Articles

Christian Education Devotionals (104)

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.

Thirteen!

Thirteen!

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

“I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10).

I spent a lot of time with my cousins while I was growing up. It was fun. Several of us were about the same age which allowed us plenty of opportunities for play. An advantage for me in this situation was that I came as close as an only child could to having brothers and sisters, but, since I was not always with them, we did not have to go through the arguments which are mandatory for siblings.

One of our favourite activities was playing basketball. I learned a few things during those contests. The calendar said my cousin Bob was two years older than I, but while he was above average in size and strength, I was below average in those two categories. He seemed four years older. I learned strength is an advantage in athletic competition. I also learned that quickness is overrated because although my quickness allowed me to reach the best spot under the basket first, his strength decreed I was not going to stay there long. My winning percentage against him was not high.

Yet, sometimes, you “just gotta win!” So, one morning during breakfast, I asked, “What’s the record here for eating toast?” I do not remember the answer but it might have been eight or ten. I was determined not to leave the table until I had set a new record and not by just one measly piece of toast either! By applying only a thin layer of butter on each piece of toast and progressively loosening my belt one hole at a time, I consumed thirteen pieces of toast, shattering the old record. I felt firmly ensconced as the toast-eating champ! Desire and appetite had produced astounding results.

Psalm 81:10 causes us to consider our spiritual appetites. The Psalm begins by reminding us of God’s grace in the deliverance of Israel from the cruel bondage of Egypt. The events at the waters of Meribah gave evidence of Israel’s unworthiness to be called God’s people. Their rebellion and stubbornness demonstrated that Israel did not deserve to experience God’s favour. Israel’s history also makes clear that their deliverance could not be attributed to any other god. Israel would give no excuse for idolatry.

God uses His covenant name in verse 10. He is the God who is able to keep all the promises He has spoken to His people. His purposes will not be frustrated by Satan nor by the weak and sinful flesh of His own people. Sacred history affirms God’s ability to save His people.

Regarding the future, we are told to open our mouths wide and God will fill it. If we find ourselves hungry, God is not at fault. He has plenty to give. Those who hunger either have their mouths open only a little or find the bread of the Word disgusting, so they keep their mouths clamped shut. Those who have their mouths open wide by the faith given to them by God, will find their desire for bread completely satisfied.

Our children have that opportunity in our Christian schools. I know the Word is not preached here, nor are the sacraments administered here. Yet, in large part our schools exist because of the preaching of the gospel to His covenant people and our commitment to keep the vows spoken at the sacrament of baptism. Also God’s Word is brought to His people in covenant schools when instruction is given in the light of His truth.

The question is, what appetite do our children have in school? Are mouths open wide because the Triune God has been pleased to allow us to have our own schools? How great is the desire to learn of God’s work in time and creation? If the appetite is small, that which is eaten will be as well.

However, Psalm 81 does not end on a positive note: “But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me.” God had given Israel over to their own sinful lusts. They walked in the ways their earthly wisdom dictated were best. The result was disastrous.

May God give His grace so we learn from what happened to Israel. He is not mocked. As parents must do what we can to send to school children with healthy appetites. As the years of instruction go by, we had better tell them to keep loosening their belts. God will use our schools as part of the means to fill the wide open mouths of His covenant children. By a hearty desire to learn how God’s Word applies to different areas of life and an appetite for the Word which is our guide on earth, God accomplishes the great work of having His people live in covenant fellowship with Him in Jesus Christ.

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Be Thankful for This Burden

 

Be Thankful for This Burden

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

Psalm 55:22: “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.”

Signs that the school year is still young are all around us. As yet archeologists would find no layers of sediment at the bottoms of junior high lockers through which to sift for artefacts. The cleaned carpets have not yet been redecorated by young impressionist artists with their favourite media of spilled chocolate milk and orange drink. The OD-AB remains securely sealed in classroom closets. Not only do pencils and crayons still have points but most students believe their assignments do also.

Soon, however, lockers will become an archeological dig, spilled liquids will decorate carpets, stomachs will become upset, and pencil points and interest will become dull. We know January is coming. It’s the month when spring vacation is distant and exams have drained a touch of vigour from some students. “Blowing and drifting snow” becomes an eagerly anticipated phrase.

May follows. Students are convinced that homework takes away all opportunity for fun. Parents will wonder whether it really is possible that there is another Bible test for which they must help their student to prepare. Another cheque needs to be written. Another school function requires our attendance when we would rather relax at home. Teachers will look at another pile of papers to be graded, certain they are some strange strain of bacteria which multiplies before their very eyes. The amount of work related to school can become a burden.

This is when we must be careful. Recognizing there are burdens in life is not sinful but how we respond to them can be. What enemy might be near, tuned to the thoughts of our hearts and ready to sow seeds of discontent? Would Satan jump at the opportunity to cause us to envy those who have a few hundred dollars of additional “discretionary income” available each month because they have no baptismal vows to honour or do not see covenant instruction as part of the keeping of that vow?

Our first Song of the Week for this school year comes from Psalm 55 which instructs us about burdens. I had quite a surprise when I started to read about this verse. John Calvin makes the point that the word “burden” would better have been translated as “gift.” He would translate verse twenty-two this way: “Cast thy giving upon Jehovah, and he shall feed thee: he shall not suffer the righteous always to stagger.” Sure enough, my concordance supports Calvin by saying that the word translated as “burden” comes from a Hebrew word which means “to give.”

Calvin instructs us to view this giving or gift “as meaning all the benefits which we desire God to give us.” We are to rely upon His providence to provide us those gifts for which we ask. “There is no other method of relieving our anxious souls, but by reposing ourselves upon the providence of the Lord.”

Do we view our Christian schools as gifts from God to supply our need for covenant instruction? I am thankful that the impression I have from those involved with our schools is that we do. Yet it is possible to take our covenant schools for granted, especially now that we have had them for many years. They do require sacrifices of time, effort, money and frequent prayers.

Schools can seem to be a burden. Yet they are gifts given to us by God in His providential care. We are to be diligent in our efforts in supporting our schools in the coming year, yet trusting our Lord not to suffer us to be moved. He will give us His gifts. Is the cost of our schools a burden which is too high? What would it cost to be without them?

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As the Shining Light

As the Shining Light

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PR Christian School

Proverbs 4:17-18: “But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.”

Solomon has just warned us not to enter the path of the wicked. We should not set even a first footstep on that path. Our sinful flesh would find it appealing and, having tasted the way of evil, we would find it difficult to leave. Solomon also warned us about the character of those on the wicked path. They do not seek our good, for their motivation is their desire to see others fall.

Through Solomon, God now encourages us by displaying the antithetical contrast between the path of the just and the way of the wicked. Keeping this instruction in mind will help us to walk the right path.

Solomon speaks first of the path of the just. The just are those who are upright. They can stand before God as those who have no guilt of sin clinging to them.

Some claim they have attained justification before God themselves. They have performed an abundance of good works and fought successfully against their sinful natures. Their remaining flaws are mere foibles which make them no worse than others. They have subdued the man of sin and now are without sin. They have finally conquered sin in their flesh.

The Reformed believer knows better. Yes, we are just and can stand before God the judge as those who have no sin. However, we know this is all of Christ. The perfectly righteous One took all our sins upon Himself and carried them to the cross where His shed blood covered our every sin. That was not all. God then took Christ’s perfect obedience and credited that to our accounts. We are just by the faith which joins us to our perfect mediator.

These just have a manner of living their lives. There is no boasting in self-righteousness. They do not carry themselves as holier than others. They live humbly before God knowing they have been saved by grace alone. They are prayerful, confessing sin and its origin in themselves, then giving thanks for what God has done for their salvation.

This path is as a shining light. Although this light is bright, not being as a candle or firefly, it is not harsh. It is not the type of light which makes one cover one’s eyes with the hands for protection. It is not annoying or blinding. It is not as the early morning or late evening sun which blinds you as you drive to or from work causing you to lower your car’s visor.

This light sparkles pleasantly and glitters with joy. This light brings out brilliant colours making the Creator’s world glorious and a joy to behold. It’s the light that puts the velvety glow on a violet’s petals, the playful, myriad sparkles on a mountain lake and varies the emerald hues of green on the verdant hills of Northern Ireland.

This light shines more and more. It is as the dawning of a new day. The first faint glow of light filters into the eastern sky. Then the sun appears and rises higher in the sky until it reaches its zenith. Strangely, there the sun stops and we have the perfect, complete and finished, light of the noon sun. God’s children will reach that point on the path of the just. God will give us joy and blessing. Our sorrows will be gone. We will walk in the perfect day of God’s kingdom in the new heavens and the new earth.

We know all too well that the increasing shining of the light does not mean that our lives are characterized by steady spiritual growth and constant improvement in living in the fear of our great God. Clouds of trouble, anxiety and discontent sometimes gather. We avert our furrowed faces from the light. There are eclipses of the sun for God’s people. David fell into the sins of adultery and murder. Peter denied his Lord. We can all look at our lives and see that it is so. We give thanks that God promises grace for each day and also works repentance in our hearts. Our God’s countenance is gracious and forgiving, an ever faithful, healing light.

The way of the wicked is not anything close to the path of the just. It is dark there, completely dark. God does not strategically place mirrors of common grace to reflect a bit of His light on the way of the reprobate wicked to show them He desires their salvation if only they would accept His gracious offer of salvation. It is only darkness. It is a way of gloominess where the dismal darkness never lifts. It is the darkness of sin. They love to have it so. Their spiritual father is Satan who cannot abide the light. They love the lie, prefer to hear the lie and desire to walk the path of the wicked either in wilful ignorance or bold defiance.

The darkness of the wicked way causes them to stumble. They fall into sin since they have no light and truth. It is foolishness! If you are in the dark and keep falling, find some light for your safety! It is obvious! When my children were very young, they would sometimes neglect to put away some of their toys. As a father of little children, it did not take me long to learn that one should never walk into a dark room. Turn on the light first! Stepping on a small metal aeroplane or Lego building block is not pleasant in bare feet. It was a lesson quickly learned.

Still, the wicked will have nothing to do with light. They hate it. They would prefer to walk over hot coals on their way to destruction than to dip their feet in God’s stream of cool, living water. Such is the nature of fallen man.

Those are the two paths. They have nothing in common. They do not intersect and they certainly do not end in the same place. God has warned us not to set foot upon the way of the wicked for it brings certain ruin. He understands as well our weakness and our frailty in that our flesh finds the way of the wicked appealing. He has graciously placed us on the path of the just. He has promised us that even our worst sins cannot separate us from His love. He will walk with us on this path as our Father.

May God work in the hearts of our children so they discern the differences of these two paths, and live and walk the way of the just, the way illuminated by the life-giving light of their faithful Father’s face.

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Turn from the Way of Evil

Turn From the Way of Evil

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

Proverbs 4:14-17: “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away. For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away unless they cause some to fall. For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence.”

Solomon has just urged his listener to hold fast to godly instruction because it is life, the true spiritual life of fellowship with God. However, what happens once Solomon’s school is out for the day and the student goes his own way; what then? Solomon is not naive but is very aware of what awaits his young listener.

Solomon understands the world is not basically good, with its inhabitants desiring to live virtuous lives of harmony, peace and self-improvement. The world is not neutral so one can influence it for the better by one’s own good example. Solomon has observed life and has discerned the dominance of the paths of the wicked and the ways of evil men. The deeply rutted path, the path whose soil is compacted by many footfalls so there is no longer any vegetation, the path which is wide to accommodate large numbers of travellers does not lead to heaven. The heavenly path is strait, narrow and relatively unpopulated. The broad way, whose many travellers raise a cloud of dust as they pass, is the path of destruction.

Solomon leaves no doubt as to the character of those on the path. This path belongs to the wicked and the evil. Solomon does his listener a service by carefully describing whose path this is because appearances are deceiving. The sole occupants of the path are not the dregs of society. They are not a motley crew dressed in rags. The path does not flow with blood because of murder and violence. We do not hear screams of terror or the tumult of fighting. These people appear quite normal, perhaps even pleasant. We would hear the murmur of pleasant conversation and laughter among friends.

Yet these people are wicked and evil. Although they would claim to be good people, and their companions would concur, God declares them to be wicked. They are not moral in the biblical sense of the word. They do not seek the glory of God, nor are they interested in serving Him. Their outward keeping of God’s law does not please Him because their deeds do not originate from hearts where faith resides. Although they may feel some regret for some of their past actions, they do not confess, repent and seek forgiveness for their sins. They do not extol the God of salvation in Jesus Christ who saves His people by grace alone.

What is Solomon’s listener to do? Solomon does not direct his son to sit in a little corner with a little book. He is not to hike to the top of a distant hill and live an ascetic life. The son knows the wicked path exists because he lives as a member of society and, as a result, must interact with the wicked as he makes his living, but he is not even to enter that path in fellowship.

Solomon understands the organic nature of sin. Sin grows. Unless we quickly repent and recognize the nature of the way we have just entered, we all too easily continue on the path of the wicked and are swept along with the evil. Do not imagine one may only go down the path a certain distance, only just so far, then quickly and effortlessly return to God’s way. Solomon knows life does not work that way. One must avoid the wicked way as one had to avoid those unclean with leprosy. Just pass by. Solomon knows the weakness of the flesh. A curious glance at the evil way too often arouses sinful longing for abandoning the restricted way of God, the constant denying of the flesh through self-sacrifice. Remember, Lot’s wife took a forbidden, yet longing, look back at the way of evil. Solomon knows the danger of us imagining ourselves to be stronger than we are. Turn from that evil way and pass by it.

We must turn from the evil way because of the nature of those who walk it. An often overlooked necessity of life is sleep. We do not appreciate sleep as we should until it becomes illusive. Then we know its value. Solomon teaches that the wicked will not sleep until they have done mischief. When the wicked lays his head on his pillow, he does not investigate his life and ask whom he has helped that day. He will not sleep unless he has done mischief, to make someone good for nothing or do them harm. He would never seek to help a companion develop a closer life with God. His goal is the opposite.

They have to make someone fall. To see someone upright in their walk with God is intolerable to them. Such a person must be brought down. Get the crowd to entice the upright to join with them. Exhibit the fun and good times available if the upright would just let their hair down for once. Join us and there are opportunities to advance socially and materially. They lie as did their spiritual father, the source of lies.

Bread is the staple of life, basic necessary food. The world’s bread is wickedness. They feed off of it. It sustains their ungodly lives. They must have their wickedness or life is finished. That is not the company Solomon would have his son join.

Wine is a luxury, an added delight when enjoyed properly. Violence is like wine to those who are evil: a bit extra to be enjoyed when opportunity arises. They enjoy as a sweet treat the use of underhanded, subtle dealings to enrich themselves materially or delve more deeply into depravity.

May God give us and our children discretion to turn from the way of evil, and the wisdom we need to walk in fellowship with Him and His saints.

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Holding Fast to Instruction

Holding Fast to Instruction

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

Proverbs 4:13: “Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.”

Now that my children have grown older, they believe a vacation involves at least two, long, gruelling days of driving. Back in the simpler times, a trip to Ludington State Park along Lake Michigan’s east shore satisfied them. No trip to Ludington is complete without a hike to the lighthouse. On one these hikes, we arrived quite early in the morning. As no other vacationers were there, the volunteer stationed at the lighthouse said he would take us to the top of the lighthouse for free. A Dutch family cannot pass on such an offer.

One of our children had just become very steady walking and preferred to have both feet on the ground and navigate on his own. However, I refused to put the child down because the railing at the top did not inspire confidence. Also, if the child decided to head back down, the first few steps going down the iron spiral stairs were too tricky for a toddler. I held on tight to the child who squirmed desperately to escape. Small, wiry children can become difficult to hold when they don’t want to be held. I had horrible visions of the child catapulting himself out of my arms and over the railing. I wished the guide would cut the speech short so this stressful event could end.

Here Solomon tells his son to hold on tight to instruction. This is not easy to do. This is not the holding such as slipping something small into your pocket. That would be fine for something which is not all that valuable.

“To take fast hold” implies some courage and effort. It’s what David told Joab to do after Joab had lost a battle so Uriah would be killed. David told Joab to take hold of Rabbah by making his efforts stronger. This taking hold also involves strength. What’s being held is difficult to control. It’s a wrestling match. Muscles are strained. Fatigue sets in, yet the struggle continues. That is how Solomon wants his son to hold to the instruction he gives.

Once the son has this instruction in his grasp, he is not to let her go. It’s not the case that instruction wants to get away. She does not want to escape to find some place where she will be more appreciated. The struggle is because by nature we do not value spiritual instruction as we ought. It’s difficult to keep the long-range blessing of heaven in mind and to be patient, when the sinful world offers its pleasures immediately and, apparently, easily. It’s hard to hold tight to instruction which the world ridicules. We’ve heard it. The Bible is too outdated for today’s world. Why would you want to live your life by a book whose newest parts are nearly two thousand years old? However, God’s Spirit enlightens our hearts so we see the value of the instruction given in His Word.

The son has taken fast hold of instruction, he hasn’t let her get away and now he must keep her. He must lock her up in a place that is secure. Sometimes something is locked away securely because it is dangerous. Some waste from nuclear power plants is buried deep underground, monitored and protected because of what could happen if it fell into the wrong hands. Nor do we keep instruction locked away as we keep dangerous criminals.

This is to keep as the most protected place in a king’s castle. The greatest treasures and wealth of the kingdom were in the keep. The keep was the most secure place in the palace, guarded by the men the king trusted the most. We must keep the instruction God gives us in the same way. Spiritual instruction must be as valuable to us as crown jewels.

The instruction Solomon has in mind here is not the skills of a craftsman. It’s not the instruction given on how to take care of property or equipment. This is the spiritual instruction of living before God. We need to know His Word so we can behave ourselves as His children and show that He is our Lord.

This command includes the motivation that the son’s life is preserved. This instruction is life. The world presents many temptations to us. Fathers have experienced many temptations themselves and have heard of the spiritual struggles of others. They can pass these spiritual lessons to the next generation. Children must be taught the deceitfulness of Satan. They must see what happens when we foolishly walk the way our flesh prefers. When Satan presents sin as enjoyable and innocent enough and nobody will be hurt by it, Satan shows he is the father of the lie. Satan’s way leads to death.

Godly instruction is life, which is why it must be held so tenaciously. This does not refer to the life of the body though there are physical consequences of some sins. Obeying God can keep us from some of the physical effects of sin. This is spiritual life which is ours in Christ. It’s a life of obedience to God by which we experience fellowship with God as our Father, a Father who loves and finds pleasure in His children. We all died in Adam’s fall. In Christ we have been made alive. Christ gave His life that His elect might no longer be dead in sin but be reborn in newness of life.

May our students see the instruction given at home and in school as valuable so they keep it and experience life in Christ.

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Led in the Right Paths

Led in the Right Paths

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

Proverbs 4:11-12: “I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths. When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.”

I still remember when my wife and I took our first child home from the hospital. I unlocked the door, stepped into the kitchen of our Loveland, Colorado, apartment, and placed the baby, who was safe and secure in her car seat, on the kitchen table. The baby immediately began to cry. I looked at my wife. I was wondering, “O.K., now what?” I knew nothing about babies. I had held one baby one time in all my life. I had no idea what this child wanted. Meeting the physical needs of our children is challenging enough. What about instructing them in the fear of God? So, what’s a father to do?

We have a good example to follow here. The father in Proverbs 4 taught and led his son. He was active in his son’s life to point out how the son should live his life before the face of God. The father was not a predestination fatalist. He did not assume the attitude that the salvation of his son was determined by God in eternity, so whatever he does, or does not do, is of no consequence. How could his actions affect God’s eternal determination of the destiny of his son’s soul? If his son is saved, he’s saved. If he is not, he’s not. It’s out of his hands and, therefore, there is nothing he can do about it either way.

This father obeys his sovereign Lord. One aspect of being sovereign is that one may do as one pleases. He is free to do according to his own will. Nobody can tell him what to do. Yes, God is sovereignly free. He will elect whomsoever He will by grace alone.

Yet, there’s another aspect of sovereignty which we sometimes forget. A sovereign king has the right to tell those under him how he wants things to be done. God has told us how He wants His children reared. We may not sit back and hide behind the doctrine of predestination, as though we have no work to do in the rearing of His children. God commands us to teach and lead the children He has given to us. We had better do as He commands or there will be spiritual consequences, and God will hold us accountable.

This father taught his son. He pointed out the way marked out by God’s word. He told his son what was good and what was evil. God has the right to determine that and we have the obligation to obey. Just as a father taught his son the use of the bow and arrow to hit a target, the father pointed out the mark of obeying God.

This father also led his son. He and his son walked the same path of life, hand in hand, as a father leads his young son. This was not some random wandering, “Let’s see where the path happens to take us today.” The path was deliberately chosen. The father had a certain goal to achieve. He was not as a workman seeing whether or not he could bend a piece of wood into an as yet undetermined shape as an experiment. He was as a man placing his foot on his bow to bend it enough so he could pull the bowstring tight over it. He has a clearly defined goal, a dedicated purpose.

The father did not teach his son the way of the world or how to measure up as a man in the eyes of society. He taught the way of wisdom. This way was not some nearly overgrown, hard to see path in the remote hills. This way had been travelled many times by those who had gone before and it is easily visible. The way is a course of life, one’s usual way of living, conversing and acting. This was wisdom’s way, the way of the skilful use of God’s Word to determine what decisions to make in the different stages of life.

He led his son in paths which were right. The path did not lead through brambles or patches of poison ivy. It did not go by the opening of the bear’s den or on a narrow ledge along the side of a windblown cliff. The path ran straight and even. Also, this path had been used many times, so often in fact, that it had nearly become a trench. It was a track which had been used over and over again in the past. The father led his son on the path which had been used innumerable times by God’s people. It was nothing new. It was an old path.

As a result of his father’s faithful instruction, the son experienced benefits. First, his steps were not straitened. This does not mean his steps ran straight and true to the south or some other direction. This is “strait” in the sense of a narrow, difficult passage. Think of the Straits of Magellan. The son’s steps were not in a way which was oppressive or difficult. Although the son would experience the oppression of the wicked for his steps on God’s right path, he would not feel that God’s hand was raised against him in anger. He would not suffer the vexation of his soul for turning onto the path of sin. His experience of covenant fellowship with the Triune God in Jesus Christ would be warm and pleasant.

The second benefit for the son was that, when he ran, he would not stumble. There is a pace to life as we walk before God. Often the days move by in a regular rhythm. We live each week in a routine. The weeks go by without any great change. Life is a steady walk.

However, sometimes the pace quickens. Our children make important decisions. Suddenly, big plans have to be made. Perhaps there is a move to attend college or take a job in another part of the country. To prepare for these great changes, the pace of life quickens. We and our children run. Because this son has been taught the way of wisdom and was led in right paths, he will not stumble. He will discern the temptations around him and avoid them. He will not stumble into sin. He will not waver because his knees or ankles are weak and feeble. He will run strongly and evenly with God’s law to give him strength.

May God use our schools, and may teachers and parents do their parts, to show His children wisdom’s way and the right paths. Then God’s children will not stumble but will walk the beautiful way of fellowship with Him.

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Hear, O My Son

Hear, O My Son

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

Proverbs 4:10: “Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many.”

As Solomon continues his instruction about the benefits of wisdom, he is very concerned about his audience. He is speaking to his son, a deeply personal relationship. Solomon is not addressing a steward in his household. He is not seeking to increase the productivity of his land by passing on some agricultural insight to a husbandman. Neither is Solomon speaking to a neighbour or friend. Although these relationships can be deep, long-lasting and greatly treasured, each will soon go his own way and live a separate life.

Solomon speaks to his son, one of the closest relationships God has created, a parent to his child. Also, Solomon does not speak here to his sons as a group. This is a one on one conversation, intimate. While the son is under his father’s roof, their lives share many things. They share a great many details in their lives and relationships. A father is responsible to give his son a start in life, not just in making a living, to pay the bills; but a godly father points to the way of developing a covenant relationship with his Father in heaven.

Solomon commands his son to hear. This is already the fourth time this word has been used in Proverbs. Solomon has used synonyms as well on a few other occasions. As teachers, we are painfully aware of the different levels of hearing. There are days when our words appear to go in one ear of students and out the other. When a class is large and talkative, we can feel our presence in the classroom is not all that effective. Perhaps all the students need is a recorded message, repeated every few minutes, telling them to calm down, be quiet and concentrate on their work. That behaviour is not really hearing.

God chose the word “hear” for Solomon to use because of its implications. The hearer is intelligently engaged in the conversation. This instruction is one-on-one, not one-on-twenty-five as is often the case in a classroom where, understandably, a child’s attention can wander. Solomon has the attention of his son. As Solomon speaks to his son, they can look each other in the eye. Solomon also expects obedience from his son. His son will hear, attentively and intelligently, and then will obey.

Once the son hears the instruction, he must receive it. Solomon is not pleading with his son. He isn’t making an offer to his son, an offer which his son can take or refuse according to his whim. Solomon commands his son to receive his sayings, to take it in, in the same way we receive nourishment from good food. It is in us. It becomes part of us. It sustains us. This is Solomon’s goal for the instruction he gives.

Solomon commands his son to hear and receive his sayings. This is a broad term and can include many things. However, what has Solomon been talking about so far in Proverbs? Solomon was quite wealthy. Many people would like to have Solomon teach them about wise investing and how to make money. However, Proverbs does not pass along get-rich-quick schemes. Nor is Solomon instructing his son in posturing, how to show bravado so as not to be taken advantage of by others. We have not read about how to make sure one is not getting the short end of the stick in some deal.

Solomon gives his son the instruction he needs to view the world properly. The world is a dangerous place, filled with temptations for a young man. His son needs discretion to know good from evil. The son needs to see the ultimate end of temptation. Sin appears good. Satan deceitfully presents his way of evil as a path filled with excitement and pleasure. Solomon shows his son the real end of temptation and sin; and it is not pleasant.

Solomon’s sayings have been pointing out to his son the fear of the Lord. Jehovah is Lord. It is His right to give commandments which He demands be obeyed. The Lord has the right to tell how to behave in the various relationships in life. The Lord decrees what has true value and what will last. The son must fear Him who rules over every aspect of life. The son must know the world seeks to turn us away from God and join them in their way of sin. The world demands the son will fear public opinion and the derision they display for those who strive to lead a godly life.

Solomon has a promised benefit for his son for hearing and receiving his sayings. He speaks of a life of many years. This cannot refer to a long earthly life. Although God has given many of His saints long life, a life with many joyful days, and we can desire that God allows us to live out what we believe to be our full allotment of years, such is not always how life unfolds. We know of wicked people who have lived for many years and have enjoyed more than they could have wished. At the other end of the spectrum of life, we are sadly aware that those who love God do not always have long lives. In the summer of 2015, our denomination witnessed that God may take an eight-year-old son or a thirty-year-old father. God’s will is done.

This life of many years is found in heaven. God ultimately fulfils His promises there. There our lives will increase to the full measure of God’s blessing and fellowship. God’s people will not scarcely scrape by in heaven, carefully parcelling out meagre rations. We will not worry about having enough to see us through periods of want. God has heaped heavenly blessings and riches for His elect.

May God work by His Spirit in the hearts of His children so they hear and receive His truth, a truth which will give them a life of everlasting years in the risen and exalted Christ.

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Wisdom's Crown

Wisdom’s Crown

Brian D. Dykstra, teacher at Hope PRCS 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 Authorized Version 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 would be interested in the gold, perhaps. Maybe you have 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 is 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, then, 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 is 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 are not given this ornament because we have striven for it. It is 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 did not 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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A Living Testimony

A Living Testimony

Brian D. Dykstra

Psalm 119:63: “I am a companion of all them that fear thee, and of them that keep thy precepts.”

God created man as a social being. Each of us needs to experience that there is a place where we belong. Also, though God saves each individual who belongs to Him, we are not delivered in different individual ways but in the one way of the cross as those who belong to the body of Christ.

We are, however, social to different degrees. Some saints move comfortably only within a small circle of people. Then there are those who are similar to a dear friend of mine. He loves plenty of companionship and conversation. When he was faced with the reality of a 2200-mile solitary drive, he realized this would be a punishment for him. He began to call his friends to find one who would fly out to meet him, then ride/drive with him. I went. We soon settled into a routine for the expedition. When he drove, I would listen; when I drove, he would sleep. We, and the friendship, survived the trek.

In the church, this companionship is expressed as the communion of the saints. This is the fellowship of the living body of Christ. The communion of the saints, fellowship with other believers, is one of the purposes of our school. We desire our children to have godly companions.

We do not expect all of the students to have all of the other students as their best friends. There are differences of personalities and interests. Getting along and showing kindness are the best we can expect in some cases.

Still, we need to remember that we truly are companions for one another. A companion is one who goes along with another. We share in what another is doing. There is a fundamental agreement among us which we must express; not only in words but also in deeds. Each of us, according to the plan God has ordained, is walking the path of faith. God has the same final destination for all His saints. We must remember an important element of this path which we share with our companions. The path is marked by grace. None of us are on this path because of our own choosing or deserving. None of us deserves to be on this path which leads to such a beautiful end.

Psalm 119:63 tells us who our companions are. The word “all” is used. The condition of much of the church world today would lead many to stop the definition of our companions right there. The ecumenical movement once sought to have all those who walked under any banner of Christianity unite and join in brotherhood. Now, there are those who would have us believe our companions on the path to glory also include Muslims, Buddhists and anyone who bows to anything!

Our companions on this path have traits which allow us to recognize them. We are companions to those that “fear thee,” Jehovah. Fearing any god of one’s choosing will not do for a foundation of true godly companionship. We must be companions of all those who fear God. All on the path share the realization of what God has done for us. We fear to offend this merciful God who has so graciously delivered us from our sins.

Do we see someone who fears the Lord? Then we are a companion to them. We must not be willing to be companions only to the popular, sociable, physically attractive or talented. It is very well possible that there are fellow saints with whom it seems the only thing we have in common is the grace which delivers us from our sins.

Showing companionship is easier when we remember what we are: sinners saved by grace. There are not two paths to heaven, one of grace and one of works. We may not say, “Well, that brother is good enough to be saved by his works, but that other one? He is definitely saved only by grace. I do not share the same experience of salvation with him!” We are saved in the same gracious way, from the same deserved fate and to the same awaited glory.

When we live as companions to each other, we will give a powerful testimony to the world. Hope School’s Constitution (Article II, 4) mentions this under its purpose statement. “This school shall be a living testimony by word and deed in this community whereby all students and teachers demonstrate that the Kingdom of God comes first in their lives.” A little later we read, “We actively seek out and help those in need, as what we do for others is the same as doing it for God Himself.”

May God dwell in us by His Spirit so we and our children experience the encouragement we need as we walk as companions on the path which leads to glory in Jesus Christ.

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Back in the Trenches

Back in the Trenches

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

Psalm 28:7: “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise him.”

Unless I have lost track, which is a possibility, the first Song-of-the-Week for the new school year comes from Psalm 28. This Psalm serves to remind us of the purpose of our schools.

Many of the Psalms have a military (or militant) theme which is not surprising when we recall David’s life. We know of David’s conflict with Saul, his fighting against Saul’s house after Saul’s death, his warfare against the Philistines and the rebellion of Absalom. However, we sometimes overlook David’s struggles when he watched his father’s sheep. Being a shepherd was not always a peaceful job where one could sit in a pasture and constantly count sheep. Before going out to meet the defiant challenge of Goliath, David recalled his killing a lion and a bear to protect the sheep. Militant Psalms are consistent with David’s life. In the age of forsaking truth for the sake of worldwide religious unity, such militant Psalms are not popular.

We and our children need to remember that we are part of the church militant. At school, our children do not always treat each other as they should. Harsh words are spoken and echoed. Angry looks are given and returned. As adults, we sometimes have disagreements about decisions relating to school policy. We do not expect total agreement all the time and brotherly disagreements are not bad. Yet, we must be careful that our children do not have the impression that we are the church militant because we fight, instead of disagree, among ourselves. We are a militant church because we fight against sin, evil and temptation.

In Psalm 28:1, David says that God is his rock. Rock sometimes refers to a natural shelter from storms, but it also refers to a sharp, natural formation which could be used as a fort. If other men had the success in battle which David had, they might have boasted of their own strength or ability to take care of themselves. David knew and confessed God to be his rock.

As a spiritual soldier, David also prays against his enemies by asking God to “Give them according to their deeds, and according to the wickedness of their endeavours” (v. 4). Yet, David is careful in the definition of his enemies. He does not ask God to punish all of those unclean, uncircumcised Gentiles. Some of his countrymen might have agreed with such a prayer. By his own experience, David knew some Gentiles who served God as he did. His personal body guard, the Cherethites, Pelethites and Gittites were Philistines. Were all these Gentiles loyal to David only because they could share in the spoils of his military accomplishments or did some, or perhaps many, love David because of a shared love for Israel’s God? In verses three and five, David defines his enemies as those who are deceitful and do not regard the works of the Lord.

We, as members of the church militant, also need to recognize the enemy. David did not use a broad brush and paint all Gentiles as his enemies, nor did he assume all Israelites were loyal to him. As soldiers, we require spiritual discretion to recognize those who are true spiritual enemies.

Spiritual soldiers also need strongholds and shields. My concordance tells me that the word “strength” in verse seven is sometimes translated as stronghold (Nahum 1:7). We need a place where we can keep our weapons at hand and sharpened for battle. We can meet there with fellow soldiers to defend ourselves or go out in strength to meet the enemy.

Would anyone care to go to a biblical era battlefield without a shield? Battlefields are not friendly places. David knew better than to propose to meet the enemy with a “group hug” to dispel all feelings of animosity. David’s second proposal would not have been to meet in conference with the enemy’s king to find “common ground” between Jehovah and the enemy’s idols. Our spiritual enemies do not have our well being in mind. They may say they have the good of all mankind at heart, if we were only to join them, but they are deceitful. The world tolerates sin and blasphemy in many forms, but it will not tolerate the truth as was evidenced by the world’s and the false church’s reaction when the Truth came in our flesh. We had better have the shield of faith as given by God because there are sure to be hostilities in our spiritual warfare.

Let’s rededicate ourselves to the support of our schools as members of the church militant. God will bless our efforts when performed in faith and in obedience to His command. What success as soldiers could any of us have if we were to rely on our own ability, strength or natural discretion? May God use the instruction given in our schools so our children confess God to be their rock, strength and shield. May our lives be a song of praise to Him.

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