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