes of which we have read in the news bear testimony that Christ is returning. It is not as often, however, that we can read of the growth of man’s arrogance in his way of sin and his disdain for anything having to do with God and His Word. Yet, the voice of God’s enemies is increasing continually.

The Journal of Religion and Society recently published a study done by Gregory S. Paul. Mr. Paul is known as a leading international expert on dinosaur paleontology, but he turned his research abilities to the area of social science for a recent study. Mr. Paul investigated the belief that religion is of benefit to society. He writes,

As he helped initiate the American experiment Benjamin Franklin stated that “religion will be a powerful regulator of our actions, give us peace and tranquility within our minds, and render us benevolent, useful and beneficial to others.” When the theory of biological evolution removed the need for a supernatural creator concerns immediately arose over the societal implications of widespread abandonment of faith. In 1880 the religious moralist Dostoyevsky penned the famous warning that “if God does not exist, then everything is permissible.”

Mr. Paul’s study intends to investigate the relationship between society’s overall level of belief in a supernatural power and problems in society. By employing scientific research methods Mr. Paul comes to the conclusion that higher rates of belief correspond with higher levels of social problems while nations in which levels of belief are the lowest, are the nations which demonstrate the highest levels of societal health. Mr. Paul claims that this would not be true if believing in God were beneficial to society. He concludes,

If the data showed that the U.S. enjoyed higher rates of societal health than the more secular, pro-evolution democracies, then the opinion that popular belief in a creator is strongly beneficial to national cultures would be supported. Although they are by no means utopias, the populations of secular democracies are clearly able to govern themselves and maintain societal cohesion. Indeed, the data examined in this study demonstrates that only the more secular, pro-evolution democracies have, for the first time in history, come closest to achieving practical “cultures of life” that feature low rates of lethal crime, juvenile-adult mortality, sex related dysfunction, and even abortion. The least theistic secular developed democracies such as Japan, France, and Scandinavia have been most successful in these regards.

That is Mr. Paul’s conclusion. Belief in God is bad. Society is better off when there are fewer people who believe in God.

Mr. Paul’s study caught the attention of Andy Clark, host of “Amsterdam Forum,” an hour long shortwave radio program broadcasted by Radio Netherlands Worldwide. The printable on-line version of this broadcast begins:

Is having God on your side always advantageous? Well, a new study from the US says not necessarily so. The broad ranging study compares data from 18 developed democracies and it shows societies with higher levels of belief also have higher levels of societal dysfunction. The US was the most religious country in the study, with around 90 percent of people believing in a higher power, and it also showed the highest murder rates, highest levels of child mortality and highest levels of sexually transmitted disease and teenage pregnancy. An expert panel joined Amsterdam Forum this week to tackle the question: “Is religion bad for society?”

The panelists included Gregory Paul, and Peter Derkx, professor of Humanism and Worldview at the University for Humanistics in Utrecht. The paper includes a few key quotations from the discussion:

Peter Derkx: “I don’t think religion in itself is the problem. I think a particular type of religion is the problem and I would say an absolute belief in God is closer to what I think is a problem. I think that God as an authority figure causes people not to think for themselves critically and rationally and intelligently, and I think it’s very important when people meet problems in life that they think about what they want and what the best thing to do is, etcetera, instead of looking to some authority figure who tells the[m] what to do.”
Gregory Paul: “The Bible is whatever you want to make it, there are passages where God orders his followers to kill children, to mass murder children—this happens repeatedly. We need to start looking at whether the Bible is really a good moral guide. It’s a very dark book, in many ways, written by ancient tribal peoples, who in many regards didn’t know any better. This may be one of the reasons why the United States, which is more Bible-based than any other developed democracy, is suffering from some [sic] many societal problems.”
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