Saturday, February 28, 2009

March 1- Prayer as Repentance


March 1- Prayer as Repentance
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love, according to your great compassion, blot out my transgression…Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.” (Psalm 51)

Calvin: To this let us join a third rule: that anyone who stands before God to pray, in his humility giving glory completely to God, abandon all thought of his own glory, cast off all notion of his own worth, put away all self-assurance—lest if we claim for ourselves anything, even the least bit, we should become vainly puffed up, and perish at his presence. We have repeated examples of this submission, which levels all haughtiness, in God’s servants; each one of whom, the holier he is, the more he is cast down when he presents himself before the Lord. (IV. 20.8)

The first rule of prayer for the believer in Calvin’s opinion is to believe that prayer will be answered. For Calvin prayer is a miracle because “It is not within the power of man either to convert himself or to pray” (Comm. Jer. 29:12). For Calvin “Prayer is a response to the forgiving grace of God in Jesus Christ..the prayer of faith will thus be the prayer of self-abasement and humility as faith is inseparably linked to repentance” (Wallace 272,3). Prayer means a combination of two seemingly contrasting things- fear and hope. We are to come humbly and reverently out of respect to God as God alone. Yet we also come with assurance and confidence which is faith. Prayer is thus a combination of repentance and faith- humility and belief.
Calvin rightly points out that the holier we are- that is the closer we are to God- the more we recognize our need to be humble. Isaiah, in the presence of God said, "Woe to me for I am a person of unclean lips." We might add that the more humble we are, the more likely will it be for us to be able to discern the presence and hand of God in life. As we confess our sins, we are brought one measure closer to the holiness and presence of God. When we refuse to admit our failures, we are proud. Jesus said he came to heal the sick not the well. He said the one forgiven much loves much. He came to help the sinner not the righteous. All this would point to the need to pray humbly before God.
As a nation, we have been humbled. One commentator said yesterday on National Public Radio, for the first time since 1929 our gross national product is the same as our debt. Stocks this week tumbled to 12 year lows. This COULD be an opportunity to humble ourselves before God- if we will take it. In the Bible, often when the people were humbled they called out to God for help (the Book of Judges shows this seven times). The result has been that when the people called out, God helped them and rescued them from their trouble.
Practically speaking, we need to confess our sins to God. Confessing is not just saying things, but sincerely turning away from our sin. Too much prayer today is simply praising and asking. Praise is important. In some ways confessing our sins to God is praise to Him as well. For confession is humbling ourselves before Him as the one and only who can forgive us. Confession is a way to turn wrong into praise.

Prayer- Help us O God, to turn around and give ourselves anew to you today. Amen.

Friday, February 27, 2009

February 27- Calvin on MIssions


February 27- Calvin on Missions
Ezekial 18:20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.
21 "But if the wicked turn away from all the sins they have committed and keep all my decrees and do what is just and right, they will surely live; they will not die. 22 None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live. 23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?
Calvin: God certainly desires nothing more than for those who are perishing and rushing toward death to return to the way of safety. This is why the gospel is today proclaimed throughout the world, for God wished to testify to all the ages that he is greatly inclined to pity. (Commentary Ezek. 18:23)
The meaning amounts to this, that by proclaiming the gospel everywhere, they should bring all nations to the obedience of the faith, and next, that they should seal and ratify their doctrine by the sign of the gospel. (Commentary on Mathew 28:19-23)

Philip E. Hughes said that Geneva under Calvin became a “school of missions” where people learned about the need and the procedure to be missionaries. Later Calvinits (JH Rice of Union) would say that the church is a “missionary society” whose goal is to reach others. Presbyterians have started more mission fields than any other Protestant denomination (M. Carpenter).
In 1561 Geneva sent out 151 ministers to areas without Protestant Reformed ministers. They were evangelists, missionaries. Reformed ministers were sent from Geneva to Brazil and to North America- South Carolina (Port Royal).
Calvin knew that God was concerned about all people, no matter what they looked like, or where they lived. Contrary to what some want Calvin to have done and believed, he did send out missionaries and did believe in evangelism. Some would argue if you really believe in predestination, then you don’t have to invite others to know Christ or send missionaries out to minister to those who have never heard. Predestination in part means that God has a purpose for everyone- a plan for everyone. Just because there is a plan and a purpose, that does not excuse our sitting on our hands and not obeying God. For Calvin we do the work of an evangelist and go into all the world because God commands it- and that is enough. But we should also know that God does not plan despite what we do, but he works through what we do. It is utter nonsense to think God planned the cross so Jesus didn’t have to get up on it. It makes no sense that because Jesus predicted and knew certainly that Jerusalem would fall (Matthew 24) that the Romans didn’t have to fight to take it. God’s plan includes our actions (or inaction).

Prayer: God, when we see the news of tragedies around the world, help us to pray for those people. Help us to grow in our desire to see other people know your love, grace, mercy, and kindness.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

February 26- Calvin on World Vision


God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7 And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles. (I Timothy 2:4,5)

Calvin: "there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation; because God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception. [those people insult God] "who, by their opinion, shut out any person from the hope of salvation.(Commentary on I Timothy 2:4,5)

One of our church members said that he was playing golf with a Baptist minister, who asked him if “he was a Calvinist.” Then he said that Calvin’s idea of predestination made Calvin not believe in missions. This is a common belief, not because of anything Calvin taught, but because people don’t think that anyone who spoke of predestination- which is God’s choosing us before we were born- could possibly be concerned with presenting the gospel so people could respond. There is an interesting article on this by Ray VanNeste at http://www.founders.org/journal/fj33/article2.html
A. M. Hunter, in his book on Calvin's teaching, said, "Certainly he [Calvin] displayed no trace of missionary enthusiasm." Some have even said that Calvin's teaching on predestination necessarily destroyed evangelistic fervor; "we are all familiar with the scornful rationalization that facilely asserts that his horrible doctrine of divine election makes nonsense of all missionary and evangelistic activity." Others, however, have said: "One of the natural results of Calvin's perspective of predestination was an intensified zeal for evangelism."
Calvin believed that God does predestine people, but he uses our words to do it. Contrary to many, Calvin never saw predestination as an excuse for inaction. It was through our telling others of the good news of Christ that the elect responded to Christ and the non-elect do not.
In his commentary on I Timothy 2:4,5 Calvin was saying that everyone should hear the gospel- no matter how rich, how poor, whether they are close are far away. We should never pick and choose who should hear the good news of Christ. Only God elects, our job is to proclaim to all people. Later, as we shall see, Calvin sent out 88 missionaries to France alone. He wrote tons of letters to people in other countries to spread the good news. He sent two ministers from Geneva to Brazil to begin to spread the good news there among Huguenot colonists and the natives.
Frankly, we are too quick to say only certain kind of people should be invited to church by us, or invited to hear the good news of Christ. When I lived on the coast of South Carolina, twice a year there were huge motor bike rallies. Some ministers from our area were complaining about these people because they were noisy, some said some tough words to the natives, and drinking and drug abuse went up during that week. But there were a couple of ministers who spoke about their efforts of trying to reach these migrating groups. Some churches set up lemonade stands, and passed out tracts. One church hired their own evangelist to do work among them. Everyone who breathes needs Jesus. Whatever benefit I have received from Christ is that much more reason to tell another about him. John Calvin, I believe, would agree.

Prayer- Lord help us to see others as you see them. Help us to be concerned with other people, and to grow in love of neighbor as well as those far off or different from us. Amen.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

FEBRUARY 25, 2009 Ash Wednesday


“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father , who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Mt. 6:16-18
Calvin: At that time the superstitious observance of Lent had prevailed everywhere, because the common people thought that in it they were doing some exceptional service to God, and the pastors commended it as a holy imitation of Christ. On the contrary, it is plain that Christ did not fast to set an example for others, but to prove, in so beginning to proclaim the gospel, that it was no human doctrine but actually one sent from
heaven [ Matthew 4:2]. And the marvel is that such sheer hallucination (which is refuted so often and with such clear arguments) could creep upon men of keen judgment. (IV.12.20)

On this beginning of Lent it is important to recognize what Calvin was doing. He was speaking against the external show of piety without the heart. Calvin was not against Lent per se, but against the superstitious observance of Lent. Calvin was against the external fasting involved with the catholic observance of Lent, but was not against the idea of repentance. Zwingli in Zurich particularly despised the catholic meat eating regulations as being unbiblical. Calvin was not as boisterous as Zwingli, but he guarded against religious show, choosing instead simplicity.
So Calvinists in general today observe Lent, but emphasizing repentance and not fasting or external show. Calvin, by the way, was not against fasting. He said, “whenever men are to pray to God concerning any great matter, it would be expedient to appoint fasting with prayer” (IV.12.16). Calvin appeared to believe that fasting helps us to focus and persevere in prayer, and he sees it as a biblical practice. He points out, “if either pestilence, or famine, or war begins to rage, or if any disaster seems to threaten any district and people—then also it is the duty of the pastors to urge the church to fasting.” He also points out that Joel 2 calls the people to weeping, fasting, sackcloth and ashes.” But he also cautioned that the people are called to “rend their hearts and not their garments” (Joel 2).
If ever there was a time for crying out to God and for repentance for our country, it is now. We have been humbled. In our humility, I hope we will seek God and not desert Him. In the last ten years we have been unbelievably blessed with wealth. At the same time, there has been a dramatic forsaking of God- with believers (according to adherants.com) going from 86% to 75% (an 11% drop in ten years!). Leaders in the church rationalize this away saying it was jus a loss of nominal believers. That is almost like saying "'Peace, Peace' when there is no peace." It is time to come back to God, and Lent is a great opportunity to do so.


PRAYER: Lord, as Lent begins, help us to have our hearts right with you. Show us how we might deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow you. Teach us how to draw closer to you through prayer and repentance.

Monday, February 23, 2009

February 24- The Place of Good Works

God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of hi m that you are in Christ Jesus who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore as it is written- let those who boast, boast in the Lord. (I Corinthians 1:28-30)

Calvin’s Catechism:
M: What? Are men not justified by good works, when they study to approve themselves before God by holy and righteous living? A: If anyone could be found perfect to this degree, he might be reckoned just on merit. But since we are all sinners, guilty in many ways before God, we must seek elsewhere that worthiness which may reconcile us to him.
M: But are all men’s works so despicable and worthless that they are unable to obtain favor with God? A: First whatever works proceed from us as properly to be called our own are vicious; then further, they can do nothing but displease God and be rejected by him.
M: You say then that, before we are reborn and remade by the Spirit of God, we are able to do nothing but sin, just as the bad tree produces only bad fruit. A: Precisely so, For whatever appearance they may have in the eyes of men, they are nonetheless evil so long as the heart, to which God chiefly looks is depraved.
M: But when God has once embraced us, are not the works which we do at the direction of the Holy Spirit acceptable to him? A: They please him, but not by reason of their own merit, but as he liberally dignifies them with his favor..some defilement from the infirmity of the flesh is always mixed in them, by which they are vitiated.
M: But we do not therefore judge the good works of believers to be useless? A: By no means. For God does not in vain promise them reward both in this life and in the future. But this regard springs from the gratuitous love of God as source. For he first embraces us as sons, and then, burying the memory of the vices which proceed from us, he visits us with favor.

We are supposed to be good. Everyone knows that. But Protestants realized that we cannot be good enough to get to heaven- for we are not perfect (and heaven is a perfect place). For Luther we do good out of gratitude to God. Here Calvin says something different. God shows favor to us for the good we do- rewarding us on earth and in heaven. Certainly the Bible speaks in general terms that God rewards those who do good. For example, those who do not kill are less likely to have violence done to them. Those who are honest are less likely to get in trouble. We reap what we sew. It is also true that the world is a better, safer, kinder place when people are seeking to do good instead of seeking their own interests. Again, think of that Liberty Mutual commercial (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMwoexR1evo).
Calvin believed in rewards in the next life too. Rewards for good deeds are not just for the here and now. But good is a way to store up treasure in heaven. However, the Bible does not speak of getting into heaven by being good. It may be hard to distinguish the difference. Perhaps it would be like getting into the theater free, but the best seats going to the nicest people.

February 23- Heaven and Hell

February 23

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If you love the world, love for the Father is not in you. 16 For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful people, the lust of their eyes and their boasting about what they have and do—comes not from the Father but from the world. (I John 2:15,16)

Calvin: If heaven is our homeland, what else is the earth but our place of exile? If departure from
the world is entry into life, what else is the world but a sepulcher? And what else is it for us to remain in life but to be immersed in death? If to be freed from the body is to be released into perfect freedom, what else is the body but a prison? If to enjoy the presence of God is the summit of happiness, is not to be without this, misery? But until we leave the world “we are away from the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:6]. Therefore, if the earthly life be compared with the heavenly, it is doubtless to be at once despised and trampled under foot. Of course it is never to be hated except in so far as it holds us subject to sin; although not even hatred of that condition may ever properly be turned against life itself. (III. 9. 4)

What is 72 years in the face of eternity? Yet we work so hard to live as long as we can on this life, and neglect our entrance into heaven itself. In our culture we particularly like to hide our aging process. There are contacts so we won’t look like we have glasses (or laser surgery); there’s liposuction; there are “age spot” removal systems; hair growing systems for bald guys; Hair removal systems for hairy old women; there’s dentures, hearing aids, wrinkle creams (billions are spent on makeup and fashion to make us look better than we really are); Ted Williams and hundreds of other froze their bodies in order for them to be brought back to life when a cure could be found for their disease. Death is a part of life. Heaven can be a part of life if we believe.
When something goes awry, I often say, “That won’t happen when we get to heaven.” In heaven, I am convinced there aren’t any traffic accidents. There aren’t any arguments between Christians. There aren’t any greedy people. There is no more death or dying.
Yesterday a youth asked about whether people of other faiths or unbelievers go to hell. My missionary friend gave scriptural answers that were accurate. But while I and Calvin believe in hell, and that there are people who will go there, there is a sense in which it is better to concentrate on heaven than to focus on hell. Many don’t believe in heaven or hell. Jesus teaches a bit about both. I believe it is important to listen to one who has been there, seen that, rather than guess as human beings about what is in the next life. Calvin did not speak much about the devil (compared to Luther or the Roman Catholics or Greek Orthodox) or hell. Instead he focused much on God and heaven- a more positive way to look at things. There is no assurance of heaven if we do not believe in Jesus. Jesus removes from us the sting of death and hell, giving us hope even in this life.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

February 22 Think of Heaven


February 22- Meditation on the future life
(Picture- Calvin on his death bed, Farel ministering)

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Calvin: Whatever kind of tribulation presses upon us, we must ever look to this end: to accustom ourselves to contempt for the present life and to be aroused thereby to meditate upon the future life. For since God knows best how much we are inclined by nature to a brutish love of this world, he uses the fittest means to draw us back and to shake off our sluggishness, lest we cleave too tenaciously to that love. (III.9.1)

We have this natural tendency to love the things of this life and this world. It is good to love the gifts God has given us, and to be good stewards of creation. But it is unhealthy to hold on to things too tightly so that they become in effect our God. Calvin seeks to break this stranglehold the world has on us by meditation on the future life.
One of the ways our love for the world shows today is the dismay we are having about the economic downturn. If we held the world lightly, we wouldn’t have this dismay. It is good to enjoy the good things of life, but we must enjoy them gingerly, holding onto them lightly. No treasure here lasts forever (as the scripture verse above points out). The meditation on the future life is a tool Calvin gives us (and Jesus too) to hold to the things of this world lightly.
I think there are many reasons to think about heaven.
1) It keeps us from making gods in this world.
2) It keeps us from being dragged down by the problems in this life.
3) It helps us to focus on Christ- both now and in the hereafter.
4) It keeps us from having an inordinate fear of death.
5) It gives meaning to the present- what we do matters for eternity.

February 21- What Lasts



February 21
And let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us. And establish the work of our hands. Yes establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90:17

Calvin: God has promised that the church will be perpetuated to the end of the world. In a special manner that should lead us to pray for the welfare of the church as well as for our posterity , who are yet unborn…In the clause establish thou the work of our hands. Moses intimates that we cannot undertake or attempt anything with the prospect of success unless God becomes our guide and counselor and governs us by his Spirit. God converts to good the end whatever Satan and the reprobate plot and practice against his people. God orders or directs the work of our hands.

What do you do in life that will last forever? I remember travelling to Europe and seeing castles and cathedrals that were meant to last until the end of history, most of them were in ruins. Some invest themselves in their work thinking their work will enhance society, country or humanity. When I look back on the great societies and kingdoms, we see so much knowledge lost and abandoned when those societies fail. The great water systems and roads of Rome were abandoned by about 400 A.D. The wonderful library in Alexandria was burned and so much knowledge of other cultures, languages and life burned up with it. It is possible for our work to be tied to eternity if we seek to honor and glorify God in our work. Our tough economic times have seen the work of some and the savings of others disappear. Some invest themselves in their children. This is very close to investing in eternity for children are the next step toward eternity. But even the most loving parents who carefully raise their children, may raise children who do not appreciate them or life. Giving our souls to God and His glory is something that will last forever. God establishes the work of our hands when we give our work, our children, our all to His honor.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Evangelism and Calvin

Evangelism and the church

“[The people asked] What shall we do? Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of yor sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call…Those who accepted his message were baptized and about three thousand were added to their number that day.”

There is very little debate these days about evangelism, but perhaps that debate needs to be raised, considering the demise of the mainline churches. The secular world would not have us evangelize. They want peace- the peace of being left alone- which is the peace that comes from the grave- not the eternal peace that comes from God. It would be easy for the church to comply with their wishes. In fact, when we evangelize things get messy. People from other cultures, races, backgrounds, and ideas start coming to our church and changing things. If we don’t evangelize the church will be more comfortable, but it is the comfort of staying in the death bed. This past week our presbytery closed two churches that at one time were vital. We have been started two new churches for seven years and they are doing well, but we have closed five churches in those seven years.
Calvin was concerned about the spread of the gospel. He sent out ministers to start churches- evangelists if you will. He wrote many volumes to spread his ideas. Lay people would read these and seek the Lord. However, Calvin lived in a time when most people went to church out of obligation and as the only alternative. The parish church thrived in Calvin’s day. Today there is not the same sense of Christian community and obligation. Leith has argued that Reformed evangelism is inclusion into the church. This is a major emphasis in Calvin. Yet another major emphasis is that it is not just outwardly being included, but also inwardly being regenerated. Calvin was against empty liturgy. He was opposed to outward pomp and inward emptiness. Prayer must be from the heart.
Faith alone is important- not faith and outward good works. The Holy Spirit convicting, illuminating, causing repentance was an important part of Calvin’s teachings as well as biblical teaching.
While certainly evangelism is doing things like inviting those who visited church back, and starting new churches (inclusion into the church). It also is proactively going to those who have not heard with good news. When Leith wrote that evangelism is inclusion into the church (1988), the church was still a force to reckoned with in secular society, albeit slipping. Today the church is secondary. The gospel is not about the institution, but the institution comes in response (as a need to get organized, be efficient, fellowship, encourage each other, pray together) to the gospel. If the church does not do more proactively to reach out to those who have never heard, it will shrink to only a stalwart few. Loving neighbor is a primary emphasis in Calvin. Certainly part of loving our secular neighbor is inviting them to church- yes. But also reaching out to them when they may not want to come to church (hopefully when they are regenerated they will want to come).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

February 19- Calvin adn Calvinism


(Monument to Reformed preaching Intl Museum of Reformation Geneva)

“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent, but she is unwilling.” Revelation 2:20,21

Calvin: “Do not change anything to innovation!” (CR 9.893)

There is a scholarly skeptical tendency to differentiate between the founder of the movement and the movement itself. Even though the gospels were all written within 70 years of his death when eyewitnesses could reject or correct the writings, people still want to separate Jesus from his followers, without truly appreciating the continuity. “The Search for the Historical Jesus” is a movement that springs up often, and often ends in futility and frustration. If only we had cameras to record the different angles of Jesus talks- we could have an “instant replay” and analyze his speeches as referees analyze a controversial play [Yes, I’m being sarcastic]. There is a delicate balance between skepticism and faith. In our day, the pendulum has swung way off to the side of skepticism (fueled in part by Enlightenment ideas, and post-modern toleration). Think of the popularity of the Da Vinci Code raising the old heresies of Gnostic thought and rumor from the dead. I say all this to point out that there is a difference between Calvin and Calvinism. This has been well-documented.
Having talked about passing the baton, there also needs to be a recognition of the successes and failures of such passing. Beza, Bullinger, Knox, Olevianus were not the leaders Calvin was. Yet here we are 500 years later, still wondering about Calvin. Any movement must adapt, and Calvin was for this dynamic for of reformation- in contrast to static, hierarchical (top down), Latin speaking Roman Catholicism of his time, Calvin wanted some dynamism in terms of lay involvement (giving up some control of clergy to elders), and worship in the language of the people. Beza was timid compared to Calvin-though a fine humanist scholar, and Knox was a bit more like Zwingli compared to Calvin. Certainly none were the writers Calvin was.
McGrath says that Calvinism began to distinguish and define itself by the doctrine of predestination as it seemed to be an item of emphasis (in contrast to Luther’s justification by faith). Though certainly Calvin believed in justification and Luther believed in a form of predestination. Certainly the next generation of Calvinists turned toward Calvinistic scholasticism (Turretin’s Institutio is an example), and there was an immediate and for 150 years ongoing (mostly unsuccessful) political and military defense of Calvinism (Coligny in France, Frederik In Germany, Orange in the Netherlands, Cromwell in England, Scottish nobles in Scotland). The collapse of the Huguenot nobility and Cromwell’s undiplomatic harshness (and inability to pass the baton) with other Calvinists pretty much assured a secondary political part to Calvinism. But Calvinism, like Christianity, is purer and deeper when it is not tied closely to political power.
Calvinism historically has prospered when there is freedom of thought, when the middle-class (denigrated Bourgeoisie) has prospered, and when Calvinists stick to their Protestant roots of grace alone, scripture alone, faith alone. Calvinism dies off when it becomes overly-legalistic (first of the 20th century in America and Scotland); when it loses its faith in scripture (as is happening in America and western European Calvinism today), and when its emphasis for love of mind gives way to unbridled skepticism.
Calvinism’s motto has been “reformed and ever reforming.” But the question is reformed to what? Reformed in a sense means going back to the form. If we feel we cannot go back to our roots, but must be endeavored to constant change and innovation, then we will lose ourselves. The debate among Protestant churches in the west about the ordination of practicing, unrepentant homosexuals is classic and symptomatic of our demise (the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. has lost from 6.1 million in 1965 to 2.1 million today in 2009). An inability to live with a long-worked-out compromise (PUP report) almost kills the church in Cromwellian (or think Gardner-Springs amendment after the civil war that kept south and north from reuniting for 120 years) fashion. There is a balance between being static and being dynamic. There are always differences between a person and those who follow him. It is important to think about where we have been when we are trying to get to a new place. Sometimes this keeps us from going down a stray path and losing our way and our very lives!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

February 18- Elijah and Calvin


[Picture of John Knox- Calvin's Scottish disciple]
17 May the favor [a] of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:17)
Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"
14 He replied, "I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too."
15 The LORD said to him, "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. 18 Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him." ( I Kings 19:14-18)

Calvin: I have lived here amid continual bickerings. I have been from derision
saluted of an evening before my door with forty or fifty shots of an
arquebuse. How think you must that have astonished a poor scholar timid
as I am, and as I have always been, I confess? Then afterwards I was expelled from this town and went away to Strasbourg, and when I had lived there some time I was called back hither, but I had no less trouble when I wished to discharge my duty than
heretofore. They set the dogs at my heels, crying, Here! Here! and these snapped at my gown and my legs...As to our internal state, you have elected M. Beza to hold my place. Advise how to relieve him, for the charge is great, and so weighty that he
might well sink under the load. But advise how to support him. Of him I
know that he has a good will and will do what he can. (Farewewll to the Pastors)

In hard times when the church is oppressed by evil in the secular world outside and division, neglect, and tough times within, it is easy to feel lonely. This passage in I Kings is a great reminder that even the greatest, most godly leaders can falter and waver a bit. Elijah had just done one of the most amazing things to turn the nation back to the Lord. He had defeated the prophets of Baal with a spiritual test. The people ganged up against the false prophets and the faith was saved from utter oblivion and dilution. Today, in our postmodern world, some would consider it barbaric to even say the ones who worshipped Baal were wrong or unhealthy spiritually- much less allow them to be killed! They would not care that God showed his presence with lightning and thunder and Baal evidenced his non-existence. To many, it is the cultural toleration that is more important than the true existence of God Himself! What is important to these secular despisers is the act of religion, not the results or truth of religion. Actually to them what is more important is the respecting of other human beings and their differences, more than the respect of God. They really have no idea about being accountable to God at all. But I digress…
After this terrific defeat of the prophets of Baal, the queen said she would kill Elijah. He ran all the way to Mt. Sinai (I think this is about 150 miles). In his exhaustion he became depressed. He felt he was the only one left and the queen was trying to get him. God’s solution was for him to be nourished, and then to get some human help. Some of the help was secular (anointing the king of Syria), some semi-secular (the king of Israel), and some religious (Elishah). Then he reminded him that he wasn’t the only one left.
There were times when Calvin was in despair. When he was running from the Sorbonne, trying to escape death in France, and then he was robbed on his way. I could almost hear the angels say, “the journey is too much for you” (I Kings 19:7). Then when he was kicked out of Geneva with Farel. Then when his three children died. Then when his wife died. Then when he heard of the persecution of the Hugenots in France, or the defeat of the Schmakaldic league. Then when many attacked him for the Servetus affair when the Catholics would kill 30,000 in the one day St. Bartholomew’s massacre a few years after his death and it is estimated 40,000 before that day. People made fun of Calvin in every way- naming their dogs after him (not in fondness), kicking him and his family, jeering at him.
Calvin managed to write voluminously; preach about 4,000 sermons; established the Reformed church; negotiated a union with the Zwingli followers, some of the Hussites, and tried with the Lutherans; was involved in the political scenario.
But what made his work last was the passing on of the baton- establishing a university and school; establishing a form of government with elders that has lasted about 500 years now; establishing the company of pastors; passing the baton to Beza, Knox, and others- similarly to what Elijah had done with his company of prophets and anointing. In our secular, unbelieving world, we need to re-establish what the New Testament began and Calvin Reformed, and after establishment, pass the baton on to the next generation.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

February 17- Discipling


Picture of Theodore Beza- Calvin's successor in Geneva

“Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites.” (Ex. 17:9)
“Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up.” (Ex. 24:13)
“The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aid Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.” (Ex. 33:11)
“Moses did as the Lord commanded him. He took Joshua and had him stand before Eleazar the priest and the whole assembly. Then he laid his hands on him and commissioned him, as the Lord instructed through Moses.” (Numbers 27:22,23)

Calvin: “When it is said that Joshua departed not from the tabernacle, we gather that the dwelling-place of Moses was in the camp; and perhaps the fact of his being a young man is mentioned, f366 in order more highly to illustrate God’s grace, in choosing that he should have the charge of the
sanctuary. It is true that Joshua at this time was of mature age; but God’s special blessing was manifested in him, in that God passed over many old men, and set him who was younger to be the keeper of His tabernacle.”
“By the word glory, not only external splendor, but rather spiritual honor is signified, whereby God
commands reverence towards His servants; not that he was stripped of his own virtues by transferring them to Joshua, but because, without diminution of his own gifts, he made the person who was about to be his successor his associate in their possession. It was fitting that this should be done before all the people, that all might willingly receive him as presented to them by God.
The charge given to him partly tended to confirm the authority of Joshua, and partly to bind him more solemnly to discharge his duties; for, inasmuch as Moses commanded him what he was to do in the name of God, he exempted himself from all suspicion of temerity; and, on the other hand, by the introduction of this duly authorized engagement, Joshua must have been more and more encouraged to faith and diligence.” (Commentary on Numbers 27 Harmony of the Law)

Disciple making is an important process. It is passing the faith on to the next generation. It is NOT the same as education- or even Christian education, though it could be thought of as a kind of Christian education. It is different in that education is teaching material and technique. Disciple-making is going further – letting someone see not just your teaching but your life.
In his commentary Calvin notes that the passing of authority from Moses to Joshua was so very important. Calvin noted that Joshua was young when he was being groomed as a successor. He saw the passing on of his gifts as something to be noted by the people. Calvin was not so concerned with passing things on by ordination and the laying on of hands as much as God’s Spirit passing on our abilities, and calling us to do our duty.
Calvin wrote much against the idea of apostolic succession- that is the idea that it was so important to be able to trace the laying on of hands all the way back to Peter and Jesus. The Roman Catholics were using this as a weapon to say non-Roman ministers were not real and had no authority. Calvin points out the Romans do not recognize the apostolic succession of the Greek Orthodox church (IV.2.2). Calvin said it is not by the outward rites or appearances (like laying on of hands) that the church exists. He quotes Jeremiah’s retort that the people were relying on “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” on the outside instead of relying on God inside. Calvin says Ishmael was the firstborn and was circumcised but was rejected. It is not the outward rite and who gives it that is important as much as that the Holy Spirit is alive and at work in the succession itself.
Calvin was conscious of passing on his faith. He started the “company of pastors” in Geneva, and they became in effect, his disciples. He passed the torch in Geneva on to Beza whose first act was to write a biography of Calvin so that his teachings would not be lost, but upheld. Beza was, like Calvin, a scholar and it is clear he came back to Geneva toward the end of Calvin’s life to receive the mantle of Calvin’s leadership.
When I began my ministry, I wanted to make sure I passed what I knew on to others. I have not done such a good job. Perhaps it is because I am no Calvin. Yet, I know I have reproduced faith in some- most clearly in my daughters, and the church has grown not diminished under my watch. If God has taught us anything about Himself and life by the power of the Holy Spirit, I hope we can make sure to pass that on somehow to the next generation.
There is a lady speaking at our church in a couple of weeks about passing on your memories to the next generation. She helps people with genealogies, albums, scrapbooks. Yet while these things are important, they are not enough. The main thing to pass on is not found in such things- it is found in our souls. It is our faith.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Calvin and Spiritual Multiplication


And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. II Timothy 2:2
Come follow me, Jesus said, and I will send you out to fish for people. Matthew 5:19

Calvin: “Balduin twits me… that I have no children. God had given me a son. God has taken my little boy…but I have myriads of sons throughout the Christian world.”

The Reformation would not have worked without a passing of the baton. In simple terms (more complex below) Luther passed it to Melanchthon, Zwingli passed it on to Bullinger, Calvin passed it on to Beza. Melanchthon, Bullinger, and Beza all wrote to preserve the teachings of their great leaders. Melanchthon wrote the Concords, Bullinger wrote the Second Helvetic Confession, and Beza wrote his autobiography of John Calvin.
The great movements of history have been most fruitful when the time was ripe for new ideas combined with a desire to pass the baton on to the next generation. Passing the baton has not always been without its problems. Think of Robert Schuller or Charles Stanley and their sons/successors. When someone wants to pass the baton but still control it, there are all sorts of problems.
Jesus saw it as important to call together a group of people in front of whom he could live his faith with integrity. These twelve often called their own disciples. Peter was followed in part by John Mark (who also learned from Barnabas and Paul) and Clement of Rome. John was followed by Papias. Paul had his Timothy, Titus, and Silas. It seemed that the model for the spreading of the gospel from Jesus himself was to have an intimate circle of disciples, then a larger circle, and then a much larger circle. Time, energy, and finitude tend to limit our intimacy with only a few.
Calvin was influenced by Erasmus, Luther, LeFevre, and Farel. Calvin in turn influenced Knox, Beza, Viret (Lausanne), Olevianus (Palatinate of Germany), John Augusta (Czeck/Hussite). Beza lit Peter Cartwright’s torch, and he influenced English and Irish Reformed thinkers. Zwingli (by Martin Santa of Kalancseh) and Bullinger (by John a Lasco), influenced the Reformed church in Hungary, Poland, and Romania.
The other influence and spread of the faith happened by Calvin’s sending out of Reformed Protestant missionaries (in 1561 Geneva’s church sent out 151 missionaries to areas of France), and graduates from his university/seminary in Geneva. Of course Calvin’s writings- dedicated to political leaders all over Europe were influences all over Europe. His Institutes spread his influence without his physical presence. His letters were held in great regard, and he wrote many. Calvin made many friends famous and not famous.
He treated the refugees with special concern, as he himself was a refugee. Refugees flooded Geneva at the rate of a thousand a year. He found homes for them and helped the politicians welcome them and set up work for them. He set up church services in English, Italian, Spanish, and Felmish for them.
Christian discipleship today has been translated into first “apprenticeship” and now “mentoring” in the secular world. The idea is that to multiply your faith take just a few people and reproduce your faith in them. If they continue to reproduce their faith in just two or three others, then the faith continues to grow, prosper, and bear fruit.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

February 15- Prayer in Crisis


"When I shut up the heavens so there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people who are called by name will humble themelves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land."
II Chronicles 7:13,14

I was going to my presbytery today the following resolution. I ran out of time, but I still it's still a good idea. Yes, there's a quote from Calvin in this too...

COMMISSSIONER’S RESOLUTION TO TRINITY PRESBYTERY 2/15/2009
Whereas our world is facing a recession that has taken many jobs away and many are hurting…
Whereas our country is still in a war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and against terrorism…
Whereas South Carolina is in a drought that hurts our farmers and economy…
Whereas our state is suffering from various diseases and is one of the leaders in our country in percentage of population with diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure problems, growth in number with HIV, and STDs…
Whereas scripture calls us to pray during times of crisis (II Chronicles 7:13,14; Jeremiah 33:2,6; James 5:13-17)
Whereas on this 500th anniversary year of John Calvin’s birth we are reminded that he said, “If either pestilence, or famine, or war begins to rage, or if any disaster seems to threaten any district and people—then also it is the duty of the pastors to urge the church to fasting, in order that by supplication the Lord’s wrath may be averted.” (III.12.16,17)
Whereas the season of Lent has historically been a time of repentance and fasting…
Whereas, World Day of Prayer began in 1920 as an effort to pray particularly for women and children around the world-- that they would know the Lord; and this special day is held the Friday of every March of each year and falls on March 6th in 2009…
Whereas it is very timely for our presbytery in particular to be in a season of prayer before an important vote on our General Assembly amendments to our constitution, with the World Day of Prayer falling the day before our meeting…

Therefore be it resolved that Trinity Presbytery calls its members and its churches to take time out to pray, worship, repent, and fast on World Day of Prayer, March 6, for our world-wide economy, our country and its new leadership, our state, our beloved denomination, and our votes on the following day.

World Day of Prayer is about three weeks away. It is primarily for women, but maybe we should use this occassion for all of us to stop and pray!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

February 14- "I'm in Heaven"


Picture: Calvin and his wife being jeered

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is there will your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Calvin: “We ought then to imitate what people do who determine to migrate to another place, where they have chosen a lasting abode. They send before them all their resources and do not grieve ove lacking them for a time, for they deem themselves the happier the more goods they have where they will be for a long time. But if we believe heaven is our country, it is better to transmit our possessions there than to keep them here where our sudden migration would be lost to us.” (III.18.6)

Madonna sang, “Oh heaven is a place on earth” speaking about sexual love. On this President's Day weekend I'm reminded about what Lincoln said: "Marriage is neither heaven nor hell- it's purgatory." Many would have this "romantic" view of human relationships and sexuality that it will somehow save them and bring them al the things heaven promises- peace, hope, joy, blessedness. There are numerous songs that make a siren call for us to live for the now and not for heaven. Perhaps the greatest advertisement was the beer commercial of a few years ago: “You only go round once in life- go for all the gusto you can.”
Jesus said to not lay up treasures here on earth as if the things here would last forever. Rather, we should put our treasures In heaven. Calvin’s quote/illustration echoes this. In fact, one of the keys for Calvin to living a good life here is to meditate upon the future life. It is quite easy to be discouraged here- where expectations are crushed, others let us down, we let ourselves down, and fairness disappears. I like Calvin’s moving explanation. When you know you’re moving to another location, this location does not seem as important, and you are busy sending your things on ahead of you.
I am preaching this Sunday on patience (one of the fruits of the Spirit). I really think one of the motivations to patience is this whole hope of heaven idea. In this life we are called to endure, persevere, be patient. I hate preaching on patience, because I am so terrible at it. I am a “ready, fire, aim” guy. I like it when technology speeds up life and I don’t have to wait on a thing but am totally productive (I hate it when computers don’t work- which is a regular thing in my world). I hate preaching on patience because the rare times I have the week before has been a catastrophe! So this week started off by having to confront someone that I like for not doing what they were supposed to be doing. I hate that! Then Monday I had a wreck leaving the hospital- a guy t-boned me running a red light. That pretty much destroys a day- having to talk to police, insurance, rental car folk, body shop (though I love my body shop person who goes to our church). Then we had a little mini-financial setback. Then there is the waiting- we are waiting to see if my son gets into the school he wants to get into (Clemson). His friends have heard, but he hasn’t. Waiting on that is driving all of us bananas! Ah yes- patience! I hate it- but I know I need to get it. Lord can you teach me patience in an easy way? God thundered from heaven- “No!” The trials we face produce patience but also make us long for the day when ever tear is wiped away and the testing stops.
The final part of salvation is glorification. There is a sense in which we are “saved” only when we get to heaven. On this Valentine’s Day we remember Valentine who was martyred February 14 and went to heaven. Let us remember the best human love is a reflection of God’s love. Our love for God is fully realized in our glorification.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

February 13- Sanctification



February 13- Sanctification

“We instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans.” I Thessalonians 1-3
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” I Corinthians 1:18 (see also II Cor. 2:5)

Calvin: “As soon as any very wicked person has performed one or another of the duties of the law, he does not doubt that it will be accounted to him as righteousness; but the Lord proclaims that no sanctification can be acquired from this action unless the heart has first been well cleansed. And not content with this, he declares that all the works that come froth from sinners are contaminated with impurity of heart. Take, then, the name of righteousness from those works which are condemned as works of pollution by the Lord’s mouth!” (III.14.7)

Another part of salvation is sanctification- or growing in grace. Christians are supposed to grow- not just be “saved” or justified. Paul talks about "us who are being saved” not as if we were saved in the past and that is it. The word “sanctified” means made holy. While there is a sense in which we were made holy in each part of salvation (predestination, regeneration, justification, adoption, and ultimately glorification), there is a sense in which we grow in our salvation as we rub our cleansed hearts up against the polluted world. Afflictions may make us better and holier people. Handling human sin and broken relationships give us the opportunity to grow in grace and dependence on God. A verse comes to mind: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:12).
John Leith used to say that for Calvinists, there was a tendency to confuse and merge justification and sanctification. This shows in many different ways, but for some, they downplay the role of justification and emphasize sanctification to the point where we may wonder if they leave any room at all for a conversion the type of St. Paul’s. On the other hand, there are those who emphasize justification only- (the kind who are asking “are you saved”) as if growth beyond justification doesn’t matter.
Sanctification is where we exercise our faith in the world. It is also where we share the faith we have so others might be justified. In justification sin is pardoned, in sanctification sin is subdued (following the Westminster larger catechism Q.77 here). Justification is given equally to all, but sanctification is not equal in all, and no one in this life finishes growing in faith to the point of perfection. Predestination arranges the race and places us in it. Justification starts us off in the race and assures we are on the right track that will end up in regard. Sanctification is the middle part of the race and different people are at different levels. Glorification is the finish line.
For Calvin (III.6) we grow in holiness by imitating Christ in his life. The Christian life here is to be an imitation of Jesus’ life on earth. There are two parts to sanctification: mortification and vivification. Mortification means dying to self- and that is accomplished through self-denial, obedience, humility, and cross bearing, Vivification means living to the Lord. This comes by being good stewards of our lives; by not despising God’s blessings in this life- but appreciating them; by using the gifts of God in moderation and with balance; by being patience and content with what God gives us; by being faithful to our calling; and being hopeful for the next world.

February 12- Spiritual Adoption


February 12- Adoption as Salvation

Scripture: Because those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry “Abba, Father.” Rom. 8:14,15; Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out “Abba, Father.” Galatians 4:6

Calvin: “With what confidence would anyone address God as “Father”? Whou would break forth into such rashness as to claim for himself the honor of a son of od unless we had ben adopted as children of grace in Christ? (3:20.36)
The name “Son,” which had been somewhat obscure under the law, was to be illustrious and
known everywhere. Paul concurs: because we are now sons of God through Christ, we freely and confidently cry, “Abba! Father!” [Romans 8:14-15; Galatians 4:6]. Were not the holy patriarchs of old also held to be among the sons of God? Yes — relying upon this right, they called upon God as Father. But after the only-begotten Son of God was brought into the world, the heavenly fatherhood
became more clearly known. Accordingly, Paul assigns this privilege, as it were, to Christ’s Kingdom. Yet this ought to be unwaveringly maintained: to neither angels nor men was God ever Father, except with regard to his only-begotten Son; and men, especially, hateful to God because of their iniquity, become God’s sons by free adoption because Christ is the Son of God by nature.(II.14. 5)
The first name of the Holy Spirit, is the “spirit of adoption” because he is the witness to us of the free benevolence of God with which God the Father has embraced us in his beloved only-begotten Son to become a Father to us; and he encourages us to have trust in prayer. In fact, he supplies the very words so that we may fearlessly cry, “Abba, Father!” [Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6]. For the same reason he is called “the guarantee and seal” of our inheritance [ 2 Corinthians 1:22; cf.Ephesians 1:14] e because from heaven he so gives life to us, on pilgrimage in the world and resembling dead men, as to assure us that our salvation is safe in God’s unfailing care. (III.1.3)

Every now and then someone asks me, “When were you saved?” Some are turned off by this question. But in a way it is a beautiful question. If I have time, I point out that my salvation is a multifaceted thing. In one sense I was saved when God predestined me (Eph. 1:4). In another sense I was saved when Christ died for me on the cross. In another sense I was saved when I accepted the gift of salvation (commonly called conversion-this is the date they are looking for). In another sense I was saved when I was baptized and promises were made in my behalf (though baptism and promises alone do not save us). In another sense I am being saved as I “work out my salvation” in sanctification (Eph. 2:10). In a sense I will be saved when I get to heaven (glorification). The focus should not be just on conversion, though that should not be left out either (contra to some ultra Calvinists and liberals). There is a sense, however, in which conversion (regeneration), justification (acceptance), adoption (being claimed) all happen at once. For some baptism also occurs about the same time.
Adoption is an important part of the order of salvation (ordo de saludis), but it is not a headlining act for Calvin. He mentions our adoption extensively in books 2 and 3 of the Institutes.
In his catechism- Calvin speaks of faith as “placing our whole confidence in God- which includes believing God is Almighty and good” but also that “God loves us and is willing to be our Father and author of our salvation.” Adoption is the focus and assurance that we are loved by God, included in God’s family, and heirs of the blessing. Adoption, as all the other parts of salvation for Calvin, is purely of God’s grace, and has nothing to do with how we look, what we do, our ancestry, or anything else in us except for His good pleasure.
Years ago some of my charismatic friends talked about being “a child of the king” and how important that was for them. In a sense, that is an important aspect of adoption. Knowing that you are part of the family gives assurance, confidence (not in self- but in God). Personally, this idea of being a part of God’s family was life-changing. I hope it is for you too.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Calvin and Justification


February 11

Calvin and Justification by Faith

“For it has by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)
“He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:5)

Calvin: I confess that we are made partakers of Jesus Christ, and of all his blessings, by the faith which we have in the gospel, that is, when we are truly and surely persuaded that the promises comprehended in it belong to us. But since this altogether surpasses’, our capacity, I acknowledge that faith is obtained by us, only through the Spirit of God, and so is a peculiar gift which is given to the elect alone, whom God, before the foundation of the world, without regard to any worthiness or virtue in them, freely predestinated to the inheritance of salvation. I confess that we are justified by faith, inasmuch as by it we apprehend Jesus Christ the Mediator given us by the Father, and lean on the promises of the gospel, by which God declares that we are regarded as righteous, and free from every stain, because our sins have been washed away by the blood of his Son. Wherefore I detest the ravings of those who endeavor to persuade us that the essential righteousness of God exists in
us, and are not satisfied with the free imputation in which alone Scripture orders us to acquiesce. (Calvin’s Brief Form of a Confession of Faith)

Justification by Faith is widely regarded as “the central doctrine of the Reformation” (McGrath “A Life of Calvin” 1990 p. 165). Everyone knows that justification by faith really was the key to Luther’s theology. Calvin regarded Luther as the apostle of the Reformation. Calvin said that justification by faith was “the principal article of the Christian religion” (III.9.1). Calvin placed his teaching on predestination in his Institutes (1559) after his teaching on justification- though in progress and order of time (the “ordo de saludis”) predestination came first. Why is justification so important?
If we know we are saved by God’s grace and not by our works (that is the practical definition of justification by faith), then we don’t have to live in fear of doing. Luther, before his awakening was always confessing his sins, and was aware that there were other sins he was leaving out. Calvin was deeply aware of the sinfulness of human beings that we sin in our best deeds as well as our worst, and that sin permeates everything, even our ability to see it in ourselves.
But Calvin gave another reason why it was so important, that we sometimes miss. Justification is the way we are awakened (regenerated) to God. We are dead in our sins (Eph. 2:1) with little hope of getting out of the state of being dead, blind, and deaf to God. When justification happens we are not only made aware of God (this knowledge of God that Calvin talks about as so important (I.1.1), but we also are united with Christ.
“Through faith, the believer is united with Jesus Christ in a spiritual union , in such a way that we are ‘not only partakers of his benefits, but also of himself” (McGrath ibid., III.2.24). The union with Christ is not by eating his body and blood in communion as by faith in his body and blood. The union with Christ is not by uniting with him in being good, but by uniting with him in belief and trust. The above quote from his brief confession affirms this: “we are made partakers of Jesus Christ, and of all his blessings, by the faith which we have in the gospel.” In some sense this is a recognition that justification, regeneration, and adoption all happen at once. By faith we are awakened to God and then included into the family with all the inheritance rights (blessings) of that family. Justification is how we are accepted into the family.
I have been impressed by how much the little overlooked phrase “in Christ” (eis Xpisto) is used in the New Testament. It is used hundreds of times. We have our blessings “in Christ.” We are saved, “in Christ.” We are part of the family “in Christ.” We are predestined "in Christ." We are united “in Christ.” We are included “in Christ.” William Barclay once pointed out that for those who believe (are justified) we are in Christ much like we are in the air. The air is inside us and we are inside the air. Every cell of our body is dependent on the air. McGrath says that Calvin submits justification and sanctification to the believer’s union in Christ. If this is so, then I have downplayed way too much my teaching about our union in Christ. Thank you God for your including those who believe- accepting us, welcoming us! Thank you too, that by your grace you give us our belief!

(Picture today is of International Memorial to the Reformation in Geneva made in 1916. L-r: Farel, Calvin, Beze, Knox)

Monday, February 9, 2009

February 10- Calvin and Sin


February 10

“:All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him, the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6

We are so vitiated and perverted in every part of our nature that by this great corruption we stand justly condemned and convicted before God. This perversity never ceases in us, but continually bears new fruits- the works of the flesh- just as a burning furnace gives forth flame and sparks, or water ceaselessly bubbles up from a spring. Or nature is not only destitute and empty of good, but so fertile and fruitful of every evil that it cannot be idle. Whatever is in human beings from the understanding to the will, from the soul even to the flesh, has been defiled and crammed with concupiscence [lust or strong evil desire]. (Institutes II.1.8)

For Calvin, a knowledge and relationship with God was the key to life and eternal life. God actually places inside of each of us this knowledge (“He has set eternity in the humans heart” Eccles. 3:11; Inst. 1:3). Yet, this knowledge of God is corrupted. It is corrupted by superstition, sin, pride (foolishness), and hypocrisy. Socrates supposedly said, “Know thyself.” But knowledge of self brings an awareness of our own sinfulness.
Later Calvinists would talk of Total Depravity (The “T” In the five pointed TULIP of Dutch Calvinism). There is nothing in us that is good. We are, as Ephesians 2:1 says “dead in our sin.” Dead people do not choose God, God must regenerate them- make them alive to Himself- open the blind eyes- unstop the deaf ears.
Someone once said that universal sin is an inarguable fact that crosses every nation, culture, and language group. It is important to recognize our own sin for many reasons. Reinhold Niebuhr once said that “most of the evil in this world does not come from evil people. It comes from people who consider themselves good.” Too often a problem with those in power is that they consider themselves incorruptible- that they are the rider on the white horse with the white hat who are going to fix all of the world. Only Jesus can do that. Sometimes the best we can do is to put our sin in check. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the Russian writer, once said, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
The first question that must be answered in joining a Presbyterian Church is “do you admit that you are a sinner.” If we cannot humble ourselves enough to admit that we mess up, fail, make mistakes, miss the mark, sin, then we cannot come to God. I have often thought that the humbling times in life and in society are opportunities to call out to God, and to see God’s hand at work. I pray that during this humbling time in our nation we will not forget to call out to God.
One more quote. Pascal said it, and it goes right along with Calvin: “The knowledge of God without that of our wretchedness creates pride. The knowledge of our wretchedness without that of God creates despair. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is the middle way, because in Him we find both God and our wretchedness.” Calvin was saying that we need to recognize our sin that has corrupted our knowledge of God. Yet we also do not need to despair or give up in life. There is hope. It is found in Jesus Christ who came down for us, and died on the cross for us.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

February 9- Predestination- before we had ears to hear


February 9

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. Ephesians 1:3-6

But there are two things which show us that this doctrine [of predestination] must be preached, and that we reap such great profit from it, that it would be better if we had never been born than be ignorant of what St. Paul shows here…The one is the magnifying of God as He deserves, and the other the assurance of our salvation, so that we may call upon him as Father with full liberty. If God draws all people alike, and if their salvation comes from their own will and self moving, then we deserve to be in God’s presence, and we are rewarded according to what we deserve. But how is God’s goodness magnified like that? God’s glory does not appear and shine forth unless it be known that he sheds his goodness and love exactly where he pleases to do so. (Sermons on Ephesians).

Being a Christian does not begin with us. It begins with God. The idea of our existence in this life and in the life to come does not begin with our will, our desire, our need as much as with God’s will. God spoke and the world existed. The world does not exist for us, but for God. God speaks and calls us to Himself. Not because he has seen something in us to deserve his calling us to heaven. But simply out of his own love and grace. In point of fact, none of us deserve to go to heaven. It is a miracle any of us have the hope of heaven inside of us. Calvin’s theology is focused on God. This is the best focus. Calvin was deeply aware of human frailties, failures and sin. So the focus is not on us, but on the God who draws us away from these flaws toward Himself.
Salvation is not simply a matter of our choice. Too often in post-modern America, the belief is that we can pick our gods like we pick our food from a buffet line- “I’ll have a little bit of Buddha, a few pillars of Islam, and a slab of Jesus.” But we do not choose God. God chooses us. It is an illusion that we freely choose God. No choice is made in a vacuum. Our choice is limited by the gods we have heard about, from whom we have heard about them, and how we have heard about them. We are not fully conscious of the influences upon our choices, including our genetic leaning, our environmental influences, or the power of the human will. But even more, we are not aware of the power of God to draw us to Himself. He may draw us by the Gideon Bible left in the hotel drawer. He may draw us by an aunt who continually prayed for us. He may draw us by someone telling us what a difference God has made in their lives. He may draw us by the beauty of an ocean wave, or the majesty of a thunderstorm. There are a million different ways that God may draw us. Yet we must confirm that “No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44).
God’s glory is seen clearest when we see our salvation lies not in what we do. Our salvation actually began before we were able to do anything- before the foundations of the world. Our assurance of salvation is not based on what we do or fail to do, but on what God has done before the world began. It is certain and trustworthy. It is not that we go bobbing up and down in our salvation like a yoyo. God knows who are His, and has planned on their being on board before they arrived at the station. Let us thank God today for his grace that calls us before we had ears to hear!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

February 8- Calvin's Conversion


Jesus replied, very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again. John 3:3
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; he old has gone, the new is here! II Corinthians 5:17

Calvin: "I tried my best to work hard [in the study of the law]. Yet God at last turned my course in another direction by the secret rein of his providence. What happens first, since I was too obstinately addicted to the superstitions of Popery to be easily extricated from so profound an abyss of mire, was that God by an unexpected [or sudden] conversion subdued and reduced my mind to a teachable frame. And so this taste of true godliness…set me on fire with such a desire to progress that I pursued the rest of my studies [in law] more cooly, although I did not give them up altogether." [Preface to the Psalms]

Many Calvinists have downplayed the idea of conversion over the years. There was a book written that many have used called, “Being Presbyterian in the Bible Belt” that does just that. Sometimes the reason given why people downplay conversion is that God is so much in charge that humans have no responsibility to come to Christ. In the past, Calvinists have sometimes overestimated the roll of predestination and election and underestimated the roll of regeneration and conversion. The other side may be that people grow into the church, having parents who have brought them up in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” and they believe no one needs to convert. I have heard often that we should leave everyone alone and not try to change anyone to our point of view. So Buddhists should be Buddhists, Jews should be Jews, Roman Catholics should be Roman Catholics, Protestants should be Protestants and Muslims should be Muslims. This view is fairly common in our post-modern society where the most important value is tolerance over any concept of truth. But the pursuit of truth is not the same as finding it. There is a reason Jesus told Christians to spread the good news. It is the news of eternal life, and the abundant life here, and it is also the powerful news of the ability to forgive and to change. If we have been brought up as believers, it shows true ingratitude of what we are and have if we do not want to pass that on to another. As the old adage put it, “we are just one beggar showing another beggar where to get the bread.” While some may grow up never knowing a time when they did not know God. There are others, especially in our secular culture who need to know God if someone would tell them.
There is the power of God to change us. Calvin did not deny the power of God, he lived in it. God had changed him from a comfortable up-and-coming lawyer with a bright economic future to someone who was willing to leave all for God. He left his family, his friends, his education, his career and fled France for many different homes. Calvin would never downplay the power of God to change us, to regenerate us. He might downplay our roll in that conversion, for we generally tend to give ourselves too much credit- as if we were saved by works and not grace.
The first step is to give into the power of God, and give up our own power. This is conversion.
It is, as Calvin said becoming “teachable.” It is having ears to hear. It is stopping our ears to the world and opening our ears to God. Conversion is not the only thing in the Christian life as some are want to place it. But it is nonetheless important. The first step on the pilgrimage is important, but it is not all there is. Let us not neglect the power of God to make us new creatures; to make us be born again; to open our eyes, ears, and minds to Him.

Friday, February 6, 2009

February 7- Two Governments complimenting


FEBRUARY 7

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Matthew 22:17

Calvin: “Now, since we have established above that man is under a twofold government, and since we have elsewhere discussed at sufficient length the kind that resides in the soul or inner man and pertains to eternal life, this is the place to say something also about the other kind, which pertains only to the establishment of civil justice and outward morality. For although this topic seems by nature alien to the spiritual doctrine of faith which I have undertaken to discuss, what follows will show that I am right in joining them, in fact, that necessity compels me to do so. This is especially true since, from one side, insane and barbarous men furiously strive to overturn this divinely established order; while, on the other side, the flatterers of princes, immoderately praising their power, do not hesitate to set them against the rule of God himself. Unless both these evils are checked, purity of faith will perish. Besides, it is of no slight importance to us to know how lovingly God has provided in this respect for mankind, that greater zeal for piety may flourish in us to attest our gratefulness.” (IV.20.1)


At the National Prayer Breakfast Obama said he would continue to have the government work with faith based charities. I believe Obama has seen first hand the power of Christian groups to help those in need. I think he has seen the power of Christ to change people for the better, and to help people out of their misery. He said at the national prayer breakfast, “There is a force for good greater than government.” I am glad he sees that.
I understand that in his campaign and his advisors are saying even now, that the government will require religious groups to be blind in their hiring of people for such “secular” endeavors as helping the needy and feeding the hungry, but allow them to hire only believers for the religious side of things. Alas, this is another misconception of how faith works. Faith not only provides money to help the needy, but it also provides the fire, the motivation to leave comfortable homes to go out on the streets to help the hungry, the downtrodden, the homeless. In my opinion, with these rules in place, faith groups would do well to avoid government hand outs and grants with such strings attached. There is more to helping people than government money.
If Obama can require top executives to make $500,000 or less (many of their underlings now will apparently make more than they do), will the government not also seek to micro-manage the way religious groups help others? I went to Cuba in 1993 to visit some of the persecuted churches there. The government had a secretary of religion. His job was to monitor all the churches and organizations in Cuba, and to control them. At one time people stood outside the doors of the churches and took names of those who went inside. To go inside a church meant you were put on a list that would keep you from buying a new car, a new home, getting a good job, or sending your children to colleges. This was from the “Faith Based Office” of Cuba. My concern is when government gets involved, it doesn’t know where to stop, sometimes (though maybe with good intentions) destroying the energy and purity that motivated people to help others in Christ’s name.
I have always believed that government would do well not to pay a church to exist. In South Carolina in the mid 1700’s the Episcopalians were the official tax-supported religion in South Carolina though Presbyterians and Baptists outnumbered them. Government recognized marriages couldn’t take place in non-Episcopalian churches. Church members who were not Episcopalians had to pay taxes for the upkeep of the Episcopal church but had to pay out of pocket for their own church buildings. I appreciate separation of church and state in the true sense. However, it harms society for the government to not allow churches to help the needy along side of government programs. The Salvation Army does a wonderful job. I was amazed at the number of church groups in Louisianna and Mississippi (many still there) after Katrina. The government redid the infrastructure- the roads, water, hauling off debris (this cost billions). But the churches helped so many people rebuild their homes. And the casinos… well they helped rebuild the casinos more inland and a bit more established.
When homes, schools, churches, and government are working toward common goals complementing each other, the whole world is becoming a much better place. When they are constantly bickering or afraid of each other, the good of the common person is being overlooked. The zealots in Jesus day wanted to catch Jesus saying something bad about the Roamn government. He refused, but gave his famous "render unto Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God's." Jesus refused to speak evil even of the government that would kill him.
There are two governments- one by God and one by the state, as Calvin said. It is best when these two governments compliment each other pulling together for the common good.

February 6- Calvin Retires


February 6- Calvin’s Retirement

“Remember your creator in the days of your youth before the days come when you say ‘I have no enjoyment in them.” (Ecclesiastes 12)

Calvin: “I have had many faults that you had to tolerate, and all that I accomplished was of little significance. The evil minded will take advantage of this confession, but I repeat that all that I have done is of little significance, and I am a poor creature. My faults have always displeased me and the root of the fear of the Lord has always been in my heart. As for my doctrine, I have taught faithfully, and God has given me grace to write, which I have done faithfully, as I could; and I have not corrupted [or mutilated] one single passage of Scripture nor twisted it as far as I know; and when in a position to arrive at an artificial meaning through subtlety, I have put all that under my feet, and have always aimed at being simple. I have written nothing out of hatred against anyone, but have always set before me what I thought was for the glory of God.” (CR, 9,893b- said to pastors in the week before his death).

It was February 6, 1564 (445 years ago to this day) that Calvin preached his last sermon at St. Pierre. “He was preaching on the Harmony of the Gospels when the cough seized him. This time he could not stop it, the blood was hot in his mouth. Slowly, reluctantly he came down the circular staircase , his sermon unfinished. In anxious silence, the congregation watched. The Wednesday before he had preached his last weekday sermon on the Book of Kings. And in the academy, on the same day, he had given his last lecture on Ezekiel.” (Van Halsema, “This Was John Calvin” p. 211).
So Calvin retired at 54. There was no retirement ceremony. No watch was given. No banquet held. There is no evidence of a pension for him. He continued to come to church until April 20 (Easter Sunday). He died May 27 of malignant tuberculosis. He also suffered from quartan fever (that he had contracted in 1558- a kind of malaria), asthma, migraines, ulceratice hemorrhoids, arthritis, gum disease, and pleurisy. There is a temptation to think Calvin did not live long. By today’s standards that would be so (we think an average age as 75+). But in his day, the average person lived to be about 42. Kings and Queens lived longer with special care and good food. Antibiotics and the whole concept of bacteria and germs keep us alive longer. I believe many of the advances of modern medicine are answers to thousands of prayers of those who suffered (like Calvin).
Calvin’s last writing (post retirement) was called, “Farewell to the Ministers.” He recounted his sufferings, and reaffirmed his calling. Calvin saw himself as a scholar pressed into the ministry. He also was anxious to see his work continue. He had discipled many over the years, and was ready to pass the reigns on to Theodore de Beza in Geneva. But he could also count his influence on so many- John Knox in Scotland (he returned there from Geneva in 1559), Bullinger in Zurich, Many in England claimed his influence (Bucer, Vermigli, Peter Martyr), the Netherlands, and France followed Calvin, as well as half of Hungary. The Palatinate adopted Calvinism as its official religion, and fostered the writing of the Heidelberg Catechism the year before Calvin’s death. McGrath says that after Luther’s death (1546) and the defeat of the Schmalkaldic League (1547) Lutheranism went into a malaise that opened the door for Calvin’s influence. Calvin’s willingness to shelter Protestant refugees (despite some protests from the Genevans) his multitude of letters, correspondence, sermons, and writings, made sure that his thoughts were conveyed to the next generation. By 1591 Calvinism was a force to be reckoned with having much influence beyond its official churches.
One of the questions I have is what room is there for old age in Calvinism? Calvinism is so associated with capitalism, productivity, and the Protestant work ethic that this is a good question. There is no doubt, however, that those who lived to an old age were held in honor by Calvinists. The Puritans let the elderly sit in the front pews in a place of honor. Some accused colonial and early America of being an oligarchy- a place ruled by the older adults. But as noted earlier, there were not as many older adults. When the older adults refused to pass on the baton-holding onto control, land, and power- the younger or middle adults eventually rebelled. Calvin’s idea seemed to be (by his example) go until you cannot go any farther. That is be as productive as you can within God’s providential calling. In retirement, Calvin sought, even in sickness, to pass on what he had learned with letters, and conversation. Today retirees are very valuable to the church for their volunteerism and wisdom. It is important for those who are younger to value the older. It is important for those who are older to see their mission as passing the reins to the next generation.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

February 5- Idolatry Today


February 5

The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and make cakes of bread for the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other godsto provoke me to anger. But am I not the one they are provoking? Declares the Lord. Are they not rather harming themselves to their own shame? (Jeremiah 7:17-19)
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds, and animals, and reptiles. (Romans 1:23)

For Calvin, the root of all sin is idolatry- placing something else in the place of God. It is well known that Luther protested primarily against salvation by works and Calvin protested against the idolatry and paganism in the church. Reformed theology has resisted every effort to get control of God, to fasten the infinite and indeterminate God to the finite and determinate whether it be images , or the bread and wine of the sacraments, or the structures of the church” (Leith ITRT p 71).

There is no doubt that our idolatry in America has been growing. The key question for us is “how much will it cost? How much will it help our economy, our money.” The open panic on the financial news networks at the demise of the stock market (our investments) the housing market (the number one investment of the average American) and our jobs (a way to continue to invest) are a sign of how much we have invested in the things of this world. Our coins may say “In God we trust” but our actions reveal we have been trusting in our money. It will be interesting to see if we continue to worship things and money after the economy has gone sour.
The elevation of money, work, and production to god-like status has basically eliminated the idea of a common day of rest- a Sabbath in our country. There was a time in which every country in the union (and recently every state in the south) had laws for taking a day off to rest. Now Sunday is seen as a shopping day by many. This is a tremendous change in just the last twenty years in South Carolina.
Our lives and time here has risen in priority in the last thirty years. I remember the beer commercial, “You only go round once in life- go for all the gusto you can.” If this life is all that we have- and there is no eternal life (a growing number believe this), then we must give all that we can to preserving this life. We have spent trillions on health care and research to prolong life- and we have done it- to an extent. The average person lived until they were 45 in 1901. Now it is 75, and the tabloids speak of a fountain of youth in our DNA research. It is great to live long, but we have almost busted the bank on health care. Our insurance industry doesn’t pay for much, and the government is about to step in because it believes health care is an inalienable right.
We have elevated actors, actresses and singers to god-like status. We openly talk about “American Idol” without even blinking about the anathema of the word “idol.” Television shows bring us the gossip about such beautiful and rich people.
We have elevated sports to idol status. If anyone doesn’t know the Pittsburgh Steelers won the 43rd Superbowl last week they are culturally uneducated. ESPN and Sports Illustrated have openly spoken of the worship of athletes and “bowing down” to them, as well as overtly speaking of worshipping whatever sport (football, basketball, baseball, soccer, tennis, even hockey)!
We have elevated sexuality to idol-like status. Many songs have been out about sex healing us, strengthening us, saving us (think “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye). Pornography- especially pornography on the internet has been one of the fasting growing industries- a multi-billion dollar industry. Television shows things now on the broadcast channels that were seen in the Playboy magazines of my youth. Viagra and ED commercials are everywhere- and who can keep getting
Idolatry is always subtle, tempting, alluring, and often filled with benefits. Having money could be a way to do more in terms of helping the poor and mission work. Working hard and shopping even on Sunday) can help people be employed. Healthcare is certainly a wonderful thing, when I am sick and am in pain, I am very glad we have it. I have already lived past the age of my grandfather, and I am grateful. We have great entertainment because we have elevated it- wonderful songs we can take with us wherever we go. We have sports that are top-notch. Certainly sexuality is a good thing- a gift from God. Calvin would decry the asceticism that would take away all of these things and live in a basement or monastery. However, we have lost our balance. We have taken the good and elevated it to be our God. This day I will ask myself what (or whom) do I tend to put in the place of God? It is a good question for all of us.