A Place of Refuge

“And the Lord will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence.  And there shall be a tabernacle for a shadow in the day time from the heat, and for a place of refuge, and for a covert from storm and from rain” (Isaiah 4:5-6).

A few days ago, I came across this passage and was struck by how comforting these verses were.  I think the reason why these words left such an impression was because, as we all do at times, I had been experiencing the heat of the day as well as the rain and the storm of verse six.  At times, we all feel the heat of life’s fiery trials, a heat that leaves us weak and exhausted, longing for a bit of shade where we can find relief and rest.  And we also feel the sorrow of life’s storms and rains that come over us, leaving us feeling powerless and alone.  Like the Israelites in the wilderness alluded to in Isaiah, we face many hardships in our lives as we wander through this earth with its heat and storms.

The Israelites had been delivered out of captivity in Egypt, brought through the Red Sea, and given manna to eat and water from the rock to drink.  We, too, can look back on our lives, as individuals and as God’s church, and see how we have been freed from the bondage of sin, granted salvation, and provided for by our God throughout our whole lives.  And, like the Israelites, who were looking forward to entering into the promised land of Canaan, we look forward to entering the promised land of heaven.

However, even being able to look back at God’s provisions in the past and to look forward to His promises for the future, the Israelites still faced difficulties and hardships in their present situation, and so do we.  Yes, we have been promised salvation and have seen God’s work all throughout our lives, and we look forward to the end of this life’s journey when we will finally enter Paradise, but sometimes the scorching heat and the stormy rains we face during the journey seem almost unbearable.  It is in these times that we must remember that just as God did not forsake the Israelites in the wilderness, neither will He forsake us now in our own hardships.

In the wilderness, God provided the Israelites with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night for protection and guidance, and he also will do the same for us.  Isaiah 4:6 says that a tabernacle will provide this shade and protection and serve as a place of refuge.  In the Old Testament, the tabernacle was where God dwelt with His people, and it is in this way that God provides us protection from the storms of this life – He dwells among us, and we find shelter and refuge in Him.

As we enter God’s house tomorrow, let us be thankful for this place of refuge and rest from life’s storms.  Although we will continue to face scorching heat and violent storms until we finally reach the promised land, we are not left unprotected.  As we have fellowship together with our heavenly Father as brothers and sisters in Christ, let us remember to place our trust in Him and find refuge in His tabernacle from whatever trials we might face in this life.

“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.  My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth.  He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber.  Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.  The Lord is thy keeper: the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand.  The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night.  The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil: he shall preserve thy soul.The Lord shall preserve thy going out and thy coming in from this time forth, and even for evermore” (Psalm 121).

Amy Kaiser

Make a Joyful Noise unto the Lord

“All men on earth that live,

To God all glory give,

Praise ye the Lord;

His lovingkindness bless.

His constant faithfulness

And changeless truth confess;

Praise ye the Lord.

Here are the lyrics from Psalter #316, the shortest song in the Psalter. It makes sense that this is the shortest song in the Psalter since it’s taken from Psalm 117, which we all know is the shortest chapter in the bible. We used this Psalter number for a period of time as a doxology at our church here in Wingham, and it was very wonderful to be able to sing these words together as a congregation. Singing is enjoyable. People all around the world use singing as entertainment and it plays a significant part of our lives. We Christians have been given singing as a gift. Not just any gift, but a special gift from the Lord. Tomorrow is Sunday, and once again we will find ourselves in the house of the Lord using our gift of song to sing praises to him.

Singing shows and expresses the joy in our hearts. Hearts that sing are joyful! Singing also spreads joy. Think back to a time where you spent an evening singing to those in hospitals or retirement homes. Those times were times well spent. Although perhaps somewhat awkward to a group of teenagers at the time, I’m sure we all underestimate the amount of joy that the audience received. The blend of the holy words and the beautiful melodies is sure to arouse and spread joy! Joyful hearts sing. Singing gives birth to joy, and joy gives birth to singing.

“Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms” (Js. 5:13).

Singing is a good thing! David speaks about singing several times in the Psalms, and he repeatedly expresses that he will sing praises to his Lord. We do well to follow in David’s footsteps and dedicated times in our lives to lift up our voices towards heaven. “Sing aloud unto God our strength.” “I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing unto thee.” These familiar passages should always be a reminder to us of the importance of act of worship.

“It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto they name, O most High…” (Ps. 92:1).

Why did Paul and Silas sing? They sang for strength while they were afflicted. Perhaps a time will come when we are afflicted. Will we remember the songs we sang from our youth every Sunday during worship? Singing is not filler during a worship service. It is not something used to break up the time of sitting in silence. God commands us to sing, and we must use this precious gift of congregation singing and hold it dear to our hearts. We don’t use singing as a mean to impress God. We also don’t use singing as a way to express our emotions and feelings. The wonderful songs that we sing every Sunday are sure to be a comfort to our souls, but more importantly, they should be sang wholeheartedly as giving glory to God. How beautiful it must be to God’s “ears” to hear his chosen people join together in song, singing of his glory. When we raise our voices together as a congregation on Sunday morning, we’re joining our voices with Christians all over the world. It’s not just our voices echoing around the walls of our sanctuary, but voices echoing across the world making a joyful noise to our Lord and King.

“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord; all the earth; make a loud noise, and rejoice, and sing praise” (Ps. 98:4).

Singing has a special way of bringing the heart, soul, mind, and congregation together. May we all be blessed tomorrow with the preaching of thy word, and thy wonderful gift of song. Singing matters, and it matters that we do it together.

Averly Kikkert

Entering Sabbath Rest

The Lord’s Day is the New Testament fulfillment of the Old Testament Sabbath, the day of rest that God instituted at the close of the creation week. On this day God calls His people to rest; not merely to rest physically (though that is part of it), but to rest spiritually. This spiritual rest is an important dimension of our worship on the Lord’s Day. For that reason, we do well to think about Sabbath rest as we prepare ourselves for worship tomorrow.

The true idea of Sabbath rest is lost in much of the church today. On the one side, there are those who have taken the liberty to transform the Sabbath into a day for themselves. Rather than faithfully attend the corporate worship of the church, they are very willing to substitute “family time” or some other activity in place of church. That can be a temptation for us too. After all, family time is a good thing, right? The problem is, just because something is a good thing does not mean it is an acceptable substitute for what God commands His people to do on the Lord’s Day: public worship in the assembly of the saints. There is no other activity that is a legitimate substitute for going to church (Heb. 10:25). On the other side there is the danger of adopting a rigid legalism about the Sabbath. Yes, we are not to work on the Sabbath. But there is a lot more to Sabbath observance than keeping a long list of “don’ts.” If that was the heart of the matter, the meticulous Pharisees would be role-models for us all. The real question is not “What are you not doing on Sunday?” but “What are you doing on Sunday?”

The Lord’s Day is a day of rest. But it is a day of rest that God intends to be filled with lively activity! To see this we need look no farther than what God Himself did on the first Sabbath Day. God rested. But what did that rest consist of? It consisted of God enjoying His finished work of creation. God was not idle. God did not sleep the day away. He spent the day active, enjoying the finished works of His hands. This is also true, in fact, for Adam and Eve. Remember that God created Adam and Eve on the sixth day. That means Adam and Eve’s first full day of life was the Sabbath day, a day of rest with God. And how did Adam and Eve spend the Sabbath? By walking and talking with God in the garden (Gen. 3:8), fellowshipping with Him, and enjoying His finished work.

So it is with us. Sabbath rest is not the cessation of all activity; Sabbath rest is entering into the enjoyment of God’s finished work for us in Christ. Our sin has disrupted our fellowship with God. But Christ has restored us to God’s fellowship through His atoning work on the cross. We who were once alienated have been drawn nigh again. Being reconciled to God, we have Sabbath rest once more. Our Sabbath rest is fellowshipping with the God of our salvation in and through Jesus Christ. And we enter into this Sabbath rest by being active in the spiritual activities of the Lord’s Day. It is here that the command not to do any work enters the picture. Avoiding work is not an end in itself. We lay aside our daily labors in order to devote ourselves fully to the refreshing spiritual activities of the Lord’s Day. We rest from our everyday callings that we might actively enter into the rest of our Lord.

The chief and most important activity of our Sabbath rest is the public, corporate worship services of the church. In worship we enter into the rest of our Lord. Here in the assembly of the saints we together acknowledge our God and extol His matchless worth. Together we “offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name” (Heb. 13:15), in prayer, and in song, and in giving of alms. Together we are spiritually nourished by the means of grace: the life-giving Word and faith-strengthening Sacraments. God meets with us in our worship. He draws us nigh unto Himself in sweet communion. We enjoy a foretaste of eternal life with God. There is nothing like it in all the world. True joyful rest!

While the worship of the church is the heart of our Sabbath rest, the spiritual activities of the day do not end there. The whole day is for Sabbath rest! This means we ought to resist the temptation to use the time between church services for ourselves. Instead we should be busy in spiritual activities: reading, prayer, discussing spiritual things with family and friends around the table, to name a few. Of course, this does not mean that we may never take a Sunday afternoon snooze to refresh ourselves for the evening service. But it does require that we honestly face the question: What is your focus on Sunday? Is it Sabbath rest: enjoying fellowship with God through Christ’s finished work? Or is it selfish rest: using the day first for your own pleasure and relaxation? Let the Lord’s Day be a day of heartfelt worship! Let it be a day brimming with spiritual activities that deepen your relationship with God and spiritually refresh you for the battle of the Christian life in the week ahead.

Indeed, the Sabbath is forward looking. Sabbath rest extends beyond Sunday. It’s not just about one day a week, it’s about all of our days. We take our Sabbath rest into the work week ahead. Every day we seek to enter into the rest of our Lord. How so? The Heidelberg Catechism offers a fine answer: “that all the days of my life I cease from my evil works, and yield myself to the Lord, to work by His Holy Spirit in me; and thus begin in this life the eternal Sabbath” (LD 38).

We carry Sabbath rest into the week by living out of the finished work of Christ. The Lord Jesus has implanted His new life in our hearts. Out of this new life we live! We live the Sabbath life! The rest and worship of the Sabbath Day strengthen and refresh us to go into the week ahead, put away our evil works, and put on the works of Christ. The Sabbath ought to have a “sanctifying influence” on the week days to follow. As we more and more crucify our sinful natures and put away our sins, and as we more and more are conformed to the image of Christ, we begin, already in this life, to enjoy the eternal Sabbath.

As we prepare our hearts for worship tomorrow, let us resolve to be busy in the spiritual activities that befit a Christian on the Lord’s Day. And let us resolve to carry our Sabbath rest into the week ahead, to fight sin, and to live consciously every day out of the new life of Christ.

Justin Smidstra