Sunday, May 31, 2009

6/1- Living with mystery

(image of the Spirit in advent)

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

6/1- The mystery of the Holy Spirit

I have many other things to tell you, more than you can now bear. But when He, the Spirit comes, He will lead you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:12,13)

Calvin (writing about angels and the Holy Spirit): Nevertheless, we will take care to keep to the measure which the rule of godliness prescribes, that our readers may not, by speculating more deeply than is expedient, wander away from simplicity of faith. And in fact, while the Spirit ever teaches us to our profit, he either remains absolutely silent upon those things of little value for edification, or only lightly and cursorily touches them. It is also our duty willingly to renounce those things which are unprofitable. (I.14.3)

Calvinists are often accused of being over-rationalistic. Tillich said that you could tell a Reformed church because they didn’t have a lot of dark sanctuaries filled with dark stained glass windows. But often Reformed churches had more light so that people could read the Bible. More light, less candles, incense, oil, darker robes point to the rationality and focus involved in Calvin’s worship style. Yet there was a mystery in Cavlin’s thinking. He wanted to know as much as one could know about God- but the limits to our knowledge of God were found in God’s Word itself. So, Calvin would limit his questioning. He would try not to raise silly, unusual questions (like how many angels can fit on the head of a pin). Not everything is explained, and we should not try to spend too much time making guesses about the spiritual realm when we cannot see it, and God has not revealed it. Calvin, in recognizing this saw the limits of our human knowledge,and the need to keep the faith simple and focused. Calvin was not a great conjecturer. Despite his emphasis on knowledge, he was willing to live with mystery when the Spirit was silent in scripture.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

5/31- Calvin and coming of the Spirit

(Van Dyck Pentecost 1618)

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

5/31- Pentecost
(John 16:7-15) But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. 12 "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you."

Calvin (Commentary on John 16:7) the Holy Spirit could not be given to them, if he did not leave the world. But far more advantageous and far more desirable is that presence of Christ, by which he communicates himself to us through the grace and power of his Spirit, than if he were present before our eyes. And here we must not put the question, “Could not Christ have drawn down the Holy Spirit while he dwelt on earth?” For Christ takes for granted all that had been decreed by the Father and, indeed, when the Lord has once pointed out what he wishes to be done, to dispute about what is possible would be foolish and pernicious.
He will convince the world; that is, he will not remain shut up in you, but;his power will go forth from you to be displayed to the whole world. Hectherefore promises to them a Spirit, who will be the Judge of the world,
and by whom their preaching will be so powerful and efficacious, that it will bring into subjection those who formerly indulged in unbounded licentiousness, and were restrained by no fear or reverence.

One of the subtle but important influences of Calvin was his concept of the Holy Spirit. Today is Pentecost, and Calvin was called the “theologian of the Holy Spirit.” The medieval church was teaching that the Holy Spirit was only experienced through the church and the things of the church. Calvin taught that the Spirit speaks and acts with our individual lives and hearts. We pray by the Spirit, have the Bible illuminated by the Spirit, are assured by the Spirit and convicted by the Spirit. Another important concept for Calvin was the idea that we are untied with Christ by the Spirit (adopted by the Spirit). Calvin was the Pentecostal of his day, yet more intellectually than emotionally. He would tell us to not be afraid of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Here he limits our questioning of the Holy Spirit, and invites us to limit our questions to the confines of the scripture.

Friday, May 29, 2009

5/30- Through the Valley


(Calvin's empty chair)

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

5/30/09-
The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil,
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23)
Calvin: 4. Though I should walk. True believers, although they dwell safely under the protection of God, are, notwithstanding, exposed to many dangers, or rather they are liable to all the afflictions which befall mankind in common, that they may the better feel how much they need the protection of God. David, therefore, here expressly declares, that if any adversity should befall him, he would lean upon the providence of God. Thus he does not promise himself continual pleasures; but he fortifies himself by the help of God courageously to endure the various calamities with which he might be visited. Pursuing his metaphor, he compares the care which God takes in governing true believers to a shepherd’s staff and crook, declaring that he is satisfied with this as all-sufficient for the protection of his life. As a sheep, when it wanders up and down through a dark valley, is preserved safe from the attacks of wild beasts and from harm in other ways, by the presence of the shepherd alone, so David now declares that as often as he shall be exposed to any danger, he will have sufficient defense and protection in being under the pastoral care of God. We thus see how, in his prosperity, he never forgot that he was a man, but even then seasonably meditated on the adversities which afterwards might
come upon him. And certainly, the reason why we are so terrified, when it pleases God to exercise us with the cross, is, because every man, that he may sleep soundly and undisturbed, wraps himself up in carnal security.
But there is a great difference between this sleep of stupidity and the repose which faith produces. Since God tries faith by adversity, it follows that no one truly confides in God, but he who is armed with invincible
constancy for resisting all the fears with which he may be assailed. Yet David did not mean to say that he was devoid of all fear, but only that he would surmount it so as to go without fear wherever his shepherd should lead him. This appears more clearly from the context. He says, in the first place, I will fear no evil; but immediately adding the reason of this, he openly acknowledges that he seeks a remedy against his fear in contemplating, and having his eyes fixed on, the staff of his shepherd. (Commentary on Psalm 23)

Calvin believed that when life was good we become forgetful of God; but when life is hard we learn to look to God and trust in Him. Denying ourselves and carrying the cross are ways that we not only follow in Jesus’ footsteps as disciples. The hard things in life refine us, mold us, shape us, and cause us to remember God. Calvin had a tough life- as I have enumerated many times. He was sick much of his life; he had no children of his own; He slept little and worked with unflagging purpose and zeal. He was forced out of France, Italy, and Geneva. Yet the more he suffered, the closer he appeared to get in his faith. That is a lesson for us. In our day of economic hardship and tough times; In our day of sin’s growing and the church’s shrinking, God is shaping his people.

Prayer: Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. Melt me, fill me, mold me, use me. Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me. (Daniel Iverson- Presbyterian minister NC)

5/29- Company of Pastors


5/29- Calvin's last words to the company of pastors.

II Kings 2:1-8
1 When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel." But Elisha said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, "Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?" "Yes, I know," Elisha replied, "so be quiet." 4 Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho." And he replied, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went to Jericho. 5 The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, "Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?" "Yes, I know," he replied, "so be quiet." 6 Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan." And he replied, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So the two of them walked on. 7 Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

From Beza about Calvin’s last days with the company of pastors: Calvin addressed all of us ministers under the jurisdiction of Geneva, who were assembled in his chamber, and at his request, on the 28th of April, in the following terms: —“Stand fast, my brethren, after my decease, in the work which you have begun, and be not discouraged, for the Lord will preserve this church and republic against the threats of its enemies. Let all
divisions be removed far from you, and embrace one another with mutual charity. Consider on all occasions what you owe to the church in which the Lord hath stationed you, and let nothing draw you from it. It will indeed be easy for such as are wearied of their flocks to find means for escaping from their duty by intrigue, but
they will learn by experience that the Lord cannot be deceived. “On my first arrival in this city the gospel was indeed preached, but every thing was in the greatest confusion, as if Christianity consisted in nothing else than the overturning of images. Not a few wicked men arose in the church, from whom I suffered many great
indignities; but the Lord our God himself so strengthened me, and banished all fear even from my mind, who am by no means distinguished for natural courage (I state the real fact,) that I was enabled to resist all their attempts. I returned hither from Strasborg, in obedience to a call, against my inclination; because I
thought it would not be productive of any advantage. I knew not what the Lord had determined, and my situation was full of very many, and very great difficulties. But proceeding in this work, I perceived at length that the Lord had in reality blessed my labors. Do you, therefore, brethren, persisting your vocation; preserve the established order; use at the same time every exertion to retain the people in obedience to the doctrine delivered, for there are yet among you some wicked and stubborn characters. Affairs, as you see, are not now in an unsettled state, on which account you will be more criminal before God, if they are subverted by your
inactivity. I declare my brethren, that I have lived united with you in the strictest bonds of true and sincere affection, and I now take my leave of you with the same feelings. If you have at any time found me too peevish under my disease, I entreat your forgiveness, and I return you my warmest thanks, because during my
confinement you have discharged the burden of the duties assigned me.” After this address he reached out his right hand to each of us, and we then took leave of him with hearts overwhelmed with sorrow and grief, and
eyes flowing with tears.
On the Friday before Whitsunday, May 19th, the pastors were to meet; and Calvin requested that they should do so at his house. When a homely dinner had been prepared, Calvin was carried into the room, and said: “I
am come, my brethren, to see you for the last time; for I shall never again sit at table.” Then he offered prayer, and tried to eat a little. “But,” adds Beza, “before the end of the meal, he requested to be carried back to his
chamber, which was close by, saying these words with as cheerful a face as he could command: ‘A partition between us will not prevent me, though absent in body, being present with you in spirit.’”

Last words are important. Some have said two thirds of the gospel of John centers around the last month of Jesus' life. So these words of Elijah and Calvin are important.
Today I am going to a presbytery meeting. It is a special presbytery meeting of the five presbyteries in South Carolina. It will be good to see some folk. But for some reason, I don’t think if one of us were to die, we would call for the company of pastors to come in and have conversation prayer with them- though perhaps one or two pastors may come. Calvin sets the standard for relations among pastors. Calvin was a pastor to the pastors, and his great intellect, but also his great love for God drew others to him.

5/29- Company of Pastors

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

5/28- The Will of Calvin


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

16 Jesus went on to say, "In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me." 20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. 21 A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 20 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 16:16,20; 17:20)

Calvin’s will: In the name of the Lord. — Amen. I, John Calvin, minister of the word of God in the church of Geneva, finding myself so much oppressed and afflicted with various diseases, that I think the Lord God has determined speedily to remove me out of this world, have ordered to be made and written, my testament, and declaration of my last will, in form and manner following: First, I give thanks to God, that taking compassion on me whom he had created, and placed in this world, he not only delivered me by his power out of the deep darkness of idolatry, into which I was plunged, that he might bring me into the light of his gospel, and make me a partaker of the doctrine of salvation, of which I was most unworthy; that with the same goodness and mercy he has graciously and kindly borne with my multiplied transgressions and sins, for which I deserved to be rejected and cut off by him; and has also exercised towards me such great compassion and clemency, that he has condescended to use my labor in preaching and publishing the truth of his gospel. I also testify and declare, that it is my full intention to pass the remainder of my life in the same faith and religion, which he has delivered to me by his gospel; having no other defense or refuge of salvation than his gratuitous adoption, on which alone my safety depends. I also embrace with my whole heart the mercy which he exercises towards me for the sake of Jesus Christ, atoning for my crimes by the merits of his death and passion, that in this way satisfaction may be made for all my transgressions and offenses, and the remembrance of them blotted out. I farther testify and declare that, as a suppliant, I humbly implore of him to grant me to be so washed and purified by the blood of that sovereign Redeemer, shed for the sins of the human race, that I may be permitted to stand before his tribunal in the image of the Redeemer himself. I likewise declare, that according to the measure of grace and mercy which God has vouchsafed me, I have diligently made it my endeavor, both in my sermons, writings,
and commentaries, purely and uncorruptly to preach his word, and faithfully to interpret his sacred Scriptures. I testify and declare, that in all the controversies and disputes, which I have conducted with the enemies of the gospel, I have made use of no craftiness, nor corrupt and sophistical arts, but have been engaged in defending the truth with candor and sincerity. But, alas! my study, and my zeal, if they deserve the name, have
been so remiss and languid, that I confess innumerable things have been wanting in me to discharge the duties of my office in an excellent manner; and unless the infinite bounty of God had been present, all my study would have been vain and transient. I also acknowledge that unless the same goodness had accompanied me,
the endowments of mind bestowed upon me by God, must have made me more and more chargeable with guilt and inactivity before his tribunal. And on these grounds I witness and declare, that I hope for no other refuge of salvation than this alone, — that since God is a Father of mercy, he will show himself a Father to me,
who confess myself a miserable sinner. Further, I will, after my departure out of this life, that my body be committed to the earth in that manner, and with those funeral rites, which are usual in this city and church, until the day of the blessed resurrection shall come. As for the small patrimony which God has bestowed upon
me, and which I have determined to dispose of in this will, I appoint Anthony Calvin, my very dearly beloved brother, my heir, but only as a mark of respect. Let him take charge of, and keep as his own, my silver goblet, which was given me as a present by Mr. Varanne: and I desire he will be content with it. As for the residue
of my property, I commit it to his care with this request, that he restore it to his children at his death. I bequeath also to the school for boys, ten golden crowns, to be given by my brother and legal heir, and to poor strangers the same sum. Also to Jane, daughter of Charles Costans and of my half-sister by the paternal side, the sum
of ten crowns. Furthermore, I wish my heir to give, on his death, to Samuel and John, sons of my said brother, my nephews, out of my estate, each forty crowns, after his death; and to my nieces Ann, Susan, and Dorothy, each thirty golden crowns. To my nephew David, as a proof of his light and trifling conduct, I bequeath only
twenty-five golden crowns. This is the sum of all the patrimony and property which God hath given me, as far as I am able to ascertain, in books, movables, my whole household furniture, and all other goods and chattels. Should it however prove more, I desire it may be equally distributed between my nephews and nieces aforesaid, not excluding my nephew David, should he, by the favor of God, return to a useful manner of life. Should it however exceed the sum already written, I do not think it will be attended with much difficulty, especially after paying my just debts, which I have given in charge to my said brother, on whose fidelity and kindness I confide. On this account I appoint him executor of this my last testament with Laurence de Normandie, a character of tried worth, giving them full power and authority, without a more exact command and order of court, to
make an inventory of my goods. I give them also power to sell my movables, that from the money thus procured they may fulfill the conditions of my above-written will, which I have set forth and declared this 25th of April, in the year of our Lord 1564.
JOHN CALVIN.

In this will, Calvin declares his gratitude to God and his faith that he wishes to pass on to others who are living. He has very little goods. The house he was in was owned by the city. There was no horse to will. Yet though he has little, he leaves much to charity.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see our end, and number our days aright. Help us to have your heart about how we use the gifts you have given us.

5/27- Calvin's death


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

5/27- The Death of Calvin
15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints. (Psalm 116:15)
2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others. (II Tim. 2:2)

Beza (edited by Smyth) on the death of Calvin: On the 27th of May, about eight o’clock in the evening, the symptoms of dissolution came suddenly on. In the full possession of his reason, he continued to speak, until, without a struggle or a gasp, his lungs ceased to play, and this great luminary of the Reformation set, with the setting sun, to rise again in the firmament of heaven. The dark shadows of mourning settled upon the city. It was with the whole people a night of lamentation and tears. All could bewail their loss; the city her best citizen, the church her renovator and guide, the college her founder, the cause of reform its ablest champion, and every family a friend and comforter. It was necessary to exclude the crowds of visitors who came to behold his remains, lest the occasion might be misrepresented. At two o’clock in the afternoon of Sabbath, his body, enclosed in a wooden coffin, and followed by the syndics, senators, pastors, professors, together with almost the whole city, weeping as they went, was carried to the common burying ground, without pomp. According to his request, no monument was erected to his memory; a plain tone, without any inscription, being all that covered the remains of Calvin. Such was Calvin in his life and in his death. The place of his burial is unknown, but where is his fame unheard?

Beza’s poem on Calvin’s burial:
Why in this humble and unnoticed tomb
Is Calvin laid — the dread of falling Rome,
Mourn’d by the good, and by the wicked fear’d.
By all who knew his excellence revered;
From whom ev’n virtue’s self might virtue learn,
And young and old its value may discern?
’Twas modesty, his constant friend on earth,
That laid this stone, unsculptured with a name;
Oh! happy turf, enrich’d with Calvin’s worth,
More lasting far than marble is thy fame!

For most saints, they are marked by their death date more than their birth date (partially because birth dates were not always known, partially because often the death date marked their martyrdom). Calvin did not die a martyr, but the world took notice of his death. About eight years before Calvin had tertian fever and the rumor spread through France that he had died. His spiritual enemies held a celebratory parade in his home town of Noyon thanking God for his death. Calvin did not want attention given to himself, so he made sure he was to be buried in an unmarked grave. Even in his death, the glory was to go to God. That's a lesson for us!
Calvin was not of great physical stature. He ate only one meal a day the last few years of his life (partly because of his stomach problems). He went mostly without sleep. He had a great sense of duty- writing and speaking until he had no strength to do so. In his time, he had many enemies, yet he also made many friends, with many seeking his advice. His main influence is not his life or death, but his writings which live on- though many need to be re-translated from the older King James’ English to more current language.
I n the last few weeks I have thought about the dying out of a generation of great Christian leaders in America. Billy Graham is in poor health. Last week, one of the greatest missionologists- and a Presbyterian- Ralph Winter died (he of founded the US Center for World Missions and developed the idea of reaching people groups). We need to pray as one generation passes, that the Lord will raise up laborers for his harvest field. Calvin was a disciple maker. When he died he left many leaders (though none of his caliber)- like Beza, Bullinger, Knox, the company of pastors. Jesus did this too. If God has taught you anything, it would be well that you entrust that to others also while God has given you life. Calvin had a driving purpose to pass on his faith and zeal to others while he could.

Monday, May 25, 2009

5/26- Day Before Calvin's Death

(Picture of older Calvin)

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

5/26- The Day Before Calvin’s death (5/27/1564)

14 The LORD said to Moses, "Now the day of your death is near. Call Joshua and present yourselves at the tent of meeting, where I will commission him." So Moses and Joshua came and presented themselves at the tent of meeting…24 After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, 25 he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD: 26 "Take this Book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. 27 For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the LORD while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die! 28 Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and all your officials, so that I can speak these words in their hearing and call the heavens and the earth to testify against them. 29 For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall on you because you will do evil in the sight of the LORD and arouse his anger by what your hands have made."(Deuteronomy 31:14-29)

Calvin: “If you would preserve this republic in security, see to it with unremitting care, that the sacred seat of authority, in which God hath placed you, be not defiled with the pollution of sin; for he is totally sovereign King of Kings, and Lord of all lords, who will honor those that honor him; but, on the other hand, will cast down, and cover with disgrace, those by whom he is despised. Worship him, therefore, according to his precepts, and let your minds be more and more intensely directed to the obeying of his will, for we are always at a very great distance from the performance of our duty. I know the temper and manner of you all, and am aware of your needing exhortation. There is none, even of those who excel, without many imperfections; and let each in this case examine himself with care, and ask of the Lord the supply of his known deficiencies. “We see what vices reign in the greatest number of the assemblies convened in the world. Some, cold and indifferent to the public interest, pursue with eagerness their own private emoluments; others, are only intent upon the gratification of their own passions; some make a bad use of the distinguished talents bestowed upon them by God; while others are vain-glorious, and confidently demand that the rest of their fellow-counselors should sanction their opinions.” (Calvin’s last words to the Senators of Geneva who came to his home as he was dying).

The way Calvin died speaks a lot of his life, and that his faith was not just a surface faith. When Calvin knew he was going to die (tuberculosis, perhaps cancer, intestinal disease, and more), he had himself carried to church on Easter where he had his last communion. He made his will (we’ll look at that in a couple of days). He wanted to be carried to the Senator of Geneva, but instead they met with him and he spoke the words above.
He later met with the company of pastors. He kept writing, and managed to finish much of his work in his last year. Many wanted to come to see him, and he saw many until he couldn’t speak. When he could no longer speak, he asked that the people pray for him instead.
For Calvinists, a good death was important. Calvin remained faithful until the end.


Prayer: Help us today, to make the most of the time you have given us. Thank you for life, and help us to be conscious about passing on what we have learned from you to others. Amen.

5/24- National Providence


(Patrick Henry portrayed)

1 Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the LORD and against his anointed, saying, 3 "Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles." 4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. 5 He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 6 "I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain." 7 I will proclaim the LORD's decree: He said to me, "You are my son; today I have become your father. 8 Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. 9 You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery." 10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. 11 Serve the LORD with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. 12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry and you and your ways will be destroyed, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him. (Psalm 2)

Calvin: When he implores them to be wise, he indirectly condemns their false confidence in their own wisdom as if he had said, The beginning of true wisdom is when a man lays aside his pride, and submits himself to the authority of Christ. However good an opinion the princes of the world may have of their own shrewdness, we may be sure they are erring fools till they become humble scholars at the feet of Christ. He also declares the manner in which they were to be wise, by commanding them to serve the Lord with fear. By trusting to their elevated station, they flatter themselves that they are loosed from the laws which bind the rest of mankind; and the pride of this so greatly blinds them as to make them think it beneath them to submit even to God. The Psalmist therefore, tells them, that until they have learned to fear him, they are destitute of all right understanding. (Commentary on Psalm 2:10-11)

Calvin saw God’s providential hand leading the nations. Up until this past generation, a great number of Americans did too. However, we have eliminated references from God in our schools. Where before we were taught that God’s hand led the country through thick and thin, now we are not taught about God at all. In fact, we have eliminated even the mere mention that at least these great leaders believed God’s providence was leading them. They need to “Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling” (2:11).
We have been so caught up in the sin of great leaders, that we forget that God uses sinners to achieve his purposes (including ourselves). I also believe God guides everyone in his providence- not just me, and not just our nation. Calvin was big on saying God’s providence and blessing are not restricted to believers- making his rain to fall and sun to shine on the just and unjust. Calvin said that we could look back on our own lives and see God’s providential hand guiding us. Having said that, let’s take a mini-stroll down America’s providential lane. Columbus believed God was guiding him. Columbus later became corrupted by greed, and lust for honor, but at first he appeared to believe strongly in God’s providential hand. He had told his rebellious crew they would turn back in three days. On the third day they saw a reed floating in the ocean- a sign of land, and soon afterwards found land. When he landed he named the land “San Salvador” (holy savior) because he believed God had led him there. Many came to America (Puritans, Pilgrims, Huguenots, Baptists) to escape religious persecution but also to set up a "city on a hill." They believed God led them to America.
Thanksgiving is a story of God’s providential care after two years of famine, when they finally learned from an Indian who spoke English, how to grow crops. In Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech he also said (left out of textbooks today), “An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left to us. ..we shall not fight alone. God presides over the destinies of nations and will raise up friends for us. “ Our own National Anthem’s final verse says, “O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand Between their loved home and the war's desolation! Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation. Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.' This is where “In God we trust" came from- contra Angels and Demons! The Gettysburg address which laid the ideological ground work for Memorial Day says in part, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate... we can not consecrate... we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it…the great task remaining before us—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government : of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth. This is where "under God" came from. Lincoln, though not a strong believer, believed in God's providence and made many references to it. When Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate in Juen 1987 and told Mr. Gorbachev to "tear down this wall"- he said the Berlin wall could not withstand faith, truth or freedom.” The revolution that defeated communism was in large part a non-violent revolution of faith, truth, and freedom. Madison saw the hurricane that put out the flames the British ignited in Washington as providential. Eisenhower saw the break in the weather at D-Day as providential. Ben Franklin (though not a strong or committed Christian) said, “The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of man; and if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?” At the very least, we can say that many in our past have seen God's providential hand. A better response would be to look ourselves for God's guiding and preserving hand- not only as a nation but also for us. A belief in providence has given us a purpose, a hope, and strength in the past, and it can do so today. It is one of the reasons behind America's so-called optimism. But if we do not believe God blesses us any more (or even that He can bless), then we tear away the faith that has given us confidence.

Prayer: Your hand guides us, O Lord. Let us see this, and listen to you. Help us and our leaders to submit to your powerful hand, and guide us into what is right.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

5/24- Providence, Hope, and Memorial Day


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


6 The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit— a wife who married young, only to be rejected," says your God. 7 "For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. 3 All your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children's peace. 14 In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear. Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you. (Isaiah 54)

Calvin: The Lord has not only testified that the office of magistrate is approved by and acceptable to him, but he also sets out its dignity with the most honorable titles and marvelously commends it to us.F954 To mention a few:
Since those who serve as magistrate are called “gods” [Exodus 22:8, Psalm 82:1, 6]. It has not come about by human perversity that the authority over all things on earth is in the hands of kings and other rulers, but by divine providence and holy ordinance. For God was pleased so to rule the affairs of men, inasmuch as he is present with them and also presides over the making of laws and the exercising of equity in courts of justice. Paul also plainly teaches this when he lists “ruling” among God’s gifts [Romans 12:8, KJV or RV], which, variously distributed according to the diversity of grace, ought to be used by Christ’s servants for the upbuilding of the church. For even though Paul is there speaking specifically of a council of sober men, who were appointed in the primitive church to preside over the ordering of public discipline (which office is called in the letter to the Corinthians, “governments” [1 Corinthians 12:28]), yet because we see the civil power serving the same end, there is no doubt that he commends to us every kind of just rule. (IV.20.4)

It is no accident that Calvin himself and many of his followers were persecuted. Nobles, kings, and priests saw the Reformed faith as a threat to their power, and perhaps to stability in their country. It is no accident that many of Calvin’s followers came to the new world seeking freedom. Calvin himself sent two chaplains to Brazil with a French Huguenot group of colonizers. By doing so, he was lending his approval to finding a place of hope and refuge for his followers. He hoped for a place where they could be free from religious persecution, and free to practice their faith. The Huguenots came early (Brazil, Port Royal, and Florida), but failed in their attempt to found a colony. They later came in droves to South Carolina (Henry Laurens-first president of the Continental Congress was a Huguenot, so was Francis Marion- the Revolutionary War general, and other).
Puritans came trying to escape to the new world and start a “city on a hill” a light for all the world to see. Pilgrims and Baptists (often Calvinistic/English Baptists) came as well. Sometimes religious freedom was hard to be grasped as the newly founded groups came to power themselves, sometimes restricting others. There is no doubt Calvin indirectly had a profound affect on early America and does so today. On Memorial Day weekend, this is an important concept to remember.

Prayer: God of the nations, King of kings, help us to trust in you to guide the nations. Guide our country, Lord, into the future.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

5/23 Scripture Alone

(Genevan Bible)


All Scripture is God-breathed 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)
The law of God is perfect, reviving the soul. More to be desired is it than gold, yes more than very fine gold. Ps. 19:10

Calvin: In short, the sense is, that we do not esteem the law as it deserves, if we do not prefer it to all the riches of the world. If we are once brought thus highly to prize the law, it will serve effectually to deliver our hearts from an immoderate desire of gold and silver. To this esteem of the law there must be added love to it, and delight in it, so that it may not only subdue us to obedience by constraint, but also allure us by its sweetness; a thing which is impossible, unless, at the same time, we have mortified in us the love of carnal pleasures, with which it is not
wonderful to see us enticed and ensnared, so long as we reject, through a vitiated taste, the righteousness of God. From this we may again deduce another evidence, that David’s discourse is not to be understood simply of the commandments, and of the dead letter, but that he comprehends, at the same time, the promises by which the grace of God is offered to us. If the law did nothing else but command us, how could it be loved, since in commanding it terrifies us, because we all fail in keeping it? fa426 Certainly, if we separate the law from the hope of pardon, and from the Spirit of Christ, so far from tasting it to be sweet as honey, we will rather find in it a bitterness which kills our wretched souls. (Commentary on Psalm 19:10)

This past week I have spoken of the three principles of the Reformation: grace alone, faith alone, and scripture alone. A fourth principle (that we will see soon) is the “priesthood of all believers.” I have earlier touched on this idea (3/8-14 blog). But wanted to go over it in this context.
Calvin’s context was writing in a time in which Luther was challenging the church to not believe in things (like indulgences, salvation by faith and works) because the pope or others have said it. For Luther (Bucer and the Anglicans), if scripture did not forbid it, it was possible to use in church. Zwingli in Zurich (and the Anabaptists) were saying if scripture did not say to do it, then it should not be done. Calvin tended to agree with Zwingli. The affects are still seen today. Anglican and Lutheran worship use many of the same liturgical elements found in Roman Catholic worship- in terms of robes, candles, altar. Reformed worship until most recently has been generally simpler. There usually is less stained glass in Reformed worship, simpler architecture, a bit less ostentation, show and liturgy. Calvin said in his tracts on baptism, “Whatever is not commanded, we are not free to choose.” Yet Calvin did recognize there were cultural elements (like the way people dressed that we did not have to follow).
The Reformed folk also threw away the lectionary for a lectionary continua. Some say the Reformation in Switzerland began when Zwingli threw away the lectionary (which told him which scriptures to preach from, which prayers to pray), and began preaching directly from Matthew verse by verse in the language of the people (not reading it in Latin or Greek). Sermons are always to be tested by scripture (by the congregation and pastor) and biblically based.
All the Reformers, however, agreed that the basic authority for the church is scripture alone. Not the scripture with the tradition of the church (the church fathers), or the Pope sitting in a certain place. The early church fathers were a secondary source. But it is very evident that the early fathers did not agree on some things. Calvin was very knowledgeable of the early fathers and had a great respect for their writings as a renaissance scholar himself (especially Augustine). He quotes from them extensively in his work, but always as a secondary, commenting source. Scripture alone is inspired by God and is supernatural in character. The Pope at the time had clearly made mistakes, and needed to be held accountable. It was a bit like Nixon and Watergate in America. Rutherford, a third generation Calvinist, would write Lex Rex (law is king) referring mainly to scriptural law as authoritative over both pope and priest, king and noble. In the providence of God, this idea came about after one era of writers (Tyndale, Wycliffe, Hus) had advocated putting scripture in the language of the people. This was why Zwingli’s reading Matthew in German was such a shock- they had never heard it in their own language before verse by verse. The printing press had been developed too, so it was easier to get the message out.
In our day, we have been giving up scriptural principles in the name of reason and listening an attending ear to hyper-criticism. At the same time our liturgies have become fancier, more ostentatious. One professor said, the more we move away from scripture, the more colorful our robes become. We have more ways to get scripture into our lives- CD, DVD, podcast, blog, internet, software, hundreds of vernacular versions and choices. We know more about scripture through archaeology, and literary criticism. But we are in a headlong disobedience (think Sabbath, adultery, greed). I believe we need a new reformation.

Prayer: How I love thy law O Lord, greater truths I can’t afford. Sweeter are your words to me than all other good can be. Safe I walk thy truth my light, hating falsehood loving right. (old Presbyterian hymn)

Friday, May 22, 2009

5/21- Calvin and Democracy


5/22- A Legacy of Representative Democracy
22 Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (Prov. 15:22 NIV)
Calvin: I will not deny that aristocracy, or a system compounded of aristocracy and democracy,F960 far excels all others: not indeed of itself, but because it is very rare for kings so to control themselves that their will never disagrees with what is just and right; or for them to have been endowed with such great keenness and prudence, that each knows how much is enough. Therefore, men’s fault or failing causes it to be safer and more bearable for a number to exercise government, so that they may help one another, teach and admonish one another; and, if one asserts himself unfairly, there may be a number of censors and masters to restrain his willfulness. This has both been proved by experience, and also the Lord confirmed it by his authority when he ordained among the Israelites an aristocracy bordering on democracy, since he willed to keep them in best condition Exodus 18:13-26; Deuteronomy 1:9-17] until he should bring forward the image of Christ in David.(IV.20.8)

John T. McNeill (The History and Character of Calvinism p. 411) said’ “While Cavlinists have adopted a variety of political attitudes, it is possible to affirm one generalization that admits to few exceptions. They have favored and fought for representative government and rejected the various forms of absolutism.” Max Weber, the historical sociologist attributed the fall of feudalism and rise of capitalism to Calvin, but also hinted at the emphasis of representative democracy to Calvin as well. Calvin did not found the idea of representative democracy, but there is little doubt that he helped spread it. The Swiss already had their councils before Calvin was on the scene, but Calvin helped preserve the council and founded the consistory for the church (even though the council exiled him and often was at odds with him). Some have said Calvin started a theocratic government in Geneva, but there is little doubt that it was separate from the church. In fact, when Servetus was killed an anti-Calvin party (the Libertines) was in charge of the council. But if it is meant that Calvin saw all governments as “under God” then they are right.
This is the 500th anniversary of Calvin’s birth, but it is the twentieth of the “Autumn of nations”, the revolutions against communism beginning in Poland (influenced by Roman Catholics) and Hungary and Romania (influenced by the Hungarian Reformed churches). It was May 1989 when Solidarity, the union was legalized in Poland as a political party, and when Hungary began the first tear in the iron curtain opening the way for East Germans to go to West Germany through Hungary via Czechoslovakia. One of the most amazing circumstances was the candlelight vigil in Romania around the Reformed Church and its pastor László Tőkés, who was to be removed from his office by the government for his inflammatory sermons. Hundreds of thousands prayed, lit candles, and locked arms. This was the turning point in the nine day revolution in Romania. There are those who think the church is irrelevant. The Soviets said that for 80 years, but it was not true. Just twenty years a revolution happened led mainly by Catholics in Poland and the Reformed (Calvinists) in Hungary and Romania.
The scripture says “Plans fail for lack of council.” Calvin was deeply aware of our sin, and thought a possible check on sin would be for people to check each other. Certainly in the Bible there are various forms of government- by kings, by judges, theocracy under Moses. One of the most constant features of government in the Old Testament was the elder. In the New Testament the church picked this up. So Calvin sought to instill the idea of both a company of pastors and a body of elders that steered the church. For individual Christians, this means we need to seek counsel in our decisions- from God, but also others.
Prayer: Lord, you put us around others for a reason. You encourage us, admonish us, rebuke us, and mold us with others. Help us to be wise and listen to advice from others and from your Word.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

5/21- How do We Keep Faith?


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

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (II Timothy 4:7,8)

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Rev. 2:4,5) To those who are victorious and do my will to the end I will…give authority over nations (2:26), I will make pillars in the temple of my God- never will they leave it; (3:11); I will give the right to sit with me on my throne (3:21)

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. If one seeks the reason for the difference — why some steadfastly persevere, and others fail out of instability — none occurs to us other than that the Lord upholds the former, strengthening
them by his own power, that they may not perish; while to the latter, that they may be examples of inconstancy, he does not impart the same power. (II.5.3)

On this day (1536) Geneva declared itself Protestant. Ironically, today there are more Roman Catholics (39.5%) in the city than Protestant (17.4%). In 1816 the city allowed Catholic parishes within its bounds. On June 30, 1907 the city declared a separation of church and state. Since World War II the city state has steadily lost its Protestant population base.
Many Christians in the West are losing their faith (down 8-10% in the USA in ten years), while the faith is growing in China, Africa, and South America. There are many reasons for this from a secular point of view: 1) The secularism of the West, and the cutting out of the government’s even subtle support of the faith. 2) The accompanying degrading of a corporate day of rest and worship (time for God); 3) The sexual revolution and its accompanying rebellion against scriptural principles; 4) The Enlightenment idea that we are the judges of religion instead of religion judging us. 5) A lack of desire to believe the scriptures and a scholarly justification of that through hyper-criticism of scripture.
There was a study done concerning those who grew up Presbyterian and were still Presbyterians as adult, to find out what they had in common. The study basically found that those who went to summer camps or on mission trips as youth tended to keep their faith as adults. Those kind of retreat settings allow those in a secular environment see what it might be like to live as Christians in a non-secular, God-centered, believing environment.
In the end, Calvin had it right. We can go to camp, go on a mission trip, read the scriptures on our own, attend church regularly, but we still could fall away. Perseverance is a gift from God as much as anything else. So we should ask God for the gift of perseverance for our young people, and for the next generation. We need to ask that God would move again in our midst.

Prayer: Lord, you are able to keep us from stumbling. In a world full of darkness, keep our light shining that we might glorify and bless you. Move again, by the power of your Holy Spirit, and renew, reform, and remake us.

5/20 Justification and Credit Card Forgiveness


Not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to his mercies he saved us. By the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Ghost. (Titus 1:5)

Calvin: Therefore we must now discuss these matters [justification] thoroughly. And we must so discuss them as to bear in mind that this is the main hinge on which religion turns…(III.11.1). The power of justifying, which faith possesses, does not lie in any worth of works. Our justification rests upon God’s mercy alone and Christ’s merit, and faith, when it lays hold of justification, is said to justify. (III.18.8)

We are not justified because we believe. If that were true, then salvation would be by the work of faith. We are justified by grace through faith. Faith itself is a gift from God.
Calvin called justification “the hinge on which religion turns.” For Luther, it was the key concept of the Reformation. The old American common definition of justification is “God accepts me just as if I never sinned.” When we put our trust (fiducia) in God, then we are accepted by Him.
I like the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s definition: “Justification is an act of God’s free grace, in which he pardons all our sins, accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.”
Yesterday the Senate passed a resolution about credit card relief. It is a way to relieve punitive measures of the credit card companies that were used to raise cash for these companies. Namely- if you were late on one payment, they could raise your interest rate to its highest percentage (I’ve heard of 30% annually). There were other things too like if you went over your balance they would immediately raise your rate, or they would charge excessive fees. Many have become distressed/depressed because of such high debt rates. Now, a year ago, most of these companies were luring people in promising things like 0% interest for three months, or balance transfers of say 5%. But if you use your card and forget or mess up, with its often high balances, you could get hammered.
Justification in some ways means you are accepted and forgiven by grace. If you are late, if you do wrong, if you make a mistake, you are accepted. It is like the big banker in the sky has paid your debt and you are set free. Our debt is not owed to a bank, but to God Himself.
Presbyterians pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Sin is a debt we owe that needs to be forgiven. Justification allows us to be accepted because of what Jesus has done- paying our debt for us.

Prayer: Thank you God, that you accept us- just as we are. Thank you that you have paid our debt and set us free. Help us to be forgiving of others because you have forgiven us. Amen.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

5/19- Faith as Confidence and Trust


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







“In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” Ephesians 3:12

Calvin: “Unbelief is so deeply rooted in our hearts, and we are so inclined to it, that not without hard struggle is each one able to persuade himself of what all confess with the mouth: namely, that God is faithful… The apostle derives confidence from faith, and from confidence, in turn, boldness. For he states: “Through Christ we have boldness and access with confidence which is through faith in him” [Ephesians 3:12 ]. By these words he obviously shows that there is no right faith except when we dare with tranquil hearts to stand in God’s
sight. This boldness arises only out of a sure confidence in divine benevolence and salvation. This is so true that the word “faith” is very often used for confidence. (3.2.15)

Faith is basically trust (fiducia) for Calvin based on knowledge, but empowered by the Holy Spirit. Calvin does speak about the human struggle against doubt. But faith enables us to have confidence even in the midst of the uncertainties and problems of life.
John Ortberg (a PCUSA pastor) has an excellent little book called “Faith and Doubt” (Zondervan 2008). He speaks extensively in one part about the idea of faith as trust (pp. 73,74). I want to quote and paraphrase a bit from these pages below:
“The idea of a leap of faith (associated with Kierkegaard) does not mean choosing to believe an impossible thing for no good reason…The leap of faith is a “leap” because it involves making a total commitment. It can be made for good reasons, but we have to commit in spite of our fears and doubts.”
He speaks of Mortimer Adler, the great philosopher, who believed in God because of the argument of design, but did not worship him. “He believed in a god as he believed in the ozone layer.” But one day in a hospital bed a friend prayed for him, and he found himself praying. He said his “leap of faith was not a ‘jump to conclusions based on insufficient evidence.’ But it was a leap from assent to devotion.
Ortberg speaks of his hang gliding friend taking him to the parking lot near a cliff and telling him about hang gliding. He heard of how strong the harness on the hang glide was, the aerodynamics of hang gliding, and the very slight chances of death by hang gliding. Ortberg was convinced it was safe- in the parking lot. But when his friend took him to the edge of the cliff and invited him to hang glide, his doubts and sense of certainty plummeted. It was not a matter of argument or evidence at that point. Despite his doubts there was to be a leap of faith- and he did leap and was safe.
Ortberg concluded, “If I leap I don’t know for sure what will happen. But if I don’t leap…I will never soar. I will live and grow old and die standing on the side of the cliff.”

Prayer: Lord, in these uncertain times, grant me confidence, faith, trust. Give me the grace to live my life in worship of you.

Monday, May 18, 2009

5/18 -Faith






“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Hebrews 11:1-3)

Calvin: [Faith is] “A firm and certain knowledge of God’s benevolence toward us, founded upon the truth of the freely-given promise in Christ, both revealed to our minds and sealed upon our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (III.2.7)

There are three parts to this definition of faith by Calvin.
1) Faith was not an implicit and blind trust in the church. Faith was not based on ignorance, but knowledge. So it is important to know something as a part of faith. Faith is not separate from content or the object of faith. If I am stepping out on the ice in faith, then I must have some idea that it is ice and not cold water. I must have some idea that the ice is thick enough to hold me. If I say I believe in God, then I must have some idea of who God is that I believe in.
2) It is based on the revealed promises in scripture. It is not that we figure out what faith is or who God is on our own, but God reveals Himself to us. This itself is a gift. Calvin was distrustful of human knowledge apart from God. Idolatry is making God into the image we want Him to be. Calvin seeks to know the God revealed to us. Jesus is God revealed to us. But Calvin would also say that Jesus believed the scriptures of the Old Testament (and the New Testament is an immediate and trustworthy witness to Jesus) and it is important to listen to what the Bible says of God.
3) Faith is sealed by the Holy Spirit. For Calvin the Holy Spirit makes God real to us. The Spirit illuminates the scriptures making the old words new. The Spirit takes common water and makes it a spiritually cleansing instrument in baptism. The Spirit takes common bread and wine and makes them spiritually significant for us. The Holy Spirit is the final word for giving the believer assurance that they are God’s and heaven bound.

There is an element of blindness in faith. We see but through a mirror dimly here. Faith is not sight nor is it knowledge. Kierkegaard spoke of the blind leap of faith. But it is a leap of faith in that it is based on two things- the promises of scripture and the Holy Spirit’s assurance in our hearts. Today many do not believe the promises of scripture. Without a belief that the scriptures are somehow God’s revealed Word to us, our faith is just a leap in the dark based on nothing. This blind faith is a shallow, empty, meaningless faith. My guess is even those “Christian theologians” who say they don’t believe scripture still do so parasitically (or there wouldn't be an image of Jesus to distort). That is, they believe because of their past tradition and they can’t get away or explain why they believe the Christian faith they have. Faith has to involve trust, and trust shows itself in the way we live.
Luther gave the illustration of a someone wanting to go on a journey overseas. A person may need to go, but if they don’t trust the ship, they will not get on it. There must be trust in the ship. This shows not just by saying they believe in it, but by getting on it.
The other ship illustration would be that of the ship sailing into the horizon. This is often used at funerals, but it is still a good illustration of faith. When the ship is leaving our sight we say, "There she goes- she's gone." She is not really gone, just gone from our sight. But on the other side of the horizon some are saying, "Here she comes." Faith based on knowledge tells us the ship is not gone forever simply because she is gone from our sight.

Prayer: Lord give us the gift of faith. Help our unbelief to be transformed into belief. Let our knowledge and trust in you grow this day. Amen.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

5/17- Grace Alone and Calvin

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. And that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God not works lest anyone should boast. Ephesians 2:1,8,9

Calvin: Now we have from Augustine’s own lips the testimony that we especially wish to obtain: not only is grace offered by the Lord, which by anyone’s free choice may be accepted or rejected; but it is this very grace which forms both choice and will in the heart, so that whatever good works then follow are the fruit and effect of grace; and it has no other will obeying it except the will that it has made. There are also
Augustine’s words from another place: “Grace alone brings about every good work in us.” (II.3.13)

Grace has been defined in different ways. I remember hearing Billy Graham define it as “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” A more classical definition is “unmerited favor.” Grace is one of the three (sometimes four) watchwords of the Reformation (Grace alone, faith alone, scripture alone). Calvin especially emphasized grace. I believe his emphasis on providence, predestination, and giving glory to God all came from his understanding of God’s grace. For Calvin life is a gift, and the gifts, talents, and abilities we have are all from Him as well.
The concept of grace in the church before the Reformation was that you do all you can to save yourself and then God’s grace helps you up the rest of the way. In a crass way it was like a point system. If you needed a 100 grade to get into heaven, and you only make a 70, you ask for God’s grace to help you up the rest of the way. This evolved somewhat into asking the really good saints (like Mary, Joseph, the disciples, and other saints) to give us a little bit of their extra credit (Mary may have made a 1,000 on her test so she had more grace to give). So praying to the saints evolved. For Calvin, we do not need to pray for the saints- and he did not see that example in scripture. Instead we are saved by grace alone- and all our works are as Isaiah says, “filthy rags.” Anything good we do is also caused by God’s Spirit, so we can’t boast of what we have done.
The old way of grace was you climbed as far as you could up the ladder and the saints (or the prayers of others after you died) helped you the rest of the way. Calvin would look at Ephesians 2:1 and say we can’t climb any ladder. We are dead in our sins. Dead men to climb. We don’t reach up to the lifeguard to save us. The lifeguard comes into the water, pulls us out when we had no life in us, resuscitates us and we are saved. This is the concept of grace alone. It is a wonderful concept in that God gets the glory He deserves. It is a humbling concept for us in that it takes away human pride (the root of all sin). It is an amazing concept that reminds us that we were lost but God found us.

Prayer: Thank you God, for your amazing grace that helps us, guides us, saves us. Amen.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

5/16- Calvin and retreats

(Calvin arguing with his cousin)


Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men [Moses and Elijah] standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (He didn’t know what he was saying.) (Luke 9:32,33)

Calvin on Monasteries: - It was a beautiful thing to forsake all their possessions and be without earthly care. But God prefers devoted care in ruling a household, where the devout householder, clear and free of all greed, ambition, and other lusts of the flesh, keeps before him the purpose of serving God in a definite calling. It is a beautiful thing to philosophize in retirement, far from intercourse with men. But it is not the part of Christian meekness, as if in hatred of the human race, to flee to the desert and the wilderness and at the same time to forsake those duties which the Lord has especially commanded. Though we grant there was nothing else evil in that profession, it was surely no slight evil that it brought a useless and dangerous example into the church. (4.13.16)

Calvin pointed out corruption in the monastery. It was possible to improve in spirituality in a monastery, but it was also possible to degenerate in a monastery too. Above Calvin reminds us that we are called not to retreat from the world, but to go into the world with the gospel. Calvin himself was constantly tempted to retreat into the life of isolation with his books and writings. Yet he involved himself with others in the company of pastors, in the consistory, in his numerous letters and visits. Twice Calvin was rebuked by Farel for wanting to follow the scholarly life instead of serving God in ministry- twice Calvin responded even though he knew that to respond meant a harder life.
There is always a pull upon the devout Christian to retreat away and stay in retreat. It shows in different ways. We have a conference center in my denomination called Montreat. It is a wonderful mountain valley that was cool in the summer compared to many places. It is a great place to go to listen to scholars, to famous preachers (Billy Graham lives there), and to be in an environment away from some of the temptations of life (drugs, sex, alcohol, violence). I have been there many times. Every time I have had a group there I have heard more than one say that they wish they could just stay up there. Some churches stay so busy with so many meetings that their best members do not have opportunity to be salt or light in the world. There is something appealing about being with other believers whose goal is to grow in faith, grow in love, and share the same hope. In my mind, this is a natural longing for heaven where this will be so. I think some denominations are formed (in the legacy of the Donatists and Novatians who wanted a perfect church and clergy) with the hope that we can somehow create a heaven on earth. Peter wanted to encapsulate the transfiguration by building three booths. But in this life retreats, transfigurations, movements of God’s Holy Spirit cannot be boxed. But they are glimpses of the life to come. On this side they are energizers to our faith so that we will go into the world and share the love of Christ.
So I have made my reservations. I am going to Montreat for a retreat studying Calvin, and I am going on a mission trip to Peru’s Amazon, and going to Israel in 2010. But I also know that for the most part God is calling me to live where he has placed me- with my family- as a witness to Him. This is what Calvin says is a “definite calling.” I guess we all have that.

Prayer: Lord, you have placed me and led me to the mountaintops and through the valleys. I confess my desire to get away and retreat from the hard things of life.

Friday, May 15, 2009

5/15- Calvin on the importance of marriage

(Young Calvin speaking to a family)

Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. (Hebrews 13:4)

Calvin: Paul lists marriage among the virtues of the bishop; the papists teach that it is an intolerable fault in the church order. And, please God, not content with this general blame, they call it in their canons uncleanness and
pollution of the flesh.F441 Let every man ponder from what workshop these things have come! Christ deems marriage worthy of such honor that he wills it to be an image of his sacred union with the church [Ephesians 5:23-24, 32]. What more splendid commendation could be spoken of the dignity of marriage? With what shamelessness will that be called unclean or defiled in which a likeness of Christ’s spiritual grace shines forth!
(IV.12.24)

It is clear that Calvin held marriage in the highest regard. He lived his life that way. For most of his life he was celibate, but he was married nine years to Idelette de Bure, a widow of an Anabaptist. It is clear that he loved her though she was sick most of their lives together.
For Calvin, God created marriage as a blessing for human kind. He thought the Roman Catholics were being overly-harsh and going beyond scripture in their restrictions on celibacy with their clergy. In his day marriage was being degraded to the laity, while the spiritual elite (priests, monks, nuns) were called to something higher. He noted that one of the reasons there was so much sexual immorality in his day was the uncelibacy, unchastity, and sexual immorality of the clergy of his day. While the ideal for the Roman Catholics was chastity, the ideal for Calvin became marriage (or chastity outside of marriage). Calvin and Luther both married and saw the family unit as an encouragement against the world.
It is amazing to me today how marriage is held in such disregard. I have been frankly, upset that the churches seem so intent on making money on marriage. I have done what I can to keep prices down in my own church (somewhat unsuccessfully). Some do not get married because they see weddings as so expensive. Some do not get married because of the emotional and economical costs of divorce- which has been hovering at 50% for all marriages in the U.S. for years. For the first time, recent studies show that births to unwed mothers have gone to 40% (it was 33% for about ten years). Fully 60% of kids by the time they are 18 have seen their parent’s marriage breakup. The economic costs to this is staggering, for poverty tends to follow divorce- not just in the short run. In a poor economy, one of the best things we can do is to uphold marriage, and we are doing the opposite! Michael Novak said that marriage is the first department of Health, education, and welfare. Laws do not uphold marriage as much as the church should and does. There is still a strong correlation with church attendance and staying married. However, many churches are following the world’s lead in this. I guess the best thing we can do is thank God for marriage and family, and do all we can to uphold it ourselves, and to encourage those we know who are married. Hebrews said that “marriage should be held in honor by all people- even those who are not married.

Prayer- Lord, strengthen our country’s marriages. Bless those we know who are going through hard times in their marriage because of the economy. Be merciful to our families and to us.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

5/14- Providence and Responsibility


5/14- Providence and Human Responsibility

“You must bear witness in Rome” (Acts 23:11). “There will be no loss of life among you..and not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you.” (Acts 27:22,24). “Unless these men stay with the boat you cannot be saved” (Acts 27:31).

Calvin: Profane men with their absurdities foolishly raise an uproar, bso that they almost, as the saying is, mingle heaven and earth. If the Lord has indicated the point of our death, they say, we cannot escape it. Therefore it is vain for anyone to busy himself in taking precautions. One man does not dare take a road that he hears is dangerous, lest he be murdered by thieves; another summons physicians, and wears himself out with medicines to keep himself alive; another abstains from coarser foods, lest he impair his weak health; another is afraid of living in tumble-down houses. In short, all devise ways and forge them with great purpose of mind, to attain what they desired. Now either all these remedies which attempt to correct God’s will are vain; or else there is no fixed decree of God that determines life and death, health and disease, peace and war, and other things that men, as they desire or hate them, so earnestly try by their own toil either to obtain or to avoid. Also they conclude that believers’ prayers, by which the Lord is asked to provide for things that he has already decreed from eternity, are perverse, not to say superfluous. To sum up, they cancel all those plans which have to do with the future, as militating against God’s providence, which, without their being consulted, has decreed what he would have happen. Then whatever does happen now, they so impute to God’s providence that they close their eyes to the man who clearly has done it. Does an assassin murder an upright citizen? He has carried out, they say, God’s plan. Has someone stolen, or committed adultery? Because he has done what was foreseen and ordained by the Lord, he is the minister of God’s providence. Has a son, neglecting remedies, with never a care awaited the death of a parent? He could not resist God, who had so appointed from eternity. Thus all crimes, because subject to God’s ordinance, they call virtues. But with respect to future events, Solomon easily brings human deliberations into agreement with God’s providence. For just as he laughs at the dullness of those who boldly undertake something or other without the Lord, as though they were not ruled by his hand, so elsewhere he says: “Man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord will direct his steps” [Proverbs 16:9 p.]. This means that we are not at all hindered by God’s eternal decrees either from looking ahead for ourselves or from putting all our affairs in order, but always in submission to his will. The reason is obvious. For he who has set the limits to our life has at the same time entrusted to us its care; he has provided means and helps to preserve it; he has also made us able to foresee dangers; that they may not overwhelm us unaware, he has offered precautions and remedies. Now it is very clear what our duty is: thus, if the Lord has committed to us the protection of our life, our duty is to protect it; if he offers helps, to use them; if he forewarns us of dangers, not to plunge headlong; if he makes remedies available, not to neglect them. (I.17.3,4)

If God has created all things, governs all things, and if God knows what will happen before it ever does, and even decrees it, then how does human responsibility fit in? Calvin really doesn’t answer, except to rule out that God is only in charge of part of the universe and we are in charge of the other part. For Calvin, it is almost a waste of time to try to figure it out because the Bible doesn’t explain how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility fit together. But scriptures recognize God’s sovereignty and human responsibility together.
There are several examples of this. Samuel was told “Tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin” (I Sam. 9:16), and then it seemed an accident that Saul, who had been responsibly looking for his father’s donkeys found them close to Samuel. The Exodus was predicted by God, but the people had to be willing to leave and follow Moses. It was predicted that David would sit on the throne by Samuel, but David had to be willing to take steps to be king. Certainly Jesus’ death was predicted (eg. Isa. 53, Ps. 22) yet the Romans and Jewish leaders played a part and are responsible for their actions. Judas was predicted to betray Jesus- in the Psalms and by Jesus himself, yet he is held responsible for his actions. Paul was told he would bear witness in Rome (and thus survive the shipwreck), and that no one would lose their lives, but when the shipwrecked, they were to try to swim and float. We could go on and on. There is a juxtaposition between God’s foreknowledge plus even directing the future and human responsibility for their actions.
Yancey pointed out that a friend in alcoholics anonymous used to have a problem with how human responsibility and sovereignty interacted. He asked the question, "How can a person accept full responsibility for her actions even when she knows that family background, hormonal imbalances, and supernatural forces of evil all contribute to that behavior? Yancey quotes a character in Faulkner- "I ain't got to, but I can't help it." ("I Was Just Wondering" p. 44) In AA people are taught to take responsibility and to stop rationalizing by blaming in effect providence.


Prayer: Lord, let me find the balance between trusting you and being responsible. Help me to pray all I can, do all I can, and trust all I can, knowing my abilities are also gifts from you.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

5/19 Providence and Pleasure


(Ten Lepers- woodcut of Melanchthon's book)


5/13- Providence and Pleasure

“All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand they are satisfied with good things. When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.” (Psalm 104:27,28)
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. “ (James 1:17)

Calvin: Gratitude of mind for the favorable outcome of things, patience in adversity, and also incredible freedom from worry about the future all necessarily follow upon this knowledge [of providence]. Therefore whatever shall happen prosperously and according to the desire of his heart, God’s servant will attribute wholly to God, whether he feels God’s beneficence through the ministry of men, or has been helped by inanimate creatures. For thus he will reason in his mind: surely it is the Lord who has inclined their hearts to me, who has so bound them to me that they should become the instruments of his kindness toward me. In abundance of fruits he will think: “It is the Lord who ‘hears’ the heaven, that the heaven may ‘hear’ the earth, that the earth also may ‘hear’ its offspring” [cf. Hosea 2:21-22, Vg.; 2: 22-23, EV]. In other things he will not doubt that it is the
Lord’s blessing alone by which all things prosper. Admonished by so many evidences, he will not continue to be ungrateful. (I.17.7)

Belief in providence allows us to be grateful to God and give Him the glory for the good things of life. Belief in providence also allows us to face problems with patience and lack of worry. In our world full of worry (swine flu, economy- the auto giant’s failures), we need to get back to a belief in providence.
Philip Yancey once wrote that if Christians have problems answering why a good God allows pain in the world, atheists also have a problem of how no God allows pleasure and beauty in the world (“I Was Just Wondering” p.33). Why do we have taste buds? Why can we discern colors? Why are we able to enjoy comfort? How is it possible for so many to have joy even though they may face heart aches or pain? The hymn says, “All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above. So thank the Lord, so thank the Lord for all His love.” I remember reading a book on evil by a professor at UNC who was rebelling against his fundamentalist upbringing by becoming an atheist. He said he was generally happy and even set free, but he felt alone and that there was no one to thank. Many are wonderful at criticizing belief in Jesus and the church, but there is always something missing. Pleasure points to God’s providential blessing. We can appreciate beauty best when we understand the artist’s hand and design. The first benefit of a belief in providence, for Calvin, is gratitude. Gratitude is a primary ingredient to worship and glorifying God.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the beauty of life, and for the pleasures you have designed for us in life. Help us to see your hand and appreciate your blessings.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

5/12- God's Providential Control

(Cyrus and Daniel Before Bel the Idol- Rembrandt 1633)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

5/12- Calvin and God’s Providential Control

1 "This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: 5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, 6 so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting people may know there is none besides me. I am the LORD, and there is no other. 7 I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things. 8 "You heavens above, rain down my righteousness; let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness flourish with it; I, the LORD, have created it. 9 "Woe to those who quarrel with their Maker, those who are nothing but potsherds among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, 'What are you making?' Does your work say, 'The potter has no hands'? 10 Woe to those who say to their father, 'What have you begotten?' or to their mother, 'What have you brought to birth?' 11 "This is what the LORD says— the Holy One of Israel, and its Maker: Concerning things to come, do you question me about my children, or give me orders about the work of my hands? 12 It is I who made the earth and created human beings on it. My own hands stretched out the heavens; I marshaled their starry hosts. 13 I will raise up Cyrus [b] in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty." (Isaiah 45:1,5-13)


Calvin: At the outset, then, let my readers grasp that providence means not that by which God idly observes from heaven what takes place on earth, but that by which, as keeper of the keys, he governs all events…
Many babble too ignorantly of bare foreknowledge. Not so crass is the error of those who attribute a governance to God, but of a confused and mixed sort, as I have said, namely, one that by a general
motion revolves and drives the system of the universe, with its several parts, but which does not specifically direct the action of individual creatures. Yet this error, also, is not tolerable; for by this providence
which they call universal, they teach that nothing hinders all creatures from being contingently moved, or man from turning himself hither and thither by the free choice of his will. And they so apportion things
between God and man that God by His power inspires in man a movement by which he can act in accordance with the nature implanted in him, but He regulates His own actions by the plan of His will. Briefly, they mean that the universe, men’s affairs, and men themselves are governed by God’s might but not by His determination. I say nothing of the Epicureans (a pestilence that has always filled the world) who imagine that God is idle and indolent; and others just as foolish, who of old fancied that God so ruled above the middle region of the air that he left the lower regions to fortune. As if the dumb creatures themselves do not sufficiently cry out against such patent madness! (I.16.3)

Providence for Calvin is not merely foreknowledge. There is a difference between governing the world and knowing all about it. Calvin definitely believed in God’s foreknowledge, but the god’s knowledge is different from God’s care. God achieve His ends in the world not just by knowing about it, but by directing, molding, shaping, and caring for the world. The believer needs to know that God not just knows about us, but cares about us. Jesus came to earth to show us that God not only knows we exist, but He cares about our plight and is doing something about it.
Providence is also more than God setting things in motion and leaving. God is not just the first cause, but the ruling cause. To set the winds, waves, stars in motion and to direct our affairs by such things, is cold and merciless. Calvin used the illustration of when we are born a mother’s breast is available for us. Our existence is contingent on someone beyond our control. It is not that no one is in charge (as the atheist would say); nor is it that the cold forces of nature are in charge (as the deist, or the person depending on luck would say). For Calvin, we have a loving Father who cares for us, and loves us in charge.
I believe there was a point where we felt we didn’t need God. We could pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Many alienated themselves from God because they are made about their circumstances- not having a kind of heaven on earth. Many alienated themselves from God because of their own sin, and they believe (falsely) it is easier to stay in their sin than to confess their guilt to God. Many have felt they are self-made, and have brought themselves up by their own bootstraps, and leave no room for God’s help or God’s hand (perhaps now the bootstraps have broken?). They do not recognize the curse of God (the first step of not recognizing God’s power) nor the blessings of God. So eventually they do not recognize God at all. In a troubled world of war, tremendous job loss, tightening credit, there are so many who will not call out to God because they have forgotten his providential hand, and his ability to answer prayer. I hope we do not. In Sunday’s The State paper it said that in the past recessions there was a turning back to God, but that in this recession there does not seem to be that. We have disconnected our behavior from God’s action- blessing or cursing. Calvin would point out that we will miss being able to trust in God and call out to Him- for we will think we are alone in a cold, harsh universe.

Monday, May 11, 2009

5/11- Providence and 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 Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. 4 One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. 5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty— and I will meditate on your wonderful works. 6 They tell of the power of your awesome works— and I will proclaim your great deeds. 7 They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness. 8 The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. 9 The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. 10 All your works praise you, LORD; your faithful people extol you. 11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, 12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. (Psalm 145:3-12)
Calvin: We are called to a knowledge of God: not that knowledge which, content with empty speculation, merely flits in the brain, but that which will be sound and fruitful if we duly perceive it, and if it takes root in the heart. f237 For the Lord manifests himself by his powers, the force of which we feel within ourselves and the benefits of which we enjoy. We must therefore be much more profoundly affected by this knowledge than if we were to imagine a God of whom no perception came through to us. Consequently, we know the most perfect way of seeking God, and the most suitable order, is not for us to attempt with bold curiosity to penetrate to the investigation of his essence, which we ought more to adore than meticulously to search out, but for us to contemplate him in his works whereby he renders himself near and familiar to us, and in some manner communicates himself. The apostle was referring to this when he said that we need not seek him far away, seeing that he dwells by his very present power in each of us [Acts 17:27-28]. (I.v.9)

Calvin’s first chapter of the Insitutes was about the Knowledge of God. The first part of theology is “How do we know about God?” Medieval theology was full of speculation about the essence of God. Such theology for Calvin is guesswork, and not very profitable. Calvin prefers that we look at God’s fingerprint- what God does through providence and learn about God. Calvinism believed God has a purpose for each person, and God guides each person in life- through the bad and the valleys but also through the good and the mountaintops. Calvin wrote a very tough treatise on providence in which he strongly affirmed that God works despite and through evil to accomplish good (Romans 8:28- “For we know that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose”).
There is much speculation again today about the essence of God (partly because of today’s pluralism- think panentheism, new age theology). That speculation has arisen because postmodern humans do not trust two primary sources for knowledge about God today- 1) the scriptures and 2) providence. God is not silent. God speaks to us through providence and through the scriptures. Many are saying in seminary we cannot know God because they have given up on knowing Him through scriptures and providence. But by giving up on these things, they are in effect making up God as they wish Him to be instead of how reality reveals Him. God’s revealing Himself in providence, however, is necessarily vague. It is like an artist’s painting- we cannot necessarily and absolutely discern the artist’s intent by looking at their painting. So providential knowing is always subservient to the scriptures (as natural/general revelation was subservient to the special revelation in scriptures for Calvin). C.S. Lewis once called pain “God’s megaphone.” God gets our attention through pain, through joy, through the opening and closing of doors. Calvin believed God is very active in the world today- caring for the world (and for us). This is how we can pray to God. This is one way we can know God. If we believe, we can also trust the providence of God- as Calving did.

Prayer: Open our eyes, Lord, to see your hand leading and guiding us in life.