Monday, August 31, 2009

8/31- Seeking Humility

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

8/31- Philippians 2:3,4
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Calvin abridged: There are two very dangerous pests that disturb the peace of the Church: strife is awakened when people stubbornly maintain their own opinion and when it has begun it is impossible to stop. Vain conceit (vain-glory) tickles minds, so that everyone is delighted in their own inventions. So the only way of guarding against dissensions is by deliberately acting peacefully avoiding ambition. Vain-glory means glorying in the flesh; what is the basis of glorying in ourselves that is not vanity? “in humility”- For both diseases he brings forward one remedy—humility; Humility is the mother of moderation whose effect is yielding up our own right and giving preference for others. His definition of humility is when everyone esteems themselves less than others. This is tremendously difficult. Someone said, ‘Everyone has the mind of a king, by claiming everything for themselves.’ From this lack of humility comes contempt of the brethren. It appears everyone wants to be on Paul’s level, and everyone wants to have superiority. How is it possible for someone in a superior position [like a king or an employer] reckon those superior to him whom all know are greatly beneath him? This depends on a right estimate of God’s gifts and our weakness. If someone has great endowments, they should not think these are given so they might be self-complacent, or for self-exaltation or even to build up self-esteem. Instead they should use their energy to correct and detect their faults, and they will have abundant occasion for humility. But in others it is important to bury their faults with love and honor any good qualities.

Thoughts: These are two very important biblical verses. The divisions are often caused by pride (whether in the workplace, school, home or church). Spiritual pride and believing we know more than even the Apostles today has degraded the Church. Our divisions are also caused by our spiritual pride. We need to submit ourselves to scripture first and secondarily to others. Calvin gives very practical advice here on how to be humble- looking on our own faults and weaknesses, and valuing another’s gifts and strengths. I have often thought that having too many mirrors and looking in them too many times promotes narcissism. Today twitter and facebook can do the same thing- telling people every little event of our lives like the world should be interested can develop into self-centered thinking- which leads away from thinking of God and others ahead of ourselves.

Prayer: Today, Lord, may I put others above myself. Help me to not promote my own ideals, but to listen and care for the concern of others.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

8/30 Philippians 2:1,2 Pleading for Unity

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

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Calvin abridged: 2:1- “if you have any encouragement” (any consolation)- there is extraordinaty tenderness here, to encourage the Philippians to cherish harmony among themselves. Otherwise they may expose themselves to the false apostles. Comfort, fellowship of the Spirit ought to make us all one, From this we may infer how breat a blessing unity in the Church is, and with what eagerness pastors should endeavor to secure it. Paul humbles himself asking for their pity more than commanding them as a father. He knew he would gain their respect this way.
2:2 “FULFILL MY JOY” Paul cares little about himself here. Paul is encouraging them to be of one mind and have the same views, accommodating themselves to each other.

Thoughts: If you have any reason to be a Christian, then you have a reason to pursue church unity. The Church is after all, his body.

Prayer: Lord, though we stumble and fall, uphold us with your hand to bring about unity in your church.

Friday, August 28, 2009

8.29- Philippians 1:27-30

(first century jail in Philippi where Paul and Silas sang)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

8/29- Philippians 1:27-30

27 Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together with one accord for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

27- “In a manner worthy of the gospel”- A pure life is worthy of the gospel, but on the other hand, those who live otherwise do injustice to the gospel. “stand in one spirit” – This is one of the main benefits of the Church, and standing in one spirit is a way to preserve it. Paul requires a two-fold unity- of spirit and soul. “Spirit” (spiritus) denotes the understanding, while soul (anima) denotes the will. He strongest bond of concord is “striving together for the faith.” Paul was saying that the faith of the gospel should unite us since we have common weapons against one and the same enemy. We are armed with the shield of faith against our enemy (Eph. 6:16). 28- “without being frightened”- He secondly commends strength of mind that they may not be thrown into confusion by their adversaries. “This is a sign” – The scripture nowhere teaches that the afflictions which the saints endure are the cause of their salvation. Paul also says that God by his blessing turns into an occasion of good things that otherwise might seem to make us miserable. Sufferings themselves are evidence of the grace of God. 29- Certainly we cannot attain the high knowledge of God by our own acuteness. The gifts of grace are not the rewards of our merit. 30- Paul is saying that they should not be troubled about his bonds, when they understand the issue of the conflict.

Thoughts- “whatever happens” most of us want to live for God when he blesses us, and curse God when he withhold his hand. Paul is not embarrassed by persecution of trial, but learns from it. We should learn as well.

Prayer: Give us grace and your hope to live for you in the good and the bad situations of life.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

8/28- Philippians 1:22-26 Meaning to Life and Death

(Egnatian Way-ancient Roman road of Paul's day. This marker in Philippi Paul may have seen- to depart or stay?)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

8/28 Philippians 1:22-6

22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

22- “Living in the body”- Some in despair and confusion wonder if they ought to prolong their life and their misery, or to terminate their troubles by death. Paul, on the other hand, says that he has a spirit of contentment so that he is well prepared for death or life. Both are blessed when we believe so that we don’t know which is better to choose.
23- “I am torn between the two”- Paul’s object in desiring to live is promoting the glory of Christ, and doing good to the brothers and sisters. Paul’s concern is for the Philippians. This is in reality what it means to live and die to Christ- when we are indifferent to ourselves and allow ourselves to be borne away wherever Christ calls us. “to depart and be with Christ”- Persons in despair have a desire to depart to escape their weary life. But believers, on the other hands, willingly hasten forward to it, because it is deliverance from the bondage of sin, and an introduction to the kingdom of heaven. Those who are Christian in name only are rendered almost lifeless in fear at the mention of death. Unbelievers speak of death as the destruction of human beings. Paul explains death as the separation of the soul from the body. The soul does not sleep when it is separated from the body- but we enjoy Christ’s presence on being set free from the body (cf. II Cor. 5:6). 26- “your boasting of Christ” – It is not “boasting through Christ” but “boasting in Christ.”

Thought: Paul sees value in life and in death, while many see no value in either life or in death. If we know how to die, we will have perspective on how to live. Paul’s purpose is to fulfill his calling by God. His calling is now to remain with them and to help them in their faith. Some are called to go on to the next life. We should always be willing to listen and to respond, “wherever he leads I’ll go.”

Prayer: Thank you Lord, that you give meaning both to life and death. Help us to go where you want us to go and be the person you made us to be.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

8/27- Philippians 1:18-21 To Die is Christ Too

(actor portraying Paul in the arena in Philippi where Christians were killed by lions)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God's provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Calvin abridged: 18- “But in every way”- God sometimes accomplishes an admirable work by means of wicked and depraved instruments. He rejoices because the kingdom of Christ is increasing. Yet had Paul controlled who was to be ordained, he would not have ordained those who were worthless as ministers. 19- “for I know that” – Paul’s confidence is derived from the assurance that all things contribute to the advantage of God’s true worshippers (Rom. 8:28) even though the whole world with the devil as its prince, should conspire together for their ruin. Paul’s deliverance is first caused by God’s spirit and secondarily by our prayers. “Spirit of Jesus Christ” means the Spirit is common to all of us who believe. 20- “I eagerly expect”- this expectation comes from hope. We should also seek this hope so that we will not be put to shame. Hope is in subjection to the promise of God. “Christ will be magnified”- by our full assurance. 21- “For to me to live is Christ” It is not that Christ was life to Paul and death was gain; rather Christ is the subject of both clauses- he is declared to be gain in him both in life and in death. Paul is indifferent whether he lives or died. Let Christ be with us and he will bless our life as well as our death, so that both will be happy and desirable for us.

Thoughts: Paul was assured that God will work to his advantage. This assurance was there whether he lived or whether he died. To too many God is only good when we live or when we are blessed in this life. Way too much attention is given to this life, so that we are blinded at finding ultimate peace. “Health care” is a two worded button pusher in our day. Yet we live longer than any other society on the face of this earth. We should always try to improve this life, but this life is not all there is. In 1900 the average American lived to 45. Now we are pushing 80. Do we desperately need more health care on average? At the same time, we go to church less, have less faith, have given up on meaning, and depression is more contagious than the swine flu. For many of us, we can’t say what Paul said. We can say to live is Christ, perhaps, but we cannot say “to die is gain” and mean it. We hold on to this life and avoid our crosses too easily.

Prayer: Lord, help me to believe that whether I live or die, you will work all things for my good- which is also your glory.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

8/26- Philippians 1:12-17- Chains Advance the Gospel

(Ben overlooking first century jail in Philippi last November)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

Philippians 1:12-17 (TNIV)
12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. 15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.
Calvin abridged: 12- “Now I want you to know” We all know from our own experience, how much we do not like the abasement of the cross. We are okay with the preaching of Christ crucified to us; but when the reality of the cross becomes real to us, we either avoid him or are abhorred at him and also those who preach him. It could be that the Philippians were in some degree discouraged by the persecution of their Apostle. But the Apostle answers this charge when he says that the gospel had been promoted by means of his bonds- to the encouragement of the Philippians. 13- He intimates that his bonds had become an illstration to promote the honor of Christ. By the praetorium (palace guard) I understand the halls and palace of Nero. 14- “most of the brothers and sisters”- By this we are taught that the tortures of the saints, endured by them on behalf of the gospel, are a ground of confidence for us. It would be a dreadful spectacle, and would dishearten us, if we didn’t see anything but the cruelty and rage of persecutors. But if we also see the hand of the Lord, which makes his people unconquerable under the infirmity of the cross, we ought to venture farther than we are accustomed, having now a pledge of our victory helping us overcome our fears. 15- even those who wished the Apostle evil were on another account stirred up to publish the gospel. 16- He repeats that there are two classes of people that are stirred up by his bonds to preach Christ—the one influenced by contention, the other by pious zeal. The former do not preach Christ purely, yet Paul (though having no pleasure in seeing the gospel corrupted) rejoices in the preaching even though it was not simple or sincere. Paul is not saying anything that I (Calvin) have not experienced. For there are those today who preach the gospel with no other purpose than that they might gratify the rage of the wicked by persecuting pious pastors. 17- We must give a helping hand, as far as possible, to the servants of Christ who are in difficulty. Christ has conferred upon us the great honor [of defense of the gospel] what excuse shall we have , if we are traitors to his cause or betray it by silence? What can we then expect but that he shall in return to desert our cause- who is our sole Advocate or Patron with the Father? (I John 2:1).
Thoughts: Ironically, sometimes our own demise is a lifting up of the cause of Christ. Once again our crosses bring our resurrection. Paul’s imprisonment furthered the gospel in his situation. Paul was in prison (probably in Rome) when he wrote this. The Philippians really honored Paul who sang in prison with Silas- and the earthquake came that led the jailer to Christ. In Philippi the ancient church built a huge church (now in ruins) on top of the first century jail that had imprisoned Paul. Just as Paul’s imprisonment in Philippi led to the furtherance of the gospel, so his imprisonment in Rome had penetrated to even the emperor’s guard! So those imprisoned by some malady (sickness, debt, joblessness) may still be able to further the gospel.

Prayer: Lord, help us not to love comfort more than furthering your gospel. Today we pray for those who are persecuted and put our hope that even in the worst circumstances there still may be hope.

8/25- Philippians 1:7-11; Prayer for love and knowledge

(picture of Geneva mid 1500s)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

8/25- Philippians 1:7-11

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God's grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Calvin Abridged: It is envious to not recognize as children of God those in whom the Spirit of adoption works through gifts and token of piety. Paul accordingly says we should hold out hope for the Philippians for the future because he has seen their fellowship with him in grace. It is not the fellowship of bonds that he is talking about here as much as the fellowship of grace. Paul has them in his heart- which means he is sincere, without pretense, and without doubt. It is a ludicrous thing in the world’s eyes to count a prison as a benefit from God, but it is an honor from God when we suffer persecution for the sake of his truth (cf. Mt. 5:11). Let us therefore remember that we must embrace the cross of Christ as a special favor from God with readiness and alacrity. “Defending and confirming” point to the honor of serving God as he places us in opposition to his enemies, in order to bear testimony to his gospel. This was what the martyrs considered when they were prepared to face the rage and torture of the wicked. It was more courageous of them to face their problems as martyrs than to begin a destructive revolt. The confirmation of the gospel does not depend on the steadfastness of human beings, for God remains true even though we are liars (Romans 3:4). Weak consciences are confirmed and sealed with this help that the “blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church” (Tertullian). But that sacred blood, the maintainer of God’s honor will be like seed for producing offspring.”
8- “God can testify”- He now declares more explicitly his affection for them, and to prove it he makes an oath, because the edification of the Church is important to God. Credence is given to doctrine if the people are persuaded they are loved by their teacher. “The affection of Christ”- in opposition to the affection of the flesh, is this holy and pious affection. The one who loves according to the flesh receives selfish benefits, and may change the mind according to circumstances and the situation. Believers should allow Christ to control their emotions so that, renouncing their own will, they allow Christ to sit in the driver’s seat. Unquestionably, true love can flow from no other source than the heart of Christ. By his love, we are encouraged to mutual love.
9- “This is my prayer”- He returns to his prayer here asking that they may learn to pray according to his example, and may aspire to be proficient in their gifts. The goal of Christians are to obtain progress in knowledge, understanding, and then love. “en” in Greek should be rendered “with” – for the greater proficiency we make in knowledge, the more our love ought to increase. “All knowledge” means what is full and complete—not a knowledge of all things.
10- “so that you may be able to discern what is best”- Here we have a definition of Christian wisdom—to know what is advantageous or expedient—not twisting the mind with empty, unprofitable speculations. Scripture is useful (2 Tim. 3:16,17).” may be pure and blameless”- sincerity is the advantage we obtain from knowledge—not that everyone may find their own interests, but that we may live with a pure conscience in the sight of God. “blameless”- means leading an honorable life in the sight of others not hurting their neighbors by evil examples (following Chrysostom). He desires wisdom from us so that we will not slip over the stumbling blocks that Satan throws our way- trying to stop or impede us (every one of knows of such impediments). 11- “filled with the fruit of righteousness” A good conscience produces outward fruits by our works. So he is desiring that they may be fruitful in good works for the glory of God. Such fruits are by Christ because they flow from his grace. We are wild olive trees that are unproductive until we are ingrafted into Christ (Jn. 15:1; Rom. 11:24). The goal is that we may promote the glory fo God. For no life is so excellent that it is not corrupted unless it is directed toward this end. Righteousness depends upon our faith in God and the remission of sins.

Thoughts- The love of Christ compels us to love others- no matter how rich, poor, smart, beautiful or plain, American or not, God’s love calls us to love others. The world would tell us to love only those like us, those who are the best this life offers. Jesus calls us to see the value of people made in his image and for whom he died. Paul was compelled to go not just to the Jews, but to a people thousands of miles away. Europe was reached when Lydia was baptized outside of Philippi. We are also called to be missionaries of Christ’s love to those around us.

Prayer: Help us to grow more and more in love and insight into you, O Lord. Help us to grow in love for others.

Monday, August 24, 2009

8/24- Philippians 1:1-6 Praying and Continuing

(Overview of ruins at Philippi taken last November in a trip with my church)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

8/24- Philippians 1:1-6
1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God's holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons: 2 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Calvin abridged: Paul did not use important titles here because the Philippians knew him as an Apostle of Christ. “bishops” or “overseers” means pastors. He assigns several bishops to one church, so the title is more appropriately “pastor.” Paul gives thanks (vs. 3) to show his love to the Philippians and to exhort them to persevere in times to come.
Whenever he mentions joyful things, he breaks into thanksgiving to God (and we should as well). 4- Paul was saying whenever he prayed he remembered them. Joy refers to the past- their auspicious beginnings, and prayer refers to the future- their desired perfection. We are to rejoice in the blessings we receive, and are inspired to ask those things for which we are in need. 5- The ground of his joy is that they partake in the gospel (which is received by faith). “From the first day” is a reference to how quickly the Philippians responded, and how teachable they were. How rare and wonderful it is to follow God quickly and then to persevere in our faith. Many are slow and rebellious, and still more are fickle and inconsistent. 6- Paul was confident of their continued faith and growth. Some would ask why people dare to assure themselves of tomorrow when there are many obstacles and impediments to our faith. Paul did not derive this confidence from people, but from God. God does not forsake the work his hands have begun (Ps. 138:8; Isa. 64:8). He will complete what he has begun in us. When we are adopted and elected, this calling is effectual for us. Some ask if any one can be certain of the salvation of others as Paul is speaking not of himself but of the Philippians. The Spirit is my witness to my calling. We have no testimony to others except outward signs of God’s grace. The assurance of faith remains inwardly shut up, and does not extend itself to others. However, we ought to entertain good hope for others out of an equitable and kind judgment of charity. “Until the day of Christ Jesus” refers to the termination of our human conflict when we die. Our eyes should always focus on our hope in the blessed resurrection.

Thoughts: My blog will be going through Calvin’s commentary on the Philippians because it is a practical book and one of my favorites of Calvin. I will be editing Calvin’s words so they are more modern than the translation done in the 1800s, and abridging them putting the meat of what Calvin says in the text. Here are some thoughts for today’s verses: Paul prayed for his people- not just when they were sick, but for their spiritual well-being. So many in church in our culture and day pray for the physically sick, and overlook our spiritual sickness. While we cannot be fully assured of another’s salvation, we can be gracious and hopeful. God claimed for himself that he is slow to wrath and quick to give mercy- and we should be slow to condemn and quick to be kind, gracious, and merciful when speaking of another’s salvation. Paul knew that God was working in them, and was assuring them and him that God would continue that work- not forsake it.

Prayer: Lord, we remember those whose lives have intersected ours in our past who are continuing to follow you. Be gracious to them that they may continue in their faith and hope til the end.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

8/23- Lord's Day

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

21 "Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.

Calvin: Although the Sabbath has been abrogated, there is still occasion for us: to assemble on stated days for the hearing of the Word, the breaking of the mystical bread, and for public prayers 2) to give surcease from labor to servants and workmen

Thoughts: A day to rest, to get our priorities right, to worship- yet some think it is a curse to not shop, buy or work. Calvin said he wishes we were asked to worship every day, but God knew our hearts were hard. So God accomodates himself and paces us. Sunday is refreshing to me.

Prayer: Help us, Lord, to find our rest and peace in you.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

8/22- Homosexuality and the church

(Steeple of Central Lutheran- across from Convention Center where ELCA was meeting)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.
The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Calvin: The writer brings, as the first example of the judgment of God, the dreadful crime of unnatural lust; and it hence appears that they not only abandoned themselves to beastly lusts, but became degraded beyond the beasts, since they reversed the whole order of nature. He then enumerates a long catalogue of vices which had existed in all ages, and then prevailed everywhere without any restraint. It is not to the purpose to say, that every one was not laden with so great a mass of vices; for in arraigning the common baseness of men, it is proof enough if all to a man are constrained to acknowledge some faults. So then we must consider, that Paul here records those abominations which had been common in all ages, and were at that time especially prevalent everywhere; for it is marvelous how common then was that filthiness which even brute beasts abhor; and some of these vices were even popular. And he recites a catalogue of vices, in some of which the whole race of man were involved; for though all were not murderers, or thieves, or adulterers, yet there were none who were not found polluted by some vice or another. He calls those disgraceful passions, which are shameful even in the estimation of men, and redound to the dishonoring of God.

Thoughts: There is no controversy that John Calvin vehemently disapproved of the act of homosexuality. He was not consumed with its disapproval- and it was not a controversial issue in his culture (as it is ours). Yet he used strong words- seeing the homosexual act as unnatural passion and a forsaking of God's Word and glory.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA- joining the UCC and the Episcopal Church) in which I have many friends, has voted to ordain openly, unrepentant gay and lesbians as clergy. My guess is that this is an effort to be relevant, but such relevance to the world becomes irrelevance to God and makes the Word of God and the church that much less important.
What no one saw in The State paper today is what happened at the assembly. It was day in which they were to bring up the issue, there was no severe weather predicted. But a tornado descended on the church across from the convention center, tore up the tents around the convention center, split the steeple of the Lutheran Church in which worship services were held, and left the cross dangling- then went back up into the sky as quickly as it descended. I guess many just refused to see this as any sign from the Lord of his displeasure. Many feel today God can’t do anything good or evil. The book of Revelation talks over and over again about God sending terrible events and people still refusing to repent. Repentance is really the issue here. Is homosexuality a sin according to the Bible? If it is, then it should not be openly professed before ordination. If someone openly professes a sin- professes no desire to repent or turn away from it- and is not only allowed to remain in the church but is given the highest office in the church, then the church’s idea of right or wrong has just lost all relevance. Honestly, if a church can say homosexuality is right, even though the Bible clearly says in both Old and New Testaments it is wrong (Lev. 18:22; story of Sodom and Gomorrah, passages above and others), who cares what the church says? What moral authority can the church give? See this blog for a fuller story:

Prayer: Lord, give us ears to hear your Word, and your voice speaking in providence. Help us to always submit our lives, our way of thinking to you, and not turning to our own way.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

8/21- Justice

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

6 With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

8 He has shown all you people what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Calvin: "Whenever you hear God's glory mentioned, think of his justice. For whatever deserves praise must be just." (III.23.8)

Thought: Justice too often centers around our ideals because of our own selfishness. Our cause can be another name for our selfishness if our idealism is not unchecked. Calvin rightly connected God's glory with ultimate justice. For the One who made everything is the final arbiter between good and evil, justice and injustice.

Prayer: Lord help us to work for your justice, but even more improtantly, help us to submit to your justice.

8/20- Joy and Peace

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

"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. Ihave learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." (Philippians 4:11b-12)

Calvin: Even poverty, if it be judged in itself, is misery; likewise exile, contempt, pirson, disgrace; finally, deaht itself is the ultimate of all calamities. But when the favor or our God breathes upon us, every one of these things turns into happiness for us. (3:8.7)

Thoughts: If you go to Philippi, you can still see the first century jail in which Paul was imprisoned- they had built a huge church on top of the sacred sight. For it is the jail where Paul and Silas sang, and that dungeon turned into a temple- where the jailer was baptized. I just got back from Iquitos Peru where a large number of people- at least 80,000 do not have eletricity or clean water. Of course, Calvin didn't either- even the very wealthy didn't in Calvin's day. Is it possible to be happy without all the comforts this world offers? Yes. Joy comes from God. In a recession in which so many have lost the ability to have as much as they did have, it is even more important to recognize our happiness is not in things. If we miss things too much, it takes away from the joy the Lord gives us.

Prayer: Teach us, O Lord, as you taught Paul to be content in any and every situation. Help us to find our joy in you- our strength.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

8/19- Finding the True Church

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

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple. (Ephesians 2:19-21)

From this the face of the church comes forth and becomes visible to our eyes. Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, and the sacraments administered according to Christ’s institution, there, it is
not to be doubted, a church of God exists [cf. Ephesians 2:20]. For his promise cannot fail: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them” [Matthew 18:20].

Thought: Calvin identified the marks of the church as the Word and Sacrament. John Knox added right discipline to the marks of the true church. Reflecting back, perhaps Knox was being too strict. The real mark of the church is the presence of the Holy Spirit. But the Holy Spirit has tied himself to His Word, and the sign and seal of the Spirit are the sacraments. Jesus said he was where His people are gathered in His name. Moltmann adds that Christ is also present whenever we “help the least of these” (Mt. 25), or going into all the world spreading the good news (Mt. 28:20- Lo I am with you always). It is always hard to quantify, box up, or even label the Holy Spirit. It is a bit like Jesus said about the Spirit, ‘the wind blows where it will.” The Word rightly preached is a bit subjective to us (though perhaps objective to God). The sacrament rightly administered is also a bit nebulous. It is hard to draw exact boundaries, and I contend that it might be hard to do so. For example, we might think that the Lord’s Supper with coke and candy bars may not be a “rightly administered” sacrament. But what about white grape juice and saltines? The Word rightly preached is vague enough. Sometimes a sermon is badly preached but was good doctrine. Sometimes bad doctrine is greatly preached. Lines are hard to draw. The Spirit blows where it wills, yet though the boundaries are not exact, the boundaries are real. It is more like a porous membrane, but a membrane nonetheless.

Prayer: Thank you Lord, that you define the Church and make it holy. Help us to make your Church holy by how we reflect your glory.

8/18- Encouragement about the Church's Holiness

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

8/18- The holiness and endurance of the church

Scripture: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” (Ephesians 5:25b-27)

Calvin: “Also it is no less true that the Lord is daily at work in smoothing out wrinkles and cleansing spots. From this it follows that the church’s holiness is not yet complete. The church is holy, then, in the sense that it
is daily advancing and is not yet perfect: it makes progress from day to day but has not yet reached its goal of holiness…The prophets prophesy that there will be a holy Jerusalem through which “strangers shall never pass” [Joel 3:17], and a most holy temple wherein the unclean shall not enter [Isaiah 35:8Let us not understand this prophecy as if all the members of the church were without blemish; but because they zealously aspire to holiness and perfect purity, the cleanness that they have not yet fully attained is granted them by God’s kindness and although there are oftentimes few evidences of this sort of sanctification among men, still we must hold that from the creation of the world there was no time when the Lord did not have his church; and even until the consummation of the age, there will be no time when he will not have it. (IV.1.17)

Thought: Calvin says two things here about the church: that it is holy- though not yet completely holy, and that it will never die out. For Calvin what makes the church holy is that it has the right preaching of the Word and right administration of the sacraments. But here and also in his commentary on I John he emphasizes our effort at sanctification as an evidence of the church's eventual complete holiness. For someone who gives all the glory to God, Calvin does not downplay our need to strive for holiness and our efforts at living the Christian life. Calvin sees our effort as a gift from God as well. He doesn’t get into the mystery of how God’s sovereignty and our efforts interact. He says, “because they zealously aspire to holiness and perfect purity, the cleanness that they have not yet fully attained is granted them by God’s kindness.” In our day of so many falling away from the faith (including prominent politicians and clergy) there are two important concepts for us: 1) It is important to strive for holiness- and this striving should not be discounted; 2) The church will not disappear but will triumph. We should not think that we are all alone, or that secularism or sin will win in the end. If the victory is assured by the Creator of the universe’s promise, then we should be assured and make every effort to be on the winning side.

Prayer: Lord, one day your church will have no wrinkles or spots. For now, we need you to wash us, and iron out our problems. Despite your church’s problems Lord, strengthen it and us.

Monday, August 17, 2009

8/17- Unity of the Church

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

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equips his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12,13)

Calvin: I say we must not thoughtlessly forsake the church because of any petty dissensions. For in it alone is kept safe and uncorrupted that doctrine in which piety stands sound and the use of the sacraments ordained by the Lord is guarded. In the meantime, if we try to correct what displeases us, we do so out of duty. Paul’s statement applies to this: “If a better revelation is made to another sitting by, let the first be silent” [1 Corinthians 14:30 p.]. From this it is clear that every member of the church is charged with the responsibility of public edification according to the measure of his grace, provided he perform it decently and in order. That is, we are neither to renounce the communion of the church nor, remaining in it, to disturb its peace and duly ordered discipline. (IV.1.12)

Thought: Christ raises up the right people to serve Him. He calls them into ministry for the benefit of His church. We are looking for a youth director at our church. I know God will lead us to the right person at the right time. In this passage in Ephesians the leaders of the church are called by Christ to equip the church until we reach unity in the faith. One of the vows of an elder/pastor/member is “do you promise to further the unity and purity of the church?” That is what is mentioned here. Our job as Christians in a disjointed, diverse, and alienated world is to love others- especially in the church- and to make the church better through our work and encouragement. The Bible NEVER focuses on when we ought to leave the church. When we leave (not talking about moving away here), neglect, help divide, or stay away from the church we are not building up the body of Christ, but wounding it. We cannot wound or neglect Christ’s body without hurting ourselves spiritually.

Prayer: Help us, O Lord, to build up your body on earth, the church. Help us to see that our good and the good of our children is involved in building up your kingdom.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

8/16- Sunday worship

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

Hebrews 10:24,25- And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Calvin: But we ought especially to hold to this general doctrine: that, in order to prevent religion from either perishing or declining among us, we should diligently frequent the sacred meetings, and make use of those external aids which can promote the worship of God.

Thought: When societies have tried to get rid of Christianity- they have burned Bibles, killed leaders, or tried to stop the worship on the Sabbath. The Bolsheviks tried to stop the Christian Sabbath- making people work seven days a week (since Marx emphasized work as the meaning of life), but that only lasted a few years (when the machines and animals broke down). After the French Revolution Voltaire suggested the Sabbath be eliminated, but the people rebelled against this idea of eliminating rest. Yet in America we have found a way to eliminate it, elevating the earning of money over time for a breath and focus on God, family and others.

8/15- Perseverance

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

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then can condemn? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?.. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, [m] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31ff).

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 a gift from God, which he does not dispose on all discriminately, but imparts to whom he pleases.” (II.5.3)

Thought: Our own strength is small, and even that is a gift from God. I once knew a huge weightlifter who caught a rare illness that devastated his body. Even the strongest of us is vulnerable. The ability to persevere through the trials of life and the crosses is itself a gift from God. We are called to persist and be faithful, however, because Christ is faithful and persisted for us. Today I am sending my son off to college (he is a freshman). My prayer for him is to be faithful to God, and to grow in his faith while he is away. Calvin certainly persevered. He was exiled from his home country, robbed, ridiculed, kicked out of Geneva, faced family illness, his wife died, they had three miscarriages/still births. Yet he did a tremendous amount of good- and attributed it all to God.

Prayer: Our help lies in you, O God. Help us to persevere through the heartaches and problems of life. Help us to find you hope, joy, and strength. Keep our eyes focused on the finished line.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

8-14; Worshipping or Splitting?

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

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord. My heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself where she may have her young—a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are every praising you. Blessed are those whose strength is in you. (Psalm 84:1-4)

Calvin: “More detestable than this attitude is that of the apostates who have a passion for splitting churches, in effect driving the sheep from their fold and casting them into the jaws of wolves. We must hold to what we have quoted from Paul—that the church is built up solely by outward preaching, and that the saints are held together by one bond only: that with common accord, through learning and advancement, they keep the church order established by God. It was especially to this end that, as I have said, in ancient times under the law all believers were commanded to assemble at the sanctuary…David complains with great bitterness fo spirit that he has been barred from the Tabernacle through the tyranny and cruelty of his enemies (Ps. 84:2,3)… This is because believers have no greater help than public worship, for by it God raises his own folk upward step by step." (IV.1.5)

Thoughts: Calvin does not separate the idea that splitting churches is antithetical to wanting to be in God’s house. Splitting churches turns the sheep out. The church I currently serve lost 300 members several years ago in a church split, but another 300 became inactive or semi-active (not going anywhere). They lost their enthusiasm for the Lord and for the church. A similar thing happened years before in the second church I served- the minister walked out, and the church he formed folded up five years later, leaving those who left out in the cold. Somehow, we need to see the need to hold the church together more than having our own way. If we long to follow God, we need to long to worship Him and to hold the diverse church together in His love. One emotion is to long to be in God's presence no matter what. The other emotion is to leave in anger. The church is our home, even if it is a home where there is dirt, disagreement, or wrong thinking. It is better to long for your home than to try to destroy it.

Prayer: Lord, instead of a passion for splitting away and having my own way, give me a heart to submit to you and others in love and grace. Give me a desire to worship you more than the desire for other uses of time.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

8-13; Need for Unity in the church

(Strasburg Cathedral- Calvin learned of church unity under Bucer of Strasburg)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

8/13- Unity in the Church

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. 13- Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (I Corinthians 1:10,13).

Calvin: The church is called “catholic” or “universal”, because there could not be two or three churches unless Christ be torn asunder- which cannot happen! But all the elect are so united in Christ that as they are dependent on one Head, they also grow together into one body, being joined and knit together as are the limbs of a body. They are made truly one since they live together in one faith, hope, and love, and in the same Spirit of God. For they have been called not only into the same inheritance of eternal life, but also to participate in one God and Christ. (Inst. IV.1.2).

The true Church is not made of one denomination. Heaven will be populated by many different flavors of Christians. When we think of a denomination of money- we may think of a $10, $20, $5, $100 bill. But they are all money- all legal tender. So there are many different denominations of churches yet they are all part of God’s currency. In our day, many have left the church altogether over church controversies. He things that united the church in America a generation ago, are now fading. The idea of the Bible as the Word of God has come under the guise of higher criticism and distrust. There is a general distrust of bureaucracy and authority- so that many prefer non-denominational churches, and there is a rebellion against institutions in general. But the problem is that as soon as three people or more get together, they begin to make rules in order to keep the peace. There is no perfect church, but we are called to be with others in the church. Calvin made tremendous efforts to unite the church. He met with Lutherans and Catholics, Huguenots, Polish, Slavic and Swiss leaders. He attended many conferences to try to bring the church together. Church unity was important to him as it should be to us. Too many have little loyalty or sense of the need for devotion to a church today in America

Prayer: By your grace, O Lord, unite the church and unite us to the church.

8-12; I John 5:19-21 Knowledge resists Temptation

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

19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
Calvin abridged: No one is considered faithful unless they are acknowledged as God’s children. Here the Apostle is trying to stimulate them to beware of sin and the attacks of Satan. He is also saying that our faith not only makes salvation probable but we can know of our salvation. If we have been born of God, we ought to strive to prove by our separation from the ways of the world and by the holiness of our life, that we have not been called in vain to so great an honor. This admonition is necessary for wherever the godly turn their eyes Satan has prepared allurements by which he seeks to draw them away from God. Two things need to be borne in mind to hold our course: 1) that the world is wicked, and 2) our calling is from God.
“The world”- by this term the whole human race is included and is said to be under the dominion of Satan. There is no reason why we should hesitate to shun the world. Since corruption invades all of nature, the faithful ought to study self-denial. Our call of God should be considered as a protection from the machinations of the world and Satan.
5:20- God has been so made known to us that now there is no reason for doubting. The Apostle importantly dwells on this point for unless our faith is founded on God, we shall never stand firm in the contest we face. We have obtained a sure knowledge of the true God, so that we may not fluctuate in uncertainty. “true” does not mean one who tells the truth, but him who is really God (cf. John 17:3- “this is eternal life, to know you, the only true God and him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ). Christ is given the position of illuminating our minds so we may know God. For he is the only true image of the invisible God, the only interpreter of the Father, the only true guide to life. When we depart from Christ, we become meaningless in our own devices.
It is not that there was no knowledge of God before Christ, but now he reveals himself more fully and clearly (II Cor. 4:6). It should be noted that this gift is peculiar to the elect. Christ, kindles for all indiscriminately the torch of the gospel; but all have not the eyes of their minds opened to see it. Satan spreads the veil of blindness over many. “We are in him who is true”- The efficacious knowledge of God unites us to Christ, and we become one with God; for it has a living root, fixed in the heart, by which God lives in us and we in him. We are in God through Christ. “This is the true God” Here we have a remarkable testimony to the divinity of Christ. This is not (as some Arians say) speaking about the Father for he has already said the Father is the true God twice. It most suitably applies to Christ; for he has taught us Christ is our guide, now he affirms Christ as God, lest we should think we should seek further; and he confirms this view by adding “and eternal life.” Also the relative pronoun “this” (outos) usually refers to the last person. The meaning of this passage is that when we enjoy Christ we enjoy the true and eternal God, and he is not to be sought anywhere else. Secondly, we become partakers of eternal life in Christ. The origin of life is the Father, but the fountain from which we are to draw it, is Christ. 5:21- “Keep yourselves from idols”- The Apostle not only condemns idolatry, but commands us to beware of all images and idols; the worship of God cannot continue to be uncorrupted and pure whenever people begin to be in love with idols and images. For superstition is so innate in us, and easily infects us. Idolatry is a spark that sets the world on fire as dry wood is consumed by fire. Let us remember that we ought to carefully continue in the spiritual worship of God, in order to banish far from us everything that may turn us aside to gross and carnal superstitions.

Thought: Jesus Christ is the ultimate revelation from God- God in the flesh- the image of the invisible God. Faith in him (by the Spirit) renders this revelation certain in our hearts, unites us to Christ, and calls us away from all evil powers and temptations. Calvin said temptations were all around us. I wonder what he would think looking at what we are able to pull up on TV and the internet today? If we focus on Christ, we can avoid (delete, not turn on) those temptations. Corruption lobbies us away from Christ, but if we keep our eyes on Him, we not only see the true God, but we lose the power of the temptations of idols and the world. The book of first John ends with this summary of hope and strength- we can know, therefore we can resist.

Prayer: Thank you for the gift, God of revealing yourself to us in Christ. Give us grace to focus our lives and our day on you.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

8-11; I John 5:16-18 Prayer for the Salvation of Others

(Pointing the Way- Norman Rockwell 1962)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

8/11- I John 5:16-18
16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. 18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them.
5:16- Prayers coming from our faith also should avail for our brothers and sisters. It is a great thing, that as soon as we are oppressed, God kindly invites us to himself, and is ready to give us help; but that he hears us asking for others, is no small confirmation to our faith so that we may be fully assured that God will not deny our request. He exhorts us to pray for the salvation of one another; What is granted for our sake, we are said to give to others. So great a benefit ought to stimulate us not a little to ask for our brothers for the forgiveness of sins. While the Apostle recommends sympathy to us, he at the same time reminds us how much we ought to avoid the cruelty of condemning others or despairing their salvation. “A sin which is not unto death”- Here he denies that sins must lead to death for his children. This is true not only for those saints who daily offend, but even when God’s wrath is grievously provoked by them. For as long as room for pardon is left, death does not wholly reign over us.

Thought: It is ironic that in such a morally loose culture, people are so outraged when Christians sin. Calvin never lost sight of the wrath of God (as we have). Somehow we are blinded to the repulsion God has for our sin today, but we are repulsed by it in others. Calvin recognizes that there are consequences in life for sin- which is a part of God’s wrath (including the turning up the nose of others). Yet though Calvin emphasizes discipline and holiness in life, he above all emphasizes grace. Here he recognizes the power of God’s grace to pardon even terrible, grievous sins. The power of sin is not greater than the power of Christ on the cross. Thank God for that. Here too, Calvin says we should pray for the salvation of others. If it is God’s grace that saves, and not our works, then it makes sense to pray for the salvation of other people. We do not do this enough in the church today- we pray for the sick, for those doing the work of God, we pray for safety and comfort. But the ultimate safety, comfort, and healing is not found in this life- but in the next.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your grace that saves us, despite our sins. Forgive us, and help us to repent. We pray for our neighbors and family members who may not know you. Lead them gently to yourself. Use us to be gentle reminders of your grace.

Monday, August 10, 2009

8-10; I John 5:13-15 True Prayer

(Christ praying- not my will but thine be done- Warner Sallman)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

8/10- I John 5:13-15

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

Calvin abridged: Believers should daily progress in their faith. In accordance with this, he writes that they may believe more firmly and with greater certainty, and thus enjoy a fuller confidence about their eternal life. Doctrine is not to be used just for the beginners, but it also confirms those who have already been taught some things. It is our duty, therefore to wisely pay attention to our studies, that our faith may increase throughout our lives. There are still remnants of unbelief in us. Our faith also is weak in areas that we do believe so fuller confirmation of our faith helps us. Our faith is confirmed in Christ because there is no other place to seek eternal life but in Christ. It is the duty of the godly teacher, to extol as much as possible the grace of Christ, so that disciples may be confirmed in their faith and seek no satisfaction in anything else. Christ here is seen as the peculiar object of faith, and to this faith is annexed salvation. The purpose of believing is seen here as becoming children and heirs of God. 5:14- “This is the confidence”- The godly dare confidently to call on God because of their faith (Eph. 3:12; Rom 8:15- the Spirit gives us a mouth to cry “abba Father”). Faith gives us an access to God, an asylum opened to us, that decreases our misery and helps us to be happy even in extreme evils. In fact, this one thing renders our troubles blessed, because we know that God will be our deliverer, and relying on his paternal love towards us, we flee to him. Calling on God is the main test of our faith, and God is not rightly called upon unless we are persuaded our prayers will not be in vain. The Apostle denies that those who doubt or hesitate are endued with faith. “According to his will”- Here is a rule for right praying- we need to subject our own wishes to God. Though God has promised to do whatever his people may ask, yet he does not allow them an unbridled liberty to ask whatever may come to their minds, but has given us a law about prayer. Nothing is better for us than this restriction; if God were to indulge our every wish, it would be a bad provision for us. For we don’t know what is best. We boil over with corrupt and hurtful desires. God provides a two-fold remedy: 1) he teaches us by his word what he would have us ask; and 2) he has also given us the Spirit over us to guide us and restrain us, so that our prayers may not wander beyond proper boundaries. Paul says we do not know for what or how to pray but the Spirit helps us in this weakness, and encourages us to pray (Romans 8:26). We also ought to ask the mouth of the Lord (the Bible) to direct and guide us in our prayers, for his promises have written for us the right way of praying.
5:15- this is not superfluous repetition; for he now specifies what has been said in general. For when he says that all the petitions of the godly are heard, he was speaking of right and humble petitions, which are consistent with the rule of obedience. The faithful do not pray loosely about anything, nor indulge in anything that may please them, but always pay attention in their prayers to what God commands. This ease and security should not stop their earnestness to pray. The one who is certain of a happy event ought not to stop praying to God. Certainty of faith doesn’t generate indifference or sloth. Everyone should be tranquil in these necessities when he has deposited his sighs in the bosom of God.

Thought: Prayer is a universal phenomenon. We universally feel the need to pray. People of different faiths, even deists and atheists practice this. In our pluralistic, and secular day this is a point in which we can reach others. Prayer is not just talking to ourselves (as is some forms of meditation), but it is accessing the presence and power of God. Faith in Christ, our mediator, is the key to open the door to answered prayer. It is a part of our own innate selfishness to think we can pray to some secret power within us. The Spirit is not the only guide to prayer- but the Holy Spirit and the Word. True faith does not separate these two. When I was on the jet flying back from Peru I met two ladies who had come to the country from Australia to meet with shamans to find secrets to their happiness and secrets of prayer. I do not doubt that they experienced something spiritual. The question would be did this spiritual experience simply help them to enhance their own selfishness and pleasure, or did this give them access to the Creator God. It was clear to me that the shaman added a lot of confusion to their lives with secret formulas and mumbo jumbo. Thus John said earlier to test the Spirits to see if they are from God. Prayer is not talking to ourselves or to false spirits, but to the One who has the greatest power in the universe- who made it and cares for it and for you and me.

Prayer: Guide us, Holy Spirit, into all truth. Help us in our infirmities to pray- and to pray only to you who are worthy of our worship and are able to offer true help.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

(Raphael- "School of Athens" Socrates and Aristotle- some Christians were saying such great thinkers deserved to go to heaven- like Zwingli)

8/9- I John 5:9-12
9 We accept human testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Calvin abridged: We believe safely and with tranquil minds in Christ, because God by his authority begins our faith. It is not that God speaks outwardly, but every one of the godly feels within that God is the author of their faith. How different is faith from a fading opinion depending on an ideology. 5:10- “He that does not believe”- he makes the ungodly to be guilty of extreme blasphemy, because they charge God with falsehood. Nothing is more valued by God than his own truth, so no wrong can be done to God worse than robbing him of honor. Who would not dread to withhold faith from the gospel, in which God would have himself to be counted singularly true and faithful? Some wonder why God commends faith so much and why he condemns unbelief. But the glory of God is at stake in that he has designed his truth especially to shown in the gospel. Though in other parts a person may be an angel, yet their holiness is diabolical as long as they reject Christ. 5:11- “God has given us eternal life” – He invited us to believe. Since he freely offers life to us, our ingratitude will be intolerable. We shouldn’t just obey the gospel, but we are called to love it. The Apostle gives us three things: 1) that we are all given up to death until God graciously restores us to life; 2) this life is conferred on us by the gospel; 3) we cannot otherwise become partakers of this eternal life than by believing in Christ.
5:12- “Whoever has the Son has life”- God made life to be in none but those who are in Christ. Those who do not seek life in Christ do not have this hope. Some say this is unreasonable. History shows there have been great people with heroic virtues. Yet it seems unreasonable that these had no honor. But we are greatly mistaken if we think that whatever is eminent in our eyes is approved by God (Lk. 16:15- “What is highly esteemed by people is an abomination with God.”). We look only on the externals, but God sees the filth of the heart. If someone has an impure heart and bad motives, even if the externals seem virtuous could not please God- but produce a bad odor before Him. Besides purity only comes from the Spirit of Christ. Our righteousness is found not in our acts or works, but in the remission of sins. If you take away Christ’s remission of sins then eternal death awaits all. Christ pacifies the Father, reconciling us to Him by the cross. God is therefore forgiving to only those united to Christ, nor is there any righteousness but in Him. Some may object and say that Cornelius (Acts 10:2) was called to the faith of the gospel. But this is to confuse the seed of faith (or calling) with having faith. Cornelius did not have a clear perception of Christ, but did understand something of the need for a Mediator. Let us disregard such questions that profit nothing, and hold only to the plain way of salvation, which he has made known to us.

Thoughts: Zwingli has a famous passage in which he followed some of the Nicean fathers in allowing virtuous men of old (like Socrates) into the kingdom. Calvin points out that we cannot judge the hearts of people, and should not assume the heart is clean because teachings or works appear to be wonderful. In the end, Calvin retreats to what we do know revealed in scripture- that salvation is found in Christ alone. Guessing about the judgment of other people (as Calvin points out above) is not profitable at all. This is why Barth would not come out openly with universalism- it is guesswork. Our task, is to spread the gospel of Christ. We do know and have it confirmed by scripture and the testimony of the Word and Spirit that salvation is found in Him. Frankly, I am tired of our desire to judge people’s eternal salvation. I heard one person say that if you believe in evolution you will go to hell. I heard another say, “How can God send anyone to hell whom he has made?” We must not take away nor add to what has been revealed- such questioning is specious- a waste of our time, and it makes Christians look like their faith either is too exclusive (mean) or too inclusive (meaningless). Life is found in Christ- and we must stick to this- clinging to the cross with all our hearts. Calvin is right, to say that people who are externally good go to heaven- does not look at their hearts and comes close to saying we go to heaven by being good. It is God who has the right to set the standard for forgiveness and for entrance into heaven. Those who do not believe in heaven or in the Christ who sacrificed have no right (and maybe desire) to be forced into it. On the other hand to go around condemning people because of their external actions also does not look at their heart.

Prayer: Lord, you alone set the standard. Help us to submit to what you have revealed to us by your Spirit. Help us not to be led away from you by our own specious questions. Give us grace, to see the importance of proclaiming that life is found in you.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

8-8; I John 5:6-9; Importance of and Testimony to Christ's cleansing

(Belin- washing clothes in Amazon- drinking from it later)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

8/8- I John 5:6-9

6 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the [c] Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 We accept human testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.

Calvin abridged: Here John is saying that the substance of the law is found in Christ. “water and blood” refer to the Old Testament symbols. Water symbolizes the cleansing away of filth. By blood expiation is made and a pledge of reconciliation with God. Christ fulfills all of these symbols- by ultimately cleansing us of all of our sins (cf. Hebrews 9,10). The Spirit makes these things certain in our hearts- producing a firmness and stability within us. There are disagreements by both Latins and Greeks on the inclusion of verse 7. I (Calvin) am inclined to include them as the passage flows better with their inclusion. The meaning is that the Spirit testifies in three ways to Him, and so we should acquiesce to him. “These three are one” is not referring to God’s essence, but to their harmonious testimony about Christ. The Spirit testifies twice- he declares Jesus as the sole majesty of the deity, and the Spirit is an earnest pledge and seal- a confirmation in our hearts. “Not be water only” means that the salvation is not a half but a whole salvation. 5:9- “we receive the witness of others”- How ungrateful people are when they reject Christ who has been approved in such a way. Our own corruption alone prevents us to receive Christ, since he gives us full proof for believing in his power. The power of the cleansing of water and blood is not of human design, but of divine design. We must look to God, and his design- not ours- for the blotting out of sins.

Thoughts- Jesus is the fulfillment of the symbols of water and blood. Specifically- he is the fulfillment of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. He cleanses us, and claims us. The Father, Son, and Spirit testify to this cleansing- whether verse 7 is included in scripture or not, the truth contained in it is confirmed in other parts of scripture (Heb. 9,10). Blogthought- I am riding back from Peru today. Feel like a bucket of grease has been poured over my head! How I long to be cleansed. How I long for the people of Belin to have clean water= form which they can drink and be cleansed. Would that I longed to be cleansed in a more important way- from the inside.

Prayer: Help us to be clean. In you alone, O Lord is our ultimate cleansing. Help us to look to you for forgiveness and cleansing power.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

8-7 I John 5:1-5 The Victory

(Belen- shack city of 80,000 on Amazon)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

8/7- I John 5:1-5 Faith in the Son of God

1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

Calvin abridged: Yet another reason is given to show that faith and brotherly love are united; Since God regenerates us by faith he must necessarily be loved by us as a Father; and this love embraces all his children. So faith cannot be separated by love. Christ alone is the object of our faith and the basis of our being born of God. The only true way of believing is when we direct our minds to him who is our righteousness, life, every blessing that can be desired, and God in all that he is. The title “Messiah” or Christ designates the office that the Father has appointed to the Son. To the Messiah was given full restoration of all things, righteousness and happiness. Jesus cannot be received as Christ unless salvation be sought from him, since for this end he was send by the Father, and is daily offered to us. Faith is far above the human mind, so that we must be drawn to Christ by our heavenly Father. 5:2- “By this we know” people are rightly and duly loved, when God is first in their lives. Mutual love should be done in such a way that God is honored, and we do not simply love for our own advantage. We learn here too that the keeping of the law is not a matter of fear, but of love- from the heart.
5:3- “His commandments are not burdensome” – This has been added so that our zeal will not dampen when we face difficulties. Many start out with a cheerful heart and great ardor pursuing the holy life, but soon grow weary and their strength gives out. But some may say this doesn’t square with reality. For the faithful, though ruled by the Spirit of God, still carry on a hard fought contest with their own flesh; The faithful, however, find no real enjoyment except in following God. He is not talking about the law only, but also included is the paternal indulgence of God- which lightens the burden. Since we are forgiven when we sin, we are more inspired to obey (Psalm 130:4). 5:4- “This is the victory” – Our victory depends on faith. He says that we have overcome that we may fight more courageously and more strenuously. “World” is whatever is against the Spirit of God (the corruption of our nature, lusts, crafts of Satan). We must contend with a strong enemy. We would be conquered already had not God promised the victory. This secures to us the invincible power of God, but it takes away (destroys) from us human strength. He only conquers who does not rely on himself, but on Christ’s power alone.

Thought: Faith brings us victory over evil. Unlike our secular viewpoint, Calvin sees a spiritual struggle going on. But the outcome is assured- Christ (and we are linked to him by faith) wins! So when we are weary, tired, struggling, tempted to give up- we should remember who will win- and keep on in Christ. Going back to the states tomorrow. Leaving so much work here. Belen is a place with little gospel influence, and 80,000 people living in filth. But as I told the group- remember our vicotry- is not up to us- but to the Lord. We have lit a candle instead of giving up in the darkness. We have done so little, even by God's grace. Yet we should not despise the small things (Zech. 4:10). God helps us- and part of that help is not thinking that evil is going to overwhelm us.

Prayer: Help us O Lord to not give up the fight- for you have won.

8-6- I John 4:19-21- God's Love Inspires Love for Others

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

8/6- I John 4:19-21

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If we say we love God yet hate a brother or sister, we are liars. For if we do not love a fellow believer, whom we have seen, we cannot love God, whom we have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love one another.

Calvin abridged: As God has anticipated us by his free love, we ought to return to Him in order to love Him. He immediately infers that the love we have for him ought to be shown towards other people. This love cannot exist unless it generates brotherly love. So he says that those who boast that they love God when they hate their fellow believers are liars. The comparison here, ironically, is between the less and the greater and on the surface doesn’t make sense. But were he to say we love not our brethren whom we see, much less can we love God who is invisible [it would make more sense]. But there are two reasons that make what John says true: The first is that the love which God has toward us is form faith and does not flow from sight (I Peter 1:8); and secondly, the love of God is far different from human love; for while God leads his people to love him through his infinite goodness, people are often worthy of hatred. John takes for granted that God offers himself to us in those people who bear his image. Psalm 16:2 says, “My goodness reaches not to thee, O Lord; toward the saints who are on the earth is my love.” Mutual relationship leads to mutual love, except that we are harder than iron. How fallacious it is to say we love God yet not love God’s image before our eyes.
4:21- “and this commandment”- God not only gave us a command to love Him, but he also gave us a command to love our brethren. We must begin with God so that our love will transition to human beings.

Thoughts: It appears to be a part of the design of life that whatever unites human beings also inspires them. The mission trip we are on in Peru unites the group and also inspires us to do the work. We have invested ourselves into the cause and are inspired to love the people here. In a secular sense this is true too. Last night I went to rotary. Three of rotary’s ideals are to fight polio, fight bad water, and to network together around the world. This was evident last night, and we were welcomed. As Christians we recognize God’s love is first- it inspires us, unites us, and elicits love for others from us.

Prayer: Thank you Lord that you show us how to love, and inspire love for others from your love for us.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

8-4- I John 4:11-16, Loving Others is a way of Seeing God

(Making way for a water purification plant- Iquitos Peru)
Devotional using scripture, quote from John Calvin and thoughts for the day each day- on the 500th anniversary of Calvin's birth.

8/4- I John 4:11-16

11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. 13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.

Now God exhorts us to love our fellow believers by his own example. Christ sacrificed for us as an example so that we might work to benefit our neighbors (Eph.5:2). Our love should not be mercenary [where we love someone to get benefit for ourselves], but should be done freely as Christ gave himself freely for us. When we look to our own advantage, or give good rewards to friends, it is self-love and not love to others.
“No one has seen God”- these same words are found in the first chapter of John’s gospel. There John the Baptist meant that God could not be known other than how he has revealed himself in Christ. Here the Apostle is extending the same truth farther, that the power of God is understood by us who have faith and love. This helps us to be assured that we are his children and he dwells in us. God shows himself present when by his Spirit he forms our hearts so that they are able to love others as brothers and sisters. We know we are His by the Spirit for the fruit of the Spirit is love.
4:24- “and we have seen” – we experience God in that God communicates himself to us in his Son, and offers himself to be enjoyed in him. God is received by faith. God is so united to us by faith and love, that he really dwells in us and shows himself by the effect of his power, otherwise we could not see him. When the Apostles says, “we have seen and testify” he refers to his own and others’ seeing. By seeing, he does not mean any sort of seeing, but what belongs to faith by which they recognized the glory of God in Christ- that he was sent to be the savior of the world. This knowledge flows to us by the illumination of the Spirit.
4:15- “Whoever shall confess’- We are united to God by Christ, but we cannot be united to Christ unless God abides in us.
“Jesus is the Son of God” – this is the sum and substance of faith; for nothing is necessary for salvation except what faith finds not in Christ. The order and connection of this passage is this- faith in Christ, makes God to dwell in people; and we are partakers of his grace; but as God is love, no one dwells in him unless he loves their fellow believers.
4:16- “and we have known and believed” – such knowledge is not attained without faith, so he is basically saying, “we have known by believing.” How different is an uncertain or doubtful opinion from faith. He defines faith in different ways. Previously he had said that to confess that Jesus is the Son of God is faith; Now he says we know by faith God’s love towards us. Thus the paternal love of God is found in Christ, and that nothing certain is known of Christ unless by those who know themselves to be children of God by his grace. The Father sets his own Son daily before us so that he may adopt us in him. God is love- By faith God dwells in us, and God is love; then wherever God abides, love ought to be there. So love is necessarily connected to faith.

Thought- faith and love go together clearly here. Having faith is how God abides in us, but if we don’t love, we drive God away from us. So it is necessary to have faith and love together. Faith without love- may move mountains, but it is just a clashing gong- noisy and showy without love. But love without faith is mushy and wishy-washy, taking away from the glory of God that motivates us to love. Jim Elliot said, "I have found the most extravagant dreams of boyhood have not surpassed the great experience of being in the will of God." When we are assured we are God's children, loved by Him- and loving others, following Him by faith- it is like a dream fulfilled- a purpose found. Jesus said blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. God is seen and peace is found when we are in his love, loving others, and walking by faith. Jesus said when you give a cup of cold water in his name he is there, when we do something for the least of these he is there as well. Caring for others in need is a means to finding God.

Prayer- Lord, help us to have both legs to stand on : faith and love.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

8/5- I John 4:17-18- Perfect love casts out fear

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

8/5- I John 4:17-18

17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

Calvin abridged: two thoughts are here; that we are partakers of divine adoption- when we resemble God as children their father; and secondly, that this confidence is invaluable for without it we would be most miserable. No others are partakers of the divine blessing of God’s love but God’s children. We are emboldened by the confidence of his fatherly love because by nature we dread the presence of God because he is judge of the world and holds us guilty for our sins. It is this dread that makes people shun God as much as they can. But the faithful do not fear the last judgment, but they go before the tribunal of God confidently and cheerfully.
“We are like Jesus”- by this John means that we are required as believers to resemble the image of God. What God is in heaven he requires us to be in this world, so we might be seen as His children. The image of God in us, is a seal of our adoption. God’s love casts out fear as a quiet safe harbor, frees a ship from tempest and shipwreck. There are still storms, but they do not torment us. God gives us a quiet conscience and calm mind by his love. Unbelief breeds fear. But the love of God, really known tranquilizes the heart.

Thought- Isaiah says there is no peace for the wicked. When we focus on Jesus we are able to walk on the water as Peter did in the storm. When our focus is away from Jesus’ love we focus on the storms and problems and start to sink (as Peter did). In Peru there are many shamans who instill a combination of fleshly pleasure with dark superstition and fear. It was this darkness that compelled Jim Elliot and so many others to come and risk their lives fearlessly to share the faith with others. We too can find boldness in life to do more than we can do by ourselves if we focus and give ourselves to the Lord.

Prayer: Lord, cast out our fear, and enter in- be born in us today.