Friday, June 1, 2018

From the Pastor's Desktop
“...know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.”
(Deuteronomy 4:39 ESV)
            In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses is giving final instructions to the Israelites in regard to their entering the Promised Land west of the Jordan.  God has told Moses that he will not be permitted to enter the land with them, but after seeing the land from Mt. Pisgah, he will die and be gathered to his people there.  Therefore, Moses takes this opportunity to remind this nation of people where they have come from; to remind them of the rebellion and disobedience of their parents, the generation that was delivered from Egypt.  He then reminds them of the Lord’s commandments, rules and statutes, and the importance of worshipping God alone.
            All the nations around them worshipped gods of wood, stone and metal images, gods who could not hear, or see, or speak, or act in any way, but they were to worship the LORD and Him alone.  It was the LORD who brought them up out of Egypt, who led them through the Red Sea on dry land, who fed them manna from heaven, and gave them water from a rock.  He was the one who led them by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  It was Him who set them apart as His people, and who would give them this land that they were about to take possession of.
            Because He alone is God, He gave them commandments, rules and statutes that they were to live by, and practice, and teach to their children after them.  At various times along the way, when those commandments or rules were challenged, it was God who acted and judged the disobedient.  He is also the God whose steadfast love and mercy forgave their rebellious hearts and who has provided for their every need while traveling through the wilderness.
            It seems to us today that these people had a short memory when it came to remembering the great acts that the Lord performed for them all along the way, but are we really that different from them?  We too need to be reminded of God’s faithfulness, His greatness, and His provision for us from day to day.  We tend to get a bit “big for our britches” and think that we’ve accomplished significant things on our own, when the reality is that God has been there every step of the way, despite our grumbling and complaining, and our disobedience, and continues to grant us mercy and grace for each step of our journey.
            We have a tendency to bump God off of the throne in our minds, and try to assume that place ourselves,  or at the very least, reduce God to being someone who is there if and when we need Him, (like there could ever be a time when we don’t need Him).  The psalmist in Psalm 84 gets it right when he expresses his worship of God.  “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!  My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Psalm 84:1 ESV), and later in verses 11-12, “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor.  No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.  O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!” 
            Do we really live, do we even worship as though we believe in God like this psalmist?  Is God truly exalted in our minds that we would say, “What He says we will do, where He sends we will go, never fear, only trust and obey.”  I encourage you today to grant Him the place of priority in your life; give Him the seat on the throne of your life, and then honor and revere Him as the “God in heaven above and on the earth beneath.”


By His Grace Alone,
Pastor Bruce Jacobsen

Saturday, February 3, 2018

“The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.”
(Psalm 119:130 ESV)
            Last month, we looked the multiple benefits of studying the Word of God from Psalm 119.  This month, I’d like to focus on this one verse that stood out to me this week in my reading.  As I read through this Psalm, each day, I pick out one verse of the stanza to focus on, and consider; a verse in particular that I can identify with personally.
            Let’s look at the first phrase of this verse to begin with.  “The unfolding of your words gives light.”  The Hebrew term that is translated “unfolding” here can be understood a few different ways.  First, it could mean literally, unfolding, as one would unroll a scroll, or open a book—so to opening up His words will give us light.  This is incredibly true!  The more I read through not just the Psalms, but all of Scripture, the light is shed on who God is, what He is like, how much He loves me/us.  I learn every time I open the pages.
            It can also be understood metaphorically.  For the words to be declared or proclaimed is a light giving exercise.  When the Preacher/teacher gets up to declare the Word of God, to open or explain it, light or understanding is hopefully gained by those listening.  When Josiah had the book of the Law of Moses read to him, as recorded in 2 Chron. 34, light was shown on the sins of Judah, and Josiah tore his clothes in anguish over it.  Josiah was then motivated to make huge reforms in Jerusalem and Judah, to humble themselves before the LORD God, and worship Him as prescribed in the book.
            When we read, or unfold the Words of God, aided by the understanding given to us through the work of the Holy Spirit, light shines, and the truth is revealed.  Sometimes the truth is painful, as in Josiah’s day, in learning of how far we’ve strayed from the truth.  Sometimes the truth increases our faith, as we learn more about the nature and character of God, and how faithful He is.  Sometimes the light that is shown brings comfort and healing, because we learn about his patience and forgiveness, and how receptive He is to a repentant heart.
            The second part of that phrase is rich as well.  “It imparts understanding to the simple.”  One of the uses of the word translated “simple” here is someone who is easily persuaded or enticed.  I don’t like to think of myself as “simple” in that regard, but perhaps it’s more often true than I would like to admit.  But even the “simple” will gain understanding when His Word is opened or unfolded for them. 
            Another way to think of this is that we are to become teachable, or “simple,” so that we can be taught, even when we think we don’t need to.  “Lord, help me become teachable,” should be our prayer when we come to His Word and unfold it.  A man who was perhaps 30 or so years older than me taught me that it is good to never stop learning.  I’ve remembered that, and have tried to put it into practice, especially when it comes to the Word of God.
            I hope you will consider your attitude when it comes to listening to, reading, and studying the Word of God.  I pray that you will approach it humbly, knowing that each time you have great opportunity to learn and grow.

By His Grace Alone,
Pastor Bruce Jacobsen

Friday, January 5, 2018

“How can a young man keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to your word.  With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments.  I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.  Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes!  With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.  In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.  I will delight in your statues; I will not forget your word.”
(Psalm 119:9-16 ESV)
            What a love the psalmist had for the Word of God.  This whole psalm, the longest chapter in the whole Bible, is graced with this incredible love for God and His Word, His statutes, His rules, His commands.  What a noble thought!  While I don’t think I can honestly claim to have the same passion for the Word of God as this writer did, I do find that I am drawn to it more and more, the deeper I dig into it, and familiarize myself with it.
            At a time of year when many people are making New Year’s resolutions, if you’re the type that makes those things, I encourage you to commit to reading through the Bible this year.  There are many reading plans out there.  I found quite a few without even really looking, and I know there are many more out there.  I’m doing the M’Cheyene plan again for another  year, partly because I like the format of reading from different places in the same sitting, but partly just because I’m familiar with it, and I know that the consistency of the plan will keep me on task, and help me accomplish my goal of reading systematically through Scripture. 
            Look at the benefits of immersing yourself in the word.  “How can a young man keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to your word.”  D. L. Moody once said, “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.”  Being more aware of the rules, commands and statutes that God has given us in His Word, we become more aware of our sin, and of how offensive it is to God.  If you doubt that, verse 11 says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” 
            Studying the Word of God is a wonderfully valuable pursuit.  Reading through the whole Bible helps to give you greater perspective of how it all fits together.  When we read both the Old and New Testaments, we see more clearly how there is truly one unfolding story from beginning to end, and that God is the author of that story.  We also see how Jesus often quoted Old Testament Scripture.  It was said that he taught with great authority; well when you are one with the author, you can teach it with greater appreciation and authority.
            We have so many competing voices trying to get into our heads every day, and many that we invite willingly, despite what poor counsel they give us.  I encourage you to make it a point; make it a goal; make it a resolution to read through the whole Bible this year, even if you did it last year, or some other time in the past.  You’ll benefit from filling your mind with truth, and you’ll be blessed as you continue to learn about God and His ways.
            You don’t need a theological degree to study the Bible.  Pray for the Holy Spirit to help you to grasp and understand.  Pray for God to make Himself known to you as you read, but read.  Please read.  Read like your life depends on it—like your eternity depends on it, because it does.

By His Grace Alone,
Pastor Bruce Jacobsen

Friday, November 3, 2017

“Let me cry come before you, O LORD, give me understanding according to your word!  Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word.  My lips will pour forth praise, for you teach me your statutes.  My tongue will sing of your word, for all your commandments are right.  Let your hand be ready to help me, for I have chosen your precepts.  I long for your salvation, O LORD, and your law is my delight, Let my soul live and praise you, and let your rules help me.  I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.”
(Psalm 119:169-176  ESV)
            These are the closing verses of Psalm 119, the longest psalm in the Bible, and in fact, the longest single chapter in the Bible.  One important aspect of this psalm stands out as we read it, and that is the love for the word/commandments/statutes/rules of the word of God.  The writer doesn’t see these commandments as burdensome, or impossible, but as wise guidance and life giving rules given to us by a wise and loving heavenly Father.  There are verses in this psalm, that he compares the statutes and precepts of the Word of God to fine gold, “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces, vs. 72) or rich honey,(“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” vs 104).  In still other verses that refer to the enduring, even eternal nature of His law, (“Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.” vs 89).
            When we fail to familiarize ourselves with His Word, it’s no wonder that we begin to have a different view of it, even failing to see how it is given to us to help us avoid untold consequences and problems that will arise when we disregard His Word.  If you look to see why Israel was treated so harshly by the Lord during the time of their captivity and exile, you only have to look to see how greatly they disregarded God’s commands and statutes, and began to do the very things He instructed them not to do.  The discipline that He brought their way was designed to draw them back to Himself, and to help them to learn to trust Him once again.
            Dr. Albert Molher referred to research related to this subject in an article written Jan. 20, 2016.   “Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” How bad is it? Researchers tell us that it’s worse than most could imagine.
Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. “No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm. The bottom line? “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.” [see Barna Group’s web site]
            There is no substitute for the regular reading of God’s Word, the Bible.  The axiom for working with computers is, “garbage in-garbage out”, and the same is the case for our minds.  When we fill our minds with worldly thoughts, we should not be surprised when we begin to see our definitions of sin and evil shift to a more worldly viewpoint.  We have to be careful where we decide to go for such critical information.
By His Grace Alone,
Pastor Bruce Jacobsen