Monday, June 29, 2009

6/30- Unconditional Election


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

6/30- Unconditional Election

16We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (II Peter 1:16,17)

Calvin: For we shall know that the moment we exceed the bounds of the Word, our course is outside the pathway and in darkness, and that there we must repeatedly wander, slip, and stumble. Let this, therefore, first of all be before our eyes: to seek any other knowledge of predestination than what the Word of God discloses is not less insane than if one should purpose to walk in a pathless waste [cf. Job 12:24], or to see in darkness. And let us not be ashamed to be ignorant of something in this matter, wherein there is a certain learned ignorance. Rather, let us willingly refrain from inquiring into a kind of knowledge, the ardent desire for which is both foolish and dangerous, nay, even deadly. (III. 21: 2)

There appeared to be three things that drove Calvin’s curiosity and writings about predestination. One we have already discussed- it clearly takes away from human ability to earn salvation and gives the glory to God; Second, Calvin saw that some had faith and others did not even though they were exposed to the same sermon and environment. How could one explain how one person’s heart was hard and another’s heart was responsive to the same message? Predestination seemed to answer that. The third reason, and really the over-arching reason for Calvin was that the Bible taught it. The Bible is God’s Word to Calvin. The Bible was not separated from the Word of God, the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible, and makes the scriptures real to us through His illumination of the words to us. In the end, it is not some apologetic or some easy doctrine that should drive our theology- but God’s Word. A “cleverly invented story” (see II Peter above) will not do.

Prayer: Lord, help us to hear, read, study, memorize and meditate on your Word. Open our eyes to what you have to say about our own salvation and your plan that are there.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

6/29- Reasons to Think about Predestination

(Lifeguard training to pull helpless person from the water]
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

6/29- Reasons to think about Predestination

28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. (John 10:28,29)

Calvin: They who shut the gates that no one may dare seek a taste of this doctrine [of election] wrong men no less than God. For neither will anything else suffice to make us humble as we ought to be nor shall we otherwise sincerely feel how much we are obliged to God. And as Christ teaches, here is our only ground for firmness and confidence: in order to free us of all fear and render us victorious amid so many dangers, snares, and mortal struggles, he promises that whatever the Father has entrusted into his keeping will be safe [John 10:28-29].(III.21.1)

Calvin thinks more about predestination and election than any other major theologian of the Reformation. Here he tells us why in part. Predestination brings humility- for more than any other aspect of salvation this doctrine tells us that we did not earn our salvation, but God chose us before we had a chance to earn it (as if we could). This doctrine therefore brings with it gratitude to God. Gratitude is a basic ingredient to the Christian life for Calvin. The third reason to think about predestination or election is that it brings about assurance of faith that we will survive the spiritual struggles of life. There are so many temptations and problems, without a doctrine that emphasizes God’s powerful grace leading us safely home, we might be caught up in fear. I am one who always likes to plan ahead. Predestination is the ultimate planning ahead by the ultimate Being. About three months ago I made a reservation at my hotel (where I am now- in Clemson) via the internet. I am always amazed that when I get there they actually are expecting me! Predestination gives us the assurance (confirmation) that our reservation has been made and paid for. No matter how many problems I may have along the way, no matter what my situation is, my reservation has been made and paid for- and is waiting on me. Now a hotel reservation made is just one less thing to worry about. But our eternal home-beyond the grave is really important. Calvin is right, there is some comfort in thinking about this.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, that before I was thinking about my future, you were. Thank you that we can rest in your love and your plan.

6/28- Saying Goodbye


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

6/28- Farewells

6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 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 4:6-8)
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters.” (Gal. 6:18)

Calvin: Farewell, most excellent and respected brother. We have a new subject for sorrow in the death of Peter Martyr. Our brother Beza is still in the camp. Ribitte went to Orleans about six months ago, being called thither to discharge the functions of a teacher. May the Lord preserve you in safety, and enrich you more and more with his gifts. My colleagues very respectfully salute you. — Yours, John Calvin.(1562 letter)

I guess this is a personal blog today. Today my last child, my son, goes off to college. He leaves after church. Kay and I have had 24 years of children, and this is a big gear shift (they call it the “empty nest”). We have loved all of our kids, and God has been really good to us giving us great children. John Calvin had a son who died in infancy and a few other miscarriages. He wrote his famous statement, “I had a son…but I have many children.”
So today I thought about farewells. Calvin’s formula in his letters for saying goodbye is similar to what is above: “farewell most excellent…then he says a word about those they mutually know- usually first the people Calvin knows there, and then the people known by the recipient of the letter. Paul was usually beginning and ending his letters with a blessing commonly involving “grace and peace” and commending their faith. Saying goodbye to friends or loved ones is an important act. I have sometimes heard people grieve saying, “I never had a chance to say goodbye.” Frankly, because of my wife’s leukemia, I am relieved that Kay and I are both alive to see this day. Also because my son is deathly allergic to peanuts, has had asthma, and has been to the doctor’s office or hospital 14 times with broken bones, I am glad he is alive too. Whenever Paul and Calvin wrote anyone, they always were concerned about their faith. So I am always concerned about the faith of my children and the folks in my church and community (and world). My son will be in my prayers today especially. We all should pray for our families, and cherish the opportunity to say goodbye- saying it with grace, peace, and faith.

Prayer: Lord, saying goodbye is a hard but necessary thing to do. Thank you for human love, and for your great mercy. We commend those we love to you, and ask your blessing upon them.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

6/27- Total Depravity II


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

6/27-
9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer. 17:9)

Calvin: Therefore let us hold this as an undoubted truth which no siege engines can shake: the mind of man has been so completely estranged from God’s righteousness that it conceives, desires, and undertakes, only that which is impious, perverted, foul, impure, and infamous. The heart is so steeped in the poison of sin, that it can breathe out nothing but a loathsome stench. But if some men occasionally make a show of good, their minds
nevertheless ever remain enveloped in hypocrisy and deceitful craft, and their hearts bound by inner perversity
(II.5.19)

Bernie Madoff deceived people of between 65 to 170 billion dollars. Stars such as Steven Spielberg and Barbara Streisand were duped. Madoff was chairman of Nasdaq at one time, and the sixth biggest trader on Wallstreet at one point. Human trust is an interesting thing. Sometimes we think we can trust because other people are trusting too. But we should even be wary of ourselves. We all have a tendency towards denial and self-deception. We may think too highly or even too lowly of ourselves. Luther said we sin in our best as well as our worst deeds. Because even the best things we do have some flaw- maybe a pride-motivated flaw- we need to look at our accomplishments with humility and gratitude to God for anything good that comes out of them. The glory and credit and honor belongs ultimately to God.
Another sign of our depravity is the tendency to mess things up over and over. It is almost like we are addicted to sin in some way. I remember the pop song, "Woops I Did It Again" that mentioned that the girl knew she was doing wrong, but she kept doing it. Paul said, "The things I know I shouldn't do, those are things I end up doing." God can help us recognize our addiction to sin, which is always the first step of recovery- "Hi I'm ____ and I'm an alcholic."
It really is important that we recognize our tendency to mess things up, to bring problems on ourselves, and that the world around us- including even the best people- can fail us. As Calvin said it is only when we recognize we are sick that we need a remedy for that sickness. The past two weeks I have struggled with allergies and laryngitis. I kept thinking it would go away, but it got progressively worse. It was only when I realized there was nothing my body could do on its own about this that I went to the doctor and got a prescription. In a similar way, we must recognize that apart from God we have no hope. We need to call on Him to help us, guide us, strengthen us in this life.



Calvin’s Prayer at the end of Jeremiah 17 commentary: Grant, Almighty God, that as we are wholly nothing and less than nothing, we may know our nothingness, and having cast away all confidence in the world as well as in ourselves, we may learn to flee to thee as suppliants, and so put our trust in thee for our present life and for eternal salvation, that thou alone mayest be glorified:

Friday, June 26, 2009

6/26- Total Depravity


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

6/26- Total Depravity (Picture adam and eve Rubens)

“This is the evil that happens in everything under the sun: the same destiny overtakes all: the hearts of people, moreover are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live.” (Ecclesiastes 9:3)
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.: (Romans 3:23)
“All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned everyone to his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa. 53:6)

Calvin: If we do not perceive our wretchedness and poverty, we shall never know how desirable is that remedy which Christ has brought to us, or approach him with due ardor of affection. As soon as we know that we are ruined, then, aware of our wretchedness, we eagerly run to avail ourselves of the remedy, which otherwise would be held by us in no estimation. In order, therefore, that Christ may be appreciated by us, let every one consider and examine himself, so as to acknowledge that he is ruined till he is redeemed by Christ. (Commentary on Isaiah 53:6)

The idea of total depravity is the first of the five points of Calvinism. Basically it means there is nothing we can do to save ourselves because sin has polluted us and our actions. Luther used to say we sin in our best deeds and our worst deeds.
Total depravity plays itself out in different ways:
1) None of us escapes- The most powerful, most educated and intelligent, the best of us still sins. Also the least powerful, poorest, uneducated and unintelligent among us sins as well. The Mark Sanfords, Bill Clintons, and the homeless person on the street all are capable of evil. We cannot condemn someone too loudly, for we fall under the same condemnation. Only God has the ultimate right to judge.
2) No action of ours is totally pure. The poison of sin effects even the best things we do. No one has absolutely pure motives, though we often deceive ourselves into thinking so. Yet, we should not despair (as Reinhold Neibuhr said so eloquently) of doing the best we can with what we have by God’s grace. The fact that our actions are not totally pure, does not mean that our actions cannot still glorify God.
3) It is not that we are good and some outside force makes us sin. No outside force is needed. We sin on the inside before we can even sin on the outside. Outside forces do influence us to sin, but there is an innate nature in us that draws us to wrongness. We are not born naturally good. We are born crying- demanding that the world meet our needs.
4) No one country, area, culture is totally good. All sin corporately and individually. Churches sin. We should not be surprised when evil raises its ugly head. In the end we all stand in need of God’s grace and human loyalties can only be temporary (not eternal) and therefore proximate not ultimate. The only God we can have is God Himself. One of the best action is to say, “Lord have mercy on me a sinner” (Or “us sinners”).
5) Our sinfulness allows us to see how great the grace and mercy of God is.

Prayer: Lord, take away our love of sinning. Forgive us, heal us, and make us new.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

6/25- Grieving Celebrities

(Job Grieving-uncomforted by his three friends)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

6/25-

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. (I Thessalonians 4:13)

Calvin (Letter to a friend upon the death of his sister): because I was not certain whether they had as yet informed you of the death of Madame your sister, I did not venture to mention it. Now I have rejoiced, and have thanked God with my whole heart, perceiving by the letter of Madame that you had at once taken your stand upon the point whereon I would have founded my principal argument, if I had wished to console you. And, indeed, you have such occasion for gratitude on account of the grace which God has vouchsafed to her, and to you also. For seeing that her husband had waxed so cold, the good lady would have been in an unhappy captivity had she remained longer in the world, and would only have languished her life away. On your part, you would not have had it in your power to lend her a helping hand, nor to solace her sorrows; and so you never could have thought of her without regret and vexation. God, therefore, has had pity upon you and her, in thus providing, and above all, in preventing the dangers into which she might have fallen in a long career, by reason of the frailty which is in us. And we have yet a better ground of further consolation, that it will not be long ere we find ourselves together again. Meanwhile, let us think of preparing ourselves to follow her, for the time will soon come. But I like much better to congratulate you, seeing that our Lord has already put these things in your heart, than to labor in Recalling them to your memory. The other news which Camus has told me about you, has also cheered me to await the time when God will bring to pass what he has put into so good a train. Monseigneur, after humble commendations to your kind favor, and having presented the humble remembrances of my wife, I pray our good Lord to have you ever in his safeguard, to strengthen you in body and in spirit, so as always to make you more abound in his service. (Letter to Falais 1546)

1546 was the year Martin Luther died. There is no indication that Calvin mentioned it in his letters or sermons. However, that same year he wrote to his friend Falais whose sister died, and to his friend Viret whose wife died. He was concerned about their welfare and grief more than the death of the mighty Luther whom he called at one point “an apostle” of the Reformation. In our instant news society, we grieve over the loss of Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. I have not met either one. I have met Mark Sanford several times, have written him, and am saddened for him and his family. But our society is consumed with celebrity worship. Talented singers die. Even though their songs and influence live on, a more important question is did they help the world glorify God more or less? Farah Fawcett was beautiful, but beauty fades. The power of governors, even presidents can erode in a heartbeat with the fickleness of our morality. Don’t get me wrong, we should pray for the Jackson and Fawcett and Sanford family. But such falls and deaths affect us really less than the neighbor down the street who dies. We do not need to grieve like the heathens. They may think it is that much worse that a great singer and dancer is no longer singing or dancing. Or that a beautiful girl is now entombed with death. But Christians are well aware of the temporary and fickle even sinful nature of life. Beauty eventually fades, and songs eventually (today quickly) lose their popularity.

Prayer: Help us, Holy Spirit to grieve with hope, and to have our eyes fixed on what will last.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

6/24- Calvin and adultery

(picture of people making fun of Calvin and his wife).
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

6/25- Calvin and Marriage

9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Calvin: “My wife, a woman of rare qualities, died a year and a half ago, and I have now willingly chosen to lead a solitary life.” (Letter of 1550). Man has been created in this condition that he may not lead a solitary life, but may enjoy a helper joined to himself [cf. Genesis 2:18]; then by the curse of sin he has been still more subjected to this necessity. Therefore, the Lord sufficiently provided for us in this matter when he established marriage, the fellowship of which, begun on his authority, he also sanctified by his blessing. From this it is clear that any other union apart from marriage is accursed in his sight; and that the companionship of marriage has been ordained as a necessary remedy to keep us from plunging into unbridled lust. Let us not delude ourselves, then, when we hear that outside marriage man cannot cohabit with a woman without God’s curse. (III.8.43)

Calvin faced adultery twice in his family. Once in 1557 when his brother Antoine Calvin’s wife, Ann, was caught in adultery with his hunchback servant , Pierre. Second in 1562 when his stepdaughter, Judith, had an affair. Calvin himself, was married to a widow, Idelette de Bure, for about nine years of his life. Before that, he was a single man who thought he may never marry, and then after Idelette’s death, he resigned himself as a widower.
Yesterday the Governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, admitted he had been in Argentina, and that he had an ongoing affair with a woman there. Sanford was obviously embarrassed by this (as he should have been). His wife, Jenny, was also embarrassed. I am embarrassed tonight for both of them Both times when Calvin’s family members had an affair, Calvin left town in embarrassment. This teaches us three lessons: 1) marriage should be held sacred. 2) we should not think that anyone is immune to horrible sins (later Calvinists called this total depravity). 3) Broken marriage affects so many. I think of the four sons who had no father on Father’s Day, and all of us who are ashamed of our state today. Sanford left town for about a week, not even telling his staff where he was going (he told them he would be on the Appalachian Trail). The state was without a leader for about a week and now maybe longer. Sanford lost any hope as a leader of the nation (he was spoken of as a possible vice presidential, or presidential candidate). Today we should pray for this family. But we should also see the devastating affects of the sin and poisoning power of adultery.

Prayer: Lord, help the fallen, and help me not to fall

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

6/24-


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

6/24-
14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." 17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." 19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed. But woe to that man who betrays him!" 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.
Under the apostles the Lord’s Supper was administered with great simplicity. Their immediate successors added
something to enhance the dignity of the mystery which was not to be condemned. But afterward they were replaced by those foolish imitators, who, by patching pieces from time to time, contrived for us these priestly vestments that we see in the Mass, these altar ornaments, these gesticulations, and the whole apparatus of useless things. (IV.10.19)

For Calvin, God and the things of God are mysterious enough, and adding liturgy, and superstitious gestures do not add to the mystery, but take away from it. Extra gestures and movements take away from the focus of the main event. For Calvin too much fanfare takes away from the main event. It is like too much lip stick ruining pretty lips; or too much hair color ruining beautiful hair. The Reformed service of communion takes about ten minutes, versus the Roman Catholic’s mass of thirty minutes. Calvin emphasized understanding over mystery. He was wary of superstitious and extra acts as things that add a pagan smokescreen to the relationship we have with God. Pagan religions would add the hocus-pocus, mumbo-jumbo, and heebie- geebies with smoke, perfumes, formulas, chimes, gold, darkness and statues. Calvin saw the New Testament faith as simple, pure, sincere, understandable, and to the point.

Prayer: give me an undivided heart, Lord, that I may fear your name. (Ps. 86:11; Ez. 11:19; O Cor. 7:35).

Monday, June 22, 2009

6/22- Calvin speaking for the persecuted


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

6/23- Caring for those persecuted in other countries

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more , and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. (I Thessalonians 1:3,4- Paul’s letter to those who were persecuted in Thesalonika)

Calvin (1537 letter to Ministers of Basle): Not very long ago we had obtained letters from the town councils of Strasbourg and Basle, by which the safety and personal security of all those, who were then imprisoned throughout France on account of religion, was commended to the care of Count William. That eminent person, as was reported, had obtained of the king that they should all be set at liberty. We rested secure in this expectation, until word was brought to us, that the fire of persecution was again raging in that quarter. Two persons have been burnt, concerning the manner of whose death you will hear from the eye-witness himself, for he can relate to you in Latin what he has narrated in detail to us. Many have been thrown into prison, who are in jeopardy of their lives, unless timely opposition is made to the fury of those who, already drunk with the blood of these two victims, are not otherwise at all likely to set any bounds to their persecuting spirit. The two who suffered have shown a remarkable spirit of constancy to the very last, although their patient endurance of suffering was tried with the most exquisite cruelty. Of a truth, we may question whether the same strength of mind will be found in the others. Relief, therefore, ought to be brought to them in their present exigency, if anyhow it can be supplied, lest those may break down who are weaker in the faith. Besides, the utmost care must be taken that the blood of the godly, which is so precious in the sight of God, may not be lightly esteemed by us. We hear that a treaty was lately agreed upon by your Rulers with our King, in which some mention was made of religion, to the effect that henceforth those who agree with yourselves in their sentiments of religion,
should not be punished with the wonted severity. If that is true, we must not allow so favorable an opportunity of helping the brethren to escape unimproved, unto whose assistance Christ is not only calling us with a loud voice, but complains that he is deserted and forsaken by us when they are deserted. Wherefore, most excellent and pious brethren, devote yourselves entirely to this cause, according to the Christian sincerity of your heart; because we are confident you will do this of your own accord, we do not press you more urgently upon the matter. Take measures, therefore, with your council, that the subject may be brought under their consideration
effectually and in earnest, and with as much brevity as possible, so that these furious men may not be able to counterwork you.

There is controversy today about how much an American government should say to uphold those protesting a violent (perhaps nuclear-violent) Iranian government. Calvin was often asked what to do about persecuted Protestants who were being brutalized, beaten, and killed. Calvin was not someone to foment open rebellion. However, he was for using legal means to protest wrong-acting government. The letter above was an example. He wrote to rulers and ministers in Basle to try to get them to find a way to relieve the persecuted Protestants in France. Calvin welcomed refugees from these persecuted lands, and was minister to the refugees in Strasburg, and Geneva for awhile. He was constantly writing to authorities to appeal for the protection of those who were to be persecuted. He did not neglect them, but used every legal means possible to be merciful to them. Calvin wrote many letters to the persecuted, to their rulers (the Institutes were written to Francis I of France), and to other rulers to try to find help for them. It was only after Calvin’s death that the St. Bartholomew’s Massacre could take place. So, our government too, should not be neglectful of those who are being de-humanized by persecution and violence, yet within legal means. It does not hurt to protest, and to find diplomatic avenues of relief to those who are facing tough times. We as Christians, should also care for other human beings who are so degraded. Whenever we hear of human beings in famine or holocaust-like events like Rwanda or Darfur, we would do well to at the least pray, and look for legal ways with our own government to ease their pain. There are about 6,000 Presbyterian in Tehran and they probably are not for the current regime. Usually there are Christian organizations who are on hand in times of crises and disasters to lend a hand to those who are hurting. I think Calvin would like that too.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

6/22- Outward and Inward Ministers


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

6/22- The Outward and Inward Minister

26 "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning. (John 15:26,27);

Calvin: When we say the Holy Spirit uses an external minister as instrument, we mean this: both in the preaching of the Word and in the use of the sacraments , here are two ministers, who have distinct offices. The a) external minister administers the vocal word, and the sacred signs which are external, earthly and fallible. But the b) internal minister , who is the Holy Spirit, freely works internally…he effects in the hearts of whomsoever he will their union with Christ through one faith. This union is a thing internal, heavenly, and indestructible… In the preaching of the Word, the external minister preaches the vocal word, and it is received by the ears. The internal minister, the Holy Spirit, truly communicates the thing proclaimed…In Baptism, the external minister baptizes with external water, the internal minister, the Holy Spirit baptizes by the blood of the spotless Lamb…In the Supper of the Lord, the external minister holds forth the external symbols, the bread fo the Lord and the qine of the Lord…but the internal minister, the Holy Spirit, feeds the souls of the faithful.

There are two great tools of ministry- the Word and Sacrament. Human ministers are the external ministers of these elements. The Holy Spirit is the internal minister who makes the Word, Baptism, and Supper real. The external, visible act works parallel to the internal invisible grace of the Spirit. So God gives us several gifts- His Word, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, ministers, and the best gift of all- the Holy Spirit. The Spirit inspired the Word, washes us with baptism, and conveys God’s presence through the supper, and calls ministers. So the Spirit is at work in the past, present and future in all of these things. Let us value these gifts


Prayer: Father, thank you for your great gifts that you give us- the Bible, baptism, and the Holy Spirit. Speak through Word and Sacrament to our heart.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

6/21- Fatherly advice

(my son and I- 18 years ago at the beach)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

6/21- Father’s Day

1 Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 2 "Honor your father and mother"—which is the first commandment with a promise— 3 "so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth." 4 Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Eph. 6:1-4)

Calvin: Parents, on the other hand, are exhorted not to irritate their children by unreasonable severity. This would excite hatred, and would lead them to rebellion. Accordingly, in writing to the Colossians, he adds, “lest they be discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21.) Kind and liberal treatment has rather a tendency to cherish reverence for their parents, and to increase the cheerfulness and activity of their obedience, while a harsh and unkind manner elicits stubbornness, and destroys the natural relationship… The Greek word, (ejktre>fete,) which is translated bring up, unquestionably conveys the idea of gentleness and patience. To protect them from the common evil of spoiling, he adds, in the instruction and reproof of the Lord. It is not the will of God that parents, in the exercise of kindness, shall spare and corrupt their children. Let their conduct towards their children be at once mild and considerate, so as to guide them in the fear of the Lord, and correct them also when they go astray. That age is so apt to become spoiled, that it requires frequent admonition and restraint. (Commentary on Ephesians 6:4)

In our previously luxurious age, parents had a tendency (perhaps influenced by Dr. Spock’s child rearing theories) that we should make life as easy as possible for our children. It was seen as part of our sacrifice for our children. However, such sacrifice was not balanced out by a desire to guide and discipline our children to make good decisions. I might say some sacrificed so much at the altar for their children that the children took the place of God for them. Children can be mean task-masters for the parents who serve them. We need to be as Calvin says, “gentle and patient” (forebearing) with our children, yet at the same time balance that with teaching and rebuking from God. As we have drifted away from our biblical moorings, we have drifted away from a source of patience and grace. Since 1995 the number of child abuse deaths has gone up in America by 25%, and now a child abuse case is reported every 10 seconds. God calls us to be gentle with our children, yet also balancing that with discipline. Calvin said many times he did not have any blood children, yet he had many who were his children. Calvin gives us some good fatherly advice.

Prayer: Lord, help the fathers in our land to have wisdom in raising their children. Help the children to listen that they may live long in the land and that we all may be blessed.

Friday, June 19, 2009

6/20- Lord's Supper as Communion


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

6/20- Lord’s Supper as Communion of Saints

17 In the following directives I have no praise for you, for your meetings do more harm than good. 18 In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God's approval. 20 So then, when you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, 21 for when you are eating, some of you go ahead with your own private suppers. As a result, one person remains hungry and another gets drunk. 22 Don't you have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you? Certainly not in this matter! (I Cor. 11:17-22)

CALVIN: Godly souls can gather great assurance and delight from this Sacrament; in it they have a witness of our growth into one body with Christ such that whatever is his may be called ours. As a consequence, we may dare assure ourselves that eternal life, of which he is the heir, is ours; and that the Kingdom of Heaven, into which he has already entered, can no more be cut off from us than from him; again, that we cannot be condemned for our sins, from whose guilt he has absolved us, since he willed to take them upon himself as if they were his own. This is the wonderful exchange which, out of his measureless benevolence, he has made with us; that, becoming Son of man with us, he has made us sons of God with him; that, by his descent to earth, he has prepared an ascent to heaven for us; that, by taking on our mortality, he has conferred his immortality upon us; that, accepting our weakness, he has strengthened us by his power; that, receiving our poverty unto himself, he has transferred his wealth to us; that, taking the weight of our iniquity upon himself (which oppressed us), he has clothed us with his righteousness(IV.17.2)

Union with Christ is a special benefit of this supper. We recognize this in that Reformed Calvinists have called this supper “communion.” We grow closer to the spiritual presence of Christ in the Supper, and grow closer to other believers as we partake of the same loaf and cup (at the least symbolically). The Lord’s Supper is a symbol of our adoption. It is open only to the children of God who believe. Those who do not believe eat and drink judgment on themselves. The children gather at the Father’s table, and the chief son blesses the food. We are nourished physically, but more importantly spiritually here. We, broken people, are united by the breaking of the bread- a symbol of His broken body. We, poured out and exhausted people, are strengthened and healed by the poured out cup- symbol of his poured out blood.

Prayer: Father, thank you for the gift of the Lord’s Supper. May we anticipate it, as hungry people anticipate food. May we long to be nourished in our soul by you, being made one with you.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

6/19- United in Baptism


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

6/19- United with Christ in Baptism

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

Calvin; Baptism also brings another benefit, for it shows us our mortification in Christ, and new life in him. Indeed (as the apostle says), “we have been baptized into his death,” “buried with him into death…that we may walk in newness of life” [Romans 6:3-4 p.]. By these words he not only exhorts us to follow Christ as if he had said that we are admonished through baptism to die to our desires by an example of Christ’s death, and
to be aroused to righteousness by the example of his resurrection. But he also takes hold of something far higher, namely, that through baptism Christ makes us sharers in his death, that we may be engrafted in it
[Romans 6:5, cf. Vg.]. And, just as the twig draws substance and nourishment from the root to which it is grafted, so those who receive baptism with right faith truly feel the effective working of Christ’s death
in the mortification of their flesh, together with the working of his resurrection in the vivification of the Spirit [Romans 6:8]. From this, Paul takes occasion for exhortation: if we are Christians, we ought to be dead to sin and alive to righteousness [Romans 6:11].

We are united with Christ. This was Calvin’s constant emphasis. We are engrafted into Him as a branch is into a vine. He is the engine and we are cars in the train- attached to and following Him. Baptism is a sign that we are one with Him. We have all been under the same water, with the symbol of dying to sin, and living to God. As water washes the leaves of a plant off and then waters the roots, so baptism washes our dirt away (so sin is gone- dead), and causes us to live. As we are one with Christ, then we are one with each other. It is because of this oneness- symbolized most visibly in baptism that there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. Baptism is a seal- an invisible brand on our foreheads- branding us for Christ. As children of God, we are heirs of God.
In our broken and divided world, we need to be united both with God and each other. Too often Christians have debated about baptism to the point of division- how old the candidate should be, who should be baptizing, how much water is used. But we miss the point. When baptism is debated in mean-spiritedness and divisiveness then we have missed the point of our oneness with Christ and each other.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for baptism that reminds us of our unity with you.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

6/18- The Purpose in Baptism


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

6/18- The Purpose in Baptism

14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. 15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:14-16)
Calvin: Baptism is the sign of the initiation by which we are received into the society of the church, in order that, engrafted in Christ, we may be reckoned among God’s children. Now baptism was given to us by God for these ends (which I have taught to be common to all sacraments): first, to serve our faith before him; secondly, to serve our confession before men. We shall treat in order the reasons for each aspect of its institution. Baptism brings three things to our faith which we must deal with individually. The first thing that the Lord sets out for us is that baptism should be a token and proof of our cleansing; or (the better to explain what I mean) it is like a sealed document to confirm to us that all our sins are so abolished, remitted, and effaced that they can never come to his sight, be recalled, or charged against us. For he wills that all who believe be baptized for the remission of sins [Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38]. Accordingly, they who regarded baptism as nothing but a token and mark by which we confess our religion before men, as soldiers bear the insignia of their commander as a mark of their profession, have not weighed what was the chief point of baptism. It is to receive baptism with this promise: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved” [Mark 16:16].[IV.15.1]


On 3/22’s blog I wrote a summary of Calvin’s basic view on baptism- that it is very similar to the Old Testament rite of circumcision. Calvin agreed with Luther that there are only two sacraments (though the Catholics had 7) because Jesus only commanded these two for all people- [“Go and baptize” and “Do this in remembrance of me.” ].
Zwingli said that the Lord’s Supper and baptism were just ordinances- or commands that are part of our sign (or profession) to the world of our belief. Calvin points to this belief above when he says “as soldiers bear the insignia of their commanders.” Certainly baptism is in part a witness to the world. But Calvin believes it is more. As the Holy Spirit is present in a special way in the Lord’s Supper, so the Holy Spirit is present in a special way in baptism. Calvin comes close to saying that baptism is a requirement of salvation (Luther comes even closer). But Calvin backs away just a bit and says baptism is like a seal on a document- that reminds us of the authenticity of that document. Baptism reminds us that we really are cleansed of our sins. Baptism is not just a sign, but it is not quite a requirement of salvation. The thief on the cross went to paradise without being baptized. In Europe today- where church attendance is dismal, many treat baptism as a kind of insurance to make sure the Christian base is covered, but most do not live in accordance to their baptism vows. In America, many just don’t see the need to be baptized at all. But baptism is a command, a sign, and a seal. We are called to not only be baptized, but to remember our baptism.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of baptism that reminds us we are yours. Help us to live in accordance to our faith.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

6/17 Word and Sacrament

(mirror image of Da Vinci's Last Supper)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

6/17- Word and Sacrament

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. 27 So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. (I Corinthians 11:23-27)
Calvin: A sacrament is…a testimony of divine grace toward us, confirmed by an outward sign, with mutual attestation of our piety toward him. Or as Augustine said…a visible form of an invisible grace. A sacrament is never without a preceding promise but is joined to it as a sort of appendix, with the purpose of confirming and sealing the promise itself. The word must explain the sign. Augustine said ..”Let the word be added to the element and it will become a sacrament.” You see how the sacrament requires preaching to beget faith. The promise is sealed by the sacraments. Each confirms the other. The sacraments are like a right hand given after a covenant is signed. They are mirrors in which we may contemplate the riches of God’s grace. The sacraments are exercises which make us more certain of the trustworthiness of God’s Word. (IV. 14.1-5 selections)

For Calvin the two signs of the true church are where the Word is rightly preached and the sacraments truly administered. The Word and sacrament go together. The word explains the sign. We could see the octagonal red sign and know that it means for us to quit travelling. But the word on the sign, “STOP” adds to the importance and urgency of the sign. The heavens may be telling the glory of God as a sign, but the ultimate Word made flesh in Jesus speaks volumes about who God is. Word and sacrament lend power to each other. So when you go to church, do not just concentrate on the sacraments and not on the Word of God. Do not simply listen to the Word preached but not pay attention to the sacrament. This is one important reason why going to church is so important. You may get the word by a blog or a podcast, but the sacrament takes someone else administering it to you- with the love of Christ and the church represented.

Prayer: Lord, open my eyes to see the visible signs of your invisible grace.

6/16 Pastoral Care and the Cure of Souls

(Young Calvin visiting in a home as pastor)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

6/16- Pastoral Care and the Cure of Souls

1 "Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!" declares the LORD. 2 Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: "Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done," declares the LORD. 3 "I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing," declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:1-4)
10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
(Jesus:) 11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. (John 10:11-14)
2 Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; (I Peter 5:2)

Calvin: “There are many people negligent in comforting themselves in God by His Word when they are afflicted with sickness, and so many die without admonition or teaching which is more necessary for a person then than at any other time. It will be good therefore that their Lordships ordain and make public that no one is to be totally confined to bed for three days without informing the minister, and that each be advised to call the ministers when they desire it in good time, in order that they be not diverted from the office which they publicly discharge in the church. Above all it is to be commanded that parents, friends, and attendants do not wait until the patient is about to die, for in this extremity consolation is in most cases hardly useful.” (Draft Ecclesiastical Ordinances 1541 Reid p. 68).

Calvin may have begun his career as a scholar-theologian, but he believed he was called first as a pastor. Jean-Daniel Benoit has written a book, “Calvin Director of Souls” in which he stated that Calvin was a theologian in order to be a better pastor. Today theology has crept back into the mode it was right before the Reformation. Theology has been left to academics who for the most part are disconnected from the church. But Calvin’s idea is that the study of God (which is what “theology” means) should glorify God in real life- and this means through His Church.
Pastoral Care in America has been complicated by the ever-increasing-secular-government and its HIPPA regulations. Twenty years ago a pastor in most American towns could call the hospital and they would provide a list of members of that church for a pastor to visit (this happened for me as late as 1999). That has been outlawed. Today if a pastor goes to a hospital, knowing one of his members is in there- and knowing the member wants a visit, but the member’s first name is different from his given name (eg. Richard instead of Dick McGillicutty), the people at the front desk are supposed to say, “I’m sorry but we don’t have a Dick McGillicutty here.” It doesn’t matter if the pastor has travelled four hours to go to the hospital or not. If the pastor doesn’t have the phone number of some relative- if there is one- then the visit and the pastor’s time is dead.
A pastor is supposed to shepherd his or her flock. They are to know them by name, know their needs, and make efforts to care for them. Part of the duty of the pastor is to offer, as much as possible care. Part of the duty of the church member is to allow themselves to be cared for. In Calvin’s day a messenger had to run with the news to the church. Today an e-mail (though not always reliable) or a phone call will do the trick instantly, and a car/subway can be used for the pastor to get to the member fairly quickly. It is so much more convenient. Yet there is a tendency (as Calvin inferred above) to stay by ourselves, or for the pastor not to deliver pastoral care. When the plague hit Geneva, Calvin offered to visit people but was forbidden to do so by the authorities. He was willing, as many pastors did, to risk his life to comfort others with prayer and the hope of God.

Prayer: Lord, bless the pastors who care for us today. Bless them despite their weaknesses and shortcomings. Help me to allow them to be a pastor to me.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

6/15- Preaching and Calvin


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

6/15/09- Calvin and Preaching

Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the messiah. (Acts 18:5)

Calvin: For first, the Lord teaches and instructs us by his Word. Secondly, he confirms it by the sacraments. Finally, he illumines our minds by the light of his Holy Spirit and opens our hearts for the Word and sacraments
to enter in, which would otherwise only strike our ears and appear before our eyes, but not at all affect us within (IV.14.8)

Calvin wrote the Duke of Somerset in England that the Anglican church needed more preaching and less reading. He said, “Preaching should not be lifeless but lively, to teach, to exhore to reprove…not making a parade of rhetoric, only to gain esteem for themselves.” (Letter to Somerset). Calvin preached over 3,000 sermons. The right administration of the sacraments and the right preaching of the Word were signs of the existence of the true church for Calvin. Preaching was sometimes called the Word of God, but they did not bind the Holy Spirit to it (in other words, sometimes it was the Word of God and sometimes not- unlike the way the Bible was described). Calvin said, “The minister is the very mouth of God” (Sermon on Deut. 25). Calvinistic preaching was not fanciful and full of rhetoric, but plain, simple and powerful. While the Roman Catholics emphasized the Mass, and the Anglicans emphasized liturgy, Pentecostals emphasize an experience of the Holy Spirit, some churches emphasize program and activity, but Calvinists emphasized preaching. The climax of the Reformed service is the preaching. Calvin believed preaching can change the world and the human heart when the Holy Spirit got hold of it. In our day, we need to emphasize preaching a bit more.

Prayer: Lord, give me ears to hear the gospel, and a heart to respond. Bless the preacher who preaches to me, Lord. Lift them up as only you can.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

6/14- Calvin and courage

(Image of St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre by Francois Dubois)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

6/14- Courage-

“Fear not for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you by my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Calvin: But let no one deceive himself, let no one cajole himself in his sinfulness, when he hears that sin always dwells in us. When we speak thus it is not that those who otherwise are all too prone to sin should slumber
untroubled in their sins, but only that those who are disturbed and pricked by their own flesh should not faint and be discouraged. Let them rather think that they are still on the way, and believe that they have made good
progress when they feel that a bit is being taken away from their lust each day, until they reach their destination, that is, the final death of their flesh, which shall be accomplished in the close of this mortal life. Meanwhile, let
them not cease to struggle manfully, to have courage for the onward way, and to spur on to full victory. For the fact that, after long striving, they see no little difficulty still remaining ought to sharpen their efforts all the
more. This we must believe: we are baptized into the mortification of our flesh, which begins with our baptism and which we pursue day by day and which will, moreover, be accomplished when we pass from this life to
the Lord. (IV.15.11)

The picture of Calvin is of someone pale, and thin- not a handsome knight or warrior. Yet Calvin had great courage. He stood up to his foes in Geneva. He wrote what he thought, often rebuking others who were in powerful positions to hurt him. He entered into Geneva knowing that the road was a lot rougher than what he planned (he wanted to be a Protestant scholar). Indeed it was. Calvinists braved many problems. The Huguenots in France and the Hungarian Reformed Church faced terrible persecutions by the Catholics. Most know the story of the Pilgrims braving the seas to come to America, along with the Puritans. The Scottish Covenanters were stubbornly brave against their English persecutors. Courage almost seems to be elicited by Calvin’s teachings. Remember he taught that we are in God’s hands, and we do not need to fear death. As Calvin put it above, death is the final cleansing from this life and the final step in growth. Calvin also spoke of answering God’s call even if that call leads to persecution or death. There was just such trust in God evident in Calvin’s thinking and the way he lived. In my mind, it is a good, sincere, courageous way. John Ortberg said, “If you want to walk on water, You’ve got to get out of the boat.” Jesus calls us to “come.” In our fearful time- when people are afraid of economic disaster, the sadness of war, and the moral uncertainties of life, we are called to be a witness to our faith by our courage.

Prayer: When I face times of fear, grant me courage, O Lord, to be a good witness for you.

Friday, June 12, 2009

6/13- Calvin and finding peace

(Jail in Philippi where Paul stayed- taken by me last November 2008)


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



“There is no peace, says the Lord, for the wicked.” (Isaiah 48:22; 57:21)
“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11b-13)


(Calvin Commentary on Philippians 4:11,12) In what state I am, that is, “Whatever my condition may be, I am satisfied with it.”Why? because saints know that they please God by their satisfaction. So, they do not measure sufficiency by having many things, but by the will of God. They can understand God’s will by looking at what takes place, for they are persuaded that their affairs are regulated by his providence and good pleasure.
12. I know both how to be abased. Paul is saying he has a mind adapted to bear any kind of condition. Prosperity is likely to puff up the mind beyond measure, and adversity, on the other hand, to depress. From both faults he declares himself to be free. I know, says he, how to be abased—that is, to endure humility with patience. is made use of twice, but in the former instance it is employed as meaning, to excel; in the second instance, as meaning, to abound, so as to correspond with the things to which they are exposed. If someone knows to make use of present abundance in a sober and temperate way, with thanksgiving, prepared to part with everything whenever it may be the good pleasure of the Lord, giving also a share to his brother or sister, according to the measure of his ability, and is also not puffed up, that person has learned to excel, and to abound. This is a peculiarly excellent and rare virtue, and much superior to the endurance of poverty. Let all who wish to be Christ’s disciples work towards acquiring this knowledge which was possessed by Paul. But in the mean time let them accustom themselves to the endurance of poverty in such a manner that it will not be grievous and burdensome to them when they come to be deprived of their riches.


There are many reasons, in Calvin’s view to have peace. There is a peace that comes from knowing God. Believing in God brings meaning to right and wrong- for God is the final judge of what is good. If God is in control, then we can rely on Him and His good judgment, and it is not up to us. If God is in control, the political election of the president, the governor is not nearly as important as the election of the saints. Our emphasis does not need to be on changing the world, but serving God and glorifying Him in the world. As we do that, the world will change. We can pray to this sovereign God knowing there is peace (Phil. 4:6,7). Paul wrote Philippians in prison. He spent time in prison in Philippi and sang while there.
There are so many without peace today in America. It shows in the epidemic of depressions, broken homes and hearts, restlessness in work and moving (the average American moves almost every two years). The more we move and are restless, the less peace we will have. Coveting is another word for always believing "the grass is greener on the other side of the fence." So many have forsaken the idea that we can replace worry with prayer; that there is a real good in finding contentment where we are.

Prayer: Lord, our hearts our restless until they find their rest in you. Give us peace within, O Lord, that our world will have more peace without to the honor of your name.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

6/12- Calvin and gifts

(Kay in front of oldest Greek temple to Apollos in Corinth. The Greeks believed that talents and gifts came from the gods too).

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

6/12- God gives us gifts

I Cor. 12 4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. 5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 8 To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Calvin: The symmetry of the Church consists, so to speak, of a manifold unity, that is, when the variety of gifts is directed to the same object, as in music there are different sounds, but suited to each other with such an adaptation, as to produce concord. Hence it is befitting that there should be a distinction of gifts as well as of offices, and yet all harmonize in one. Paul, accordingly, in the 12th chapter of Romans, commends this variety, that no one may, by rashly intruding himself into another’s place, confound the distinction which the Lord has established. Hence he orders every one to be contented with his own gifts, and cultivate the particular department that has been assigned to him. (Commentary on I Cor. 12:4)

Calvin uses a beautiful image: One piece of music but many instruments; Different parts playing in harmony. God gives us different abilities, talents, and gifts of the Spirit that are all to work together. We are patchworks on a quilt- each patch playing a part to make the quilt whole. Calvin was one to recognize the diversity within humanity. Some were well educated, some were not- but all were equal before God. Some were rich, some were poor, but in the face of eternity that mattered little. Rather than emphasize the differences, we should use our differences for the common good of glorifying God. We are not independent of our neighbor. Instead we are called to love our neighbor by working together. Whatever gifts we have, wherever God has called us, we should find peace because God has called us there, and equipped us for our task.

Prayer: God, thank you that you do not leave us as orphans. You send your Spirit and you give us gifts to remind us of you, and to equip us in life for the task of honoring you. May our gifts honor you today. Use us in harmony with each other today.

6/11- Calvin and Calling

(Isaiah by Raphael- his call)
6/11/09 Calvin and Calling

Then I heard a voice calling, Who will go for us…and I said, ‘Here am I send me.’” (Isaiah 6).
10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.(II Peter 1:10,11)
31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.(I Cor. 10:31)

But there is the good witness of our heart that we receive the proffered office not with ambition or avarice, not with any other selfish desire, but with a sincere fear of God and desire to build up the church. That is indeed necessary for each one of us (as I have said) if we would have our ministry approved by God. (I.3.11)

According to Calvin, there is an outer call- given by the church, and an inner call- given by the Holy Spirit. Every Christian is called by our God and reminded in our baptism to glorify God. We are all called to go to God and heaven. But God has called everyone to honor Him with our lives and our work (our vocation). There is a purpose in what we do. There is an illusion that only missionaries, ministers, or professionals like doctors, lawyers or teachers are called. But engineers, fire fighters, police workers, mechanics, city sanitation workers are not. But we are all called to work together for God’s glory. In this sense, Calvin gave rise and meaning to the middle class, and feudalism was doomed. God calls all to work for Him, and calls some to do his special work.
I remember a reporter on NPR making fun of President G.W. Bush saying that he believed God called him to be president. But she didn’t understand God doesn’t call necessarily verbally, but often through providence (putting someone at the right place and right time, giving them gifts), the inner call, and the outer call (election of the people/boss). Obama also talked about God’s call upon him. God does call us, not just to important jobs, but to everyday tasks.

Prayer: This day, Lord, let me hear your voice calling me to honor you with my work, my all today.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

6/10- Calvin and architecture

(Inside of Huguenot church in Charleston SC)
(Charenton church outside Paris 1623-held 5,000).


Consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus; 2Who was faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house. 3For this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honour than the house. 4For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God. 5And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; 6But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (Hebrews 3:1-6)

We…must guard against either taking them to be God’s proper dwelling places, whence he may more nearly incline his ear to us—as they began to be regarded some centuries ago—or feigning for them some secret holiness or other, which would render prayer more sacred before God. For since we ourselves are God’s true temples, if we would call upon God in his holy temple, we must pray within ourselves. Now let us leave this stupidity to Jews or pagans, for we have the commandment to call upon the Lord, without distinction of place, “in spirit and in truth” [John 4:23].

What we believe affects so much of life. It affects the way we express ourselves in art, music, and architecture as well. In turn the art, music, and architecture of those who have gone before us affect us. Calvin spoke of simplicity, integrity, truth to reality, and clarity in life, and his followers generally reflected that in their architecture. Calvinist architecture usually centers around the pulpit and communion. The early followers of Calvin closed off the chancel areas, and encouraged a circular gathering around the pulpit and table. As pointed out in another blog, Tillich pointed to the fact that Calvinistic churches had more light and less darkness so that the people of God could read the Word of God. At the beginning, Calvinists had little money to build large churches or structures. Even in South Carolina before the Revolution the state (taxes) supported the Anglican churches while Presbyterian, Huguenot, Quaker and Baptist churches often met at the same simplistic meeting house (as in Georgetown, SC). A church was simply a practical place to meet, not a temple that pointed to God. In Byzantine thought the church building was an earthly reminder of heaven. In European catholic churches there was much gold and the churches tended to be as ornate as they could be. Calvinistic churches tended to be simplistic using extra funds for education or helping the needy. This was true universally. In our day, we would do well to adhere to this idea of living simply in order to help others with education and basic needs.

Prayer: Lord, dwell in our hearts deeply. Let your love flow to us and through us to your glory. May the things we make with our hands reflect our devotion to you and concern for others. Amen.

Monday, June 8, 2009

6/9- Calvin and Rock and Roll

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

Ephesians 5:19- Make music in your heart to the Lord.
I Chronicles 15:16-22 16 David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their fellow Levites as musicians to make a joyful sound with musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals. 17 So the Levites appointed Heman son of Joel; from his relatives, Asaph son of Berekiah; and from their relatives the Merarites, Ethan son of Kushaiah; 18 and with them their relatives next in rank: Zechariah, Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Benaiah, Maaseiah, Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom and Jeiel, the gatekeepers. 19 The musicians Heman, Asaph and Ethan were to sound the bronze cymbals; 20 Zechariah, Jaaziel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Unni, Eliab, Maaseiah and Benaiah were to play the lyres according to alamoth, 21 and Mattithiah, Eliphelehu, Mikneiah, Obed-Edom, Jeiel and Azaziah were to play the harps, directing according to sheminith. 22 Kenaniah the head Levite was in charge of the singing; that was his responsibility because he was skillful at it.

Calvin: I Greet Thee who my sure Redeemer Art my only Trust and Savior of my heart,
Who pain didst undergo for my poor sake; I pray Thee from our hearts all cares to take.
Thou art the King of mercy and of grace. Reigning omnipotent in every place.
So come, O King, and our whole being sway; Shine on us with the light of Thy pure day.
Thou hast the true and perfect gentleness, No harshness hast Thou and no bitterness.
O grant to us the grace we find in Thee, That we may dwell in perfect unity.
Our hope is in no other save in Thee; Our faith is built upon Thy promise free;
Lord, give us peace, and make us calm and sure, That in Thy strength we evermore endure. (1551 Genevan Psalter)

Abraham Kuyper in his “Lectures on Calvinism” attributed a huge change in singing to the Genevan Psalter. He points out that the major music at the beginning of Calvin’s day was the Gregorian chant that had abandoned rhythm and harmony. However, the common music sung in plays and in bars did not abandon rhythm and harmony. Louis Bourgeois, Calvin's friend, took the rhythm and harmony into church. If this didn’t happen, I wonder if rock and roll would have occurred. Many musicians and singers today began singing hymns in church. Louis was one of three composers for the tunes of the 1551 Genevan Psalter (along with Guilliam Franc and Pierre Davantes). Calvin approved and even helped write the above song. One of the classic works is “Old Hundredth” that is the most used tune of the doxology. The Genevan Psalter was used by the Pilgrims in America, the Puritans, the Scottish Presbyterians, and the Reformed Church of England. The catholic Council of Trent forbade such common songs which were seen as beneath the artistic dignity of the chant. It is similar to some forbidding praise songs in church today. Calvin believed that the music should not obscure the words, and the words should be understandable (and in the language of the people- not Latin). Calvin, did not forbid four part harmony, but preferred single (monophonic) voice. He downplayed instruments in music not because he disliked instruments. He saw music as a gift of God. But he wanted the words to have precedent, so that music is less subjective and more instructive lifting our hearts not only up- but lifting them up to God. Calvin recognized the gift and the power of music. Early Calvinists were known for singing psalms even in tough circumstanes.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for the gift of music and singing. Put a song in my heart today of praise to you.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

6/8- Calvin and art


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

/8- Calvin and Art

Moses, saying, 2See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: 3And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, 4To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, 5And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship. 6And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee; 7The tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is thereupon, and all the furniture of the tabernacle,(Ex. 31:1-7)

And yet I am not gripped by the superstition of thinking absolutely no images permissible. But because sculpture and painting are gifts of God, I seek a pure and legitimate use of each, lest those things which the Lord has conferred upon us for his glory and our good be not only polluted by perverse misuse but also turned to our destruction. We believe it wrong that God should be represented by a visible appearance, because he
himself has forbidden it [Exodus 20:4] and it cannot be done without some defacing of his glory. And lest they think us alone in this opinion, those who concern themselves with their writings will find that all well balanced
writers have always disapproved of it. If it is not right to represent God by a physical likeness, much less will we be allowed to worship it as God, or God in it. Therefore it remains that only those things are to be sculptured or painted which the eyes are capable of seeing: let not God’s majesty, which is far above the perception of the eyes, be debased through unseemly representations.(I.11.12)

Art is a gift from God, Calvin said. It is a means of human expression. The best art, according to Calvin’s taste- not his demands, was art that imitated reality. Calvin did demand that we should not try to paint God nor the invisible spiritual realities. God is the greatest artist. He has an appreciation of beauty and has given us eyes and desire to appreciate beauty as well. Art is not the best way to communicate the gospel, according to Calvin. Art tends to be subjective in its interpretation, more than the written or preached word. In this sense Rembrandt (who grew up, was married in, and had his children baptized in a Reformed church), exhibited Calvinistic art.
As Leith (IRT p. 194) put it, “the nativity [in Rembrandt] occurs not in a castle but in a barn; the man on the cross is not a Greek god who is asleep but a man who is dead; Mary at the foot of the cross is not a Greek goddess with a tear on her face, but a mother who has been bereaved of her dear son.” Remember Calvin’s main sin is idolatry. So he is very cautious not to elevate humans or to falsely portray God or the spiritual.
The same could be said about the different artistic media we have today. TV, the internet, theater, printed page are all gifts of God. They should glorify God, not take away from His glory. They should add beauty to life, not dirtiness or despair. The purpose of art is not simply to arouse passion, feeling or human expression- but to glorify God in passion, feeling, and human expression. As of all things- there is good expression and passion and bad. The judge of all art is not the critic, but the greatest artist of all- the Creator.

Prayer: Help me, Lord, to have an eye for your beauty this day. Instill in me an appreciation of true beauty in art and life.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

6/7- God as trinity


6/7- Trinity Sunday

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of His Holy Spirit be with you all. II Cor. 13:14

Calvin: Moreover, because God more clearly disclosed himself in the coming of Christ, thus he also became known more familiarly in three persons. But of the many testimonies this one will suffice for us. For Paul so
connects these three — God, faith, and baptism [Ephesians 4:5] — as to reason from one to the other: namely, because faith is one, that he may thereby show God to be one; because baptism is one, that he may thence
show faith also to be one. Therefore, if through baptism we are initiated into the faith and religion of one God, e must consider him into whose name we are baptized to be the true God. Indeed, there is no doubt that
Christ willed by this solemn pronouncement to testify that the perfect light of faith was manifested when he said, “Baptize them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” [<402819>Matthew 28:19
p.]. For this means precisely to be baptized into the name of the one God who has shown himself with complete clarity in the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Hence it is quite clear that in God’s essence reside three persons
in whom one God is known. Indeed, faith ought not to gaze hither and thither, nor to discourse of
various matters, abut to look upon the one God, to unite with him, to cleave to him. (I.13.16)

Some have no problem with the threeness of the trinity- but rather the oneness of the trinity. Others have no questions about the oneness but about how the persons of the godhead act separately. So Calvin has a chapter in the Insititues addressing oneness and one addressing threeness. The quote above is about how Calvin addresses the unity or oneness of the three persons. Faith is one- so to put faith in the Father or the Son or the Spirit truly is to put faith in the three persons. Baptism is one- we baptize once in the name of God- father son and Holy Spirit.
The trinity allows that God is not simple. It also allows a self-existent God who is in communion with Himself. The trinity allows three handles for us to grasp instead of one. In the end, the trinity is a mystery not fully understood. Yet it is a mystery with many signs pointing to its existence- from the clover to ice-water-steam, to sun-heat-light to mind-body-spirit to human roles (within the same being) of husband-father-son.
Our response to the trinity is to honor each person, pray to each person, meditate on each person and as Calvin says above to unite and cleave to Him through the Holy Spirit.

Prayer: Lord, you reveal your complexity to us. It is truly beyond our understanding. Yet we have experience you in these three ways as God- as our father-Creator; as our Lord who died for us; as the ever-present Spirit who adopts and unites us to you. Help us to embrace you and grow n our love for who you are today.

6/6-Forgiveness and Graduation


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

6/6/09

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. 19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in [b] Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 7:15-23)

Calvin: So, carrying, as we do, the traces of sin around with us throughout life, unless we are sustained by the Lord’s constant grace in forgiving our sins, we shall scarcely abide one moment in the church. But the Lord has called his children to eternal salvation. Therefore, they ought to ponder that there is pardon ever ready for their sins. Consequently, we must firmly believe that by God’s generosity, mediated by Christ’s merit, through the sanctification of the Spirit, sins have been and are daily pardoned to us who have been received and engrafted into the body of the church. (IV.1.21)

Forgiveness is such an important concept. It is how we get beyond the past. It is how we are able to escape paralyzing guilt, and have confidence for the future. Calvin talks about how forgiveness is related to the church. He says unless we believe in forgiveness we won’t last a moment in church. Many have quit coming to church because they think they are not worthy to be there. But the church (as the old saying goes) is a hospital for sinners not a museum for the saints. The church is THE place where we are reminded that there is forgiveness and hope after we fall and mess up. And EVERYONE falls and messes up. On the other hand, if we believe in the Lord’s forgiveness, we ought to come to church to be encouraged not to mess up again- or at least not as much. In church we are encouraged to live for the Lord, and not for ourselves.
On the front page of The State paper today is an article about how graduation is helping a young man start a new chapter. It speaks of how he messed up as a young man, but now he has overcome his problems and gets a new lease on life. The milestones we pass are reminders that we get a fresh start. One of the reasons I love the whole New Year’s Day concept is that it is a turning over a new leaf. Calvin spoke of each day as a fresh page to write on. Today my son graduates from high school. He is not perfect, but he gets to move to a new place- Clemson- and go to college and start again. Our culture has low expectations for graduates. We do not expect them to be moral or to not drink or to go to church. It shows in the way our college students do not attend church. More than two thirds (according to Lifeway research) of Protestant young people quit church between 18-22. The majority 52% say they quit church to get a break or because of the transition (22% say they have to work on Sunday). Instead of seeing college as an opportunity for spreading the wings of their own faith- they see it as an opportunity to escape the faith. So Calvin is right. A new chapter- graduation, without the church to sustain the power of forgiveness doesn’t mean much. To be forgiven and then to not seek to live in that forgiveness is as Bonhoeffer said “cheap grace.”

Prayer: Thank you God for putting milestones in our lives that give us a fresh start. Help us to use these as opportunities for good and not for evil.

On a different (and random) topic- 66 years ago on 6/6 D-Day took place.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

6/5- Holy Spirit and Sanctification

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


6/5- The Holy Spirit and Sanctification

To the pilgrims of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied. (I Peter 1:1,2)

Calvin: Christ came endowed with the Holy Spirit in a special way: that is, to separate us from the world and to
gather us unto the hope of the eternal inheritance. Hence he is called the “Spirit of sanctification” [cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2; Romans 1:4] because he not only quickens and nourishes us by
a general power that is visible both in the human race and in the rest of the living creatures, but he is also the root and seed of heavenly life in us. To the Kingdom of Christ, then, the prophets give the lofty title of the time
when there will be a richer outpouring of the Spirit. There is a passage in Joel notable above all others: “And in that day I shall pour forth of my spirit upon all flesh” [Joel 2:28 p.]. For even if the prophet seems to restrict the gifts of the Spirit to the prophetic office, under this figure he signifies that, in manifesting his Spirit, God will make disciples of those who were previously destitute and empty of heavenly doctrine.(III.1.2

Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit calls us to be holy and live for Him. Calvin has sometimes been called the “Theologian of the Holy Spirit” and sometimes “the theologian of sanctification.” Luther emphasized justification, while Calvin emphasized sanctification. In justification sin is pardoned. In sanctification it is subdued. Justification is perfect, while sanctification is growing into perfection. Justification is forgiveness and acceptance, but sanctification is growth in grace. Barth points out that Calvin speaks of sanctification in his Institutes long before he speaks of justification. He also focuses on the law as a guide to live the Christian life. It is not that justification is God’s work and sanctification is our work. They are both the work of God. But particularly the Holy Spirit leads, guides, gives gifts, enables fruit, strengthens, inspires us to live for God.

Prayer: Holy Spirit, you give us gifts and call us to live for you. Help us to grow closer to you, and help us to honor you with our lives this day.