Christian Education Devotionals (81)

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.

Insulting the Hosts

Insulting the Hosts

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

“And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:16-18).

Max Tegmark is a physicist, cosmologist and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He recently wrote a book, Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (2017). An excerpt from this book appeared in the November 2017 issue of Discover magazine in an article titled, “Our Next Billion Years.”

Here’s how Tegmark’s article begins:

Thirteen point eight billion years after its birth, our universe has awoken and became aware of itself. From a small blue planet, tiny conscious parts of our universe have begun gazing out into the cosmos with telescopes, repeatedly discovering that everything they thought existed is merely a small part of something grander ... Although these self-aware stargazers disagree on many things, they tend to agree that these galaxies are beautiful and awe-inspiring.

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder, not in the laws of physics. So before our universe awoke, there was no beauty. This makes our cosmic awakening all the more wonderful and worthy of celebrating: It transformed our universe from a mindless zombie with no self-awareness into a living ecosystem harboring self-reflection, beauty and hope—and the pursuit of goals, meaning and purpose. Had our universe never awoken, then it would have been completely pointless—merely a gigantic waste of space. Should our universe permanently go back to sleep due to some cosmic calamity or self-inflicted mishap, it will become meaningless.

In the rest of the article, Tegmark makes some proposals which he claims are not impossible if mankind’s progress in science and technology continues at its present pace. For example, to ensure mankind’s survival and, thus, the consciousness of the cosmos, Tegmark dreams that, someday, mankind could send space probes to the stars programmed with artificial intelligence. These probes could prepare planets for man’s habitation. Men could follow these probes across space and live on the planets prepared for them or the probes could fabricate people from the matter available to populate other planets. Tegmark speculates man could spread across the galaxy at one-third the speed of light.

Oh, the things men might accomplish in the next billion years! If it weren’t for the promise of walking on streets paved with gold, one might wish to be there to witness the marvels of man’s achievements.

An unregenerate man gazes at the starry host and sees a place fit for the habitation of man. The universe is so large and beautiful that is a suitable setting for man to pursue his goals, find meaning for his existence and give his life purpose.

Man’s pride is so great that he views the universe as being vain and pointless until he evolved enough to take it all in and discover some of its mysteries. It’s as though the universe owes mankind a great debt of gratitude since we finally showed up to make it all worthwhile.

Truly, “They set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue walketh through the earth” (Ps. 73:9). Tegmark has great hopes that man can populate the galaxy with its diameter of thousands of light-years and do so at one-third of the speed of light. Meanwhile, people have actually travelled less than two light-seconds to walk on the moon and this relatively short trip took three days.

Tegmark refers to the universe as a “mindless zombie.” Scripture uses many active verbs when discussing creation, so creation is not a mindless zombie. Just thinking of Psalm 19, we see the heavens “declare;” the days “utter” speech; the nights “show” knowledge; the sun is “as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber.” In Isaiah 35, the wilderness is glad and rejoices with singing. The creation also waits for its redemption by Christ so it can be cleansed from the effects of sin.

Also, there is no place in Tegmark’s universe for God. The mindless universe simply runs by the laws of physics, not God’s “eternal providence and infinite power” (Belgic Confession 12). The unregenerate live in God’s creation, then act as though God, their Host, doesn’t exist. They help themselves to the food providentially provided, then don’t give thanks for it because they think the food comes of itself as the result of the laws of physics.

Tegmark also says there was no beauty in the universe since there was nobody there to behold it. In the text quoted above from Genesis 1, it’s clear there was Someone there to behold the universe before man was there and the Creator’s declaration was that “it was good.”

Such is the view of the unregenerate. They insult the hosts, both the starry host and the divine Host Himself.

Now it’s our turn to consider His heavens.

Since the evening twilight ended thirty minutes ago and the stars are out, let’s step outside. For us who live in the middle latitudes, if it’s spring, we witness the renewal of life which reminds us of the newness of life God has promised us in Christ. If it’s summer, the coming of night brings relief from the heat of the day, which great heat teaches us of God’s hot anger against sin. If it’s fall, we hear the rustling of fallen leaves which had previously put on such a grand display of God’s autumn palette reminding us that the death of God’s saints is precious in His sight. If it’s winter snow covers the hard, lifeless earth picturing what happens to us spiritually when we turn away from the light of God’s countenance. Each season has its lessons and so do the stars.

Now, let’s look up. There they are, the stars! They are “for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years” (Gen. 1:14). When we consider the vastness of the universe we humbly admit, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” (Ps. 8:4). Being aware of our utter insignificance, we are deeply gratified to remember that God really does more than merely notice us. “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them!” (Ps. 139:17). The great God who formed all the universe merely by His Word and continues to uphold it by His Spirit is, to our great astonishment, our God, and He has made us His children. The great, transcendent Creator is yet immanent enough to take delight in having covenant fellowship with us in Christ.

Tegmark is excited about what he imagines man’s next billion years might have in store. Our fellowship with our Father in His beautiful, recreated heaven and earth will last much longer than that, and it will be grander than we can imagine.


The Path of Life (1)

The Path of Life (1)

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

Psalm 119:105: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

Last summer, my family and I went on a long camping trip out West. Although not all members of the family would agree, one highlight of the experience was hiking in Grand Teton and Rocky Mountain National Parks. The scenery was beautiful and the weather was pleasant enough to allow us to do what we wanted to do.

If you are going hiking, there are some things which you had better bring with you. This is especially true when hiking with children. You had better bring ample food and you had better have plenty of water. It also helps to have a good map and a compass. The more popular trails are marked with signs but, if you wish to hike in areas of the park which are more remote and away from the crowds, you should have a map and compass.

Years ago my wife and I lived in Loveland, Colorado, so we could hike in the mountains. There used to be a sign in the Visitor Center at Rocky Mountain National Park which said, “The mountains don’t care.” The rangers were giving a warning with that sign. What the rangers meant was that if a hiker found himself in trouble, the mountains would not help. Did you not dress warmly enough? Don’t expect the mountains to give you a sweater or make the clouds go away so the sunshine can warm you. Did you not plan for the daily afternoon rain? Don’t expect the mountains to keep you dry. Did you not bring enough food or water? The mountains will not provide a convenience store for you.

Hiking and camping are good reminders about our place as pilgrims on earth. When we camp, we are only passing through for a short time. A permanent home awaits us at the end of the trip. When the weather is unpleasant, chilly or rainy (perhaps even snowy, if you are in the mountains) hikers and campers can look forward to the comforts of home. As Christians, we are to look forward to the promise of our lasting homes in heaven.

There is one hiking trail from this recent expedition which stands out in my memory. The trail began at a lake in the Grand Tetons. The trail went up the side of a ridge. The ridge was rather steep, so the trail had many switchbacks in it. Although the switchbacks make the trail longer, the fact that the trail goes up hill more gradually makes the hike less difficult. A hiking trail which goes straight up the ridge, though shorter in distance, would not only be harder, it would also cause erosion when rain water runs down it.

God can do this to us in life sometimes. We may believe we have a better, simpler or more pleasant way planned for our lives. The Israelites thought this when they left Egypt under the leadership of Moses. The promised land was only a short hike away along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea! Yet God led them by way of the Red Sea! God’s path for them did make sense. The Israelites had to learn to trust God and confess that His ways were always best, even in times when they could not see how that was true.

The trail in the Grand Tetons had some hazards along the way. There were many pine and aspen trees along the trail. The roots of these trees would often reach across the trail. If I did not watch my step, I could easily trip over the roots. The path also had many rocks in it. I had to keep my eyes open so I would not stumble over them.

We can trip or stumble on our path of life, too. Satan places temptations along our way. He would love to see us fall into sin. He especially enjoys it when our sins can cause us not to trust each other or even dislike each other. We have to be alert, constantly, for the many ways Satan tempts us in life, even here in our Christian school. We stumble when we call someone a name. We stub our toes when we make some one feel unwelcome. We fall when we spread or repeat nasty stories, whether they are true or false, about one another. As we grow older, and Satan gets to know us better, life’s temptations become more serious. We have more opportunities to experience what the world as to offer and we gain more independence from parents.

The weather during our hike was typical for the mountains. It was a partly cloudy afternoon with scattered showers. When the sun shone, it was pleasantly warm. I even took my sweatshirt off and tied it around my waist because I was becoming a little warm. Then the clouds would return and sometimes bring rain. The temperature would drop and I would put my sweatshirt on again. We hoped the rain would not settle in for the rest of the day.

Our lives are similar. There are times when God gives us the sunny days of prosperity. We enjoy what God gives us to do and the fellowship of those around us. We have the health we need to do the work God gives us to do. We have the ability to perform our responsibilities. These are the times for which we give thanks to God. However, there are also times when God sends cold rain into our lives. I can promise you, if God has not yet brought great sorrow to your life, the day comes when He will. We will all have to deal with the death of loved ones. There will be times when we struggle physically and spiritually. We may experience sickness. We may feel inadequate to do the tasks God lays before us. We begin to wonder if there is any point to doing our work anyway. These are the times when God instructs us to be patient in adversity.

We continued along the trail. We really could not see much of what was ahead of us because the trees were tall and thick. We could see some mountain tops through the trees from time to time and knew there must be some beautiful views ahead. The trail was beginning to feel a little long. As we continued up the trail, we met a man coming back. He stopped to talk with us. He told us, “You only have about 15 more minutes to walk. Then the trail opens into a beautiful valley. The view is spectacular!” That news gave a little more energy to our steps. I felt encouraged! This long hike would have a rewarding destination after all!

We have a rewarding destination too. No one has come back to earth from heaven to tell us what it is like. No one can even tell us how much longer we will have to continue on our pathway until God brings to heaven. However, we do have the Word of God. He has told us enough about His heavenly kingdom to know that it is beautiful and that we will love it there in perfect fellowship with Him in Jesus Christ.  ... to be continued


The Path of Life (2)

The Path of Life (2)

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

Psalm 119:105: “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”

Now I have to tell you about one bad experience I had along this path. I had something with me which I had counted on to give me help as I hiked this trail. I wore my nice, new Wolverine work boots. I depended on them to support and comfort my feet. However, my boots were not helpful to me that day. You see, I was not wearing two pairs of socks and the one pair I had on were rather thin. As I walked down the trail for the return trip, my toes, not having enough of a cushion, were slamming into the front of my boots. After a while, it was annoying and uncomfortable. I even wondered if I were bruising my toenails. There was even a time when I considered taking them off and hiking barefoot. I decided it would be worse to be without them, so I kept them on.

We all have something on which we depend to help, support and comfort us along our paths. In fact, you have about 250 of them right here. They are our Christian friends. God provides us with friends so He can help, support and comfort us. God’s Spirit uses means. We all need godly friends. They will support us with godly advice and prayers. They will comfort us with God’s Word when we are sorrowful. Perhaps most important of all, they will warn us when they see us walking in sin.

Unfortunately, just as my boots did, there are times when we don’t support or comfort each other as we should. We face a world of enemies. The world does not love God or His Word. Just as they hated Christ, they will hate those who do what Christ said. They will tempt us to leave His way. Our enemies will appear to be friendly, as they try to do us spiritual harm. We must support each other by warning our fellow Christians about the dangers of sin. Just as the mountains do not care about what happens to hikers, the world does not truly care about our spiritual well being.

We must also deal with our own weak flesh. Because we are sinful, we often think only of ourselves instead of others. We can be too concerned about our standing among our peers. If we know of someone who is less popular, instead of comforting them and letting them know they are welcome, we sometimes make them feel bad so we can be accepted by others. We all need to know that as we go through life we are not alone, but have Christians for friends with whom we can share the joys and fellowship of salvation.

When hiking in the mountains it is a good idea to bring a map and a compass. A map can help determine distances so you know if you have enough time to finish your hike. A map also helps when someone in the group asks about the name of a mountain or lake. The compass is not just for telling you which way is north. The compass can prevent you from becoming lost. A map and compass also help if you would like to hike a circuit instead of a simple out and back trail.

God has given us a map and compass for Christian living. He does not put us on this earth and tell us to make our own way or determine for ourselves what is right and wrong. The light God gives us is the light of His Word. Although all things are planned by God, He made us with the ability to think and make decisions. All of us have to make decisions in life. Some decisions are harder than others. We do not have to blindly guess about what to do. With God’s Word as our light, we will be able to recognize the difference between the path of sin and the path which pleases God.

If a hiker becomes lost and stubbornly refuses to use his map and compass, we would think he is foolish. If he insists on trying to find his own way back, we would doubt if he would ever return safely. What would you think of a hiker who is in a misty fog and needs to know which way is north, then just guesses instead of taking out the compass which is right there in his pocket?

Having spiritual wisdom so we can recognize sin is not something which happens to us automatically. Just praying for God to give us wisdom does not help. The wisdom of God is found in the Bible. In order to be wise so we can avoid sin, we must read the Bible. To pray for wisdom, then not make the time to read God’s Word, is foolish. I doubt that any one of us would have a hard time finding a Bible which we could read. It is much more likely that we could choose from several we have in the house. Our Bibles should not be for decorating tables and night stands. We must read them. I remember a classmate trying to explain to our pastor why his catechism work wasn’t finished. He claimed his brother had taken the Bible to do his work and didn’t return the Bible to its proper place so he couldn’t find it. The minister simply replied that my classmate should have used the Bible he read every night in bed just before going to sleep. The minister made his point.

We have a pathway to walk in life. The path is not always smooth and easy. It will involve difficulties and sorrows. That is the Christian life. However, we should not become so involved with the next step on the path that we forget the beautiful end God has in store for His people. We have to take the time to remember the wonderful promises God gives to us in our crucified and risen Saviour. We need wisdom to walk this path. God has promised to give us the light of His Word to guide us along the way.


The Growth of Sin (2)

The Growth of Sin (2)

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

Pay attention each day to what is important to us: God or the things of this earth? Do we see sin in ourselves? We certainly will, but God will speak to us about our sins through godly friends, proper preaching, our reading of the Bible and the witness of the Spirit who lives in the hearts of His people. Do not be stubborn in sin or refuse to confess it. God has promised forgiveness through the cross of Jesus Christ to those who, by the work of His Spirit, confess their sins to Him.

Are we falling into the sin of hypocrisy? Is what we do only for the eyes of men? Will we only put on a good show, as the farmer who looks good but is really sowing the wind? Are we only interested in how we appear to others but not in giving to God the fruit of thankfulness? If we have these little acorns of sin in us, that sin will grow. Will God have to send the hurricane of His anger to tear the mighty oak tree of sin from our lives?

How are we doing here at school? Are we going through life with little acorns of sin in our pockets? Do we speak kindly to, and about, each other or do we sin against each other by the words we speak? Do we put our talents to the best use or don’t we care about doing our best? Do we see God has blessed us in giving us our churches and schools, or do we grumble about having to learn another catechism lesson or memory verse?

The little acorn grows to be a huge oak. Planting the sin of hypocrisy brings about the hurricane of God’s judgment. Sin, small as it may seem to be, will grow into something terribly dangerous and destructive, if we do not turn from it.

A whirlwind is different. A check in my concordance tells me the word is “hurricane.” Now a hurricane is a bit different from wind. When you warn people that a hurricane is coming their way, things happen. Valuable belongings are packed. Windows are boarded up. A man will make his house as secure as possible so the coming storm will cause the least amount of damage. People make plans to leave the area and live elsewhere for a time. Some of us are scared of big thunderstorms. Many more of us would be scared of a hurricane.

Hosea tells us the farmer will harvest the whirlwind. A whirlwind is much different from wind. The wind can be nice, enjoyable and pleasant. Here in Michigan we can have hot, humid days in the summer. When you were playing or working outside on one of those uncomfortable days, have you ever said you were glad that at least there was a breeze to cool you off somewhat? A nice little wind does not scare us, cause us to run for cover or to prepare our property for possible damage. We often like it. The weather forecasters do not give watches or warnings for the coming of a pleasant wind.

Another surprising thing is that this false farmer actually has a harvest! Had he sown wheat, we would not be surprised to find the farmer would harvest wheat. But this farmer planted the wind! What kind of crop could possibly sprout when the wind is sown?

In a church, he would be called a hypocrite. Hypocrites look good but their work does not bring forth the fruit God commands. There is no true crop of thankfulness to God for all the blessings He has so graciously given. All the hypocrite’s work is for the purpose of an outward show for men to see. The hypocrite seeks the praise of men, not the glorifying of God’s name.

There is only one thing wrong. His seed bag is empty. Yet he looks good! He is in the proper place! He is going through the proper motions! He looks for all the world as a good, diligent farmer! But the only thing in his hand which he sows is the air, wind. He is a false farmer. All the work which this man has done will yield no crop worth having. He is only putting on a show of diligence to those around him.

There is just one little problem though. It is a problem we might not notice from a distance. We need to look carefully at this man. He has something slung over his shoulder. It is a bag. Had we been around in those days we would have recognized what the bag was. It was the bag in which the sower carries seed. Farmers would walk across their fields, reach into the bag, grab a handful of seeds and then, with a wave of the hand, cast the seed into the soil. They would do this again and again until the entire field was planted.

This man is even dressed as a farmer. He does not look out of place because he is dressed as a merchant, potter or carpenter. To the eye, everything appears to be proper. We see a man doing a job for which he is prepared and he seems to know what he is doing.

Hosea uses a picture to instruct the people. Hosea speaks about a man who appears to be a farmer. The man gives every appearance of being one. The man is not standing in a street or in the middle of a house. When we see him he is in a field. Work has been done to prepare the soil for seed. Everything looks ready for the sowing of seed.

Hosea is speaking to Israel about the coming judgment of God against them for their sin. Israel has made idols to worship and set up kings of whom God did not approve. God speaks about the calf of Samaria, Israel’s capital, being broken in pieces. What is amazing is that the people of Israel thought they could still call upon God’s name in their time of distress and He would deliver them. God tells them there will be no deliverance from the enemy but that the enemy will pursue them.

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.”


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.


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.


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 ...


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).


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


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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