Psalm 35

Hello, my friend.  When we think of the evil men who have wrought indescribable havoc on the earth, Hitler, the Holocaust, etc., we can see in a small way how David must have thought during the writing of our PSALM 35 for today.  It is one of those Psalms we call imprecatory, when the writer is calling down in the most severe terms the judgment of God on evildoers.  During this time, David was in exile, fleeing Saul, and was probably a very poor man.  It is amazing how strongly he seeks God’s destruction of his enemies and I doubt if we ever should pray a prayer like this today.  Romans 12:19 says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written:  ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.  On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.’”

But when David saw his enemies being judged he cries, in vs. 9, “Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation.”   And I keep wondering whether or not, amongst the suffering ones in our world today there may not be some true Christian believers, who would with David say, in vs. 17, “O Lord, how long will you look on?  Rescue my life from their ravages, my precious life from these lions.  I will give you thanks in the great assembly; among throngs of people I will praise you.” 

And so in times like these, perhaps a precursor of even more terrible-times to come, we can pray God’s judgment on evildoers, and leave it with Him.  As for us, we are commanded to be the channels of God’s grace to those in terrible need.  It is amazing, in a way, how David, in the midst of all his anxiety and anguish still, from time to time, would speak about ‘delighting’ in the Lord, there in vs.9 and vs. 27.  This, humanly speaking is impossible, when we are surrounded by a terrifying situation, but it is possible when we know that even more intimately we are surrounded by the presence of the Lord, who is our Shield and Strength.

Thank you, Lord, for helping us learn from passages even as stern as this, that you hate evil and will bring judgment on evildoers.  But help us, by your Spirit, to leave our vengeance to you, and, instead, to return evil with good, with love, with kindness, with forgiveness.  We pray for the suffering people of the world.  Thank you, Lord.

Thank you, dear partners around the world, for your encouragement.  I thank God for you. Cheerio!

Psalm 35

Spiritual Disciplines

Photo by Jeremy Lapak on Unsplash

Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness — 1 Timothy 4:7.

As we approach the Easter season, we mourn our sin that cost Christ so dearly on the Cross. As we confess and repent, we may consider turning to the spiritual disciplines to help us live in a manner worthier of being called disciples of our Lord and Savior.

What are spiritual disciplines?

Followers of Jesus learn about God-given spiritual disciplines from the Bible, and use them to go deeper in the Spirit-filled, gospel-driven, transformational pursuit of Christ-like holiness. The disciplines — solitude, fasting, Bible study, prayer and worship (to name a few) — restore famished souls, and help us more fully enjoy Jesus and the grace of the gospel.

Why do we need spiritual disciplines?

As disciples of Jesus we seek to become like our Master during his earthly ministry. Jesus fasted, ministered daily, and rose before dawn to pray and travel to the next place of ministry. He taught, worked hard, got so tired he slept in a storm-tossed boat (Luke 8:22-25), and withdrew and sought solitude when people pressed around him (Luke 5:16). He faced the Cross with resolve (Luke 9:51; Hebrews 12:2). He modeled resolute and focused discipline.

But ours is an undisciplined age. In today’s culture we dismiss discipline as regimented, legalistic and old-fashioned, and consequently we live shallow, flabby and indolent lives. But spiritual disciplines help us develop the kind of holy, rugged strength of character that Jesus displayed during his earthly ministry. The disciplines help us become more like Jesus (See Roman 8:29 and Hebrews 12:14). This does not happen by accident, but by an intentional process of learning and training, which is what Paul is referring to in his letter to Timothy in the verse quoted above.

Where do we start?

The gospel, of first importance (1 Cor 15:1-4), is always the start point for a journey of faith, including the spiritual disciplines. All who come to God trusting in the person and work of Jesus are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, who causes those in whom he resides to yearn for godly holiness. As we keep in step with the Spirit, He is able to produce more Christ-like fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). To display the fruits of the Spirit consistently requires discipline, including self-control, perseverance, and the ability to endure life’s ups and downs cheerfully. These are the qualities needed to live a godly and effective life (Romans 5:3-5; 2 Peter 1:3-10).

Not legalism, but blessing

Our foundation is Christ-focused and gospel-based, not self-focused and legalistic. We pursue the disciplines out of humble gratitude for the gospel grace that has saved us, not through boastful, superior, Pharisee-like self-justification. The reward of discipline is not drudgery, it is the blessing of freedom in Christ. Our motive is love of God, not love of self. The disciplines don’t make us more acceptable to God, they help us grow to be more like the One we love. The disciplines are not tiresome religious duties, they lead famished souls to the banquet of God. They equip God’s people for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Spiritual disciplines put us in the way of God’s sanctifying, character-building truth so that, through our unique personalities and gifting, we can better reflect the character of Christ (Romans 8:29) and live abundantly fruitful lives.

The role of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the one who makes us more like Jesus — we can’t make ourselves more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit works through the disciplines to bring us closer to Jesus and make us more like Him. The disciplines help us submit to the Holy Spirit’s transforming instruction and power. The Holy Spirit preserves God’s people in faithfulness by giving the grace to persevere in the disciplines. The Holy Spirit is ever-faithful to help God’s elect to persevere to the end in those things that will make us like Christ. In turn, we must not harden our hearts, but instead respond to the Holy Spirit’s promptings and keep in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).

Spiritual warfare requires discipline

Paul said that he toils, struggling with all his [God’s] energy that he powerfully works within me (Colossians 1:29). Toil and strive means to work hard: to struggle. We are forgiven, yet tainted sinners becoming like Christ. Growth in Christian life comes by our responding to the grace the Holy Spirit initiates and sustains. The world, the flesh and the devil constantly war against us, so we will struggle to overcome sin in this mortal body. The devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). Therefore, like a disciplined soldier, we put on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-17) Much of this struggle is against the flesh — the indwelling tendency toward sin. Galatians 5:17 warns us that the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit. The spiritual disciplines help us sow to the Spirit instead of the flesh (Galatians 6:8). The Holy Spirit grants us the grace to be faithful. Our role is to work with the Spirit in Spirit-ignited resolve until one day all struggle will end and we will be like Him (1 John 3:3).

The role of other believers

Spiritual disciplines include growth in fellowship with other believers. Many Biblical disciplines are corporate — they cannot be practiced without other Christians. So, we should study the Word, not just on our own, but also in fellowship with other believers. Worship is not just private — it is also corporate. Koinonia (community) can only be practiced with others. Spiritual disciplines are not just for private use but for mutual edification. We are expected to exhort and encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11), helping each part work properly together as the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4) of whom Christ is the head (Colossians 1:18).

We are saved through faith in Christ. Finally, we give an account before God of how we spend our lives (Romans 14:12) and will face reward or loss based on how we lived our lives (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). So, let us use our time profitably not only in this life, but to best prepare us for eternity as well.

Concluding thoughts

A master musician has the freedom to play anything he or she likes, and can play with excellence and joy. Similarly, a great artist paints with joy and freedom. Underpinning this level of excellence are many disciplines mastered, sometimes painfully, over time. Discipline is the only way to freedom. It is the necessary context for spontaneity and joy in Christ.

Disciplines can’t be mastered in one’s spare time. Godly people are never lazy people. However, we cannot discipline ourselves into heaven. Only Jesus lived a life worthy of that. We cling to Christ by faith. However, one of the surest signs that someone does indeed cling to Christ is his or her ever-deepening desire to know Christ better and to become as much like Him as possible. We are disciples at the feet of Christ. Therefore, let us discipline ourselves to be more like our Master, who we will enjoy forever.

Lord Jesus, you warn us so strongly against the wide gate and the easy, well-trod way that leads to destruction. You remind us that the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and that those who find it are few. Holy Spirit, lead along the path of truth, and help us keep in step with the Spirit, that we might live an abundant and fruitful life, for the glory and purposes of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

By Warwick Alcock, Director of Strategic Operations, Village Schools of the Bible

Acknowledgements
Whitney D. S. Spiritual disciplines for the Christian life. NavPress, 2014.

Spiritual Disciplines

Psalm 34

Hello, my friend.  These are in many ways terrible days. So vs. 18 in our PSALM 34 for today seems remarkably appropriate. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  This is one of the Psalms especially addressed to the fearful.  Psalm 34 is an acrostic psalm, each verse beginning with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet which has 22 letters.  This is significant, I think, because David felt the importance of this Psalm deserved very careful literary treatment.  And let’s look here at some of the blessings God provides for any who are gripped by anxiety, uncertainty, fear.

Verse 2, “My soul will glory in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice.”  This means that in times of deep stress we are particularly eligible to know God’s care and His loving presence.  He continues, vs.4, “I sought the Lord and He answered me; He delivered me from all my fears.”  And vs. 6 is startling, “This poor man called and the Lord heard him; He saved him out of all his troubles.  The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him and He delivers them.”  The difficulties may not be immediately removed, but the anxiety can be taken away when I know the Lord is alongside in this time of trouble.

I hope you have made the time to read and ponder this great, comforting, enabling Psalm.  It is remarkable in the way it speaks to us in our time.  Vs.8, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.  Fear the Lord, you His saints, for those who fear Him lack nothing.  The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”  I have always taught that fearing the Lord means fearing disappointing Him.  It doesn’t mean I should think of Him in terms of terror, but in terms of a kind of love that, above all else, desires to bring Him pleasure by all that I am, by Grace.

I am amazed by the way verses 6 and 17 promise deliverance from all my troubles.  Vs.19 says, “A righteous man may have many troubles but the Lord delivers him from them all.”  How can this be, when one continues to have huge difficulties, even after trusting the Lord?  I think this chapter teaches that the Lord’s strong presence alongside us, day by day, delivers us IN our troubles even though the pressures and problems may remain.

“We’re thrilled and thankful, Lord, for a chapter of assurance like this.  We praise you, Living Word, for giving us your written word, with such comfort and strength.  Bless my friend who has joined in and those in special need. Thank you, Lord.” 

And my deepest thanks, partner, for your encouragement.  I thank God for you.  Cheerio!

These meditations on the Psalms were written by Village Schools of the Bible Founder, Monty Sholund and first published in book form as Monty’s Musings on the Psalms in 2000.

Psalm 34

Psalm 33

Hello, my friend.  This matter of singing is such a big thing in Scripture.  We have reference to it in 44 of the 66 books, and the word or a related one, like music, instruments, choirs, occurs more than 500 times.  Psalm 32 tells us, as we saw yesterday, that the Lord surrounds us with songs of deliverance (vs.7) and ends with that command, (vs.11), “Sing, all you who are upright in heart!”  And here in PSALM 33, we are instructed how to praise God with singing.

First of all, we are told to sing joyfully (33:1).  But can a person sing without doing it joyfully?  Just watch a congregation on some Sunday morning, faces which are unsmiling, without expression, and often looking glum.  So singing first of all comes from the heart, the seat of real joy.  Then we are reminded that praising God is a prominent characteristic of those who trust in Him.  And David says to bring along instruments in vs. 2, “Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to Him on the ten-stringed lyre (or twelve-string guitar!)”  This gives many gifted people the opportunity of using their skills to praise the Lord.

Then notice in vs. 3 that we should sing to the Lord a new song.  This doesn’t mean only that it should be a song previously unknown, but it should also come from the heart that has been made new in Christ.  It may be true that we become so familiar with old songs that we no longer appreciate their words. On the other hand we may find new songs so unfamiliar that, unless they have substance and are musically pleasing, they may be just a repeated rattle of words, intended to display the singer more than declaring the Word of God.  For a most important instruction in all these verses is that we are singing joyfully to the Lord, we are praising Him with the harp, we are singing to Him a new song.  We don’t sing to people but to the Lord.

And I love how it says in vs. 3, “Play skillfully” which requires practice and dedication.   We should shout for joy, reflecting the inner blessing of an overflowing heart.  In verses 4 and 6 David connects all this with the Word of God, His unfailing love in vs. 5 and the plans of the Lord in vs.11.  The Word of God is our source of knowledge, the Love of God is the source of wisdom and the Plans of God are the source of guidance.  These three things are so valuable: we need to know the Word to understand God’s nature; we need to share His Love as He lives through us; we need to know His plans to be preserved from living over-burdened, over-stressed, over-active lives.  In all we do, it is for the Lord and not for people as Colossians 3:23,24 tells us.  It is the Lord we are serving and music is a gold thread woven into the fabric of our lives, for the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

We are thankful, Lord, for this reminder, which can indeed lift our hearts.  We’re thrilled to read here in vs. 18 that Your eyes are on those who fear you, whose hope is in Your unfailing love.  We need forever to be reminded that blessed is the nation when you are its Lord, you whose eyes are on us all.  We revel in your Word and Your love.  Thank you, Lord!

May He bless your day, my friend.  Cheerio!

These meditations on the Psalms were written by Village Schools of the Bible Founder, Monty Sholund and first published in book form as Monty’s Musings on the Psalms in 2000.

Psalm 33

A Repentant Lifestyle

Image by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Psalm 32:5 I acknowledge my sin to You.

Repentance means turning away from wrong ways of thinking or behaving and accepting God’s way of doing things. A common way that we refer to repentance is when a person who has rejected the Lord’s plan of salvation receives Christ’s offer to forgive their sin. Yet, repentance is also for believers. There is no person on earth who does not sin and, when we do, the Lord expects us to confess our sins and repent. Godly repentance has three aspects: acknowledging sin, experiencing remorse, and turning to God. We will discuss each one of them separately in order to understand the process of repentance. 

The first step to repentance is acknowledging one’s sin. In the Gospels, Judas made an agreement with the chief priests to betray Jesus by handing Him over to them. Judas led them to the Garden of Gethsemane where they bound Jesus and brought Him to the High Priest for a trial that led Him to be crucified at Calvary. For this betrayal, Judas received thirty pieces of silver. When he realized what he did, he went to the chief priests and said, “I have betrayed an innocent man.” They, however, did not acknowledge their sin. Instead they said, “What do we care? That’s your problem.” (Matthew 27:4 NLT). The chief priests never took any responsibility in the killing of an innocent man, to them Jesus was a “man who was inciting the people to rebellion” (Luke 23:14). He was an “evildoer” (John 18:30). Killing Him was getting rid of the problem that was threatening their nation’s religious stability and therefore they did not see anything wrong in their actions.  

The same attitude was with Cain, when the Lord confronted him with the murder of his brother, Cain claimed to have no responsibility over the life of his brother. He was not his “brother’s keeper” (Genesis 4:8-9) he responded and therefore whatever happened to his brother was not his responsibility. This attitude can bring no one to a point of repentance.

For one to repent, they must acknowledge that they sinned. David, after he sinned with Bathsheba said, “I acknowledged my sin to You” (Psalm 32:5) because he understood that “he who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Acknowledgement of sin means we fully face our actions and the flawed heart from which they came; then we take responsibility for the consequences that fellow.

The second ingredient to godly repentance is remorse. Remorse is when we deeply regret what we have done. Being remorseful is when ‘our hearts condemn us’ (1 John 3:20) and realize that we have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). David, when confronted with his sin said, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Samuel 12:13) because he understood the depth of his sin. It was not just against Uriah’s family but against God who created Uriah in His own image that he sinned.

Judas was remorseful for betraying Jesus, and he went back to the chief priests and the elders to convey his regret. A remorseful person wants to ease the pain that is in their heart. They want their conscience clean because their actions ‘haunt them day and night’ (Psalm 51:3). Judas confessed his sin and returned the money thinking that he would be free from the guilt.

Joseph’s brothers, after twenty years, were facing a man whom they thought was an Egyptian ruler. He was mistreating them and they said to themselves, “we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us” (Genesis 42:21). They carried this guilt and because they never acknowledged it nor showed remorse for it, they believed that every bad thing that was happening in their lives was because of their sin against Joseph. They carried a guilty conscience.

Remorse is when we are ‘being convicted by our own conscience’ (John 8:9). The Lord gave us a conscience as an inner compass that helps us to choose right from wrong. Paul said to the Romans, “I speak the truth in Christ-I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 9:1, NIV). When we do not acknowledge our sin we close the door of our conscience. We fail to ‘keep our conscience clear’ (1 Timothy 1:19) and therefore cannot reach a point of repentance. ‘Our own conscience and thoughts either accuse us or tell us that we are doing right’ (Romans 2:15).

The last step to repentance is turning back to the Lord. Judas acknowledged he sinned by ‘betraying innocent blood’ (Matthew 27:4), however, he did not go back to God and seek forgiveness. He confessed his sin to man. David however after he accepted his sin before Prophet Nathan went to the Lord and confessed his sin directly to God. Godly repentance is when we turn from our wrong and turn to the Lord seeking His mercy. David said, “have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgression” (Psalm 51:1).

Joseph’s brothers never returned to God and asked for forgiveness for selling him to the Ishmaelites and lying to their father that he was dead. When their father Jacob died, they remembered their sin and sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Before he died, your father commanded, ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I beg you, please forgive the transgression and sin of your brothers, for they did you wrong.’ So now, Joseph, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father” (Genesis 50:16-17).  They still did not want to turn to God and repent for what they did, and like Judas they opted to go to man to bear up their sin. Joseph could not carry their transgressions; all he could do was cry with them and point them to God who forgives sins (Genesis 50:17-20).

Man has no ability and capability to carry our sins and that is why the chief priests said to Judas, ‘what do we have to do with your confession and remorse, you bear the responsibility of your sin’ (Matthew 27:4). Jesus is the One who “was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him” (Isaiah 53:5 KJV). He carried our sins for us because no man could bear such a heavy burden.  

David knew the secret of being fully free from one’s sin. To complete his repentance and be free he directly went to the Lord and said, ‘You Lord, not man, wash me clean of my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin’ (Psalm 51:2). Sin is heavy and it can drive one to destruction as we see in Judas’ life. Therefore, it must always be brought to the Lord, for “if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9).

Please don’t be fooled and think because you are a follower of Christ, you do not need to repent. David was a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22) and yet he sinned. You and I miss the mark and standard God has set for us in His Word from time to time, we sin and therefore repentance ought to be our lifestyle. As human beings we cannot discern our own errors, we need the Lord to cleanse us from our hidden faults (Psalm 19:12). During this Lent season, let us daily say to the Lord, “search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me” (Psalm 139:23-24 KJV).

by Mathabo Masilela, VSB Teacher, South Africa

A Repentant Lifestyle

Psalm 32

Hello, my friend.   What a thrill to look at PSALM 32, because it is one of those remarkably valuable Scriptures from the hand of David. It begins with that word which is the first word of Psalm 1, “Blessed”, and it describes so personally, so wonderfully the basis of being blessed, to have one’s sins forgiven.  I loved a description of God’s forgiveness I learned just yesterday.  It is, in computer terms, when God says, “Your files are deleted.”  In other words, they are gone forever.  When that occurs, then all the blessings listed in this great Psalm are effective.  Until I enter into complete forgiveness, I will continue to grieve over unconfessed, unforsaken sins.  I will say, with David, in vs. 3, “When I kept silent (or refused to confess) my bones wasted away, through my groaning all day long.”  We can say ‘Hallelujah’ for verses 5 and 6, “I acknowledged my sin to you and did not hide my iniquity.  I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’–and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”   That is the key to blessing.

And what are the results?  Knowing I’m one with Christ, I can pray to Him (vs.6), my hiding place, my protection from trouble (vs.7) and He, the holy God, will surround me with singing (vs.7).  What a great thought, that God, thinking of me, starts singing.  This is just like Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with his love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”   I marvel at the glory of that truth, that God can greatly enjoy me, and rejoice over me with singing.  Aren’t you excited?

And then, in vs. 8, we read that God says, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”  I don’t know of any other verse in all of Scripture that contains more encouragement and blessing than this verse 8 in PSALM 32.   We are so unworthy, but so hugely blessed.  And David says that we should not be like animals that have no understanding, which reminds me of that strong verse in Jeremiah 9:24, “Let him who glories, glory in this that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord.”  Understanding suggests a closeness of a relationship, a trust and pure joy in love.  Horses must be controlled by a bit, because they have no understanding, but we are controlled by love for the Lord, because we have come to understand the greatness of His care for us.

And then, in vs. 10, David shouts, “The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in him.”  It is not just a touch of forgiveness, but a flood of God’s unfailing love which surrounds me, protects me, blesses me on every side.  No wonder he closes by saying, “Rejoice in the Lord, be glad, you righteous; sing, you whose hearts have been made anew.”   

So, Lord, we do just this, as we find our hearts lifted and our lives changed by pondering this wonderful PSALM 32, and I pray that this song may be along with us all day long. Bless my friends who are alongside bringing great encouragement.  Thank you, Lord.

Thank you, partner, Cheerio!

These meditations on the Psalms were written by Village Schools of the Bible Founder, Monty Sholund and first published in book form as Monty’s Musings on the Psalms in 2000.

Psalm 32

Psalm 31

Hello, my friend. All of us, I am sure, have occasionally a time of reflection, prayer and renewal in thought and in action, when all the celebration, music and rejoicing is past and life gets back again into its usual, and really significant routine.  Even as a wedding is a great, exciting and beautiful celebration, it’s the marriage that counts. And it’s often what we are in dull-times that reflect who we really are!  We all thrive on excitement, but Grace often grows best in winter.  So we look into our next PSALM 31 to see what it has to say about the daily grind. 

It’s a long Psalm and again so much of it is consumed with David’s lament over his difficulties.  Seldom in all of Scripture do we see a man who seems so anguished over his situation to the point that he says, (vs.10, following) “My strength fails…my bones grow weak…I am the utter contempt of my neighbors…I am a dread to my friends—those who see me on the street flee from me…I have become like broken pottery.”   If you are having one of those low-esteem pity-parties, you’ll find a companion in David at one of his darkest moments in this Psalm.  But he never remains there.  Notice how his mood shifts in vs. 14, “But I trust in you, O Lord,” and here, marvelously, his whole lament is changed into thankfulness for the Lord who becomes a refuge, whose shelter is a presence to hide him (vs.20).

One of the keys to this Psalm is in vs. 6, where David says, “I hate those who cling to worthless idols, I trust in the Lord.”  It’s useful, now and then, to see if there are any idols which have crept in, some things which have assumed primary importance in my life, in my time, or thought, or treasure or the use of my talents.  Jeremiah 2:5 says, “They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.”  They did not ask, “Where is the Lord…?”  What a solemn statement: what we pursue we become, because our goals define who we are.  Speaking of idols, Psalm 115:8 says, “those who make them will be like them, as will all who trust in them.”

So thoughtful review becomes an inventory-time.  Even simple, seemingly innocent things can become idols, including self-pity, bitterness, indifference to God’s presence and His will.  Big things like money and prestige and power can become idols, but they seldom have any place in our lives.  But whatever the idol is, it can be joyously replaced by the presence of the Sovereign Lord.  This is true worship.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for the privilege of pondering your Word together and listening to it speak to us.  Thank you for my friend who is along, even as we pray for each other and seek to know you well.  Bless each one, even as we think today of some who are critically ill.  We love them Lord, and pray for their loved ones.  Thank you, Lord.

And thank you, partner, for your fellowship. I thank God for you.  Cheerio!

Psalm 31

What is Ash Wednesday?

Perhaps you’ve noticed people with dark smudges or crosses on their foreheads today.

If so, you may be wondering what it means.

Today is Ash Wednesday. It marks the start of Lent, a period in the church calendar leading up to Easter in which there is a focus on repentance and fasting.  Lent starts 46 days before Easter. However, the six Sundays during this time are not counted, leaving 40 days for Lent. This 40-day period is reminiscent of the forty days Jesus spent in the Wilderness prior to beginning his public ministry (see Matthew 4:1-2).

Ash Wednesday has been celebrated in some form since the New Testament times, and was officially added to the church calendar in 325 BC by the First Council of Nicea. While it is mainly thought of as a Catholic tradition, there are many other denominations that also observe Ash Wednesday.

The ashes placed on peoples’ foreheads symbolize penance, mourning and the mortality that resulted from the sin that entered the world through Adam (Genesis 3). The ashes are applied to a person’s head with the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return (Genesis 3:19) or the remedy for the fall: “Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15).

As followers of Christ, our lives are centered in the gospel, which brings salvation and is of first importance (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). However, Lent is an appropriate time to reflect on the price Jesus paid for the gospel. We read from Isaiah that

3 He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4 Surely, he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;

yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;

upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.

6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way; (Isaiah 53:3-6)

We invite you to respond to Christ’s suffering in prayer…

Lord, it is with deep sorrow that we acknowledge that we have indeed despised, ignored and rejected you, and gone our own way. It is our sin that has grieved you O Lord. It is because of our iniquity laid on you that you were chastised, pierced, and crushed. You have born our grief, carried our sorrow, and brought us peace and given us healing.

The price you paid is beyond imagining. It is with humble, contrite and repentant hearts that we thank you, Lord Jesus.

Each Wednesday in this season of Lent we plan to share reflections on Scriptures related to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. We hope you’ll join us.

What is Ash Wednesday?

Psalm 30

It’s important to remember the Cross of our salvation, Christ Jesus, the Lord of Glory, by Whom all things were created and without Whom nothing was created, in Whom is life, and that life is the light of men, the light that shines in darkness. I paraphrased those great verses in John’s gospel, 1:3-5. And I think, without stretching the point too much, our PSALM 30, today refers to this great contrast, from death to life, from darkness to light, from the depths to the heights, a picture of Christ’s death and His resurrection.  Let’s take a moment and look at David’s thoughts here in this rather difficult Scripture.

He begins by praising the Lord. “I will exalt you, O Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me.” Christ was crucified and was buried in a tomb, after his enemies had shouted, “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!” (Matthew 27:42)

And then David prophesies, in verse 3, “O Lord, you brought me up from the grave; you spared me from going down into the pit.” And in that beautiful verse 5, “His wrath lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” If we could only trust God in both His provision and His timing.  How graciously He allows us to be frightened by the darkness, so that we can truly understand the glory of the Light. We read, just a few days ago, in Psalm 18:28, “You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” Or as in in Psalm 139:12, “Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.”

Have you, friend, known darkness in recent weeks or months? Have you struggled with the fears that darkness brings, both outside and within? Have you felt you were going down into a pit, into the grave of your hopes, dreams, ambitions? As an old preacher put it, “It’s Friday, but thank God, Sunday’s coming!” That’s what resurrection is all about, the answer to every time of despair and fear, the glory of the Son-Rise in our hearts. Let us, with David in our Psalm 30, verse 11, say “You turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.” That’s the meaning of the empty tomb.

O we praise You, Crucified and Risen Lord Jesus, for this great fact which is more than history, it is Your story shared with us. We praise you that You live within our hearts, and long to shout it forever.

Psalm 30

VSB Values: Spirit-filled

Be filled with the Spirit — Ephesians 5:18

Village Schools of the Bible’s four core values, as determined by VSB Board and staff, are Christ-centered; Spirit-filled; student-focused; always growing. Our intent is to express these values in all we do, so that nothing encumbers our stewardship of VSB’s mission: to teach the Bible to transform lives.

This final post in our four-part series on VSB core values describes ‘Spirit-filled’. VSB is trusting God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to begin a movement as we disciple people in the teachings of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit has historically moved in remarkable ways during revival and God’s Word provides clear direction on how to grow in Christ through the Spirits’ power and provision.  This post highlights both of these aspects of our vision and values.

Today we need revival. Many people think as the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire did in 1764, that the world is seeing the twilight of Christianity. We know from the Bible and from the history of the church that the light of Christ is inextinguishable.  Christ loves, cherishes and perfects His church (Ephesians 5: 25-27). God’s Word endures forever (Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35) and will not return void (Isaiah 55:11). Jesus will come again. A time is coming when every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11).

What might a revival — a great outpouring of God’s Spirit look like today? The Pilgrims, among the first Europeans to settle in North America in the 1600s, came to America with a vision and passion for the reformation of Christianity in the New World. However by the 1700s, this initial spiritual fervor was in serious decline as colonists prospered and became spiritually complacent. Samuel Davies (president of Princeton University from 1759-1761) recalled that the English colonies had lain “in a dead sleep of sin, having at best the form of godliness but nothing of the power…The clergy were unconcerned, lacked compassion and zeal; and did not care to study, teach or visit their congregants.

Then came a series of revivals from the 1730s to the 1740s which theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) described as a ‘surprising work of God’: a once-in-a-century outpouring of the Spirit. The First Great Awakening, which swept through not only the thirteen North American colonies but also Britain, was heralded by authoritative, fervent, heart-searching, evangelistic preaching. God worked powerfully through people like Jonathan Edwards, British evangelist George Whitfield, and many lesser known people.

Parallels with the outpouring of the Spirit in Acts chapter 2 are remarkable. [S]uddenly, wrote Samuel Davies of the Great Awakening, a deep, general concern about eternal things spread through the country; sinners started out of their slumbers, broke off from their vices, began to cry out, What shall we do to be saved? and made it the great business of their life to prepare for the world to come. Then the gospel seemed almighty, and carried all before it. It pierced the very hearts of men with an irresistible power… [T]housands at once melted down under it…”[1]

A sense of God was evident both in conviction of sin and in the bewildered amazement of people conscious of the Lord in their midst. They were solemn, overawed and humbled as the hush of matters eternal soaked into the soul. People who had thought of themselves as Christians before felt they had scarcely begun to be real Christians.

The Spirit breathes life and love into people. Wrote Davies: “Because [the revived person] loves [Christ] he longs for the full enjoyment of him…he longs to see his kingdom flourish, and all men fired with his love. Because he loves him he loves his ordinances; loves to hear, because it is the word of Jesus; loves to pray, because it is [dialog] with Jesus; loves to sit at his table, because it is a memorial of Jesus; and loves his people because they love Jesus”[2].

The Great Awakening enriched society. Churches flourished. Denominational barriers dissolved. Christians worked together to spread the gospel. Colleges were founded to equip eager young men to serve as Christian ministers. Universities like Princeton, Rutgers, Brown, and Dartmouth were established as a direct result of the Great Awakening.

Thus far we have traced the contours of a spiritual revival on a massive scale: a modern equivalent of what we see in the Book of Acts. The study of authentic revival in history is both insightful and inspiring — it shows close up and in concentrated form the work of the Holy Spirit reviving and inspiring the church. Between revivals the Holy Spirit works the same way as during revivals but — not as suddenly or as intensely — but always in a way that is consistent with Scripture. God reveals through His Word important ways in which the Spirit is at work, and ways in which God’s people respond. What can God’s people do today?

Application

  1. Receive Christ

The Holy Spirit, the indwelling Spirit of Christ, the Comforter, proceeds from the Father (John 15:26) as a gift given at the moment of salvation through faith in Christ to all believers in Jesus (John 7:37-39; Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:9). The sealing and indwelling of the Holy Spirit occurs at the time of believing as a permanent down payment in anticipation of the believers’ future glorification in Christ (John 14:16, Galatians 3:2; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 4:30). The indwelling Holy Spirit assists believers in prayer, interceding for God’s people, (Romans 8:26-28), leads them into righteousness (Galatians 5:16–18) and produces the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22–23).

  1. Do not grieve or quench the Spirit.

To be filled by the Spirit, one must not grieve or quench the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Holy Spirit wishes to express Himself through us, but we grieve and quench the Spirit when we give over control to our fallen nature. Gratifying “the desires of the flesh” —our fallen nature under the power of sin—is in direct conflict with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). When we sin or backslide and let our fallen nature take charge, the results are obvious (Galatians 5: 19–21) and the Spirit’s activity within is quenched.

  1. Walk in the Spirit (Gal 5:16, 25)

Rather than grieving or quenching the Spirit, we are to walk in step with the Spirit or live by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, 24-25). To ‘walk’ is a metaphor for daily living: we are to walk (make consistent, day-by-day progress) in the Christian life — we are to yield to His control on an ongoing basis, following His lead in thought, word, and deed (Romans 6:11–14). To walk in the Spirit means immersing ourselves in the Holy-Spirit-inspired, living and active, Word of God, letting “the word of Christ dwell…richly” within (Colossians 3:16) for ongoing maturing and sanctification (2 Timothy 3:16; Hebrews 4:12-14).

  1. Be filled with the Spirit

The filling of the Spirit is different from the indwelling of the Spirit. The Bible teaches that we should be so completely yielded to the Holy Spirit that He can possess us fully and thus fill us. The filling of the Spirit starts with our innermost thoughts and motives, which then translates into action. Being filled with the Spirit is characterized by joy, thankfulness and mutual encouragement: Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-21; Colossians 3:16). Being filled with the Spirit implies freedom for Him to occupy and guide every part of our lives so that He can work through us for the glory of God.

  1. Confess and repent.

Sin is what hinders the filling of the Holy Spirit, and ongoing sanctification is how the filling of the Spirit is maintained. It is not merely praying for the filling of the Holy Spirit that accomplishes the filling. It is our walking in the Spirit that gives the Spirit freedom to work in increasing measure within us. Because we are still infected with sin, it is impossible to be filled with the Spirit at all times. However we always have available to us the cleansing power of God’s gracious forgiveness (1 John 1:7-9): When we sin, we can immediately confess before God that we have grieved the Spirit, renew our commitment to walk with the Spirit, and yield to the deep, heart-transforming work of the Spirit so that He may indeed fill us, and work through us for His redemptive purposes in the world (Matthew 18:18-20).

Father, thank you for the gift of your Son Jesus Christ who is my righteousness and sanctification and redemption. I want to walk in your Spirit today. Replace the self-centered desires of my heart with Jesus as the primary desire of my heart. Free me that I might more fully delight in you. Redeem every area of my heart that I might more fully yield to the Spirit for your Kingdom purposes.  May I forgive as you’ve forgiven me, accept others as you have accepted me in Christ, and encourage others as the great day of Jesus’s return approaches. Amen.

Acknowledgements

  1. Greear, J.D. Jesus Continued…Why the Spirit inside you is better than Jesus beside you. Zondervan, 2014.
  2. Murray, I.H. Pentecost – Today? The Biblical Basis for Understanding Revival. Banner of Truth Trust, 2017.
  3. Murray, I.H. Revival and Revivalism: The Making and Marring of American Evangelicalism 1750-1858. Versa, 2017.
  4. Severance, D. What was the Great Awakening? Know the facts and summary. Christianity.com, 28 April 2010.

[1] Samuel Davies, Sermons on Important Subjects (London, 1824), vol. 4, pp 49-50; quoted in Murray, Revival and Revivalism.

[2] Ibid, pp. 150-151.

by Warwick Alcock
Director, Strategic Operations at VSB

VSB Values: Spirit-filled