Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March 31- Do Not Steal

[Geneva in Calvin’s Day. John Knox said Geneva was "the most perfect school of Christ that ever was on earth since the days of the apostles." Crime went down in Geneva as the Reformation took hold.]

3/31- Eighth Commandment
19 "You shall not steal.

Calvin: The purpose of this commandment is: since injustice is an abomination to
God, we should render to each man what belongs to him [Romans 13:7]. To sum up: we are forbidden to pant after the possessions of others, and consequently are commanded to strive faithfully to help every man to keep his own possessions. Let us remember that all those arts whereby we acquire the possessions and money of our
neighbors — when such devices depart from sincere affection to a desire to
cheat or in some manner to harm — are to be considered as thefts. Let this be our constant aim: faithfully to help all men by our counsel and aid to keep what is theirs, in so far as we can;

Calvin brought this commandment down to our level. “Thou shalt not steal” was not just about larceny, cheating on tests or bribes. Calvin saw this commandment forbidding greed and taking things from others in an injust way. Calvin also saw this commandment as forbidding the rich to take from the poor in courts because the rich could afford better legal counsel. There are thefts by violence, fraud, legal craft, and by the flattering pretense of a gift. Maybe today we might add that the government should not take private property for only a small percentage owed to that government!
He also saw a positive side to this commandment in various ways. That is, we should help people keep what they have. In our day, when so many are losing everything, this is so important. If the government is doing what it can to keep up the banks, the banks should also do what they can to keep people from defaulting on their loans. Credit cards going to high interest rates and cancelling the ability to lower the interest rates on other cards are examples. Payday lenders who take away paychecks, car title lenders who threaten to take away a person’s transportation at rates of 500% (S.C.), should be fought against. When people who have money and power are greedy, it hurts all of us. Bernie Madoff is a prime example of a person promising (and wanting) extravagant rates but being overwhelmed by his own greed. The church should be a bastion against greed in government and business. But because the church has a human side, it too can be greedy at times.
Churches and Christians need to hear this word against greed and take note. As Christians, we should actively look for those who are losing everything and try to help them in their time of need. In our day, it is easier to find people in need than at other times.

Prayer: God, thank you for what you have given us. Help us to be content with our lot in life. Help us also to do the best we can with what we have. Give us eyes of compassion on the needy and poor.

Monday, March 30, 2009

March 30- No adultery

(Decalogue parchment by Sofer 1768)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

3/30- Seventh Commandment-
18 "You shall not commit adultery.”(Deuteronomy 5:18)
“You have heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. “(Matthew 5:26-28)

Calvin: The purpose of this commandment is: because God loves modesty and purity, all uncleanness must be far from us. To sum up, then: we should not become defiled with any filth or lustful intemperance of the flesh. To this corresponds the affirmative commandment that we chastely and continently regulate all parts of our life. But he expressly forbids fornication, to which all lust tends, in order through the foulness of fornication, which is grosser and more palpable, in so far as it brands the body also with its mark, to lead us to abominate all lust. Let us not delude ourselves, then, when we hear that ourside marriage man cannot cohabit with a woman without God’s curse. While God forbids us to commit fornication, at the same time he does not permit us to seduce the modesty of another with wanton dress and obscene gestures and foul speech. (II.8.41-44)

Calvin approached this commandment in a day in which adultery was common. Calvin’s own brother’s wife had betrayed their marriage vows. This was publicly humiliating for Calvin. Prostitution was common in certain areas in Geneva before Calvin’s day. Calvin is credited in part for putting an end to the prostitution houses, not just by law, but also because people did not want to give those places business any more. Another thing hit home with Calvin about this commandment. That is that the Roman Catholic church, in their zeal not to break this commandment, went to the extreme of requiring celibacy of priests. This had the opposite of the desired effect- many priests were publicly celibate, but privately unchaste. For Calvin, this was an example of going beyond what scripture required to the point that it was self-defeating behavior. Calvin was one for balance and moderation.
In our day the breaking of this commandment is leading to the dismantling of the faith. So many are cohabiting, that marriage is becoming a rare thing. I believe we have made weddings and marriages too expensive, when in fact the government, churches and people have an investment in seeing families make it for the long haul. Many studies have been made of the effects of absentee parents on their children. Children and society pay a tremendous price for divorce and sexual immorality. The sexual revolution has not blessed us, but almost destroyed us with lust, pornography (internet pornography is epidemic), HIV and STDs, and the destruction of the family. The rise and approval of homosexuality in our culture- once thought to be anathema is now in full bloom. This past week Hawaii made steps toward civil union of homosexuals- another degrading of the sacredness of marriage. March 8 “The Family Guy” TV show had a person saying, “Jesus Christ, who hates many people, but none more than homosexuals.” This is a false caricature meant to degrade those who oppose acts of homosexuality or sexual immorality at all. The Muslim women and men are much more conscious of lust. We do not need to resort to burkas, but modesty (as Calvin advocates) and discretion are sorely needed. Men and women need to be more cautious about being alone with someone of the opposite sex. Billy Graham’s reputation in this regard was impeccable because he never allowed himself to be alone with another woman other than his wife. We take our lust and sexual desires too lightly, despite Freud’s warnings. Sex is a powerful gift from God. But used in wrong ways it brings powerful hurt and harm. God establishes borders for our own good.

Prayer: Lord, keep me pure and holy for you in my relationship with others.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

March 29- Idelette's death

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

3/29- Idelette’s Death

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:16).
“Praise be to the Godand Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. Who comforts us in all our sorrows with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (II Corinthians 1:3,4)

Calvin had married Idelette De Bure, a widow from the Dutch province of Gelderland. Her first husband was John Stordeur, who had been converted from Anabaptist views by Calvin’s preaching in Strasbourg. Soon after his conversion John Stordeur died of the plague. Idelette had two children from her marriage to Stordeur: Judith, and a son. John and Idelette Calvin had a son stillborn, and at least two other miscarriages. They were married nine years- most of that time spending it with sickness. A month after they were married they both were sick. Calvin says, “I could scarcely lift a finger. While I was suffering under the weakness, my wife took a fever of a different sort. The last eight days she was so exhausted she could not sit up in bead.”
March 29, 1549 Idelette Calvin died of tuberculosis. Fifteen years later Calvin would die of it too. Calvin did not miss a sermon, a lecture or a meeting. He also was writing a commentary on Hebrews. Calvin did have a housekeeper and a hunched back servant, Pierre, to help him. Yet Calvin lived in relative poverty. Calvin describes Idelette’s death as “her heart was lifted as if out of this world.” She cried out “Please pray, all pray for me.”
Later Calvin wrote Viret: “Mine is no ordinary grief. I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life.” He wrote Farel, “I do what I can to keep myself from being overwhelmed with grief. ..May the Lord support me under this heavy affliction. A year and a half later Calvin would write, “My wife, a woman of rare qualities died a year and a half ago. And I have now willingly chosen to lead a solitary life.”
Grief is such a powerful emotion. Despite our best efforts, it controls us. It brings the strongest man to his knees, and the toughest woman laments in one way or another. For the rest of his life, after Idelette’s death, Calvin was sick.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, that you are our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Thank you that you are the God of all comfort and our source of consolation in the griefs and problems of life.

Friday, March 27, 2009

March 28- You shall not Murder

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

3/28- Sixth Commandment
17 "You shall not murder.

Calvin: All violence, injury, and any harmful thing at all that may injure our neighbor’s body are forbidden to us. We are accordingly commanded, if we find anything of use to us in saving our neighbors’ lives, faithfully to employ it; if there is anything that makes for their peace, to see to it; if anything harmful, to ward it off; if they are in any danger, to lend a helping hand.(II.8.39)

In our secular world, we have lost the idea that God’s image resides in each of us. One of the differences in the history of China and the history of the United States is this value. The first emperor of China killed tens of thousands of enemies, and was brutal. He then killed the thousand of workers who built his tomb. Mao Tse Tung killed over six million who disagreed with his revolution. When America has been at its worse, we haven’t seen the image of God in slaves, or in the American Indians. But the idea of the image of God has always been a check on genocide- which has not happened anywhere near the scale as what is common in Asia and Africa even today (take a look at Darfur where Muslim is killing Muslim). When we lose the idea of God in each human being, we lose the ultimate value of human life.
Muslim extremists kill thousands and it is okay because they are infidels. Hindus treated the Untouchables as non-persons. So extremists don’t mind burning churches and houses of these people who are believed to be of animal not human origins.
As I write this, I am hearing about a minister killed at a church last week in Illinois. I am hearing about the worst school shooting in Germany’s history. A man went on a senseless rampage in Geneva County (of all ironic places), Alabama. We have lost the idea that humans are valuable, and that we are accountable to God for our anger much less murder. In the 1970s Francis Schaeffer predicted that the more we lose our Christian worldview, the more abortion, euthanasia, murder, and government control would rise. This has happened.

Prayer: Lord, help us to value others. Help us to work for the help of our neighbors. Give us insight and wisdom to help others.

March 27- Fifth Commandment- Honor parents

(Picture of Francis I- King of France. He gave up his Protestantism to be king, and waffled back and forth about persecuting the Protestants. Calvin dedicated his Instituted to him, but it is doubtful that he ever read them.)

3/27- Fifth Commandment
16 "Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 5:16)

Calvin: The degrees of pre-eminence established by God ought to be inviolable
for us. This, then, is the sum: that we should look up to those whom God has placed over us, and should treat them with honor, obedience, and gratefulness.(II.8.35)

Calvin believed that this commandment refers not just to our parents, but to all those who are (in God’s providence) placed over us. This would mean students respecting teachers, teachers respecting principals, employees respecting their employers, etc. In modern times, this idea has taken criticism by liberation theology which would have us rebel against wicked rulers as Moses did against Pharaoh. Certainly Calvin knew of the options of rebellion. He remembered Zwingli’s death in war. He was familiar that Geneva’s freedom and Protestantism would not have been possible without the people rising up against the Duke of Savoy and his bishop. Yet Calvin saw scriptures as moderating against full scale rebellion against bad rulers. While Calvin was alive and in power there was relative peace between the Reformed and other parties (Philip of Hesse and the Schmalkaldic War was really before Calvin’s rise to power).
Calvin said to him whom the Lord through his providence has placed over us we should render reverence, obedience, and gratefulness, whether he is worthy or unworthy of that honor. This implies explicitly to parents. No employer, no parent or step parent does everything right. Most are unworthy of our loyalty. Yet there is peace when we honor those over us.

Prayer: Help us Lord, to honor those you have placed over us. Help us to honor them with reverence, obedience, and gratitude. We pray that they will listen to you, and follow your ways as they lead us. Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

March 26- The Sabbath- the Fourth Commandment

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

3.26- Fourth Commandment
12 "Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the LORD your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

Calvin: This commandment has special interpretation, so let us ponder three conditions in which, it seems to me, the keeping of this commandment consists. First, under the repose of the seventh day the heavenly Lawgiver meant to represent to the people of Israel spiritual rest, in which believers ought to lay aside their own works to allow God to work in them. Secondly, he meant that there was to be a stated day for them to assemble to hear the law and perform the rites, or at least to devote it particularly to meditation upon his works, and thus through this remembrance to be trained in piety. Thirdly, he resolved to give a day of rest to servants and those who are under the authority of others, in order that they should have some respite from toil. The Lord enjoined obedience to almost no other commandment as severely as to this (II.8.28,29)

Calvin believed that the Sabbath Day ordinance was changed with Christ. The rigor was changed, but the three concepts for Calvin were rest, relaxation, and worship. The other change was that the day was changed from Saturday to Sunday. For Calvin a day of rest is necessary lest we become slaves to those in power over us, or slaves to work itself. Calvin was a hard worker. He was not the strict sabbatarian that some of his followers were. Calvin sailed his boat on Sunday. He allowed for relaxation and fun on the Lord’s Day. In our day- in America- we have completely forgotten the concept of rest and Sabbath. In fact, people would get angry, very angry when I would talk about a need to rest-not work or shop on Sunday. In the Old Testament, when the people didn’t keep the Sabbath- there were consequences. It is said that the exile of 70 years was on response to not keeping the Sabbath (2 Chr. 36:19). I wonder, just wonder, if our greed for shopping, and ignoring of the Sabbath have anything to do with our breaking the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a gift to us from God- setting us free from the slavery of work. Rest is not a curse, it is a gift. Worship is also a gift.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for a day of rest, your day. Help us to appreciate it, and grow in our enjoyment of it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Third Commandment- do not abuse God's name

(Picture of Obama's hand on Lincoln's Bible at swearing in 1/20/09-AP Photo)

3/25- Third Commandment
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” KJV
7 "You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.TNIV (Exodus 20:7)

Calvin (Genevan Catechism) S. He forbids us to abuse the name of God, not only by perjury, but by swearing without necessity.
M. Can the name of God be lawfully used in making an oath
S. It may indeed, when used on a fit cause: first, in asserting the truth; and secondly, when the business is of such importance as to make it meet to swear, in maintaining mutual love and concord among men.
M. But does it not go farther than to restrain oaths, by which the name of
God is profaned, or his honor impaired?

March 2-8 was no cussing week for Los Angeles County, an effort started by McKay Hatch a middle school boy who started a “No Cussing Club” in Pasadena. One argument I heard against this was, “why can’t the county council do more important things?” Should we only do the top one or two things in life and ignore the rest? I hear that argument against anything anyone does (can't we concentrate on something else- and leave this issue alone?). It is an argument for inactivity toward anything but the top ten. The truth is, life is inter-related. Our speech about others, about God and to others and God is important and a part of society. If we are cursing God and others it does not build up society, but tears it down. The other argument I hear is “You can’t legislate morality.” But of course, all law is a type of morality. If everyone decides to be immoral, no law will stop people. The law is not meant for the evil, but for people who try to be good. Of course there is a balance. There are no penalties to no-cussing week, it is just a good idea to clean up our mouths and bring more respect to our society.
There are two layers that need to be peeled off this commandment. One is the holiness of God’s name. Names in the ancient world represented power. For example, in Jesus’ time, to name the demon meant that you had power over the demon. A name represented expectation. If you named someone “Rotten” then they wouldn’t have high expectations for themselves. But if you names someone “Laughter” (Isaac) they might think they are special and bring joy. The name of God was so holy (YHWH) that no one really knows how to pronounce it- they Jews would not say it. To treat God’s name with respect meant to treat God with respect.
The other layer is from the Middle Ages and Reformation- and that is the whole idea of an oath, and the honor of your name. My mother used to tell me that I didn’t have much, but I had a good, honest name. Your name meant your character. If you signed something- that meant you gave your name- your oath, your promise, your whole self to it. So Calvin insisted this commandment was also about keeping our oaths, our promises, and using our own name with dignity and integrity.
When Obama said he was going to say, "So help me God" some went ballistic. But for people who believe saying this is a way to hold us to what is deep inside- our faith, our honor, our souls. Oaths should not be used lightly. But that doesn't mean they should be refrained from altogether.

Prayer: Lord, may my life, my speech, my actions honor your name. May I be a great witness, not a bad witness for you. Amen.

March 24- Second Commandment- Against Idolatry

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

3/24- Second Commandment

8 "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 9 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 10 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Deuteronomy 5:18)

Calvin’s Genevan Catechism:
M. Does it entirely prohibit us from sculpturing or painting any resemblance?
S. No; it only forbids, us to make any resemblances for the sake of representing or worshipping God.
M. Why is it. unlawful to represent God by a visible shape?
S’. Because there is no resemblance between him who is an eternal Spirit and incomprehensible, and a corporeal, corruptible, and lifeless figure.
( Deuteronomy 4:15; Acts 17:29; Romans 1:23.)
M. You think then that an insult is offered to his majesty when he is represented in this way?
S. Such is my belief.
M. What kind of worship is here condemned?
S. When we turn to a statue or image intending to pray, we prostrate ourselves before it: when we pay honor to it by the bending of our knees, or other signs, as if God were there representing himself to us.
M. We are not to understand then that simply any kind of picture or sculpture is condemned by these words. We are only prohibited from making images for the purpose of seeking or worshipping God in them, or which is the same thing, for the purpose of worshipping them in honor of God, or abusing them in any way to superstition and idolatry.
S. True.

Calvin was not the iconoclast that Savonarola was in Florence (1452-1498), nor did he destroy the statues the way Zwingli did in Zurich. Calvin took a more moderate approach. Calvin did not forbid painting and sculpting. He did forbid painting and sculpting images of God as nothing could capture God’s image. Calvin saw art as God’s gift and a source of joy and pleasure. Calvin insisted, “Only those things are to be sculptured or painted which the eyes are capable of seeing.” Art was to be realistic depictions of life. Thus in Rembrandt’s paintings Jesus is not born in a castle, but in a barn. Jesus is depicted as fully human and not just divine in Calvinist paintings.
The great sin for Calvin is idolatry. It is turning the created things into the Creator. We all have a tendency to worship things. Things may include people as well as inanimate objects (such as money, clothes, cars, houses, etc.).
In our day, we have been consumed with things to the detriment of the spiritual, the Creator. The panic over the economic downturn is in part the fear of taking our god away from us. We sacrifice our children (with both parents working long hours), our time, our Sabbath and rest (where has the Sabbath gone?) for having more. Now the sacrifices do not seem to have worked, and the god of money has turned into a mean task master.
Secularism is another problem of our day. Secularism would make the worship of things okay- but the worship of religion not okay. Secularism is turning this commandment on its head- allowing no room for God, and only for the secular.

Prayer: Lord, help us to worship you and you only. Keep us form worshipping things instead of you.

Monday, March 23, 2009

March 23- First Commandment and Introduction

Rembrandt 1659
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

3/23- First Commandment
“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, our of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:1,2)

Calvin’s Catechism:
M. And what does he require under this first head?
S. That we maintain his honor entire and for himself alone, not transferring any part of it elsewhere.
M. What is the honor peculiar to him which it is unlawful to transfer elsewhere!
S. To adore him, to put our confidence in him, to call upon him, in short to pay him all
the deference suitable to his majesty.

For Calvin, the law of God is written on our hearts and into the very structure of existence. He placed his study of the commandments under book II- the Redemption of God, for he saw law as having redeeming value as our guide in life. The law was “God’s gracious intention for the world.” It is given by a loving God to guide us on the right path and steer us into doing what we were made to do, and being the kind of people we were made to be. Jesus Christ doesn’t deliver us from the law itself, but from the “rigor” of the law- the eternal consequences of disobedience, and the problem and guilt of perfectionism.
There are three principles Calvin used in interpreting the ten commandments we need to think about:
1) They are not just about outward actions but inward spiritual righteousness.
So Jesus said lusting is the same as adultery.
2) They always contain more than just words.
For example, every negative prohibition has a positive obligation (do not lie also means
be honest and forthright).
3) The division into two tables is important.
It points out that law keeping begins with belief in a law-giver.
The first commandment then, is a reminder that God created us and freed us from slavery and bondage. For Calvin, we are all in bondage spiritually to sin, and we need to be set free. Part of our bondage is worshipping false Gods with great superstition. Last week we had a missionary speak at our church. He told of one of his trips to India where a native told him that a lady and her husband had faced terrible economic troubles. The Brahman told them to sacrifice to the gods. They did, but still had desperate troubles. The Brahman suggested they sacrifice their two year old daughter to “Mother Ganges.” When the native missionary got to them, it was sadly too late for the daughter, but not too late for them. Superstition is an evil master that has no end of requirements for us. The martyrs of 911 are not to be admired but to be looked upon with sadness and as a warning of how the worship of other gods can steer us astray. In our pluralistic society, it is very easy to say that our choice of faith doesn’t matter. Postmodernism tells us that what matters is not our choice but our sincerity and tolerance of others. If we were in heaven that would be alright, but we are not- and people make bad choices and create evil gods. Atheism is another choice. While atheists say they are not a religion, I have not seen many atheists who do not uphold their belief in non-belief without a great deal of rigor. If you look on the internet these days, there are a lot of very, very angry unbelievers who really need peace with God. We all need peace with God- the true God. True peace comes from the true God. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless til they find their rest in Thee.”

Prayer: Help us, O God to see your truth and not be ashamed to follow it. Help us to follow you truly, but also with humility. We recognize there is nothing in us that enables us to follow you. We also recognize we need to tell others of your grace and love. Thank you for the commandments that point us into your will for us.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

March 22- Baptism and Circumcision

Baptism by Lucas Cranach
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

3/22- The Lord’s Day- Baptism

In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your sinful nature was put off when you were circumcised with Christ having been buried with him in baptism. (Colossians 2:11,12)
Calvin: But since before baptism was instituted God’s people had circumcision instead, let us examine how these two signs differ from each other, and in what respects they are alike. From this will appear the anagogic relationship of the one to the other. When the Lord commands Abraham to observe circumcision, he previously states that he will be God to him and his descendants [ Genesis 17:7, 10], adding that he possesses the abundance and sufficiency of all things [ Genesis 17:1, 6, 8]… As God, when he adopts the posterity of Abraham as his people, commands them to be circumcised, so Moses declares that they ought to be circumcised in heart, explaining the true meaning of this carnal circumcision. We have, therefore, a spiritual promise given to the patriarchs in circumcision such as is given us in baptism, since it represented for them forgiveness of sins and mortification of flesh… The promise (in which we have shown the power of the signs to consist) is the same in both, namely, that of God’s fatherly favor, of forgiveness of sins, and of eternal life. Then the thing represented is the same, namely, regeneration. In both there is one foundation upon which the fulfillment of these things rests. Therefore, there is no difference in the inner mystery, by which the whole force and character of the sacraments are to be weighed… For circumcision was for the Jews their first entry into the church, because it was a token to them by which they were assured of adoption as the people and household of God, and they in turn professed to enlist in God’s service. In like manner, we also are consecrated to God through baptism, to be reckoned as his people, and in turn we swear fealty to him. By this it appears incontrovertible that baptism has taken the place of circumcision to fulfill the same office among us. (IV.16,3,4)

Calvin’s great teaching on baptism was that it should be viewed similar to the rite of circumcision in the Old Testament. He saw the difference between the two as being in externals only. Baptism is simpler, easier to recover from, and may be administered to both sexes. But here are some similarities hinted at in Calvin:
1) Both symbolized dying to sin- Circumcision was a “rolling away” of our reproach to God; baptism is a dying with Christ (Calvin called this “mortification”).
2) Both were external symbols of an internal good-
(circumcise your hearts; baptism of the Spirit)
3) Both were initiation rites- a means of entrance into the family of God.
4) Both represented inclusion or adoption into the family.
5) Both are indelible- that is, they cannot be undone- you can’t be unbaptized or uncircumcised.
Once the water is on you, it cannot be erased.
6) Both symbolize the (covenant) promises of faith- Without faith, both rituals are meaningless.
7) Both involve covenant obligations- Calvin speaks of “swearing fealty.”
In both we are claiming our allegiance is to God.

Prayer: Lord, we have been baptized. Thank you for your promises that go along with this. Thank you that you are our God, and we are your people. Help our lives today to reflect this.

Friday, March 20, 2009

March 21- The Third Use of the Law

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

3/21- The Third Use of the Law

“How can those who are young keep their way pure? By living according to your Word. Your Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto thy path.” (Psalm 119:8,105)

Calvin: Again, because we need not only teaching but also exhortation, the servant of God will also avail himself of this benefit of the law: by frequent meditation upon it to be aroused to obedience, be strengthened in it, and be drawn back from the slippery path of transgression. In this way the saints must press on; for, however eagerly they may in accordance with the Spirit strive toward God’s righteousness. (Inst. II.7.13)

"Law" are the commandments. "Gospel" is God’s grace. Some traditions separate them sharply. John Leith said, “John Calvin distinguished between law and gospel but he did not separate them. Behind both the law and the gospel is the gracious will of God. The law contains the gospel. The gospel also contains the law.” There is a three-fold use of the law- 1) it convicts us of where we have gone wrong; 2)it restrains public unrighteousness; 3) It guides us in life. Luther agreed to the first two uses, but he did not see the third use. One of Calvin's unique contributions to the Reformation was to see the law as our guide (the third use of the law).
The Bible is a guidebook, a map, a gps for us to plot the course of our lives, and keep us on the right road, the narrow path. There is something to be learned from each part of scripture. II Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness.
Would that we had a guidebook for our economy. I have read some who say that the stimulus plan will bring rampant inflation, and others who say it will give us the boost we need. We don't know for sure. Wouldn't it be nice if God would guide us?
He may not guide us about the economy, but He certainly longs to guide us in our lives.
Calvin says the law is not a curse any more but an exhortation. The law no longer condemns us. We must distinguish between what parts of the law are applicable for us and what parts are not. The ceremonial law (sacrifices, dietary, holidays) no longer applies to us, but the moral law applies to us. So we should pay attention to what God says to us. He is trying to shape and guide our lives according to His Word. It does no good for God to have the law available to us if we will not read it, get it into our lives, or listen to it.
There are so many ways to get the Bible into our lives, and let it guide us. The Bible is on ipod, utube, dvd, cd, internet (www.biblegateway.com), and more.

Prayer: You lead us, O God. Thank you for the scripture that are a lamp unto my path.

March 20- Moderation and Balance

3/20- The Importance of Moderation and Balance

“Be careful then that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t they be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them and wound their weak conscience you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.” I Corinthians 8:9-13

Calvin: But since he [Christ] was uncorrupted, a moderation that restrained excess flourished in all his emotions. So he could be like us in sorrow, fear, and dread, yet in such a way as to differ from us by this characteristic [of moderation].

Calvinism has traditionally prided itself on being the middle way. Parts of Zwingliism moved toward Anabaptist theology with its radical reform. The Anabaptists denied all authority and civil government, were pacifists, condemned oaths and courts, and excommunicated people often. Calvin was able to formulate a more moderate ground. Calvin actually married an Anabaptist wife, Idelette Bure. He was not for radicalizing the church, bur to reforming the church more to the Word of God.
Ronald Wallace in his classic work on Calvin has Calvin’s theory of moderation as one of his key concepts and contributions to the Reformation. Calvin found scripture to be a “rule of temperance” that helped us to control our appetites and excesses. For Calvin, a mark of a Christian was the ability to restrain from excess and to sacrifice for the glory of God. A Christian did not take part in extravagant luxuries nor waste of the gifts God gives us. In some ways, such a concept brought up the middle class, and took away the idea that the nobles had a right to excess while the serfs lived in starvation mode. In our day, the middle class is eroding in part because we have lost this Christian ethic of restraint, self-control (a fruit of the Spirit), and moderation. Too much desire for things we cannot afford has killed the housing market, and too much bad debt has almost nationalized our banks. I hope we will see the need to repent to restraint and moderation.
Another aspect of moderation is Christian freedom. Respecting others’ opinions on secondary things has been an important part of the unity of the church. Some saw eating meat previously offered to idols as an affront to the true God and idol worship. Others saw idols as nothing and so meat offered to a nothing meant nothing. But what the church had to see, and what scripture upholds is the idea of respecting others’ opinions on controversial and secondary matters.
Today, our denomination needs to stick to its worked-on compromise about the ordination of homosexuals to hold the church together. It should not listen to those who want to split the church, nor should it listen to those who want to ordain everyone no matter what. There is no need to radicalize the church, but to show love and restraint in the name of Christ.
The idea of moderation is important for every day life as well. The Bible does not forbid drinking wine, but it does forbid getting drunk (Calvin held to this as well). The use of media should be viewed this way. Perhaps the easy thing would be to say to our kids (or ourselves) "You can't watch any TV, listen to any radio, or use the internet because of the evil things that are sometimes there." It should be the same with finances. We do not need to live extravagantly nor as paupers- but within the means God gave us. Part of our economic downfall has been we have lost our balance.
Because something is abused that does not mean it should be forsaken. I believe humans usually find a way to abuse most if not all things in life. We must live in this world. But we must live in this world clinging to Christ, letting Him give us a balance. Christ showed us it is possible for even God to come down into this world and resist temptation.

Prayer: Lord, help us to live well-balanced lives. Keep us from excess and bend us toward living more simply, moderately, and lovingly that you may be honored above ourselves. Amen.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March 19 - The possibility of knowing God

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

3/19- Calvin on the Knowledge of God

“This is what the Lord says, ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength, or the rich boast of their riches. But let those who boast boast about this: that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice, and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.” Jeremiah 9:23,24
“Righteous father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” John 17:25,26
“I want to know Christ—yes to know the power of his resurrection and participate in his sufferings.” Philippians 3:10

Calvin (in Genevan Catechism): Teacher: What is the principle end of human life?
Student: It is to know God.
The first two books of Calvin’s Institutes are entitled, “The Knowledge of God the Creator” and “The Knowledge of God the Redeemer.”
“Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” (Institutes I.1.1- opening sentence).

We can know God. God is not hidden, so distant, so uncaring or so silent that we cannot begin to know Him. In fact, the good news of the gospel is that God wants to be known by us. Christ’s coming to earth is a big deal- God’s seeking to know us and for us to know Him.
I have talked to many church people who tell me that they cannot know God. They say God is so high above us that it is impossible. But while I may not know God fully (I see in a mirror dimly), that does not mean that I cannot know God at all, and at least in part accurately. Just as I do not know everything about my wife of 28 years (yes, she's still a mystery to me- and that's good), I don't know all about God. But the Bible says Abraham called God "friend." I can know my friend is loving, trustworthy, faithful in what they say. I can have a relationship with a friend and in a sense "know" them accurately but not fully. I can grow in my knowledge of my friend. It would be impossible to know God if God did not reveal Himself to us.
We know God because God wants us to know Him. This is a gift of God’s grace to us. We do not know God’s essence as much as who God is in relation to us, and as He reveals Himself to us. God takes his infinite knowledge of Himself as an infinite, eternal, all wise being, and accommodates that knowledge so we might understand. He also overcomes our blindness, our deafness, our sinfulness, by making us alive to and aware of Him.
When Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States, suffered a stroke, his wife and aids kept him from the public. No one really saw him. He didn’t want people to see Him in his weakness. Some feel that way about God. But God came down to us in the person of Jesus Christ. While God reveals something about Himself in nature and in humanity, He reveals Himself as redeemer most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ revealed in scripture.

Prayer: Lord, thank you that you want us to know you. You have invited us to know you. Help us to accept that invitation and to seek and find you as our Lord and God.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 18- Sola Scriptura

(Genevan Bible New Testament cover 1599 ed.]
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

3/18- Sola Scriptura

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)

Calvin (In The Genevan Confession attributed to Calvin and Farel): First we affirm that we desire to follow Scripture alone as rule of faith and religion without mixing with it any other thing which might be devised by the opinion of men apart from the Word of God, and without wishing to accept for our spiritual government any other doctrine than what is conveyed to us by the same Word without addition or diminution, according to the command of our Lord.

The Bible does not depend on the church to give it authority, but upon God’s Holy Spirit. Calvin saw himself less a philosopher and more of a Biblical scholar. Calvin saw scripture as being written by different human beings, but the Holy Spirit overcame the differences of culture, style, language, background to bring about a unity of message and theme. Calvin, more than any other theologian (writes Leith) used the whole canon of scripture as the basis for his theology. Today many downplay the role of the whole canon ("canon" means the accepted scriptures), and they speak of a “canon within the canon" (or some parts of scripture as more authoritative than others). The problem with this is that we pick things agreeable to us, and leave the things out we don’t like- a cafeteria faith. In effect, this is writing scripture according to our own thinking. While we all pay attention to part and ignore part- it is a part of human nature- we should at least TRY to check (or stop)such picking and choosing. There is a balance between making the scripture culturally relevant and ignoring scripture altogether. An example of this would be wearing a hat or wearing our hair a certain way. Some scriptures say we should wear our hair a certain way. But we know from other scriptures God doesn’t care about outward appearance. But clear disobedience to a clear prohibition of God in scripture destroys the purpose of Bible study, and undermines the foundations of the church.
In the recent debate about the ordination of homosexuals, one proponent for the ordination said that “we need to separate exegesis from ethics.” Exegesis is the study of scripture. Ethics is our standards of behavior. So do we really want to separate- put a wall up- between scripture and our behavior? Are we saying we do not WANT scripture to influence our behavior anymore? This is an illustration that we need a new reformation in which God's Word is our authority. Otherwise we are living in the sick kind of mentality that was prevalent in the times of the judges: "Everyone did what was right in their own eyes." Being a Christian means trying to do what is right in God's eyes.
Calvin was very much aware that our sinful nature blinds us to our own faults, and that we do not like to be rebuked by God. If the Bible cannot correct us, then it is a weak word indeed. Scripture alone is our standard (rule) of faith and life. It is not psychology, as good as that is; nor science; nor church tradition; God speaks in all truth- similarly to how God speaks in nature. The heavens tell the glory of God. But the Bible is the spectacles to help us discern God’s real word in nature.

Prayer: Lord, there are many voices giving us advice. Help us to hear your voice speaking to us in scripture and live by it.

March 17- Limits of Scripture

(Geneva Bible front page)

3//17- Calvin on the Limits of Scripture

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. “ John 16:12,13

Calvin: Moses wrote in a popular style things which, without instruction, all ordinary persons, endued with common sense are able to understand; but astronomers investigate with great labor whatever the sagacity of the human mind can comprehend. Nevertheless, this study is not to be reprobated, nor this science to be condemned…For astronomy is not only pleasant but also very useful to be known..Nor did Moses truly wish to withdraw us form this pursuit…Had he spoken of things generally unknown, the uneducated might have pleaded in excuse that such subjects were beyond their capacity. (Gen. 1:16)

Scripture is not our God. We do not worship the Bible. Though it should be treated with respect, it is not to be treated like a good luck charm. I had a friend of mine who would not put the Bible in a drawer lest it be in the dark. He would not put another book on top of it, because he believed there was no other book as important as the Bible. I remember Dr. Leith telling me that you could always tell the difference between a person of Reformed faith and an Episcopalian or Roman Catholic for how they treated the elements after communion. The Episcopalian or Catholic would eat or drink it until it was all gone. The Presbyterian would put the bread in the trash (or out for the birds), and pour the drink down the sink. For Zwinglian reformers the elements were just reminders of what Christ had done. For Calvinists the elements were made real and sacramental by the Holy Spirit in worship- after worship they were just material things. The Reformed have similar attitudes toward the water used in baptism and the Bible. The element itself is not the important thing. The Holy Spirit is what makes the element holy and useful. It is the same with church buildings, church furniture, ministers, anything. I believe, however, when the Holy Spirit has used something so much, and has been in a place so much, there is a certain residual presence. There have been times when I have walked into a place and felt God’s presence there and I assume it is because of the Holy Spirit’s being there, and the prayers prayed and worship held. I don’t know if Calvin would agree with me, but that is my experience. I have on occasion picked up a Bible used by a great saint (usually a lay person) and had an experience of God’s Holy Spirit too. But this is not quantifiable. Certainly in scripture the ark of the covenant was holy and powerful. When I made the trip to Israel, I was surprised that the most moving place for me was the temple wall- the wailing wall. The Bible is a means of grace- similar to a sacrament. Popular theologian, Marcus Borg, speaks of the Bible as similar to a sacrament, but then he doesn't treat it seriously. We must take the words of scripture to heart, and not just write them off. Without the right preaching of the scriptures, the church does not exist (which, in my opinion, is why many churches are dying).
There is another sense in which scripture is limited for Calvin. It is limited by us. Not just the writers (many scholars today point out the human limits of the writers). Calvin spoke of the limits of the readers (us). God is limited in what He can tell us by our own lack of understanding and sinfulness. God accommodated himself to our own understanding and lifestyle in Jesus. Jesus limited himself to what he told his disciples because they weren’t “able to bear” the teachings. I have often thought if God told the smartest astronomer all about the stars, the astronomer wouldn’t be able to take it in. God cannot tell us his complete plan for us or we would be overwhelmed too. God is gracious, and goes easy on us. He does not seek to overwhelm us with his majesty or his knowledge. Rather God comes down to our level, and gives us just enough.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for scripture that communicates what we need to hear and how we need to hear it. Help us to listen and apply it to our lives.

Monday, March 16, 2009

March 16- Holy Spirit and Holy Scriptures

(Picture of Geneva Bible 1560 edition- English translation with Calvin's principles)

3/16- Calvin on the Holy Spirit and Scripture

“I Came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on God’s power.” (I Corinthians 2:3-5)

Calvin: Thus, the highest proof of Scripture derives in general from the fact that God in person speaks in it. The prophets and apostles do not boast either of their keenness or of anything that obtains credit for them as they speak; nor do they dwell upon rational proofs. Rather, they bring forward God’s holy name, that by it the whole world may be brought into obedience to him. Now we ought to see how apparent it is not only by plausible opinion but by clear truth that they do not call upon God’s name heedlessly or falsely. (I.7.4) For scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which, as nothing is omitted that is both necessary and useful to know, so nothing is taught but what is expedient to know.”

The Brief Statement of faith says, “The same Spirit who inspired the prophets and apostles rules our faith and life in Christ through scripture.” The scripture means nothing without the Holy Spirit illuminating it and applying it to our lives. Scripture may be the Word of God, but it is like the womb of Mary until the Holy Spirit moves upon it conceiving Christ. Calvin still believed in tradition. But tradition had to be tested by scripture itself, and tradition was secondary to scripture. Sola scriptura was the motto of the reformation meaning the authority is not the pope nor the church, nor the ancient writings of the fathers, but all is tested with the scripture.
The scripture was inspired by the Spirit, the Spirit illuminates scripture, and the scripture inspires us by the Holy Spirit. The Roman Catholics on the one hand, were saying the pope and tradition were important along with the scriptures. The AnaBaptists on the other hand, were saying we should listen to the Spirit even when what they thought was the spirit spoke against scripture. For Calvin, the Spirit inspired scripture and illuminates and applies scripture- but God never contradicts Himself.
Today in the church there are many who are saying we can ignore scripture to do what we feel is right. The classic example is the ordination of (unrepentant, practicing) homosexual debate. There are really few people who think that the scriptures (both Old and New Testaments) don’t forbid acts of homosexuality. But many are saying we can ignore the scriptures because the spirit is moving us in other directions. Calvin would retort that God is truth and truth does not contradict itself because it is convenient, expedient, or popular. The Spirit does not say one thing in scripture and another thing later. One of the tests for a false prophet in Deuteronomy was if that prophet said something that was against the law.
The Holy Spirit speaks through scripture, and scripture is our only standard. If we toss out scripture in our lives and in our church, we are tossing ourselves out into the storm, letting the winds of doctrine blow us everywhere without a rudder. Worse, we have lost the real ability to discern God's will.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, inspire us through your inspired Word. Help us to hear and respond to you.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

March 15- The Importance of Scripture

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

3/15- The Lord’s Day- Calvin on the Importance of Scripture

“All scripture is inspired of God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (II Timothy 3:16,17)"Uphold them by the truth, Thy Word is truth." (John 17:17)

Calvin: “For by his word, God rendered faith unambiguous forever, a faith that should be superior to all opinion . The whole power of earth has armed itself to destroy it [the Scripture], yet all these efforts have gone up in smoke. How could it, assailed so strongly from every side, have resisted if it had relied upon human protection alone? Rather, by this very fact, it is proved to be from God, because, with all human efforts striving against it, still it has of its own power thus far prevailed. Besides this, it is not one state, not one people, that has agreed to receive and embrace it; but as far and as wide as the earth extends, it has obtained its authority by the holy concord of divers peoples, who otherwise had nothing in common among themselves. Such agreement of minds, so disparate and otherwise disagreeing in everything among themselves. Such agreement of minds, so disparate and otherwise disagreeing in everything among themselves, ought to move us greatly, since it is clear that this agreement is brought about by nothing else than the divine will. Yet no little weight is added thereto when we observe the godliness of those who so agree, not of all, indeed, but of those whom the Lord has made to shine as lamps in his church

Calvin describes the scriptures as spectacles that help us to see God when our eyes are dim to Him (I.6.1). He declares that they are the work of human hands but they were received from God’s own mouth. For Calvin the diversity of the human writers disappears under the unity of the Holy Spirit. Calvin says that when we read scripture “It is God who speaks to us and not mere men” (Commentary on II Peter 1:20). Calvin admits that God reveals Himself in nature to the elect, and in scripture to the elect. The non-elect do not understand God’s work in nature because their eyes are blinded. The non-elect can see the same thing as the elect in scripture, but the Spirit has not made them alive and opened their eyes to see yet. Scriptures are our guide, our inspiration, our spectacles into God’s presence and heart. The right preaching of the scriptures, and the right administration of the Lord’s supper and baptism are the signs of the true church.
While we have more access to scripture than ever before (ipod, cd, libraries, bookstores); and the Bible is still the best-selling book in America; and we also have more "proofs" of the reality of scripture than ever before by archaeologists, and there are Bible studies galore, if we do not believe what it says and apply it to our lives, then we are basically "deaf" to the scriptures. Today, there is a growing movement to pick and choose what to believe in scripture without any rhyme or reason. Calvin believed that the Holy Spirit used our discernment to interpret scriptures, but today there is just downright unbelief of the basic teachings among those who call themselves believers. Such unbelief- a cafeteria approach that picks and chooses- puts us in the place of God. It says we will create our own religion using some scriptural principles. There is a sense, and Calvin (and Jesus) deeply held it, in which faith in God is also faith in what God says (Word) in scripture.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your holy Word that teaches us, guides us, strengthens us, consoles us, corrects us, and equips us to honor you. Help us to make them more a part of our lives. Amen.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

March 14- Thine is the kingdom

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

3/14- The Conclusion of All Prayers- Thine is the kingdom, power, and glory, amen.

Calvin: This is firm and tranquil repose for our faith. For if our prayers were to be commended to God by our worth, who would dare even mutter in his presence? Now, however miserable we may be, though unworthiest of all, however devoid of all commendation,we will yet never lack a reason to pray, never be shorn of assurance, since his Kingdom, power, and glory can never be snatched away from our

The Heidelberg Catechism paraphrases this conclusion to the Lord’s Prayer this way, “we ask all this of thee because, as our King, you are willing and able to give us all that is good since you have power over all things, and that by this not we ourselves but your holy name may be glorified forever.”
It goes on, “Amen means: this shall truly and certainly be. For my prayer is much more certainly heard by God than I am persuaded in my heart that I desire such things from him.”
Who is in charge? If we are in charge, we cannot say this, and we should answer our own prayers. But if God is in charge, and he has the power or ability to answer, then we are in good shape. It is good news that we are not in charge (ever seen the movie "God Amighty"?) or that businesses or the government is not in charge. Calvin rightly points out that no one can "snatch" the kingdom away from God. Kings and presidents come adn go. Governments and countries do as well. But God sits enthroned above all of them.
Jesus also reminds us that God’s glory is the reason, purpose, and power of prayer.

Prayer: Indeed, Lord, you are king alone. We are not. We humble ourselves before you asking that you would hear our prayers and answer them. Amen.

Friday, March 13, 2009

March 13- Lead Us Not Into Temptation

3/13- The Lord’s Prayer- 6th Petition- Lead us Not into Temptation But Deliver Us From Evil

By this we are instructed that we need not only the grace of the Spirit, to soften our hearts within and to bend and direct them to obey God, but also his aid, to render us invincible against both all the stratagems and all the violent assaults of Satan. Now
the forms of temptations are indeed many and varied. For wicked conceptions of the mind, provoking us to transgress the law, which either our own inordinate desire suggests to us or the devil prompts, are temptations, as are things not evil of their own nature yet which become temptations through the devil’s devices, when they are so thrust before our eyes that by their appearance we are drawn away or turn aside from
God. (III. 20.46)

Calvin talks of the temptations from the right (the haves) and the temptations from the left (the have nots). On the one hand, we may be tempted when we have riches, honor, and power. We are tempted in our pride to forget God and think we no longer need Him. On the other hand, we may be tempted by poverty, disgrace, contempt, afflictions, which may keep us so depressed that we feel like it is no use to call on God. Both are wrong, and both are forgetting God. One because of plenty or the other because of thinking God has forgotten us in our poverty. Both ways of forgetting God are fueled by pride and allowing circumstances to control our lives. In the last six months, we may have been tempted both ways- by the pride of having, and the despair of losing. We need to pray that God would deliver us.
Calvin said our understanding of “evil” in “deliverance from evil” could be Satan or sin, it makes no practical difference. We are delivered from evil when we are filled with the Holy Spirit. It makes sense- when we are filled with good, there is no room for evil. Another key to deliverance from evil for Calvin is simply to believe that God will help us through our afflictions. “While we petition, then, to be freed from Satan and sin, we anticipate that new increases of God’s grace will continually be showered upon us, until, completely filled therewith, we triumph over all evil.” (III.20.46). In general, Calvinists did not focus on the devil or Satan nearly as much as other branches of Christianity (or Islam). Calvin beleived if we are filled with love for God and focus on Him, then there is no room for the devil or evil.
In our day, people are shocked to call anything "evil." Everything is a gray area- always a mixture of right and wrong. Postmodernism is the philosophy of the day- and that philosophy lends itself to thinking that the only wrong is to call something "wrong" (or worse- "evil"). But, it does matter. Child sacrifice is wrong. Murder is wrong. Stealing is wrong. There are always mitigating circumstances, and we all do bad things- but that does not erase that sin is sin and we need to be delivered from evil. Because we are all in the mix of sin- and our hearts are deceived and blinded to our own sin- we need God (the outside force) to deliver us.
The hymn confirms this teaching: “Breathe on me breath of God, fill me with life anew, that I may love what Thou dost love, and do what Thou dost do.”

On a practical side, it is helpful to know which things are the most tempting to you. It is not that we want to dwell on the temptation, but rather to be filled with good in its opposite area so we may triumph.

Prayer: Father, we are tempted by many things today. Evil is all around us- tv, internet, and there is a lack of morality around us. Help us, O God, to resist temptation. Lead us into quiet places during harsh times.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

March 12- Forgive Us Our Debts

3/12- The Lord’s Prayer- 5th Petition- Forgive us Our Debts as We Forgive Our Debtors
"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another- just as God in Christ has forgiven you." Ephesians 4:32

Calvin: He calls sins “debts” because we owe penalty for them, and we could in no way satisfy it unless we were released by this forgiveness. This pardon comes of his free mercy, by which he himself generously wipes out these debts, exacting no payment from us but making satisfaction to himself by his own mercy in Christ, who once for all gave himself as a ransom [cf. Romans 3:24]. Therefore those who trust that God is satisfied with their own or others’ merits, and that by such satisfaction forgiveness of sins is paid for and purchased, share not at all in this free gift. And while they call upon God according to this form, they do nothing but subscribe to their own accusation, and even seal their condemnation by their own testimony. For they confess they are debtors unless they are released by the benefit of forgiveness, which they still do not accept but rather spurn, while they thrust their merits and satisfactions upon God. For thus they do not entreat his mercy but call his judgment.” (III.20.44)

Why do Presbyterians so stalwartly pray “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” whereas everyone else prays, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us?” Calvin calls them “debts” because we owe a penalty for them. Christ came and paid our debt- our ransom by his death on the cross.
Those who think they are not in need of forgiveness are wrong and are close to hardening their hearts. I remember once I met a fellow who had just bought a huge house at the beach. I met him at a party given by one of my church members. He told me that he “had always been wealthy, and was a Harvard man, and that he didn’t have any need for church or for forgiveness.” I was shocked at his pride and his boldness. After thinking about this a lot, I really began to feel pity for him. One day, he will get sick, or perhaps he will get old, or perhaps he will lose a loved one (maybe to his pride), and he will not have God in his life to help sustain him.
We also need to forgive others because we have been forgiven, and in order to continue to be forgiven. In an amazing statement- right after he gives his disciples the Lord’s Prayer Jesus says, “For it you forgive others when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14,15). This is the only statement after the Lord’s Prayer- and it seems to be a re-emphasis of his teaching on prayer. Of all the petitions, this is the one (forgiveness ) that is brought up again. Forgiveness by God and forgiveness of others is so very important for us. Without it, love dies, hearts are hardened, and relationships broken.
So for Lent, let’s find someone to forgive today!
Prayer: Thank you, Jesus, for forgiveness. Thank you for dying on the cross for me. Help me to forgive others because you have forgiven me. Amen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

March 11- Give us This Day Our Daily Bread

(Picture: Starving Child from Darfur)

3/11- Lord’s Payer 4th Petition- Give us This Day our Daily Bread
This begins the second part of the Lord’s prayer and focuses on human beings.

Calvin: “But by this petition we ask of God all things in general that our bodies have need to use under the elements of this world [ Galatians 4:3], not only for food and clothing but also for everything God perceives to be beneficial to us, that we may eat our daily bread in peace. Briefly, by this we give ourselves over to his care, and entrust ourselves to his providence, that he may feed, nourish, and preserve us.”

Even the most devout of us still wrestles with the worries of this world. It is almost a natural thing that we are consumed with greater care of our bodies than of our souls. It is a test and a great exercise of our faith to trust the God will provide what we need.
In Calvin’s day, as in our own, there were some who said God wasn’t talking about the bread that feeds our bodies but only the bread that feeds our souls (supersubstantial bread they called it). But the simple meaning of the text was real bread. When Jesus fed the 5,000 it wasn’t spiritual bread, but real bread. God cares not just for our souls, but also for our minds and bodies. God is God of all. Some fear today that God will not or cannot help us with our physical needs. I believe they need to expand their vision of God. On the other hand are the “health and wealth” people who think that just because we are Christians we should be wealthy- if we pray hard enough. To this view I would say Jesus said, “daily bread” not extra bread. The example of our Lord is important. He didn’t have a home, he didn’t have a bunch of clothes, he didn’t have great transportation, yet he didn’t starve and he was at peace. Sometimes God does bless the godly with wealth, but that is not the rule for all who believe.
Calvin talks about this “daily” bread concept. He said it emphasizes God’s care for us day by day. It is not that God wound up the clock and left, but he cares for us each day. Daily bread restrains us from amassing great wealth and becoming greedy. Finally, daily bread reminds us of God’s ability to help us enjoy this daily bread- by ingesting it and benefiting from it. Calvin often had digestive problems (colic he said). He was grateful when he could eat and enjoy it.
Daily bread is “ours.” It is given to us by God, yet earned by our own honest toil. It should not be earned in such a way that others are purposefully harmed. It is by God’s blessing alone that our labors prosper. Human responsibility interplays with divine providence for Calvin. So we are called to work and trust God. So we are called to help the hungry (as in Darfur)in God's name.
Jesus said, "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat" (Mt. 25:35).
In our day, this is an important concept. God is "Jehovah Jireh" (God our Provider). The fact that we are so secular today is in part our belief that we have pulled ourselves up by our own bootstraps, and we do not need God to provide for our needs. Now, with our economic problems, my hope is that we will recognize God is our provider, and in God we trust. I hope we will call out to God to provide and help us in our time of need.

Prayer: Father, many have lost their jobs. Many have lost their savings. Many are in fear of not having daily bread. Help us, in this faltering economy, to remember you and rely on you. Amen.

March 10- Thy Will be done

(woodcut of Burning of Bucer's books- including works of Calvin)

3/10- Lord’s Prayer 3rd Petition- Thy Will be Done On Earth as it is in Heaven (Mt. 6:10)

Calvin: We are therefore bidden to desire that, just as in heaven nothing is done apart from God’s good pleasure, and the angels dwell together in all peace and uprightness, the earth be in like manner subject to such a rule, with all arrogance and wickedness brought to an end. And in asking this we renounce the desires of our flesh; for whoever does not resign and submit his feelings to God opposes as much as he can God’s will, since only what is corrupt comes forth from us. And again by this prayer we are formed to self-denial so God may rule us according to his decision. And not this alone but also so he may create new minds and hearts in us.” (III.20.43)

In a sense God is already king. He rules in His providence and out of his love. But in another sense (talked about in this petition), we are not there yet. His kingship comes more completely when we submit our wills to His will. As noted earlier, Calvin ties “thy kingdom come” to “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” When God is truly (fully and really) king, then his will will be done.
In heaven everything is done for God’s good pleasure. There is peace, obedience, and joy there that is not yet on this earth. I remember Jesus’ words recorded in John 19:22- “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” Today the official poll results came out- since 1990 the number of Americans believing in Jesus Christ has dropped from 86% to 76%. This means a ten percent drop in people who think that God has a will for them, that God cares for them, or that there is forgiveness for sins and ultimate meaning in life. How we should be heart broken over this! How we need to pray that people grow in their desire to seek His will, and to find it. How we need to share our faith so that more will know that God’s will can be done on earth as it is in heaven. In tough economic times, it is extra sad that a growing number of people are giving up on their faith that can give them strength in tough times, and that they are teaching their children that there is no ultimate hope in life.
The way we work for God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven is to deny ourselves and our will so that God’s glory and God’s will may be made evident. I know for me, it is hard (even as a minister) to share my faith. Yet, it is so important, that I see the need for me to deny my comfort, my shyness, my fears, and do what God has commanded me to do- pass the faith on to others. We do need to seek to please Him above others or ourselves. In fact, the real gist of this petition for Calvin is that we may learn to love what pleases Him and hate what displeases Him.

This is the conclusion of the first part of the Lord’s Prayer. Calvin notes that these things will come to pass whether we pray for them or not. Yet it is good to pray these petitions as to do so is to testify that we are God’s servants and children. Those who will not hallow God’s name, or pray for his kingdom and will to be done, are not likely true servants of God.

Prayer: Lord, today, not my will but your will be done. Today, may I seek to cast myself aside that I may honor you. Amen.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

March 9- Thy Kingdom Come

(Francis I- wishy washy king of France, going back and forth protecting and persecuting Protestants. He gave up his Protestantism to be king. Calvin dedicated the Institutes to him- he never read it.).

March 9- Second Petition- Thy Kingdom Come (Matthew 6:10)

Calvin: “God reigns where men, both by denial of themselves and by contempt of the world and of earthly life, pledge themselves to his righteousness in order to aspire to a heavenly life. Thus there are two parts to this Kingdom: first, that God by the power of his Spirit correct all the desires of the flesh which by squadrons war against him; second, that he shape all our thoughts in obedience to his rule.” (III.20.42)

For Calvin the second petition- “thy kingdom come” was not much different in content than the first petition “Hallowed be thy name.” But it is a prayer that motivates us to seek and work for the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
God reigns where people pledge themselves to his righteousness and aspire to live a heavenly life here on this earth. This comes by 1) denying our selfish desires, and 2) not loving the world so much that we cannot let go of it (contempt of the world).
There are two ways that God works to bring his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven: 1) By the Holy Spirit’s forming and gathering His church. 2) By frustrating the plans of the impious.
For Calvin this petition in our prayer motivates us in three ways:
1) Drawing us back from worldly corruption.
2) Ignites a zeal for dying to ourselves and living for God.
3) Gives us hope and instruction when we bear the crosses of life.

Christians are always citizens of another kingdom. Even though (in general) we are to be the best citizens where God has placed us, we are very aware of the limitations of the earthly kingdom and are not surprised. This spring, as the Obama administration has been getting off to a start, the corruption in government has come to light. Three nominees to cabinet positions resigned because of tax scandals. The Governor of Illinois was forced to resign for his corruption in replacing Obama’s senate seat. There have been corruptions in Republican and Democratic sides. In our state, there has been widespread publicity about $450,000 from payday lenders being put in the coffers of our legislator’s campaigns. The Payday lenders brazenly hired the last democratic candidate for governor to be a lobbyist for them after his failed campaign. Mexico is almost on the brink of civil war. The news today was that the “drug czar” of Mexico’s government was arrested for receiving $450,000 (what is it with this figure?) from the drug lords to look the other way. America is my nation, and I am a great patriot- I would die for my country and do so appreciate its freedom and its characteristics. Yet this world is not our home- we are strangers and pilgrims. Our true kingdom is yet to come, but we want to bring a little bit of this kingdom down to earth now.

Prayer: God, you are the King of kings and Lord of lords. Give us grace, strength, and protection to work for your kingdom, and make this world a better place. Amen

March 8- First Petition

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.
March 8 – The first petition “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

The scripture this week is the Lord’s prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4

The first petition is that God’s name be hallowed [ Matthew 6:9]; the need for it is associated with our great shame. For what is more unworthy than for God’s glory to be obscured partly by our ungratefulness, partly by our ill will, and so far as lies in our power, destroyed by our presumption and insane impudence? Though all ungodly
men should break out with their sacrilegious license, the holiness of God’s name still shines…we should wish God to have the honor he deserves; men should never speak or think of him without the highest reverence. To this is opposed the profanity that has always been too common and even today is abroad in the world. Hence the need of this petition, which ought to have been superfluous if even a little godliness existed among us. (III.20.41)

Calvin believed the Lord’s Prayer, as scripture should be used often but not just in a rote way. He thought Christ’s teaching is summarized here and that we can not only learn about prayer, but also about God and ourselves in this great prayer.
“Our Father”- Calvin was wonderful in his emphasis that we are adopted as children of God. Because God indeed is our Father, and not like any earthly father, we should approach him with confidence. Because God is our Father, that makes us brothers and sisters who believe in Him.
“In heaven”- Calvin saw a threefold meaning here: 1) God transcends all place; 2) He is lifted above all chance and change; 3) He holds together all of the universe and controls it by His power.
“Hallowed be thy name” calls upon people to give honor to God, giving Him highest reverence. We live in a day in which many profane the name of God. People are travelling all over the country debating the existence of God (there was a debate at the University of South Carolina this past February that drew too much attention). Calvin rightly said we cannot control such things, but we can- in our prayer life- lift up the reverence of God.

Prayer: Lord, you alone are truly holy. Help us to grow in our respect for you. Help our lives to glorify your holy name. Amen.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

March 7- Reason to Pray

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.
March 7
Prayer and Human Need and Intercession

“The eyes of all look to you and you give them their food at their proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:15,16)
“I will lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made the heavens and the earth.” Psalm 121:1,2

Calvin: We clearly see how destitute and devoid of all good things man is, and how he lacks all aids to salvation. Therefore, if he seeks resources to succor him in his need, he must go outside himself and get them elsewhere. It was afterward explained to us that the Lord willingly and freely reveals himself in his Christ. For in Christ he offers all happiness in place of our misery, all wealth in place of our neediness; in him he opens to us the heavenly treasures that our whole faith may contemplate his beloved Son, our whole expectation depend upon him, and our whole hope cleave to and rest in him.
But after we have been instructed by faith to recognize that whatever we need and whatever we lack is in God, and in our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the Father willed all the fullness of his bounty to abide [cf. Colossians 1:19; John 1:16] so that we may all draw from it as from an overflowing spring, it remains for us to seek in him, and in prayers to ask of him, what we have learned to be in him. Otherwise, to know God as the master and bestower of all good things, who invites us to request them of him, and still not go to him and not ask of him—this would be of as little profit as for a man to neglect a treasure, buried and hidden in the earth, after it had been pointed out to him.

Calvin began every worship service with these words: “Our help is in the name of the Lord who made the heavens and the earth.” Calvin was very aware of the limits of human beings, and our state of spiritual, mental, and physical poverty. He was, in contrast, very much aware of God’s great majesty and willingness to help us in our time of need. Prayer for him was the link between these great gaps.
Prayer is not made in a vacuum. It is elicited from human need. Calvin gave six reasons we should pray in the Institutes. They are worthy of our thought:
1) That we would be motivated to seek Him and find refuge in Him.
2) That we would be open to God- so we know He sees our wrong and also He sees our desires.
3) That we learn to be grateful to Him for what He gives us.
4) That we might think on God and His kingdom (Mt. 6:33- seek first His kingdom and righteousness).
5) That we may enjoy the answers to prayer with greater delight.
6) To confirm his providence in our minds- that he is a never-failing help in our time of need.
Calvin then gives four rules to help us in our prayer life.
1) We should prepare our hearts and minds for prayer (focus and reliance on the Holy Spirit)
2) We should pray according to our need and desire- not out of rote duty.
3) Stand humbly before God abandoning self-glory and seeking His glory.
4) Pray with a sure hope that our prayers will be answered.
Calvin was against praying just for the sake of praying. While he was not opposed to using written prayers (like the Lord’s Prayer or other ancient prayers), he was opposed to saying things over and over again (like the rosary) as a king of good luck charm. I can remember a rote and heart-felt prayer: “Lord, help me pass this exam, help me pass this exam, help me pass this exam.” Calvin really wanted us to have a balance of public prayers together and private prayer that comes from our hearts. 95% of Americans pray. I’ve always found it interesting that even unbelievers pray. Calvin even points out that God sometimes answers an unbeliever’s prayer. But for Calvin, prayer is not just about getting an answer (though he strongly believed that God answers prayer). Prayer is also about getting closer to God and allowing God to glorify Himself by the answers to prayer. We are commanded to pray, but it is not something we approach simply because we have to do it. It is a tool, a blessing God has given us.
Calvin spoke of praying when we rise, when we eat, and when we retire. Today, I will think about the prayer requests from church at each time I bless my food.

Prayer: Lord you see our hearts. Help us to see you as our help, our refuge and our strength. Amen.

Friday, March 6, 2009

March 6- World Day of Prayer

March 6-
World Day of Prayer- The Holy Spirit and Prayer
“In the same way the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but eh Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26,27)
Calvin: how dangerous it is to seek from the Lord what our greed dictates; at the same time he discloses our unhappiness, in that we cannot even open our mouths before God without danger unless the Spirit instructs us in the right pattern for prayer (III.20.34)

World Day of Prayer was a day originally instituted by women to pray for women and children around the world that they would know Christ, and be helped in their lives. The first Friday in March is World Day of Prayer.
Prayer must come from the heart, but it is always inspired by the Spirit. Calvin saw the dangers of the Anabaptists who separated the Spirit from the Word. The Spirit inspired the Word and illuminates the Word. The Spirit helps us to pray according to the Word as well, inspiring us to use the words of scripture, and consoling us as we pray and read through scripture.
The danger for Calvin is to use mindless words, babbling. Jesus forbade such ramblings as show and meaningless (Matthew 6:5-7). Instead, the Spirit uses our minds and the scriptures to help our prayers be meaningful and purposeful. The Lord’s Prayer (that we shall look at soon) is an example of a prayer in scripture that we can use. But even in this great prayer, we should not just run through it like it was a magic charm or amulet. Rather we should think as we pray, relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us.
Today at my church (Lake Murray Presbyterian) there will be a prayer meeting at 7:00 p.m. in the church to pray for our world, for missions, and for the church (our presbytery meets the next day to talk about General Assembly). We will take prayer requests and pray through some scriptures.

Prayer: Lord, we pray for our world- especially for women and children on this World Day of Prayer. We pray for your church that it will remain true to your will and not waver nor falter. Lord, you looked at people with compassion and saw they were like sheep without a shepherd. You asked us to pray that you would raise up workers for your harvest field. We ask that you would give us that same heart of compassion. We ask that you would indeed draw people to yourself- the Great Sherpherd of the sheep. We ask that you would raise up new leaders who would be faithful to your Spirit and Word. We pray that the love, grace, and peace you offer will be known to all people. Amen.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

March 5- What is Prayer?

(Albrecht Durer's Praying Hands- Durer was a contemporary of Calvin)

March 5
Prayer as an Expression of the heart to God
“Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken. “ (Ps. 55:22). “Cast all your anxiety on him, for he cares for you.” I Peter 5:7

Calvin: God permits us to reveal our hearts familiarly before him; for prayer is nothing else than the opening up of our heart before God; as the greatest alleviation is, to pour our cares, distresses, and anxieties into his bosom. (Commentary on Isaiah 63:16).

Some have defined prayer as “talking to God” or “conversing with God.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism hints at Calvin’s teaching when it says, “prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God for things that are agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ, with confession of sins, and thankful acknowledgement of his mercies.” Prayer is taking our hearts to the Lord.
Prayer is the disburdening of the soul to God. Other people may not be able to handle our complaints, our anxieties. But if we take our concerns to God in prayer we are cleansed of our complaint, and God is called into our situation. Calvin saw one purpose in affliction is to not let it eat at our hearts but to unburden ourselves to Him. We are not to complain all the time to each other (Phil. 2:10), nor are we to bottle everything up inside. Our hearts are to be poured out to God- for He is able to do something about our situation.
Since we are not to pray for show (on street corners or in loud voices) but to the heart of God, we should seek to simplify our prayers. Our prayers do not depend on how flowery our words are, or with what eloquence we may speak. Jesus told us to go into our closet, shut the door and pray to our Father who is unseen. Prayer does not depend on the exterior things- posture or eloquence.
Calvin’s idea was that the heart should move and direct the tongue, and that the tongue should not go before the heart, and that the body should follow the mind of its own accord. Calvin noted that sometimes the heart is cold and needs to be warmed up with singing (from the tongue), or bowing down with the body. But even then the mind should follow the tongue and body or prayer should be avoided out of a desire to not be hypocritical.
Prayer: Lord, change our hearts as we talk to you in prayer. Help us to live our faith on the outside because you are changing us on the inside. Amen.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

March 4- Thanksgiving and Prayer

Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.
{Picture is of Genevan Psalter- the early Calvinists were known for their singing of the Psalms)

March 4
“Give thanks unto the Lord for He is good. His mercy endureth forever.” Psalm 106:1
“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:17-19)

Calvin: “Thanksgiving is the chief exercise in godliness in which we ought to engage during the whole of our life. “ (Psalm 50:3 commentary); “Our Lord gives all that is in the world as gifts to sustain us, in order that all life (and ourselves) give praise back to Him.” (CR 31:507). there is such a close connection between petition and thanksgiving that they may conveniently be included under one name. In asking and beseeching, we pour out our desires before God, seeking both those things which make for the extension of his glory and the setting forth of his name, and those benefits which conduce to our own advantage. In giving thanks, we celebrate with due praise his benefits toward us, and credit to his generosity every good that comes to us. (III.20.28)

Today is Noah’s Day- when the animals came out of the ark he said, “March forth!” A little pun in these trying times. You can bet Noah was glad to march forth out of that ark. He made a sacrifice of thanksgiving.
In tough economic times, thanksgiving for what we have lifts our spirits, and takes the edge off of our sorrow. Calvin often referred to thanksgiving as “the sacrifice of praise.” God wants us to give not just the sacrifices we bring, but the praise (Romans 12:1).
Thanksgiving and asking go together for Calvin. Both are for the glory of God, and both involve us in the person of God, recognizing God is our provider and the one who answers our prayers. Thanksgiving also is a check against selfish praying. When we give thanks to God for answered prayer it motivates us to pray some more. Calvin indicated that thanksgiving “opens the gate of prayer.”
If we were not thankful for the prayers that God answers, it does something to us and also to our relationship with God. If I never said “thank you” to those around me, then I would be self-centered. I am not likely to get more help if I don’t say “thanks” for the help already given. Human beings liked to be thanked. God does as well. In fact, God knows it is good for us to acknowledge Him in our lives. To live ungratefully is to find ourselves in a hell of selfishness.
So on March fourth, let us march forth with gratitude and prayer!
Prayer: Thank you God, for the gift of prayer. Thank you for the blessings that we have, even in an economy that is deteriorating. Thank you that you hear our prayers and are able to answer them.