Wednesday, April 29, 2009

4/30- Recognizing a True Church

(St. Pierre in Geneva where Calvin preached- side view)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

4/30- How to Tell if the Church is God’s

“Nevertheless I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my people into sexual immorality…So I will cast her on a bed of suffering…Not I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.” (Rev. 2:20-25)

Calvin: Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is not to be doubted, a church of God exists [cf. Ephesians 2:20]. For his promise cannot fail: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20]… If it has the ministry of the Word and honors it, if it has the administration of the sacraments, it deserves without doubt to be held and considered a church. For it is certain that such things are not without fruit. In this way we preserve for the universal church its unity, which devilish spirits have always tried to sunder; and we do not defraud of their authority those lawful assemblies which have been set up in accordance with local needs. (IV.1.9)

Why did Calvin talk about the “true marks of the church”? The church was very important to Calvin. The church is how we grow in our faith. There were some false churches and some true churches. It is so today. Calvin knew that these churches were not all Reformed. Unlike some, he did not believe that people had to believe just like him to get to heaven. He recognized Luther and Melanchthon. He recognized the Protestantism of England. He recognized Waldensian and Hussite Christians. In Presbyterian circles we call ministers, “minister of Word and sacrament” in order to show the importance of these two means of grace. The minister is to help safeguard both. Some in the spirit of super Puritanism seek to narrow the “purely preached and heard.” I remember after the Presbyterian split of the 1920’s some of those who broke off split again over views about amillennialism versus premillennialism. I remember once a couple from Bob Jones telling me I was going to hell because my hair was to my shoulders in college. The one side accused the other of not preaching the word “purely” if it disagreed with them- and therefore they weren’t the true church. It is too easy to say that God agrees with me on every point in my theology (including eschatology) and therefore if you do not agree with me you are not a true believer and not a part of the true church. Grace is needed in our beliefs as well as in our justification. The Westminster Confession of Faith states, “The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error.” We need more love and less divisive spirit. If Christians cannot get along, then the world will not believe our message of love. Of course, church itself is an unusual effort to learn to get along. One of the purposes of church is to learn to love and to have the opportunity to love other people. In my own denomination some churches are leaving just because they are tired of debating about the boundaries of ordination—even when we affirm the same boundaries. What happens is the ability of the church to sustain its standards are weakened. It is almost like a soldier leaving their post because they are tired of the war. If enough leave their post the army crumbles. The only reason to leave is if the church is heretical. If it is not, then to leave involves ourselves in the sin of schism- divisiveness- anti-love.
The other mark was the true administration of the sacraments- that is baptism and communion. Turretin (one of Calvin’s successors) said that the marks of word and sacrament assume belief in line with the Apostles’ Creed. Later reformers saw that the right administration means that they should be given by a minister and given only to believers or their offspring. If this is held in the loosest sense, then there should be more recognition of other Christian churches than there is today. But our sinful nature makes us want to draw our circle tighter so that others will be “just like me.” Grace in Word and Sacraments encourages us to draw the circle larger. Jesus did this when he told the disciples to go not only into Jerusalem but also into Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). In a time in which many churches are corrupt, Jesus' advice is to "hold on to what you have." This is a call not to do be paralyzed, but to be faithful. Holding onto faithfulness on the one hand (to the word, sacraments, and church) and love and grace on the other is so important!

Prayer: Give us wisdom, Lord to see your church at work, so that we can plug into that work. Help us also, Lord, to be loving and gracious to others yet also holding onto our faith with steadfast love for you. Amen.

4/29- The Visible Church

(St. Pierre in Geneva where Calvin preached)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

4/29- The Importance of the Visible Church

19 "Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." (Jesus- Matthew 18:19,20);

Calvin: "But because it is now our intention to discuss the visible church, let us learn even from the simple title “mother” how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we should know her. For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels [Matthew 22:30]. Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives. Furthermore, away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation, as Isaiah [Isaiah 37:32] and Joel [Joel 2:32] testify. Ezekiel agrees with them when he declares that those whom God rejects from heavenly life will not be enrolled among God’s people [Ezekiel 13:9]. On the other hand, those who turn to the cultivation of true godliness are said to inscribe their names among the citizens of Jerusalem
[cf. Isaiah 56:5; Psalm 87:6]. For this reason, it is said in another alm: “Remember me, O Jehovah, with favor toward thy people; visit me with salvation: that I may see the well-doing of thy chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the joy of thy nation, that I may be glad with thine inheritance” [Psalm 106:4-5 p.; cf. Psalm 105:4, Vg., etc.]. By these words God’s fatherly favor and the especial witness of spiritual life are limited to his flock, so that it is always disastrous to leave the church.(IV.1.4)

For most in our secular society, the church is icing on the cake but not the cake itself. The church is something that may help us by inspiring us, encouraging us in faith, or strengthening us. When we feel like we don’t need the help, we don’t come or take part. We despise the motivation of coming to church because we feel we “ought” to come. We are natural rebels against this feeling of “ought” or “have to.” We do not want to make church lord over our own choices. In effect, we want God to be God when we want Him to be. We want to choose the church when it is convenient for us to do so. In effect, this puts us in the place of God. It is not that God decides for us, we decide. Yet, when our hearts are right with God, we want to come to church and it is not such a task- even when the church is corrupt.
Calvin lived in a day in which the church was very corrupt. He could have easily given up on the church, but instead he sought to transform and reform it. It is the same today. People give up on the church as irrelevant (in part because we have made it irrelevant). But we are designed to be with others. We are designed to love. Love is not something that can be artificially duplicated by cyber church. It is hard to have communion over the internet or on the lake fishing (baptism maybe but not the Lord’s Supper : ). Just as we can play football by ourselves, we can be Christian by ourselves. But football was designed to be a team sport, and Christianity was designed for at the least two or three together.
Some despise the organization or institution of the church. Certainly the organization of the church needs to be "reformed and ever reforming." Bureaucracies need to ve renewed and not bastioned. Yet some despise organization at all. But when two or three are gathered together and they like it, they immediately start to organize. When shall we meet again? Where shall we meet? Who will lead us? Such are the questions of organization. Jesus himself helped organize the church. He chose twelve. He trained them- teaching them to care for the sick, the hurting, the hungry. They in turn organized, eventually choosing deacons to help the widows and poor. Organization should help things run more efficiently so we can worship and not worry about secondary things. But organization itself can never insure or replace the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is the One who transforms the church- and He does. He also transforms and changes us as we gather with the two or three in His name.

Prayer: We pray for your church Lord. Strengthen it, as it is a gathering of your people. Strengthen our love for it today. Amen.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

4/28- Calvin and the Plague

(1411 image of the plague found in a Bible)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death and Hell followed close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague…The rest of the people who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or thefts. (Rev. 6:7,8; 9:20,21

Calvin: "Whenever there is a question about choosing a minister, whenever, finally, any difficult matter of great importance is to be discussed, or again when there appear the judgments of the Lord’s anger (as pestilence, war, and famine)—this is a holy ordinance and one salutary for all ages, that pastors urge the people
to public fasting and extraordinary prayers (IV.12.14) Again, 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. For where he causes danger to appear he warns that he is ready." (IV. 12.17)

Calvin faced the plague throughout his life. His pious mother died when he was three (1512), probably of the plague (Halsema p.12). In 1523 the plague hit his hometown of Noyon again and Calvin left to study in Paris in part to escape the plague (he never came back). When Calvin was in exile in Strasburg he visited some of his parishioners who had the plague. Keep in mind the plague was seen as very contagious, but Calvin visited the afflicted anyway. Calvin instituted a hospital in Geneva just for people who had the plague, and also a separate hospital just for visitors who got sick- probably to keep the plague in isolation (Ecclesiastical Ordinances 4th order). His fellow reformer, Zwingli, had almost died of the plague in Zurich Switzerland, but miraculously recovered. Geneva was hit with the plague for two years while Calvin was there(1543-1545). Some of Calvin’s minister friends (eg. Pierre Blanchet) died of the plague while ministering to the sick. Calvin offered his services as a chaplain to those in the plague hospital, but the city refused his offer. Calvin was very conscious of trying to contain the plague. He also several times had asked for special prayer and fasting to occur if the plague broke out. For Calvin, God’s providential hand was at work in any disaster. God maybe trying to “warn” us to follow Him. For Calvin the most important thing was not this life- with its crosses and sin, but the next life. He saw disasters (including medical disasters) as means to keep us from falling away from faith, and drawing closer to God in prayer. He did not believe that plagues only killed evil people (his mother was certainly regarded by him as very godly-yet she died and so did his friend Blanchet). Yet, he did not see sickness or disaster simply as meaningless events. Nor did he see God as uncaring in the midst of the sickness or disaster. Sickness was another cross to bear that drew us closer to God and heaven. Calvin was sick most of his life, and died a slow ten year death from typhoid and lung problems. Yet he faced his problems and sickness with real courage and a sense of purpose.
Today, we are afflicted too. There is real panic in our world with this swine flu outbreak. People in Thailand are making others walk through thermal imaging screens at airports in case they have a fever. Millions are wearing masks. In America schools are shutting down, and the newspeople are talking about this almost non-stop. We also are facing some of the other plagues talked about in Revelation- War (Afghanistan), Economic Crisis (and hunger- 840 million according to the UN). The real question is how do we respond to it. The typical response by Americans today is that the government or president should do something about it. Americans today unlike Americans in the past or most peoples of the world today, have a total disconnect between their spirituality and the world around them. FDR, Truman, Kennedy called for the nation to fast and pray. Reagan called for a National Day of Prayer (First Thursday of each May- 5/7). I wonder if Obama will call the nation to pray on May 7? Even in the last ten years, we have become so secularized that we do not see God as playing a role or even able to help us in our time of need. We have placed our trust in medicine, government, technology and know-how. Yet there remains a mystery of life, and parts of life beyond our control. The Bible speaks of a time at the end of history when people refuse to repent or see God's hand in disaster (Rev. 9:20,21). I hope we are not there. Calvin would call us to pray and also to examine our lives for sin- and repent of our sins. I don’t think that is a bad idea at all!

Prayer: Sovereign Lord, we call to you to have mercy upon us and our nation. Use technology, government, medicine, and above all your Holy Spirit to heal us, help us, and make us whole. Above all, draw us back to yourself. Amen.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sunday, April 26, 2009

4-27 The Invisible Church and Calvin

(Picture of Calvin preaching- and many making fun of him)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

24 Jesus told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 "The owner's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, didn't you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?'
28 " 'An enemy did this,' he replied. "The servants asked him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?' 29 " 'No,' he answered, 'because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.' "

Calvin: Holy Scripture speaks of the church in two ways. Sometimes by the term “church” it means that which is actually in God’s presence, into which no persons are received but those who are children of God by grace of adoption and true members of Christ by sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Then, indeed, the church includes not only the saints presently living on earth, but all the elect from the beginning of the world. Often, however, the name “church” designates the whole multitude of men spread over the earth who profess to worship one God and Christ. By baptism we are initiated into faith in him;… Just as we must believe, therefore, that the former church, invisible to us, is visible to the eyes of God alone, so we are commanded to revere and keep communion with the latter, which is called “church” in respect to men. (IV.1.9)

When Billy Graham used to say, “There are some of you out there who have been to church all your life but in your heart of hearts you have not made a commitment to Jesus Christ as Savior. You may be a deacon, or an elder or a pastor, but you must get right with God.” Billy Graham was affirming Calvin’s idea of the invisible church. There are people who have gone through the motions of church, but their hearts haven’t been given to the Lord. The invisible church is the church God sees. He sees right to the heart of people. The Pharisees were religious, but Jesus saw them as “Whitewashed tombs.” From a pastor’s point of view, there have been people who join the church not because they believe but because they have a variety of reasons. Maybe their wife made them join. Maybe they joined for their kids. Maybe they thought their business would be improved by networking in church. Maybe they liked the music or were wowed by the worship service. Calvin said that those who were really Christians were called “elect.”
Calvin lived in a time in which the church was corrupt and had strayed away from the teaching of scripture. In an environment where a pope or a bishop was a feudal political office as much as it was a spiritual office, Calvin calls the church back to its spiritual roots. It seems in the passage above, that Jesus recognized that on this side of heaven there would be weeds along with the wheat. Augustine of Hippo came up with the concept of the invisible church against the heresy of Donatism. The Donatists believed in a perfect church and were especially outspoken against a priest who had betrayed the faith during the Roman persecution but still were performing the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. They thought the priest wasn’t effective. Augustine emphasized grace. So the invisible church idea has a twofold effect. On the one hand it emphasizes that we are not perfect yet (though longing for our perfection in heaven). On the other hand, it emphasizes that God sees perfectly. In our day, the church is largely corrupted with false doctrine, and even some of those who have orthodox doctrine are falling away into sin. In such a day, we need to believe strongly in grace- and that God sees those who are truly his. Yet we also need to recognize that the church is going to be imperfect on this side of heaven. Calvin was a reformer. He sought to reform the church’s corruption and not give up on it. I think we need people who will do that today.
Calvin clearly said “we should not withdraw from church because of its impurity, its faults of its members, or because they do not agree with the way it is governed” (Wallace p. 233). Calvin said that Christ told the parable of the wheat and tares “to restrain and moderate the zeal of those who fancy that they are not at liberty to join in a society with any but pure angels.” (Mt. 19:389 comm.). So on the one hand Calvin believes in assurance of you own faith, but on the other, only God sees into the heart of your neighbor to see whether they believe or not.

Prayer: Lord, let my judgments be gracious. Give me patience with your church until the end.

4-26- Calvin on Christian Education

(Cathedral in Noyon France where Calvin grew up; young Calvin talking to a family)

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

Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.” (Ecclesiastes 12:1) Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. ..Impress these commandments on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up. (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)
Calvin: We see how God, who could in a moment perfect his own, nevertheless desires them to grow up into manhood solely under the education of the church… But as he did not entrust the ancient folk to angels but raised up teachers from the earth truly to perform the angelic office, so also today it is his will to teach us
through human means. (IV.1.5)

In my church, today is youth Sunday. It is a great opportunity for youth to claim the church by leading in worship. It is no accident that Calvin grew up to serve the Lord. One of Calvin’s great memories of his mother (who died when he was 3) was her piety and love for God. His father was the bishop’s lawyer and was eventually fired from that position for disagreeing with the bishop. Yet his father respected the faith if not the bishop. In medieval times there was a system to help young people become clergy. Often it was a political appointment because the clergy were so powerful and rich in a feudal society. Calvin himself had a clerical benefice. It was a way to get paid for being placed in charge of a chapel even though he didn’t preach in it regularly. The process was to become a catechumen, a confirmand, an acolyte, cleric with a benefice as a young boy; go to school; become a deacon; then a priest and perhaps a bishop or greater. Calvin emphasized being taught in the church more than the process of becoming a minister, because the process can become dry and without spirit. The Presbyterian church has gone back to a process of ministry recently- going to inquirer, to candidate, to seminary student (passing seminary, ordination exams, presbytery exams), to ordained minister.
Calvin emphasized instead giving a good Christian education to young people. He said that God could have raised up angels, but instead raises up teachers to lead the children. God works through the church and the people of the church to bring children up. So teaching children and young people is so very important. Too many today downplay the importance of church. But one of the great secondary blessings of church to parents is having someone else reinforce the beliefs and values they have been trying to teach their children. I can remember clearly Dr. John Leith saying that he would rather have as his minister someone who grew up in the church , though not as serious about their beliefs than someone who is very zealous and excited about their faith but did not grow up in the church. It took me years to understand this point of view. Excitement can die down and usually does. But experience in worship as the people of God is an enriching experience that usually keeps the church in the narrow way. Christian education is an important part of the Christian life. Calvin believed strongly in loving God with the mind as well as the heart and soul. One of his cherished accomplishments was starting the academy in Geneva for young people and future ministers. One of the great gifts the Protestant Reformation gave was literacy. Before only the educated clergy and a few nobles could read the Bible, and that was in Latin or Greek and Hebrew. Luther translated the Bible into German. Calvin had the Bible translated into French and English (Geneva Bible). They wanted everyone to read so that they could read the scriptures for themselves. Christian education was not separated from education. Today we need to recapture the idea that education is not just for a job, or for pride (think Tower of Babel-where new technology led to downfall, pride, and separation from God and each other). Education is a blessing that we should use to glorify God. In our increasingly secular society, it is so very important for parents to see the need for their children to have faith. Faith is a gift that helps the young face the problems of life with strength and courage. Faith is an inspiration that keeps young people from making bad decisions. Faith does not come by accident. Even though Calvin believed in the sovereignty of God, he also emphasized the need to use human means to teach young people. God uses the church, its Christian education program, teachers and parents as blessings to children when they seek to honor God.

Prayer: Lord, help us to care for young people. Give us grace to speak and teach our young people.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

4-25- The Day Calvin Was Exiled from Geneva

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

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. For in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10,11)

Calvin: Paul specifcally warns us we shall suffer not only persecutions but also reproaches because we hope in the living God [1 Timothy 4:10]. Thus, in another passage he bids us walk after his example through ill repute and good repute [2 Corinthians 6:8]. Yet such a cheerfulness is not required of us as to remove all feeling of bitterness and pain. Otherwise, in the cross there would be no forbearance of the saints unless they were tormented by pain and anguished by trouble. If there were no harshness in poverty, no torment in diseases, no sting in disgrace, no dread in death—what fortitude or moderation would there be in bearing them with indifference? But since each of these, with an inborn bitterness, by its very nature bites the hearts of us all, the fortitude of the believing man is brought to light if—tried by the feeling of such bitterness—however grievously he is troubled with it, yet valiantly resisting, he surmounts it. Here his forbearance reveals itself: if sharply pricked he is still restrained by the fear of God from breaking into any intemperate act. Here his cheerfulness shines if, wounded by sorrow and grief, he rests in the spiritual consolation of God. (III.8.8)

Calvin and Farel were kicked out of Geneva (see blog on 4/15) on this date in 1538. The dispute was over the right of magistrates to say that someone should not have communion. Calvin and Farel appealed to a Swiss Protestant Synod in Zurich after they were exiled from Geneva. The synod upheld Calvin’s view. But when Calvin and Farel tried to enter Geneva again, they were met with news that Geneva’s Councils had rejected the synod decision. Calvin was a bit relieved to be leaving Geneva, even though he felt God’s call there. He writes that the days and nights before they left they had been frequently and vigorously insulted. People would sing course songs under their windows. Gun shots even rang out under Calvin’s window. He remembered this until his dying day, recounting it.
Calvin believed pain was real. Unlike some, he didn’t just believe in having a stoic “stiff upper lip.” He didn’t deny the reality of pain. He did not embrace or cherish pain either. Yet, he did not hide from pain. He always chose to do what he perceived to be God’s will- even if it wasn’t comfortable. In our day, in our country, this would be a rare. America chooses comfort and convenience. I just watched a TV show that portrayed the life of a family. The children just sit around and watch TV and play video games all day long. The parents sacrifice to protect their children from hardship and tough choices. They grant their kids whatever they want- cook them their desire, and give them their every whim. This is an effort to show love, but it takes away confidence and also the ability to rely on God in the tough times. At the same time, there are a growing number of people who make fun of believers and Christianity without any social backlash. In some circles and many blogs it is the socially acceptable thing to not just disagree with Christians but to deride them (as many did with Calvin). Our Lord (and Calvin following Him) give us examples of resisting persecution with grace and reliance upon the Father. They did not physically fight back, but resisted by their teachings, by prayer, and reliance upon the Holy Spirit. The results were a resurrection for Jesus, and a calling back from exile for Calvin. In the last 100 years there have been more Christian martyrs than all the other centuries put together (think Soviet gulags, Maoist cultural revolution, the Bonhoeffers and Tenbooms in Nazi Germany, etc.). Tertullian said the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. That is, wherever Christians have resisted persecution with grace, it has won the people over. So today, let us trust in God, bear our crosses, pray for those who persecute us, and stand up for our faith with grace.

Prayer: Lord, we pray for those who make fun of us. We ask that you would send your Spirit to them to not only convict them, but to draw them to yourself. At the same time, give us strength to resist temptation and persecution. Give us grace, O Lord, to live gracefully for you. Amen.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

4-24 Wrestling with Fire, Passing through despair

(Myrtle Beach Sun News picture of wildfire in North Myrtle Beach, SC 4/09)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Do not fear for I am with you. I have summoned you by name and you are mine. When you pass through the waters , they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God , the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1-3)

Calvin: It becomes us to wrestle against despair, in order that our sorrow, incurable though it may seem, may not shut our mouths and keep us from pouring our out prayers before God.” (Ps. 77:3 comm.)

Eliphaz reminded Job (4:7-10) of his own despair and loneliness. Calvin said that we don’t need an outside agent to remind us of this. “We each carry within us the seed bed of sufficient vexation to drive us to despair. Against such temptation to despair our faith must stand and refuse to yield.” (Wallace on Calvin’s thought on suffering p. 257). “The whole process of self-denial is indeed simply the constant struggle between the spirit and the flesh” (flesh is the old human nature and spirit is our regenerated believing nature ).
Two days ago the Chief Financial Officer of Freddie Mac, David Kellerman, committed suicide. His company had received about $60 billion in federal aid, and had basically become nationalized. But the latest forecasts showed more red ink, and the SEC was doing an investigation. You can imagine the huge amount of pressure on the 41 year old. He was in a very public eye, as Freddie Mac was in charge of 13 million home loans. There is a lot of despair in our counry right now. GM said it is furloughing its plants for 9 weeks this summer. Many have lost jobs and others have had their salaries cut by huge amounts. If you are already living on the edge, this makes it very difficult. Pride takes a plunge when you have to humble yourself. There was a time when people were saying there was not going to be a bear market, and that we had put so many safeguards in place, the housing market could not really be hurt (they were wrong). Life is a struggle. But there is hope found in faith. Our ultimate hope is not found in our reputation, or in how much we have. It is found in God who cannot be taken away.
The verse for the day does not say we can avoid the flooding waters or avoid the fires of life. It does promise God’s presence and God’s ultimate deliverance. God is like the fireproof blanket that we spread over us when the fire is rushing over us. There is hope even in the face of flood or fire or disaster.

Prayer: Lord, in our day when there is so much heartache, comfort us with your presence, and the hope of your deliverance. Keep us from despair. Instead, let your hope radiate through us. Amen.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

4-23 Cleansing through suffering

(I can't think of a more vivid image of suffering in our day than the twin towers. It was horror for those inside and shaping for those outside).
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

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 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)

The headlines said “The global economy is expected to lurch into reverse this year for the first time since World War II with appalling consequences for nations large and small — trillions of dollars in lost business, millions of people thrust into hunger and homelessness and crime on the rise. (AP 4/22). Economic pain is on the rise. I was talking to one of our young people at church today. They said that they recognize that there are some in the world who never have hope of anything in life. They said we could use the economic downturn to help us understand the poor in the world. How very true! How very Calvinistic. Calvin was a strong believer that God is always teaching us and molding us in His providence and by the events around us. The suffering we face can be a means to help us sympathize. But suffering, when we see it as a way to get rid of our dullness to God by means of bearing our crosses and denying ourselves (Luke 9:23), then suffering is a means of Cleansing. It is like cleaning our glasses. Suffering is a washing-- a “baptism by fire”, if you will, to purify away our indifference to God and wake us up to the reality behind all realities.

Prayer: Take our pain, O Lord and turn it into your gain. Open our eyes to see you at work in the world and in our lives.

4-22 Suffering on this earth

(Ms. California answering the controversial question)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous. (I Peter 3:15-17)

Calvin: If, being innocent and of good conscience, we are stripped of our possessions by the wickedness or impious folk, we are indeed reduced to penury among men. But in God’s presence in heaven our true riches are thus increased. If we are cast out of our own house, then we will be the more intimately received into God’s family. If we are vexed and despised, we but take all he firmer root in Christ. If we are branded with disgrace and ignominy, we but have a fuller place in the Kingdom of God. If we are slain, entrance into the blessed life will thus be open to us. Let us be ashamed to esteem less than the shadowy and fleeting allurements of the present life, those things on which the Lord has set so great a value. (III.8.7)

Yesterday at the Miss USA pageant, Ms. California, Carrie Prejean, was asked about her feelings on gay marriage by an openly gay pageant judge. His question was, “Vermont recently became the fourth state to legalize same sex marriage. Do you think every state should follow suit why or why not?” It was probably the most controversial question ever asked in any beauty pageant. He set her up and then was violently offended by her answer as Ms. California (later calling her a “B” and that she would have won had she answered that question differently). Now this should be kept in context. California, which has traditionally been the most liberal state in the union, voted to not have gay marriages in proposition 8. Ms. California, I believe, was asked this question in part because of the judge’s own prejudice against Calfiornia’s action. She gave her own feelings, because that was what was asked of her. Her feelings were informed by her faith and what she felt the Bible said.
What does this have to do with a devotion? Just this. Ms. California suffered for her answer that was informed by her faith. She did not back down in order to get ahead or to be nice. She could have been non-committal saying something like, “That is a political question, and Ms. USA should not be involved with politics but should be kind to everyone.” But instead she really answered the divisive, alienating question. This kind of abusive, aggressive, and bullying positioning (by a person in authority) has been done over and over to promote idealistic causes. Would that we seek to be kind to everyone- even those who disagree with us. But, having said that, we should also be kind to others, even when they persecute us. Ms. California when asked how she would react to the judge's calling her terrible names after the pageant said merely that she would "pray for him." That is the high road blessing those who curse. This debate was not won by words, but by actions. Christ certainly suffered wrongly at the hands of his judges too. He left us an example of turning the other cheek as well. Peter said to be prepared to answer everyone, with gentleness and respect. He said it was better to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. Calvin certainly never backed down from his beliefs either. Miss California stood up for her beliefs. She is a rare bird. I hope that when I am asked a tough question I will not slink away in order to get ahead.

I was originally going to write on Earth Day today. Calvin specifically saw us as stewards of all of life. This calls us to care for the earth on which we live. I am sure Calvin would caution, however (in his moderating way), against those who come close or give into worshipping the earth itself.

Prayer: While we are here Lord, thank you for your great blessings on this earth. We ask that you would help us to be good stewards. Keep us from clinging to this life too closely. Instead help us to find our refuge in you, especially in times of trouble or heartache.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

4-21 Perseverance

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

Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12

Calvin: There is no other reason why some persevere to the end, while others fall at the beginning of the course. For perseverance itself is indeed also a gift of God , which he does not bestow on all indiscriminately, but imparts to whom he pleases. (2:5.3). “The righteous …will be remembered forever.” [Psalm 112:6.] And
another, “The Lord will redeem the souls of his servants.” [Psalm
34:22.] For the Lord often leaves his servants not only to be troubled by
the lust of the wicked but to be torn and destroyed. He lets good men
languish in darkness and filth, while the wicked almost shine among the
stars. And he does not so cheer them with the brightness of his
countenance that they enjoy lasting happiness. For this reason not even
David disguises the fact that if believers keep their eyes fastened upon the
present state of things, they will be smitten by very grievous temptation,
as if there were for innocence neither favor nor reward with God. So very
greatly does impiety prosper and flourish, while the company of the godly
is oppressed by disgrace, poverty, contempt, and every kind of cross!
“My foot,” David said, “had almost stumbled, my steps had well-nigh
slipped …while I was envious of the prosperity of fools, while I saw the
good fortune of the wicked.” [Psalm 73:2-3 P.] Yet he concludes his
statement: “I pondered whether I could understand this, but it is a torment
to my spirit, until I shall go into the sanctuary of the Lord and perceive
their end” [Psalm 73:16-17] [II.10.16]

This week in Calvin’s life was one of his roughest. This was the week that he was kicked out of Geneva in 1538. Calvin hadn’t wanted to go to Geneva in the first place, and went primarily because Farel threatened him with God’s wrath if he didn’t answer God’s call. But after answering the call, Calvin was told by the Council in Geneva to go somewhere else. So this week in my blogs we’ll look at suffering and perseverance. Before we look at suffering, let us look at our resolution to persevere in suffering, and perseverance in general.
There is perseverance through suffering and there is perseverance to salvation. For Calvin, these things are not necessarily separate, just distinctions in the same act. When we persevere through suffering, we are making it closer to the end. Perseverance through both suffering and to salvation is a gift of God.
Today some are giving up on their faith. There are so many pressures. There are many skeptics out there who would encourage you to doubt just for the sake of doubting. There is not the external supports to the faith as there once was. When I was a child the public schools in the south basically supported the Protestant church beliefs. But now (right or wrong) there is little support. Many are giving up because the churches are wavering on their belief themselves. Churches have been dividing at rapid rates since the mid-1960s. It is not a conducive atmosphere for peace and inspiration. So some just stay home.
Calvin has a word for us today. In his day the church was divisive. Every doctrine of the church was thrown into question (which is why heretics like Servetus were springing up). Sometimes the best people were being kicked out of church (as Calvin was kicked out of France and then Geneva). On top of that there was little physical comfort in Calvin’s day. While Calvin lived to 54, the average person of his time lived to about 40. There was no heat, ac, lights, indoor plumbing, antibiotics, washers/driers. It was hard to get access to the best of writings (no google searches back then). There were no computers much less typewriters or copying machines to help with writing. Yet Calvin wrote voluminously. Calvin persevered through his wife’s death, at least three miscarriages, rejection of his writings, being mocked by those in Geneva and those outside. He lived in fear for his life. He had very few possessions at all. Yet he persevered to the end. He is a living testament to perseverance. Calvin believed that the passages in scripture that spoke of the good being blessed must be interpreted in the light of persevering to heaven. While it is possible that God blesses in this life, the ultimate blessing is found in heaven (II.10.16). I believe Calvin's perseverance warrants that we listen to what he has to say.

Prayer: Help us, O God to not give up. Give us grace to persevere in the face of temptation, sin, and the headaches of life.

Monday, April 20, 2009

4-20 Christ's resurection and Meditation on the Future Life

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

4/20- Meditation on the Future Life- and the resurrection

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and staining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14

Calvin: “Now our blockishness arises from the fact that our minds, stunned by the empty dazzlement of riches, power, and honors, become so deadened that they can see no father.” “Now it remains for us to know what is the nature of faith; it is to contemplate the things incomprehensible to our senses; it is to forsake the world and to look for the kingdom of God; it is to cling to the pure and simple word proceeding from the mouth of God, and not to regard that which we are able to perceive here.” CR: 50:444-445

Certainly Calvin’s “meditation on the future life” had to do with Christ’s resurrection. For Calvin, the resurrected Christ gives us a glimpse of heaven and what we will be like in the future life. Meditation on the future life, you will remember (blog 2/28-3/3) is the key to vivification (after our mortification= self-denial and cross bearing). The resurrection shows the power of God over the allurements of the world- riches, power, and honor (today in America we would add sex or living by our feelings).
Calvin did stress the value of life on earth, and the desire to make this world a better place. However, he was also aware of the limits of improvement and even conversion here on this earth. The best we can do here is limited by the problems of this life. In heaven, the obstacles to doing God’s will are removed (including our own sinfulness, the sinfulness of others, our lack of perception, and the anomalies of life). C.S. Lewis once said that the people who did the most earthly good were the ones who had the most heavenly thoughts. Thinking heavenly thoughts is a very Calvinistic thing. There are some Christian forms of spirituality that emphasize only the here and now, as if heaven were purely secondary. But if there is a heaven, it makes sense that we do not ignore it. Heaven is where our hopes and dreams are fulfilled (as our dreams are intertwined with God’s will or dream). Much has been written about the American Dream lately. Some are saying that the American dream cannot be fulfilled because of current economic conditions. If that dream is that we will have all that we need in the here and now, then that is correct. The American dream has involved the idea that anyone can be successful in this life. That someone from a log cabin like Abraham Lincoln may become president. Perhaps the election of Obama is another embodiment of that dream. The Christian dream is that anyone- from any culture, from any nation, from any language group, with any educational background, whether they are rich or poor, good looking or ugly, from any place can go to heaven. It is a “whosoever will come” idea. It is a “for God so loved the world that whosoever believeth” idea. The fact that Calvin says we ought to meditate on the future life, is an invitation to all people who will believe. The early African American spirituals and their meditation on heaven (think “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” “I’ve Got a Home”) concretely illustrate the freeing power of the meditation on the future life. This life’s chains do not hold us forever, just as the chains of death could not hold Jesus. Our dream is to continue to put our hope in God in heaven.

Prayer: Father, thank you that this life is not all there is, and Christ’s resurrection reminds us of that. Help us to put our hope in you rather than on the temporary things in this life. Amen.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

4-19- Confidence and Boldness

(Rock of Gibralter- symbol of confidence, assurance- Christ is our "rock")
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

4/19- Very truly I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed from death to life. (John 5:24)

Calvin: Faith produces confidence, which again, in its turn, produces boldness. There are three stages in our progress. First, we believe the promises of God; next, by relying on them, we obtain that confidence, which is accompanied by holiness and peace of mind; and, last of all, comes boldness, which enables us to banish fear, and to come with firmness and steadiness into the presence of God. To separate faith from confidence would be an attempt to take away heat and light from the sun. I acknowledge, indeed, that, in proportion to the measure of faith, confidence is small in some and greater in others; but faith will never be found unaccompanied by these effects or fruits. A trembling, hesitating, doubting conscience, will always be a sure evidence of unbelief; but a firm, steady faith, will prove to be invincible against the gates of hell. (Ephesians 3:12 commentary).

Calvin says that faith produces confidence and boldness. Confidence is “possession of a peaceful and god heart and mind.” Boldness is “the power to banish fear and to come with firmness and boldness into the presence of God.” Boldness is not pride, for boldness involves humility to God. Boldness also does not mean we have no need to care about our actions or to pray. But godly boldness, brought on by faith, stirs us up to pray and to seek God’s help. Another evidence of faith and assurance of faith is fearlessness in the face of earthly danger. Fear and worry can be overcome by faith and prayer. That doesn’t mean that people of faith are never afraid. It does mean that people of faith have a resource (“What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee” Ps. 56). We can be bold in sharing our faith, and confident in the midst of troubles- whether economic, or sickness or otherwise.

Prayer: Lord, let our faith well up in us into confidence in you and even boldness in answering your call in life. Amen.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

4-18 Sharing the Glory of Christ's Resurrection

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

Romans 8:28-30- “And we know that all things work together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

Calvin: “The same are glorified who are now pressed with the Cross so that their miseries and reproaches do not damage them at all. Although glorification is not yet exhibited but in our Head, yet because we do in a manner see in Him now the inheritance of eternal life, His glory brings such an assurance of our glory that our hope is worthily matched or compared to present possession.”

There is a sense in which we experience the benefits of Christ’s resurrection here and now. While only Christ is raised from the dead (“the firstborn” in Romans 8:29), yet if we believe in his resurrection this gives us so much hope and assurance that it lightens our load. Dr. Ronald Wallace has a great section on this (p. 84 of “Calvin’s Doctrine of the Christian Life): Calvin notes that Paul in Romans 8:30 uses the present tense and describes the present state of the justified as being also now a state of glorification. The basic principle in Calvin’s thinking on this matter is that what has already happened to Christ the Head can be regarded and legitimately spoken of as having already happened to those who are the members of His body by virtue of the union effected by faith. What is possessed by Christ is also already the possession of those who are in Christ.”
It is a little bit like a baby who is being born, the head is already into the world, while the body is still coming out. Jesus, the Bible says is the head of the church (his body- Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22; 5:23; I Cor. 12). He is “the firstborn among many” according to the Romans 8 passage above. It is like the engine of the train has passed through the tunnel, and we are the box cars heading through too, though some of us haven’t even entered the tunnel yet. There is a sense in which we are justified now, and that assures our glorification. It is like we have been attached to the engine now, and that assures our going through to the other side. So the resurrection of Christ is not just something academic. It is something that affects the way we live-giving us hope and assurance in this life. Though the mountain is high- we will go through. Though the tunnel is dark and uncertain, we have heard that the engine has made it through and we will make it through as well.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your resurrection that assures me of my own resurrection. Thank you for the hope and confidence I can have even now that nothing will defeat your purpose and plan- not even death. Thank you for making me a part of your plan and purpose. Grant me the confidence I need to be bold for you in this life. Amen.

Friday, April 17, 2009

4-17-09 Assurance of Faith

Jim Daly- 1988 "On Thin Ice"
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. (I John 5:13).

Calvin: “The Christian life can be lived only if we have assured consciences and are certain that God is propitious to us and that our lives are accepted by Him…Those who fluctuate in uncertainty between hope and fear can never sincerely and honestly obey God, however anxiously they may labor to do so.” (Sermon on Luke 1:73-78).

Belief on this side of heaven is tinged with doubt. But in our skeptical culture, we wallow in our doubt and downplay the encouragement, inspiration, hope, and strength that comes from faith. Belief in its essence is a move away from doubt and towards assurance. In Calvin’s day some in the church were saying that we should doubt that God will save us so that we will try that much harder to be saved. But it was a never-ending trap. For no matter how hard you tried, or how many sins you confessed, you were taught that you couldn’t have assurance of your salvation. Calvin and Luther both taught that you could have assurance of your salvation. We could in part because we are saved not by what we do but by what God has already done in Christ. The watch words of the Reformation were grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone. If salvation were from grace AND works we couldn’t be assured. If salvation were from faith AND works we couldn’t be assured. But salvation is by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Faith enables you to live with confidence. For example, when I get in my car this morning, I believe the brakes will work. I believe the tires are trustworthy. I believe the steering cable is strong and will not snap. I could doubt, but that doubt is useless worry that would consume energy that I would better spend on more constructive and fun things. Why think about everything that could go wrong? I have faith in my car and those who made it. Cars fail. They are not altogether trustworthy. But God never fails. He is worthy of our faith. Living in that faith means having confidence in Him and assurance that He will do what He says in scripture.
Calvin emphasized that we do not put confidence in our flesh, or in ourselves, or our abilities alone. Our confidence is in God alone. Indeed, we may fail and mess up big time. But God never fails. Faith is a beautiful
Thing when it is meshed with assurance. Faith combined with worry or uncertainty is a weak faith. On this side we are all weak. But our goal is not to wallow in our weakness, but to put our trust in God.
Someone said if you have a very thick piece of ice on the pond and you refuse to step out on it- then it is sad. But if you have a very thin piece of ice and you have great confidence in it that is sad too. My point is that we have a thick piece of ice in God. He is solid and will uphold us. It is such a joy when we find that we are putting our whole weight down on Him.
I remember once reading of a man who wanted to translate the word “faith” to a native tribe. They had no word for it. He noticed that they slept in hammocks, and when they were ready to rest, they would put their whole weight on the hammock. So he translated faith as “putting your whole weight down.” It is so true. Faith brings assurance and confidence in life.

Prayer: Lord, help me to invest myself fully in you. Help me to give up doubt and strengthen my faith. Amen.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

4-16- Nothing or Everything

(John Calvin's birthplace in Noyon, France- now a museum)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.


I am the vine you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; Apart from him we can do nothing. (John 15:5) With him all things are possible. (Luke 1:37) 27And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible. (Mark 10:27)

Calvin: Each of us must, then, be so stung by the consciousness of his own unhappiness as to attain at least some knowledge of God. Thus, from the feeling of our own ignorance, vanity, poverty, infirmity, and — what is more — depravity and corruption, we recognize that the true light of wisdom, sound virtue, full abundance of every good, and purity of righteousness rest in the Lord alone. To this extent we are prompted by our own ills to contemplate the good things of God; and we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves. (I.1.1)

For Calvin, any good that we do is by God’s grace and for God’s glory. He was deeply aware of the sinfulness and depravity of human beings. We are depraved of our ability to do good in and of ourselves. Apart from God we can do nothing. So a huge part of our task as human beings is to recognize our situation of inability. But the second part of this is to recognize God’s ability. So we must die to ourselves (mortification) by self denial and bearing our cross. Self denial and bearing our cross enable us to see that apart from Christ we can do nothing.
But the ability to live to God is done by the resurrection power of God. The wisdom, virtue, abundance of every good and purity of righteousness are experienced as we rely not on ourselves- but on God.
This is not the same thing as saying that we can’t do anything. Rather it is saying that apart from God our works are temporary, meaningless, and useless. We do not recognize our nothingness by self-deprecating ourselves. We recognize our nothingness by resisting temptation (relying on God), and facing our problems (relying on God). Temptations and sins bear so heavily upon us that we cannot resist them in and of ourselves. Our problems, worries, and concerns bear down upon us so that we have no strength of our own left to bear up. The resurrection power of God is the power to resist temptation and bear up with hope against our problems.
It is the power to do something that will lest. The power of God gives us the hope that nothing is impossible with Him- not because of who we are- but because of who God is.

Calvin was very strong at this point- the glory goes to God, for God gives us the ability to do all things.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

4/15- Tax Day- Calvin kicked out of Geneva

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

4/15- Tax Day-

In 1538 (actually 4/25- so we’re a few days early), Calvin and Farel were kicked out of Geneva. They were kicked out over church-state relations.

Calvin (upon hearing on 4/23 they were to leave Geneva in a few days) said: “Well and good. If we had served men we would have been ill-requited, but we serve a Good Master who will reward us.” “I have served Him who never withholds from his servants what He has promised.”

There was tension between Calvin and the Councils of Geneva on his first stay. Some of the tension was just a tension of transition and some of it was a tension of power. Calvin and Farel were pushing for the right of the church to excommunicate people, and then asked the state to back them up. This was the form of Protestant discipline of Basel Switzerland (from which Calvin had come). But the Genevan people had lived under a strong-handed oppression by Duke and Bishop and wanted none of that. In reality, Calvin and Farel were very zealous and probably too demanding- especially Farel and his blind preaching colleague Corauld. Farel was a bit puritanical wanting to abolish Easter, Christmas, Ascension Day and Pentecost (Calvin was more silent on these days- seeking to abolish only the saint’s veneration days). The Swiss city-state of Berne wanted Geneva and the other Swiss Protestants to follow its ways of celebrating such holidays. Farel had also abolished entrance fonts for holy water and baptism as well as the idea of unleavened bread being served in communion. Calvin again was less strict about such things, but gave into his older colleague. When Geneva accepted Berne’s ceremonies and the church was told it could not ex-communicate, Calvin and Farel preached their Easter sermons (Farel at St. Gervais, Calvin at St. Pierre) but refused to serve communion to anyone in such a tense situation. Not having Easter communion was the last straw for the councils, and they forced them to leave. Of course, later, the Genevan councils regretted their actions as the libertines took control and the immorality in the city (adultery, prostitution, gambling) grew explosively.
They eventually humbly called Calvin back from his exile. But the exile was good for Geneva (who saw the need to be less controlling) and Calvin (who saw the need to be a bit more humble and afterwards wrote more of “things indifferent” in order to keep unity). It was also in exile in Strasbourg that Calvin befriended Bucer and learned from his kind-heartedness, and married Idelette. Calvin’s exile and coming back was almost a post-type of the death and resurrection of Christ, and it vastly influenced his writings. He clearly saw the benefits of self-denial and cross bearing, and always had hope.
Another post-type of the death and resurrection was what happened off the coast of Somalia this week. The Maersk Alabama was captured by pirates. The captain, Richard Phillips, allowed himself to be captured and taken away on a lifeboat to save his ship and crew. He was as good as dead- or at least held for ransom. But he has been set free- and that on Easter Sunday right after church (EST). I have thought about how many prayers went up for him on Easter Sunday. In my opinion too little credit for this is given to God’s hand. I have also thought about how this parallels the death and resurrection. But it is this way for all of us- we must die to selves to be raised to life. Jesus said, “Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it will bear no fruit. He who loses his life will save it” (John 12:23-28).
On this tax day, church state relations easily come to mind. I hear way too many voices of Christians concerned about the government and less about the Lord. While I do not doubt that the church should speak as the conscience to government, it does not need to run every policy and go into a rage (as some do) when things don’t go their way. This is a bit like the young Calvin who still needed to learn. We need to live in the world but not give into it, nor let it shape all of our messages and time. No government will be a heavenly government. Yet we should seek to make this world and our governments better for God’s glory. The early church prayed for the government, but their main concern was that they have peace in order to spread the gospel. Too many Christians today are taking their resources and giving for political spreading instead of gospel spreading. When Calvin cam eback he focused on the church and the state things fell into line- so much so that Geneva was called "the closest thing to heaven on earth" by some.

Prayer: Lord, bless our country and our world and its leaders. May your gospel spread throughout our country and world. Use me, O Lord, to be a witness for you today.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

4/14- Taking Part in the Resurrection

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

“I want to know Christ- yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so somehow attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:10,11
“For if while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!For if, by the trespass of one man , death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:10, 17).

Calvin: But as it is not enough to know Christ as crucified and raised up from the dead, unless you experience, also, the fruit of this, he speaks expressly of efficacy .Christ therefore is rightly known, when we feel how powerful his death and resurrection are, and how efficacious they are in us. Now all things are there furnished to us—expiation and destruction of sin, freedom from condemnation, satisfaction, victory over death, the attainment of righteousness, and the hope of a blessed immortality… In the mean time, this consolation—that the end is everlasting blessedness. For the death of Christ is connected with the resurrection. Hence Paul says, that he is conformed to his death, that he may attain the glory of the resurrection. The phrase, if by any means, does not indicate
doubt, but expresses difficulty, with a view to stimulate our earnest endeavor for it is no light contest, inasmuch as we must struggle against so many and so serious hindrances. (Commentary on Phil. 3).
“Our faith receives from baptism the advantage of its sure testimony to us that we are not only engrafted into the death and life of Christ, but so united to Christ himself that we become sharers in all his blessings. (III.14.6).

For Calvin and for scripture, the death and resurrection of Jesus were not his alone. When Christ died, we were there. When he lived we were there (as I have said in a previous devotional). It is a bit like what the president does affects all of us because of who we are. If the president of the United States ever pushed the nuclear button, it would vastly affect all of us. This affects us whether we voted for him or not- whether we were loyal Americans or traitors. The fact that it would affect us does not change us magically into loyal Americans who voted for him. Jesus’ death and resurrection affects us because He was the god-man. It affects us whether we believe or not, but it does not change us into believers.
An important concept for Calvin (and should be for us) is that we are united with Christ. We are part of Christ’s body when we believe- he is the head. Baptism is not just a commanded sign for Calvin (contra Zwingli) but also a seal that unites us to Christ. We become sharers in his death and his resurrection through faith and through baptism. Christ’s resurrection brings us hope and life.

Prayer: We seek to follow you, Lord. We seek to be one with you in spirit and in heart and soul.

Monday, April 13, 2009

4/13- Importance of the Resurrrection for this life

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

4/13- The Importance of the Resurrection for this life

I Cor. 15:3,4- For what I received I passed onto you as of first importance, that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, that he was buried, and he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures.

Inst. II.16.13
Calvin: Without [the resurrection] what we have said so far would be incomplete. For since only weakness appears in the cross, death, and burial of Christ, faith must leap over all these things to attain its full strength. We have in his death the complete fulfillment of salvation, for through it we are reconciled to God, his righteous judgment is satisfied, the curse is removed, and the penalty paid in full. Nevertheless, we are said to “have been born anew to a living hope” not through his death but “through his resurrection” [ 1 Peter 1:3 p.].

Self denial and carrying the cross are not the end of the Christian faith, nor is it the only tool or means we have to get closer to God. We are called, Calvin believed, to be participants in his resurrection. Only when our minds are directed to the resurrection can the Cross of Christ triumph over evil in the hearts and lives of those who believe (3:9:6). We find the beginning of our salvation in the cross, and we find the completing of our salvation in the resurrection (Comm. On I Cor. 15:4). The resurrection has already begun to exert its power in us, and this shows by the power of God to change a life (regeneration). Conversion is the actualization of the risen life of Christ in a believer. God’s power can change us. Today, I think we underestimate that power. We overestimate the power of genetics, education, and environment , as if our lives were only a combination of these factors. We underestimate and leave out the power of God to change someone.
There is a real sense that we are able to triumph over our problems, our sins, the guilt of our sins by the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection secures the message that we will ultimately triumph and good will win over evil. No matter what happens to us in this life, when we tie ourselves to Christ by belief in him, we will ultimately win- even over death, sin, and our problems here. This assurance alone is important. It gives us hope when we think that resisting evil is hopeless. But the resurrection power is more than just giving assurance and hope.
The power shown in the resurrection is the power at work in our day. It is the power to heal. Christ showed that power on earth when he healed the sick. He gave that same power to his disciples. The ultimate healing is found when the dead Christ came back to life. That amazing power is at work today. Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of the resurrection (Phil. 4:10).” This is not just about physical healing- though I believe (and have seen) that God still heals people through prayer. It is also about the power of God to change an individual. It is the power of God that gets the drug addict away from drugs, and the alcoholic away from alcohol. It is the power to soft the harsh person. It is the power to reconcile estranged relationships. It is the power of forgiveness. It is the power of God to transform. Years ago Richard Niebuhr wrote “Christ and Culture.” It still is a classic small book. One of the things he said (if I can super-summarize) is that the church chooses how it will interact with culture. Some adopt culture seeking to transform the church (liberalism, Schleiermacher). Some fight against culture putting up walls (fundamentalism, monasteries). But in general Calvinism seeks to transform culture. We believe in this because of the power of God (the power of the resurrection) to change people, groups, churches, and the world. The power of the resurrection is the Holy Spirit at work (the Spirit was certainly at work in the resurrection) to convict, convince, heal, help, and guide. Christ is not dead. We don’t just look back to a dead philosophy for ethical guidance. Rather we look around us to the living Lord who is at work, and ask Him to change us into new creatures in this life (II Cor. 5:17) as well as in the life to come.

Prayer: Today, Lord, change me by your power. Work through me, enable me, transform me and the world around me.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

4-12 Calvin on Easter

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

4/12- Easter
“On the third day he rose again from the dead.”

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all others. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (I Corinthians 15:12-20).

Calvin: So then, let us remember that whenever mention is made of his death alone,
we are to understand at the same time what belongs to his resurrection. Also, the same synecdoche applies to the word “resurrection”: whenever it is mentioned separately from death, we are to understand it as including what has to do especially with his death. But because by rising again he obtained the victor’s prize — that there might be resurrection and life — Paul rightly contends that “faith is annulled and the gospel empty and deceiving if Christ’s resurrection is not fixed in our hearts” (II.16.13)

There are three benefits we receive from the resurrection of Christ.
1) We are reconciled to God.
2) The judgment against us is satisfied.
3) The penalty is assuredly paid. His resurrection guarantees our own.

For Calvin, we cannot separate the death of Christ from the resurrection of Christ. Just as the death of Christ is a reminder and an assurance of our dying to self (mortification). So, the resurrection of Christ has to do with our living to Christ (vivification). One practical symbol of this is the cross. Reformed folk do not have crucifixes with dead Christ’s or pietas. Rather our crosses are empty to symbolize that Christ died, but he is not on the cross anymore.

Prayer: Lord, thank you that you are alive forever more. You are the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Worthy are you- Lamb who was slain, to receive wisdom, power, riches, honor, glory and strength!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

4/11- He Descended into Hell

Harrowing of Hell- Greek Orthodox Icon

and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.(Hebrews 2:15)

Calvin: If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual. No — it was expedient at the same time for him to undergo the severity of God’s vengeance, to appease his wrath and satisfy his just judgment. For this reason, he must also grapple hand to hand with the armies of hell and the dread of everlasting death… And surely, unless his soul shared in the punishment, he would have been the Redeemer of bodies alone. But he had to struggle to lift up those who lay prostrate. His goodness —never sufficiently praised — shines in this: he did not shrink from taking our weaknesses upon himself. Hence, it in nowise detracts from his heavenly glory. From this also arises the comfort for our anguish and sorrow that the apostle holds out to us: that this Mediator has experienced our weaknesses the better to succor us in our miseries (II.16.12)

Calvin said this phrase should not be omitted from the creed, because it is an important part of redemption. The phrase reflects the common belief of all believers. Calvin said that none of the church fathers omitted the phrase from their writing, but they did vary in their meaning.
For Calvin, this phrase is not a repetition of the phrase “died and buried.” The phrase also is not a shallow interpretation of going to hell to preach to the patriarchs or those Old Testament saints who had died before he came. There is a sense in which I Peter 3:19 points to Christ proclaiming his salvation in hell. This is condemning for those who do not believe in him who reside in that place.
For Calvin, this descent into hell is not a bodily thing as much as a spiritual thing. It is basically the idea that Jesus Christ went throgh hell for us on the cross- bearing our sins. Christ, as our sacrifice, bore our sins and the penalty of our sins (hell). This Esater eve, we can be glad that Jesus went through hell for us.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, for bearing our sins upon the cross. Thank you for going through hell for us.

Friday, April 10, 2009

April 10- Good Friday- The Death of Christ

(Grunewald 1515 painting)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

4/10- “The Death of Christ.
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit." [a] When he had said this, he breathed his last. 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, "Surely this was a righteous man." 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. 49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
(Luke 23:44-47)
Calvin: By dying, he ensured that we would not die, of — which is the same thing — redeemed us to life by his own death. He differed from us, however, in this respect: he let himself be swallowed up by death, as it were, not to be engulfed in its abyss, but rather to engulf it [cf. 1 Peter 3:22, Vg.] that must soon have engulfed us; he let
himself be subjected to it, not to be overwhelmed by its power, but rather to lay it low, when it was threatening us and exulting, over our fallen state. Finally, his purpose was “that through death he might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” [Hebrews 2:14-15]. This is the first fruit that his death brought to us. The second effect of Christ’s death upon us is this: by our participation in it, his death mortifies our earthly members so that they may no longer perform their functions; and it kills the old man in us that he may not flourish and bear fruit. Christ’s burial has the same effect: we ourselves as partakers in it are buried with him to sin. The apostle teaches that “we
have been united with Christ in the likeness of his death” [Romans 6:5, KJV], and “buried with him …into the death” of sin. (II. 16:7).

Christ the innocent died, that we the guilty might live. Max Lucado said, “It wasn’t right that spikes pierced the hands that formed the earth. Was it right? No. Was it fair? No. Was it love? Yes.” (The Applause of Heaven). If we have faith in this act, then we know we have forgiveness. If we have forgiveness, then we know we have Christ’s love and grace.

Prayer; Lord, thank you for dying on the cross that we might be set free from death.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April 9- The Struggle in the Garden

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

(Maundy Thursday)- Worship 7:00 p.m. Maundy Thursday recognizes Christ's last supper, his commandment to love one another, when he washed the disciples' feet, and his struggle in the garden. This devotion focuses on the latter thought.

41 He withdrew about a stone's throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done." 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:42-44)

John Calvin: We must be good soldiers, or we cannot be men of faith. Our faith neither can nor should exist without fighting something.” (Sermon on I Timothy 6:12-14 and I Timothy 1:5-7)

Human life is hard. The person of faith will always find that they are in a struggle which exercises their faith. As a butterfly must fight to get out of a chrysalis- or it is too weak to fly, so we must be molded and strengthened by the struggles of life. The cross was Jesus struggle. Part of the struggle was realizing the struggle was coming. Jesus wept tears of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane the night of his arrest. He could foresee the battle, the struggle. He asked for the cup to be taken from him. The struggle Christ had was a foreshadowing of our own struggles. Calvin saw that the fact that the babies were killed in Bethlehem in Jesus’ early years meant that Christ’s whole life would be a struggle with evil. For Calvin, when we are adopted as his children, we are enlisting in his army, and the evil of this world will be forced against us.
I will never forget a young couple who visited my first church. They came three weeks in a row. I visited them, they came one more time and then they quit coming. I followed up. They said that since they started coming to church their dog died, their car died, their roof started leaking, and they said, they just couldn’t take it anymore, so they gave up. Now they believed the devil was after them. My question was, “If you believe the devil is after you for coming to church, why did you stop coming so he could have you?” It is necessary to persevere, but we do this not in our own strength, but in God’s. We live with hope and nothing can take that away- we have to give up ourselves. Do not give up!

Prayer: Lord, you suffered so much, and did not back down. You endured the shame and pain of the cross for us. Help us to follow you with perseverance and grace.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

April 8- United with Christ on the Cross

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

4/8- United with Christ in the Cross- Galatians 2:20; Romasn 6:6
20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, [a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— (Romans 6:6)

Calvin: Let us take notice that there is a twofold mortification. The former relates to those things that are around us… The other is inward — that of the understanding and will, and of the whole of our corrupt nature.
(Commentary on Colossians 3:5)

For Calvin part of taking up our cross is mortification (dying to self). Mortification consists of two parts an outward and inward dying. The outward dying has to do with the circumstances around us. This is bearing our cross. The inward dying has to do with how we die to our own selfishness. This is self-denial. The old sinful self has to die so that the new life in Christ can grow. It is the image Jesus gave “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But If it dies it produces many seeds. (John 12:24). There is a part of us that must die in order for Christ to live in and through us, to make our lives fruitful and productive. Lent is certainly a time of repentance, and mortification is a great way to get back to the way things should be.
There is a sense in which the old spiritual, "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?" is really true. Rembrandt's painting himself at the foot of the cross is a reminder that we were there. We were there in that Christ's death is "once for all" as Hebrews says. Christ's death has infinite value because Christ was not just a good man but the infinite-god-man. His death was a death for all time, and for all people who would recognize it. Even for those who do not recognize it, his death was a message for all the world that God cares enough to not only come down for us but to sacrifice Himself for us. As a powerful volcano's eruption in one part of the world can affect the temperature in another part, so this death affects all of us though it was done in the past and in another place.
We unite ourselves to Christ's crucifixion by our belief (For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in him...)but also by our taking up our own cross and denying ourselves. We imitate him in our own mortification, following in his footsteps, walking down his path. His Spirit is found on the same pilgrim's path uniting us to Him.

Prayer: Lord, let me die to self that I might live for you. Strengthen me this day as I take up my cross.

Monday, April 6, 2009

April 7- United With Christ in his Sufferings

(Rembrandt- raising the cross Rembrandt painted himself at the foot of the cross)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

4/7- United with Christ in his sufferings I Peter 4:12-17
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God's household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (I Peter 4:12-17)

Calvin: There is a frequent mention made in this Epistle of afflictions; the cause of which we have elsewhere explained. But this difference is to be observed, that when he exhorts the faithful to patience, he sometimes speaks generally of troubles common to man’s life; but here he speaks of wrongs done to the faithful for the name of Christ. And first, indeed, he reminded them that they ought not to have deemed it strange as for a thing sudden and unexpected; by which he intimates, that they ought by a long mediation to have been previously prepared to bear the cross. For whosoever has resolved to fight under Christ’s banner, will not be dismayed when persecution happens, but, as one accustomed to it, will patiently bear it. That we may then be in a prepared state of mind when the waves of persecutions roll over us, we ought in due time to habituate ourselves to such an event by meditating continually on the cross. (Commentary I Peter 4:12-17)

Calvin knew that suffering would come. He had faced his share. He knew how to get through it, and he was encouraging his people to also persevere. One of the key elements for Calvin was to focus on Christ’s cross. When we suffer because we are Christians or for our witness for Christ, then we are partaking in Christ’s sufferings. Christ promises to be near those, to comfort those so suffering, and to reward those so suffering. Note that Calvin’s solution is not to go into ecstacy (as the mystics), to cry out to the saints (as the catholics), to go into a trance (as the Anabaptists), but to meditate upon the cross- use the mind. The mind is a great gift of God given to help us focus. When we think on the cross- and meditate on what Jesus freely did for us- and the blessings of forgiveness, hope, and help that is ours because of it- we are comforted. It is easy to fear. When fear kicks in, often the mind leaves for the nearest exit. Meditation on the cross reminds us of the worst that humans can do, and that even that has no power over God.

Prayer: Lord, may we face suffering with the grace and peace you exhibited. Turn our minds and our hearts toward you, O Lord.