Psalm 119 is an amazing Psalm. Not only is it the longest Psalm with 176 verses(!), but it is also the Psalm that deals the most directly with the topic of Scripture. Virtually every verse, in one way or another, refers to God’s Word. David (who is most likely the author) uses a variety of terminology to describe God’s Word: commandments, law, statutes, precepts, ordinances, rules, words, testimonies, etc. These all refer to the Scriptures as they existed in David’s day (essentially the Pentateuch). So, Psalm 119 is one of the best examples of Scripture speaking about Scripture. It is the Word about the Word.
And in it, we find David interacting with the Word of God in five ways that should be paradigmatic for all believers:
1. Trusting the Word of God. Time and time again, David expresses his belief that the Scriptures are true (v. 151). He believes in them (v. 66). He trusts in their reliability (v. 42). He states: “The sum of your word is truth” (v. 160).
This first step is key. If a believer doesn’t really regard the Word of God as being fully and entirely trustworthy, none of the other steps below will follow. This is why the Church needs to be quick to deal with the repeated criticisms of the Bible that so often permeate our culture.
2. Studying the Word of God. David doesn’t just believe the Word, he is a student of the Word. He learns it (v. 73), he seeks it (v. 155), he has memorized it (v. 153), and regularly meditates on it.
This step ought to naturally follow the first one. If God’s Word really is true, then we ought to commit ourselves to being diligent students of the Word. We need to embrace it with our minds, as well as our hearts.
3. Using the Word of God. It’s one thing to believe and know the Word. It is another thing to rely on it, to look to it as a guide during the difficulties and challenges of life, to lean on it for encouragement and hope.
David repeatedly affirms that he uses the Word of God as a “counselor” (v. 24), to give “strength” (v. 28), and to bring “comfort in affliction” (v. 50). He states, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (v. 105). In short, the Word of God is the very source of life for David (v. 156).
This reminds us of a very important attribute of God’s Word: it is alive. It is powerful and active. When we talk about the attributes of Scripture, we must remember that it is more than just a true book (encyclopedias can be true). It is also a living book. It is the place where the God of the universe meets us and manifests himself.
4. Delighting in the Word of God. What is amazing is that David takes things one step further than we might expect. It’s not just that he trusts, studies, and uses the Word of God. He actually has affection for it. He has a deep emotional affinity towards it.
He “loves” God’s Word (v. 159), he “rejoices” at his Word (v. 162), the Word is “wondrous” (v. 18), it is “better than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (v. 72), and “sweeter than honey to my mouth” (v. 103).
I am convinced that this is the missing piece for most believers today. For many, the Bible is viewed almost in a utilitarian fashion – it is a mechanical, sterile tool that Christians are supposed to use. It’s like taking your medicine.
In contrast, David has passion, zeal, and excitement for the law and commandments of God. And the reason for this is not hard to find. David loves God’s law not because he is a closet legalist but because the law reflects God’s own nature and character. He loves God’s law because he loves God – and who God is and what he is like.
Any Christian who says they love God but then despises God’s law is living a life of contradiction. Indeed, they are living a life that is the opposite of Psalm 119. To love God is to love his law.
5. Obeying the Word of God. Not surprisingly, the prior four characteristics naturally lead to this last one. David repeatedly expresses his desire to actually obey God’s law. He wants to follow it, keep it, and fulfill it.
In our world today, the concept of “obeying the law” is not a popular one. Many see this as contrary to grace. However, two things should be kept in mind: One, David is not keeping the law in order to earn salvation – he is obeying out of love for God. He is obeying out of a heart of faith. Second, we should remember that Jesus himself was very much about “obeying the law.” Before we too quickly despise the concept of law-keeping, we should remember that Jesus delighted in keeping his Father’s law. And he kept it absolutely perfectly – for us. He obeyed on our behalf, and his righteous status is imputed to us by faith.
Indeed, Jesus embodies all five of these characteristics. He trusted, studied, used, delighted in, and obeyed God’s Word. In fact, he did all these things even more than the first David. One greater than David had come. And he loved God’s Word.
If the death of Christ on the cross is the true meaning of the Incarnation, then there is no gospel without the cross. Christmas by itself is no gospel. The life of Christ is no gospel. Even the resurrection, as important as it is in the total scheme of things, is no gospel by itself. For the good news is not just that God became man, nor that God has spoken to reveal a proper way of life for us, or even that death, the great enemy, is conquered. Rather, the good news is that sin has been dealt with (of which the resurrection is a proof); that Jesus has suffered its penalty for us as our representative, so that we might never have to suffer it; therefore, all who believe in him can look forward to heaven.
Patterning our life after Christ's life and teaching is possible only to those who enter into a new relationship with God through faith in Jesus as their substitute. The resurrection is not merely a victory over death (though it is that) but a proof that the atonement was a satisfactory atonement in the sight of the Father (Rom. 4:25); and that death, the result of sin, is abolished on that basis. Any gospel that talks merely of Christ's birth, meaning an incarnation without the atonement, is a false gospel. Any gospel that talks about the love of God without pointing out that his love led him to pay the ultimate price for sin in the person of his Son on the cross is a false gospel. The only true gospel is of the 'one mediator' (1 Tim. 2:5-6), who gave himself for us. Just as there can be no gospel without the atonement as the reason for the Incarnation, so also there can be no Christian life without it. Without the atonement, the Incarnation theme easily becomes a kind of glorifying of mankind and leads to arrogance and self-advancement.
- from Foundations of Our Faith
Paul On Mars Hill – Acts 17
When Paul came to Mars Hill in Athens during his second missionary journey, he was completely by himself. Timothy and Silas, his associates in ministry, had been left in Berea while he was sent away by the brethren due to the dangerous and escalating conditions there (Acts 17:13). The unbelieving Jewish leaders who had stirred up the crowds in Thessalonica were intent on doing the same in Berea and consequently the apostle had to flee the area for his own safety. Arriving in Athens, the apostle discovered a culture steeped in pagan idolatry. Surrounding him were the abundant evidences of man’s dark and fallen nature. The scene deeply provoked his spirit as he witnessed firsthand the grip that sin has over the hearts and minds of people whom God had created in His own image. Not being one who could stand idle, the former Pharisee made a beeline for the local synagogue reasoning with the Jews and devout Gentiles and daily with those in the marketplace who would meet with him. Others, like the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, adversely encountered him, ridiculing and questioning his new and unique message of Jesus and the resurrection (v. 18). Not backing away and always ready to give an answer, Paul certainly relished the opportunity to clarify his message to these religious curiosity seekers (v. 20) who brought him to Mars Hill, the central meeting place in town. What followed was a concise, yet effective presentation of the Gospel in all its simplicity, demonstrating that it is the power of God unto salvation—a message for everyone regardless of their cultural background or personal persuasions. It clearly shows that the Gospel can stand on its own and does not require any props or apologies to ramp up to its audience, no matter how diverse that audience may be. It is also a display case of the qualities and attitudes that are behind any successful Gospel ministry.
What were some of the qualities and attitudes that Paul exhibited in this proclamation of the truth, qualities that we need to likewise embrace in our diverse, but depraved culture? First, Paul demonstrated the quality of boldness. Without spiritual back up, Paul might have been tempted to waffle at the opportunity to speak to the crowd assembled on Mars Hill. But standing in their midst, surrounded by an adverse and potentially dangerous audience he boldly proclaimed the truth of the Gospel. The Scripture reminds us “the righteous are as bold as a lion” (Prov. 28.1) and certainly Paul was that as he single-handedly preached the Word to them. Paul was bold in the Lord and we need to be bold in the Lord too.
Paul also exhibited respect. Even though he knew that he had to speak the truth in love, he also knew that he needed to “adorn the doctrine of God” (Titus 2:10) and emulate the Savior who brought a message that was both “grace and truth” (John 1:17). He knew that many, if not all of them, were lost in the darkness of sin and were fundamentally opposed to the Gospel of Christ, but still there was no attitude of condescension in his opening remarks. Rather, he acknowledged what they were—not superstitious but religious and devoted to their cause. He commended them for their intensity (albeit misdirected intensity) and by so doing gained a listening ear, at least initially. We also need to be respectful in our presentation of the truth.
Paul was also direct in his message. He was frank about the core issue – their ignorance of God and His way of salvation. “Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you” (v. 23). The altar dedicated and inscribed with the words “to the unknown God” only heralded their misconception of the true God. Paul did not “beat around the bush” or sidestep the issue, but was direct in his words, dealing with the real matter at hand. “The night is far spent, the day is at hand,” Paul reminded the believers in Rome (Rom. 13:12) and the time is short for us as well. “Let the redeemed of the Lord, say so” (Ps. 107:2)!
Paul was also logical in his presentation. He was orderly in his argument. The major tenets of his message were: 1. They were religious, but ignorant (vv. 22-23); 2. The God Whom they do not know controls them and not the other way around (vv. 24-27); 3. We are the offspring of a personal God, and therefore should not worship Him with fanciful images and carvings (vv. 28-29); 4. Their ignorance in the past God overlooked, but now calls people to repent based on Christ’s resurrection from the dead (vv. 29-31). At first, there was resistance to the message, but that resistance was countered by Paul’s powerful refutation, which was clear, orderly, and logical in its development.
Our message should be the same. As is often the case whenever the Gospel is preached, there is a varied response to the message. In this case here, there was ridicule and indifference (v. 32) but also belief unto the truth (v.34). The fact that there were not more “decisions” for the Lord was not because Paul did not effectively present the truth. It was because, wherever the Gospel seed is sown, there will always be hard ground that prevents it from taking root as well as indecisive hearts that have not yet been willing to release their grip from the pull of the world. Paul’s message at Mars Hill was brief, but it was long enough to show us some of the essential qualities of the simple Gospel message that we also need to exhibit regularly in our preaching of the Word. May we be bold and respectful, direct and logical as we too bring the Gospel message with us wherever we go.
While in seminary, I had the pleasure of sitting under the instruction of some of the finest biblical scholars and the godliest men I have ever known. One such professor was Dr. Douglas Kelley, who himself had been well-trained at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. His evident love for Christ and His Church are apparent to all who know him. Typical of his class lectures was to begin with prayer...and may I say that listening to him speak to God was of itself a precious theological lesson and a display of humility worth every penny of the tuition paid for the courses I would take. What follows is a brief excerpt of an illustration from a sermon he preached and I share it in The Provideo with the prayer that we all might learn to expect great things from God. Such lessons do not always come easy but God's classroom is worth it all.
Here's a little story about ourselves when we lived here in Jackson, several blocks down, in Belhaven. It was one autumn, maybe about late October or early November, and there had been various…I was paid enough, it was fine…but there had been some crises. I don't know…some medical issues, maybe, with some of the children, and mechanical things of the car. I don't remember what. But we were close on money, much more so than usual. And my wife said to me one day…. (There were four missionaries that we gave a little bit of support to…it was minimal support, beyond the tithe…and those particular missionaries were all single. They'd never been married, and we knew from letters that the last remaining parent of those four missionaries in different parts of the world had died during the calendar year.) And Caroline said, "Why don't we send a check to each of the four, and not send it through the agency but send it directly to them as a Christmas present? Their parents are dead. They probably won't get any Christmas presents. Let's send them some money. All four of them." I replied, "I think that's a good idea. It may well be of the Lord. I'm not sure. But I want you to understand…" (I was the one that handled the checking account and the bank and so forth.) "…I want you to understand there's not much money in the bank." I would get paid on the 25th of the month, and it would be another two weeks until I got paid, something like that. I said, "I've paid every bill honorably, I've left out enough for gas. But if I write four checks, even modest checks, it will take us way down and I wouldn't be able to give you the money to buy groceries. If you're willing to take the chance of not having money for groceries for two weeks, I'll write the checks." She said, "That is fine. I've got plenty of extra rice and potatoes in the pantry and that will be fine. You write the checks." So I did that and left Belhaven to go to the seminary in the morning, and teach that day. I got back…(We never locked the door, because the children were in and out all the time, and she'd gone to take the children to music lesson or sports or something, and she always put the mail on the kitchen table. You'd come in the hall, and then the kitchen.) …and I saw this letter, and it had my wife's handwriting on it in pencil. And it said in pencil, "See what the Lord has done!" with an exclamation mark. So I opened the letter from a particular source that could not possibly have known of our need, because we never intimated it. And this man had sent a check. He said, "The Lord told me to send you this check." It was exactly one hundred times the combined amount of what I had sent those four missionaries that morning. And then I had a sinful thought: "What if I'd given more?!?" Anyway, I found out that day, and it has worried me far less to see the account get down low sometimes to do something I know God wants me to do.
- Pastor Kleiser
Mission of Love
“Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:13-14; Prov. 10:12; 1 Pe. 4:8).
Paul encourages us to, literally, “Let all your things (the things of us) be (done) in love (agape).” This type of agape love desires to give in a way that is self-sacrificing to the giver. It cannot stand still; it must act to benefit others. Therefore, it’s not just a warm, fuzzy feeling, but it has action tied to it. The Greek word, ginestho, translated “be done” is a grammatical present imperative (command to do something in the future which involves continuous or repeated action). In other words, it’s not enough for it to be felt or intended; it must be acted upon or it isn’t agape love in the truest sense. Matthew Henry states concerning this, “Christians should be careful that charity not only reigns in their hearts, but shines in their lives.”
As the results of Christians acting out their love for God and others, philanthropic endeavors involving education and healthcare sprang up across the known world.
The modern concept of a hospital dates from A.D. 331 when Constantine, having been converted to Christianity, abolished all pagan hospitals and thus created the opportunity for a new start. Until that time, disease had isolated the sufferer from the community. The Christian tradition emphasized the close relationship of the sufferer to his fellow man, upon who rested the obligation for care. Illness thus became a matter for the Christian Church. (The Encyclopedia Britannica)
Likewise, renown bastions of evolutionary teaching like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews, and the University of Edinburgh were founded by Christians for the instruction and study of theology. So, what changed? How is it that institutions steeped in the origins of Christian love have devolved into such secular, counter-Christian establishments? In America, we can point to the 1962 decision, Engel v. Vitale, where the Supreme Court ruled prayer in public schools to be unconstitutional or the 1963 decision, Abington School District v. Schempp, where the Supreme Court ruled Bible reading in public schools to also be unconstitutional. However, these are just the results of Christians abdicating the responsibilities to love others, preach the Gospel, “be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong”, and turning it over to unbelievers and government entities who were willing to fight until the end for their worldview. Concerning this, A. A. Hodge wrote in 1850:
It is capable of exact demonstration that if every party in the State has the right of excluding from the public schools whatever he does not believe to be true, then he that believes most must give way to him that believes least, and then he that believes least must give way to him that believes absolutely nothing, no matter in how small a minority the atheists or agnostics may be. It is self-evident that on this scheme, if it is consistently and persistently carried out in all parts of the country, the United States system of national popular education will be the most efficient and wide instrument for the propagation of atheism which the world has ever seen . . . A comprehensive and centralized system of national education, separated from religion, as is now commonly proposed, will prove the most appalling enginery for the propagation of anti-Christian and atheistic unbelief, and of anti-social nihilistic ethics, individual, social, and political, which this sin-rent world has ever seen.
While Hodge comes across as fatalistic in his outlook, it’s hard to argue with the accuracy of his predictions.
Still, we are called to love. Philanthropic and educational endeavors may contain a seed of universal grace to all, but they leave a void in the hearts of the recipients that can only be met through the agape love that God has placed in His Church in order that we may disseminate it to the world. We are called to give hope to the hopeless, speak to them about eternity with our loving and just Creator, and warn them of the eternal consequences of sin. It is the Gospel that gives lasting hope beyond anything secularism has to offer. Therefore, “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Gal. 6:9).
- Pastor Darbyshire
It’s that time of year again. To the delight of parents and dismay of children, it’s back-to-school time. Tax-free days are upon us. Clothes and supplies are being purchased. Vacation, VBS, youth and children’s camp pictures are being shared. Memories have been made of summers that pass too quickly.
When most parents are asked why we send our children to school, they respond with some form of “so they can get an education.” However, if you ask the children, you will hear answers like “to be with my friends”, “to play sports”, “to participate in various activities”, or something similar. While these are benefits of being in school, they are not the goals. The goals are education and maturity.
We are to have the same goals for the body of Christ: Christian biblical education and maturity. We must be as committed to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4b) as we are to reading, writing, and arithmetic. The self-centered, immature nature of adolescence will continue to desire to focus on fun, entertainment, and their particular interests. These are the bait we use to help draw them closer to the Lord, knowing that He is what is most necessary in their lives. The enemy will attempt to use the same bait to draw them away and focus on the benefits, rather than the Benefactor.
Because God knows that we are so easily distracted and drawn away by our own desires (Jms. 1:13-16), He told the children of Israel to set up stones of remembrance when they crossed the Jordan River into Gilgal (Josh. 4:1-24). When the future generations asked, “What do these stones mean?” they were to tell them the story of God’s great deliverance. Likewise, they were later instructed, “Do not remove the ancient landmark that your fathers have set” (Prov. 22:28; 23:10). The stones were to tell the perpetual story and never be forgotten.
A huge part of the maturity process is learning that ministry and service is often a thankless job. No matter where you serve, people will attempt to take advantage of you - just like myopic children do - but we are to continue to be faithful in the work of the Lord. We do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do to glorify our Heavenly Father. We focus on the goals, not the rewards. God has already promised those to the faithful (Rev. 22:12). We are not to be mere lifeless stones, but “living stones” of remembrance that tell the story of a God who loves us and gave Himself to save us (1 Pe. 2:4-9). Generations pass, but the rocks remain to tell the archaeological story. When future generations look back on the rocks of our lives, will they see stones that tell of believers who loved their God and their neighbors more than pleasure (Matt. 22:37-39) or lovers of themselves, money, boastful, proud, ungrateful, unholy, etc. (2 Tim. 3:2-5)? What legacy do you work to instill in the next generation? What stories will our children tell when they go back through the archives?
- Pastor Darbyshire
Faith and Assurance
Faith is not a blind leap into the dark or wishful thinking for things that we want to be true. Instead, faith is grounded in the objective work of God in history, His revelation in nature and in Scripture serving as evidence that what we believe is true. The Apostles never call us to believe in something without evidence; rather, the apostolic preaching of the Gospel always includes references to what the Lord has done for His people in the historical acts of Christ's incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension (Acts 2:14-36; Philippians 2:5-11).
Although the act of trusting the Messiah for salvation is something we do, we do not create faith in ourselves. Faith is God's gift (Ephesians 2:8-10) and the product of the new birth (John 3:1-8). If the Lord has changed our hearts, giving us the disposition to love Him, we will certainly exercise faith and persevere in it to the end (Philippians 1:6). That we exercise faith at all is due to God's sovereign grace. Born in Adam, we are disinclined to admit our sin and inability to save ourselves; we need the gift of faith to receive and rest on the Lord's promises in Jesus. "With the heart one believes and is justified" (Romans 10:10).
Personal assurance of faith is part of the essence of saving faith but we can sometimes lack personal assurance for reasons that cannot be explained in this brief article. Much in Scripture supports this assertion that true Christians can sometimes doubt the authenticity of their faith. For example, the psalmist testifies to what many have called "the dark night of the soul," a period of intense spiritual depression wherein we have significant doubts about the Lord's presence and goodness (Psalm 88). We are certainly not to assume that this writer was not a true believer, even if he lacked full assurance at the time he wrote. Prolonged periods of intense doubt should not be the norm of the Christian life, but assurance does develop and strengthen over time. Relying on fellowship, Bible study, the ordinances given by our Lord, and the other means of grace, we make our "calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10), increasing our assurance that we belong to Christ.
- Pastor Kleiser
My window seat on a recent flight to Edinburgh, Scotland from the Florida panhandle provided a heavenly view of the American northeast. The Atlantic shore appeared to stretch as far as the eye could see. As we soared northward, a voice crackled over the intercom: “Ladies and gentlemen this is your captain speaking… just to give you some perspective on where we are, that glint of light in the distance on the left is New York City.”
I quickly spotted the glimmer he referred to, but thought about how profound the captain’s words were in an eternal sense. At 33,000 feet, God’s creation was magnificent and unending, but man’s “monumental” achievements in New York City amounted to nothing more than a gleaming speck passing quickly on the horizon.
I suppose anything we can construct or achieve in this world will look insignificant from high above. However, the works we do for God stretch beyond earthly boundaries – and last for all eternity.
2 Corinthians 4:18: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Maybe we should “take flight” more often in our Christian mindset. Sometimes it takes a heavenly viewpoint to provide true perspective on where we are in this world.
- Pastor Kleiser
Give Thanks in ALL Things
“In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (Eccl. 7:14).
In his annals, “Of Plimoth Plantation”, Governor William Bradford wrote that “for the buckling of the main beam, there was a great iron screw (jackscrew) that the passengers brought out of Holland, which would raise the bream into his place.” Jackscrews/jacks were used for printing presses as well as homebuilding. They intended to print their own Bibles and literature and build houses. In God’s providence, the pilgrims were able to take what they had and re-purpose it in order to save themselves at sea. Had they not used the tools God gave them, they would have perished before reaching the New World. Of the 102 passengers aboard the Mayflower, forty-five (45) died during the Winter of 1620-21. However, after their first harvest in the Fall of 1621, they paused to give thanks to God for his goodness. They could never have foreseen what would transpire later in the development of the United States, but they knew God was merciful and brought them through to a place where they could freely worship Him.
Job had lost his children, livelihood, and health and he was scorned by his wife and alleged friends. In fact, his wife ridiculed him when she said, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” I love Job’s response because it was not based on circumstances but on the truth of his relationship and trust in God. “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil (disaster)? In all this, Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:9-10).
We all face difficult circumstances, but many of our trials cannot compare to what Job had faced or what the early disciples of the Lord encountered. In Philippi, Paul and Silas were attacked, beaten, thrown in the inner prison, and kept shackled with their feet in stocks all for preaching the Gospel and casting a demon out of a slave girl. And yet, they sang songs that lifted them above their circumstances and God literally moved the whole prison with an earthquake of freedom. However, the freedom was not so they could escape the circumstances for their own benefits, but so that a jailer could be given eternal life by them remaining in the situation God had allowed.
Four times the book of Ecclesiastes asks the question “who knows?” 1. “Who knows whether he will be wise or a fool” (2:19a)? 2. “Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward” (3:21)? 3. “Who knows what is good for man while he lives the few days of his vain life, which he passes like a shadow” (6:12a)? and, 4. “Who knows the interpretation of a thing” (8:1a)? The obvious answer to all of these questions is that the Sovereign God knows the beginning from the end and the purpose for all things. He will restore all things to Himself and be glorified in the midst of it. We see an example of this in John 9 where God has a plan that is not obvious to the casual observer, but Jesus reveals what is really going on. “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work’” (Jh. 9:1-4).
Likewise, Paul reminds Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted . . . Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them” (2 Tim. 3:11-12). We cannot conjure up enough faith in our faith to avoid trials and tribulations. That’s heretical escapism. We are to show the world what thankfulness in ALL situations looks like so the Lord is magnified in their midst.
As the words to the Casting Crowns song, “Praise You in the Storm”, remind us, the storms may still be raging in our lives but we can raise our hands and praise the God who gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord both now and always (Job 1:21; Ps. 34:1-4; 113:2).
- Pastor Darbyshire
What Do You Value Most?
What do you believe to be the most valuable, tangible object in the world? Perhaps you think of something like the Hope Diamond, the Mona Lisa, Michelangelo's sculpture of David, or the gold burial mask of King Tut's tomb. As costly as these are, the price tag on some enormous skyscraper could be higher. And yet offer any of these to an emaciated man who is hours from dying of thirst and hunger, and the relative value of the world's greatest treasures drops to nothing. Though inexpensive and often taken for granted, ultimately it is the basics of life - things such as food and water - that are most precious. For without them, there is no life at all.
Therefore, I submit that the single most valuable item on earth is the Bible. God's Word is like water, according to Ephesians 5:26. It is also food. As the prophet Jeremiah said to God, "Your words were found, and I did eat them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart" (Jeremiah 15:6). Jesus Himself proclaimed that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). It is true that without physical food our bodies would die in a matter of days. But without soul nourishment, we perish forever.
Food and water are essential, but there are other things basic to life and the Word of God is compared to these as well. It is called a light (Psalm 119:105), a fire and a tool (Jeremiah 23:29), a weapon (Ephesians 6:17), and seed (1 Peter 1:23). Moreover, the Word of God is perfect, sure, right, pure, true and righteous, sweeter than honey, and to be desired more than much fine gold (Psalm 19:7-10). The psalmist exclaimed, "The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of coins of gold and silver" (Psalm 119:72). It can convert the soul, make wise the simple, rejoice the heart, and enlighten the eyes (Psalm 19:7-9). The Bible is unlike any other book, religious or secular, "for the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart" (Hebrews 4:12).
The written words of God are closely identified with God Himself. Through them, He makes Himself most clearly known and declares to us the way to Himself through Christ. Without knowledge of God, no matter how long and prosperous one’s earthly existence, life is meaningless. No other object on earth is as valuable as the Bible, for nothing else can provide anything as essential or eternal. Given the incomparable value of Scripture, the Christian's need for its constant influence cannot be overstated. God's Word is the manna by which the heavenly Father feeds His children so that they can grow more into the likeness of His perfect Son. That is why the Lord has told us to "desire the pure milk of the Word, that you may grow thereby" (1 Peter 2:2). So, one question you can use to evaluate your spiritual health and growth is, "Are you governed increasingly by God's Word?"
- Pastor Kleiser
Perhaps, this should be written at a later time in the liturgical calendar, closer to Passion Week as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior. Yet, it has been burning in my thoughts during this time of the year. It would be easy to presume it has a lot to do with being a Prison Chaplain and living on the front lines of this phenomenon. There’s no denying this premise. The reality is that the God of the universe, the Maker of heaven and earth is raising up generations of servant-soldiers behind the prison walls. He is using the forgotten, the hopeless, the downtrodden, the weary and heavy-laden with sins. He is touching their lives, saving their souls, placing a new Spirit within them, giving them a hunger to know Him, and a burning desire to fulfill their roles in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20).
Many volunteers who come into the prisons are surprised - and frankly, a bit embarrassed - by how well-versed in Scriptures inmates can be. They certainly have more time to read and study than many of us and several are involved in various Bible studies and college curricula. It reminds me of one of the first mission trips I was on. We thought that we were going to bring the Gospel to these unwashed masses and start a wildfire of converts throughout the country. We were going to be heroes - or maybe martyrs - for God. It was a shock (and embarrassment) for us to find that God was already there, doing what only He can do, drawing people to Himself, with or without us. It was our responsibility to repent of our own pride and sense of self-importance and to get on board with what He was doing, or as Henry Blackaby writes, “Watch to see where God is working and join Him.”
It’s easy to speak down to others when our own sins are well concealed and their history is an open book that goes as a beacon before them (see John 8:1-11). Yet, these are precisely the people Jesus and the Apostles reached out to and had compassion on them, not because they deserved it, but because they were as sheep without a shepherd, lowly, destitute, imprisoned in sins, and in need of a Savior. The One who has every right to cast the first stone chooses not to condemn but to commission.
Who does God use? Available people who are willing to trust and faithfully follow Him wherever He leads are the ones He uses - not the ones trying to dictate to Him what they’re willing to do or not do, where they will go or not go. The Church was built on the Word of God and the foundation of the prophets and Apostles, who were willing to suffer incarceration and death because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:20). That incarcerrection is still raising the spiritually dead today.
- Pastor Darbyshire
The School of Christ
The fact must be faced that there are thousands of Christians today who undertake no definite service for God. They do not participate in Sunday School work; they do not engage in tract distribution; they have never tried to win a soul for the Savior; they are never at a prayer meeting; their Christianity consists of the things they do not do, rather than the things they do. God never yet saved anyone in order to live like that; He saved them that they might be His disciples; that they might be His servants; but in order to be what God saved us to be we must respond to His call, undergo His training, and act upon His commission.
It is noticeable that many of the servants God chose were quick in disclaiming any ability for the task, but they learned that God's call is God's enabling; that weakness and insufficiency are not a barrier to success and are not even a handicap; for God always supplies the ability to those who respond to His call.
Moses spent forty years in the courts of Egypt. He had every natural qualification for the task God set before him. But natural ability is not totally sufficient in the things of God, and God had to take him to the desert for a further forty years in order to give him the spiritual qualifications. Natural abilities are still not enough for God; you must spend time with Christ, and gain the spiritual abilities. Even after all his training, Moses protested his incompetence. "Who am I?" asks Moses. "I will be with you," responds God. "They will not believe me," asserts Moses. "What is that in your hand?" replies God. "I am not eloquent," declares Moses. "Who made man's mouth?" demands God. It was only after the anger of God was kindled against Moses that He agreed to the inclusion of Aaron in the scheme, but God could have done it all - and done it all better - through Moses alone, for He would have given Moses all the enablement required. When God commissioned Joshua He said, "As I was with Moses, so will I be with you." "As I was with Moses" . . . but never forget that first of all, Moses was with God.
Can you think of anyone more unsuited to the task than Joseph? A shepherd boy; a bit of a dreamer; when sent to seek his older brothers, he was found "wandering in the field." But God trained and equipped him, in the quiet of the pasture land, in the bustle of life in Egypt, and in the solitude of the prison cell. When Stephen speaks of Joseph in Acts 7 he cries, "But God was with him." But never forget that first of all, Joseph was with God.
Then there was David. His father thought him so unsuited and so unfitted for kingship that when Samuel came to anoint him, Jesse did not bother to present him to the prophet with his other sons. Yet all the time God was training David for the great task that lay ahead, and you may read in his record, "And David went on, and grew great, and the Lord of Hosts was with him." But never forget that first of all, David was with God.
Or Paul. He had all the natural qualifications. He was of good birth, well educated, and with a great knowledge of the Scriptures. It was said of him at his conversion (Acts 22:14), "The God of our fathers has chosen you, that you should know His will, and see that Just One, and hear the words of His mouth. For you shall be His witness unto all men." Notice carefully - for this is vitally important - that Paul, with all his natural qualifications, could not be "His witness" until He had first "known His will, seen His face, and heard His voice." So, he himself says in Galatians 1, when he received the call from God, "immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood; neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia." And Paul was "with Him" in the Arabian desert for three years, being trained and equipped to be "His witness unto all men." Toward the end, when everyone had on one important occasion forsaken him, he declares, "Nevertheless, the Lord stood by me," "The Lord was with me." But never forget that Paul was first of all with the Lord.
When Peter and John are before the high priest, the rulers, the elders and the scribes, in Acts 4, we read, "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus."
So there you have it; the purpose of the school, "that they should be with Him, and that He might send them forth to preach." You must be a pupil before you can become a teacher; you must go to school before you can go to sinners; you must be a student before you can become a soul-winner. You must be prepared to spend time "with Him;" in His presence, in communion, prayer and meditation; like Paul, learning His will, seeking His face, and hearing His voice; for only when you have graduated at His school will you, like Moses, hear His voice, "Come now and I will send YOU."
- Pastor Kleiser
“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
Psalm 90 is the only psalm attributed to Moses, who lived 400 years before David. It is a prayer, probably written in the wilderness when the people rebelled and complained under his leadership. Among other things, it teaches us man’s frailty in contrast to the strength and power of God.
To number our days means to consider well how we should spend the time left to us in view of the eminence of the Lord’s return. Because the time of His return is uncertain, we should apply our hearts to the pursuit of wisdom, seizing every remaining opportunity to please God in the use of our time, and our manner and conduct of life.
In Ephesians 5:15-17, the Apostle Paul expresses the same thought — to be wise and redeem, or “buy up,” the time, understanding and doing the Lord’s will. The days in which we live are as evil as they were in Paul’s time, so we should measure the worth of our lives in the light of moral and spiritual values, and not on a temporal or worldly scale.
The Lord Jesus said in Luke 12:40, “Be ye therefore ready also; for the Son of Man cometh at an hour when ye think not.” So let us plan the days remaining in relation to the work we have left to do for Christ and prepare for the time when we shall give account of ourselves to God at the judgment seat of Christ (Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10). The last recorded words of our Lord in the Bible are, “Surely I come quickly” (Revelation 22:20). Thus, let us spend our time seeking wisdom. His coming may be nearer than we think!
The Resurrection of Christ
The great significance that is attached to the resurrection of Christ in the New Testament makes it a very crucial doctrine of the faith. Not only is the historical reality of Christ’s resurrection an important part of the gospel proclamation, but it is itself that which authenticates the gospel (Rom. 1:4; Acts 2:22-36; 13:26-39; 17:30). In view of this, it is very significant that the New Testament writers take great pains to show that Christ’s resurrection was a real bodily resuscitation from physical death.
In John 20:27, Christ gives Thomas the opportunity to inspect His wounds and the skeptical disciple is subsequently overwhelmed by Christ’s bodily presence and the reality of what has happened. From Luke 24:39-43, we learn that Jesus encouraged all of His disciples to handle His body to verify that He was not a spirit or an apparition but that He, like themselves, consisted of real bone and flesh that was solid and could be felt. He also ate before them to prove that His body was capable of normal functions.
It is significant that in Acts 2 and Acts 13, both Peter and Paul apply Psalm 16:10 to Christ’s resurrection thus emphasizing the continuity between His body before death and after resurrection. Of course, we learn from other passages that there was also a significant discontinuity, that the resurrection of Christ involved more than just a return to life, as in the case of Lazarus and others, but included a radical transformation of the body as to its properties and qualities (Rom. 6:9, Phil. 3:21).
Nevertheless, the fact that both Peter and Paul emphasize that Christ’s flesh was not allowed to decay, suggests that the resurrection body was essentially the same body that was laid in the grave.
Both the incarnation and the resurrection of Christ rest firmly on the foundational truth of the goodness of the created realm and of man as first created by God. The New Testament clearly asserts that God in the Person of Christ entered the created, material realm, became a genuine man, lived a sinless life, and three days after being crucified, was restored to a fully human state through bodily resurrection. This April 12th is Resurrection Sunday. Enjoy the goodness of God. Celebrate that goodness of Christ, the One who is fully human and fully God!
- Pastor Kleiser
What Moms Really Want for Mothers’ Day
I’m not much of a John Lennon fan, never have been. Still, I agree with a line from one of his songs that these are “strange days indeed”. Some of us experienced our first drive-up Resurrection Day sermon. We’ve learned something about video services and getting them out to the public through social media. We’ve Zoomed in, logged on, social distanced, and missed each other. Anyone with Category 5 hurricane and pandemic on their bucket list has crossed them off. Yet, we’re still the Church and we’re still families, collectively and individually. A.W. Tozer was correct when he said, “Worshipers never leave Church . . . we carry our sanctuary with us wherever we go.” Even if it means staying home, we stay in touch because that’s what families do.
As we try to collect our bearings this month, we find ourselves in very different boats on the same lake. Some are missing their loved ones whom they have not been able to see for quite some time. Others have had about all the family together time they can handle for a while. Amidst it all, we pause for the National Day of Prayer (which should be every day); to remember our armed forces, who help to keep us free, some of whom paid the ultimate price; and set aside time to honor Mothers.
Some of us are missing Mom. Some get to spend time with her. Some are, will be, or step into the roles as Moms. We ask ourselves, “What does Mom really want this year?” (Ladies, help us out here. You give us more credit than we deserve at guessing games. You must tell us because we are even more clueless than you think.) If you look at the advertisements, you’d think spa days, jewelry, flowers, chocolates, manicure/pedicure gift cards, and lunch are the answers to all your questions. These are nice, and Mom generally likes them, but the gift means little if she doesn’t feel important (Prov. 31:28). If you ask (and she doesn’t make you guess), many Moms will say that the heart that shows the effort is as important as the token of appreciation. Make it personal. Commit some thought to it. Be willing to sacrifice time and energy for her. It may be something as simple as a handwritten letter or sharing a family photo album. She is special and should be honored, even if she didn’t always get it exactly right. Mothers are a gift to us all, from the promise made to Eve (Gen.3:15) to your Mother.
Another line from the Lennon song says, “Nobody told me there’d be days like these,” but, according to the Shirelles, Mama said there would be. Most importantly, the Bible tells us that perilous times will come in the last days (2 Tim. 3:1-5). If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s to honor and trust God in all things and love people while we have the chance. Life is very fragile.
- Pastor Darbyshire
On Tuesday, June 6, 1944, the allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, France for Operation Neptune - or more commonly known as “D-Day”, the beginning of the liberation of France and Western Europe from the German occupation. It’s estimated that the allied casualties were at least 10,000 with 4,414 confirmed dead. A heavy price was paid by those from other countries to free the people of the land. As we know, the mission eventually succeeded, leading to the ultimate victory in World War II. We look back at these brave men and honor them for their sacrifices. May we never forget that “all gave some; some gave all” (Howard Osterkamp).
With all that has happened so far this year, many are wondering what the future holds. Who can we trust to tell the truth? Will life ever return to the way it was before or will this be the new norm? What comes next after the corona virus? We pray that this pondering leads us to look to God and His holy Word for the answers. Solomon stated, “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit” (Ecc. 7:8). As those men stared at the beaches in front of them, they must have wondered what the result would be and if they would see it.
Nineteen hundred years before this, the Apostle John, Mary, and a few family members and friends stared up at Jesus on Golgotha trying to make sense of what was happening. It seemed that all was lost when, in truth, victory was on the way. Jesus died on the cross prior to the high Sabbath (Jh. 19:30-31). We have no total count for casualties that day. There were at least three confirmed deaths, one of whom was the Lamb of God, who stepped out of heaven and into this land to save us - the highest price ever willingly paid for the freedom of mankind from the penalty of sin. “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe” (Elvina Hall). Three days later, He rose again and won the victory over death and hell (Jh. 20; 1 Cor. 15:1-8,54-57). We need to faithfully trust Him because He is always faithful, and His plans will always work out for His glory and our benefit. If you believe the Gospel message (Jesus, the Son of God, came to this earth, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, rose from the dead on the third day, and is in heaven interceding for us), today is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). Today is your D(eliverance) Day.
- Pastor Darbyshire
What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do
This article will be a bit different from previous ones. We’re discussing Jehoshaphat's leadership in 2 Chronicles 20:1-23, when the Moabites, Ammonites, and people of Mount Seir came to attack them. For the sake of space, rather than a prose description of the results, this will be more of an outline of the actions and responses that glorified God, led to the ultimate victory, and became a testimony of hope and trust for all of us. This battle plan can help in our decision-making as we face the spirits behind those who set themselves against God and His Word.
* 20:1-3 - The enemy attacks but fear does not stop the leader from responding in faith and hope. (see Ps. 56:1-4)
* 20:3 - Jehoshaphat’s first response (not last resort) was to seek the Lord.
* 20:3-4 - He declared a fast throughout all of Judah. This acknowledges the gravity of the situation. He wanted all hands on deck and everyone played a part individually and collectively.
* 20:4,13 - The people responded in faith and obedience. They set aside what they were doing to focus on the Lord and the task at hand.
* 20:5-12 - Jehoshaphat leads by example. He doesn’t abdicate or delegate his responsibility. My father illustrated this with the saying, “LEADERS must lead. Leaders MUST lead. Leaders must LEAD.” In order to lead, we must be following the Lord Jesus.
* 20:5 - Jehoshaphat set his base and point of leadership in the Lord’s house.
* 20:6-9 - He acknowledges who God is, what He has done, His power and might, what His Word says, His promises, His covenant, His inheritance, and their relationship to Him. God does not need these reminders, but we do. When we see His faithfulness throughout the generations and His kept promises, it encourages us more to trust our future to Him as well. (compare this prayer to the Lord’s prayer in Matt. 6:9-13)
* 20:10-12 - Jehoshaphat makes his petition known to the Lord. He states their obedience to Him in the past by showing mercy to the approaching attackers and the unjust response they are receiving.
* 20:11 - He reminds the Lord that the attack is a personal affront to Him because they are attacking His possession and His promises to the people of Israel.
* 20:12 - Jehoshaphat requests judgment without mercy because the enemies have shown no mercy by returning evil for good. God desires mercy and repentance but reserves the right to judge justly when and how He chooses.
* 20:12 - Jehoshaphat understands God’s power and authority and his own weakness. He does not tell God what He should do; he petitions God for the answers and is willing to obey.
* 20:14-17 - As the people gathered together in one accord, the Lord spoke. He doesn’t always speak through the leader, but uses whom He chooses from those who are available and submitted to Him.
* 20:15,17 - God’s messages encourage us to trust Him and not our own devices. When we lack faith in His character and trust our own abilities and instincts instead of Him, we limit the resources available to provide the best solution.
* 20:15-17 - God takes His reputation, His Word, and the defense of His children personally.
* 20:16-17 - God knows the enemies’ strategies before they happen and already has the victory plan in place. Charles Spurgeon tells the story of the Duke of Wellington, during the Battle of Waterloo, who orders his panicked officer to “hold his place . . . die where he stands or else win the victory.” Wellington knew help was on the way and victory was just around the corner. The soldiers needed to trust the insight of their leader.
* 20:16-17 - Even though God declared victory and told them they would not have to fight, they were still expected to obey in faith, march out to battle, and face the enemy. We are not to hide in fear but walk in faith.
* 20:18 - The proper responses to God’s plans are faith, worship, praise, encouragement, thankfulness, and obedience.
* 20:22-23 - Fighting against the Lord and His faithful children is self-destructive and self-defeating. (Deut. 28:7; Isa. 54:17)
- Pastor Darbyshire