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

Friday, August 4, 2017

“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.  I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.  Therefore, be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears.  And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
(Acts 20:28-32 ESV)
            It is encouraging to me to read about the provision that God instituted to provide for the protection of the church.  Churches may or may not utilize that provision, but nonetheless, that provision has been around for a very long time.  In fact, if we were to look all the way back to Exodus 18, when Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law came to where they were, and met with Moses there, and observed Moses sitting before the people from morning till evening judging the people’s concerns.  When Jethro saw that Moses was doing this alone, he said, “What you are doing is not good.  You and the people will certainly wear yourselves out, for this thing is too heavy for you.  You are not able to do it alone.”
            Jethro then suggested that Moses appoint “able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy, and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds of fifties and of tens…”  Thus the institution of elders began, and continued through the history of the people of God up to, and through the New Testament, where we find them in numerous passages throughout the New Testament.
            Their role was to help lead the people, to protect them from error, to help govern those entrusted to them.  Even in Jesus’ day, the elders were tasked with the same concerns.  In Matt. 26, we find them with the chief priests gathering in the High Priest’s palace to plot together to arrest Jesus, as they saw him as a threat to their way of life, of what they understood to be the right worship of God.
            In 1 Peter, we find the apostle writing to the elders there, among the dispersed believers at that time, in chapter 5 to, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock…” (1 Peter 5:2-3)
            It’s a wise worker who uses the right tool for the job at hand, because using a different tool may work in some cases, but is not the most effective or efficient way to accomplish the task.  Sometimes, we may need to add a tool to our toolbox that was missing.  Our constitution committee is considering this, and is looking into what that might mean for Mt. Pleasant.  Please pray that God will give them the wisdom, discernment and courage to follow Him in wherever He would lead.

By His Grace Alone,
Pastor Bruce Jacobsen

Friday, June 2, 2017

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.  Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.  For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.  I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgression to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”
(Psalm 32:1-5 ESV)
            It’s no wonder that there is little peace in the world we live in today with the way that sin is treated in our culture—that it’s no big deal.  There seems to be little groaning over sin, even in my own life, to my shame.  Despite the lack of shame over sin, God still does not let us have the peace He intends for us when we fail to recognize and repent of our sin.  Our bones may not “waste away through my groaning all day long”, but there is a restless unsettledness that eats away at us, and it comes out in the way we process life and events around us.
            Last week, at the Pastor’s Conference at Moody, I heard a speaker say something like, “until sin is bitter, grace will not be sweet”.  Wow.  That one stuck in my head and rolled around a lot.  I see how often I take grace for granted, and I suspect that I’m not alone in that.  But we take the grace of God for granted because sin doesn’t seem as bitter to us as it is to God.  We appease our conscious with the thought that we’re really not all that bad; not as bad as someone else I know, or as bad as some criminal.  But the reality is that all sin has a consequence, and the consequence is separation from God.
            While as believers, we know that our sins are forgiven, but when we let unrepentant sin continue and treat it as if it were nothing serious, we make God out to be a liar because He takes sin very seriously.  It was so serious that in order for sin to be atoned for, or to be taken away, blood had to be shed—something had to die.  Moses was given very specific instructions for the children of Israel in regard to how they were to offer sacrifices for sin.  In every case, an animal, and not just any animal, but one that was without blemish or defect, had to die—had to shed its blood in order for sin to be forgiven.
            Then God sent the perfect sacrifice to the earth.  “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins [His own blood], he sat down at the right hand of God, for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Heb. 10:12,14) 
            God makes a promise to us through the apostle John in 1 John 1:9:  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  God will always honor a repentant heart.  The second term He used to characterize Himself to Moses in Ex. 34:6 is gracious.  Grace is unmerited favor.  In other words, there is nothing, literally nothing we can do to deserve it.  But the only way that it is offered to us is when we agree with God about our sin, (that’s confession), and repent of it, (that means to turn away from it). 
            The psalmist nails it here in Psalm 32.  If we want to know what true peace with God is like, we need to think of sin as God thinks of it, that it is wholly offensive, destructive, and leads to unwanted consequences up to and including death.  When we begin to see sin as a bitter thing, we will come to know the sweetness that is found in having our account with Him cleared through the righteousness that is found in Christ Jesus, His Son.
            “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.”


By His Grace Alone,
Pastor Bruce Jacobsen

Friday, May 12, 2017

“1 Peter 1:3-9  Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
(1 Peter 1:3-9 ESV)
            The living hope that Peter refers to in 1 Peter 1:3-9 is not like the hope we have for good weather for an outdoor event, or that we will find a career that suits us; it’s much bigger than that.  The hope that Peter writes of here is what we cling to that takes us beyond this life, beyond our present struggles, hardships or concerns, to eternity in heaven with God.  We are, by the grace of God, born again into a living hope with an inheritance that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”(ESV)  We rejoice in this hope even though we may be experiencing the difficulties that come with this life, because our hope in Christ takes us beyond this life.  In verses 8-9, Peter reminds us that though we don’t see Him yet, we love Him and believe in Him, and trust that He will complete what He has promised, “the salvation of your souls.”(ESV)
            When Jesus went to the cross, He had more than this earthly life in mind.  He was looking ahead to what His life, death and resurrection would accomplish for those who believe in Him.  He was looking ahead to our being spared the proper penalty for our sins, of our being made one in Him, and our enjoying the place of matchless purity and beauty that He has prepared for us. 
            Just as when a butterfly breaks forth from the cocoon and experiences the beauty and freedom of flight, so we look forward to breaking the bonds of this earth with its hardships and disappointments, and break free into eternal life in glory.
            Peter writes of this hope as being “more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire”.  Do we place the importance of our relationship with God as being more precious than gold?  If so, does our life, our checkbook, our calendar reflect that?  How much time do we invest in our hope, in the knowledge of God, in studying His Word, not just on our own, but with others in the family of faith? 
            Let’s take a look at verses 6-7 again.  “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, as was necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  How has the genuineness of our faith stood up to the tests we’ve experienced?  Have they made us stronger, as was God’s plan, or have they cast doubts on what we thought we believed?
            My prayer is that the testing of your faith will produce strength and depth in your relationship with Him, and that you will find a great sense of joy in serving Him in the time we have left on earth.

(The portion in italics was preprinted from an article I was asked to write for the Living Word Bulletin Series for Sunday, April 23, 2017; the image on the bulletin was of a butterfly on a flower.)

By His Grace Alone,
Pastor Bruce Jacobsen